Remember what you were doing 65 years ago, if you were around, that is?
I do — well, sort of. One Friday evening in March or so of early 1953, I was admitted to the holy of holies – the living room of a relative who owned one of the first TVs in our neighborhood.
At last I would get to see the Friday Night Fights instead of listening to the frantic blow-by-blow description over the floor model radio in our living room.
Wow! Two guys (whose names I don’t remember at all) slugged one another, while announcer Jimmy Powers directed our attention to great left hooks and superior footwork and all the other stuff I’d had to envision before.
The whole world changed when TV came in during the postwar years. Here in the Wyoming Valley, life changed still more when we got our first local station. Finally, if you had a TV, you could settle back and watch the fights and a whole lot more. Science had overcome the annoying fade-outs, snow and static of the New York and Philly stations that a big antenna on your roof was desperately trying to latch onto.
That single channel of early 1953 was WBRE, Channel 28, which had started broadcasting on New Year’s Day. A lone outlet like that didn’t offer much selection. But hey, it was a picture.
I should add that pre-1953 you could see the fights and a lot of other stuff if you were old enough to go out to a bar that had cable – maybe with a half-dozen channels. Deprived kids like myself, though, had to rely on neighbors and kin a block away and the hearty promises of parents that someday we’d get a set of our own. In the meantime, you just had to stifle your frustrations over school chatter about the latest episode of “Space Patrol” or “Victory at Sea.”
That someday finally came in summer of 1954. My family broke down and bought a cherry cabinet with a 17-inch screen, just one step below the luxury models, but still six weeks’ pay for my father. By that time, Northeastern Pennsylvania had five channels of its very own, and we TV lovers were off to the races.
While early TV was exciting to families of that era, I must admit that a person of today transported back six decades or more would find the nightly television experience jarring. The picture was black and white and still a bit hazy, you had to be satisfied with what three networks were offering, and the great question of whether Yukon Eric and Gorgeous George were really wrestling or just faking it was being debated in bars and living rooms all over America.
Some say the advent of TV, though, was a watershed in a more sociological way, and I think there might be some truth to their claim.
Families and neighbors became less likely to visit back and forth for pleasant conversation and reminiscence, and perhaps a bit of piano playing or a round of canasta. Now parlors were arranged more like theaters, with low light and hushed silence, the better to hear Milton Berle’s jokes.
Was it coincidence that movie comedy shorts, social clubs, ice cream soda bars and science-fiction comic magazines – as well as other things you had to leave the house for or pick up and read – began their decline?
Maybe, but I’ll leave that to the social scientists. Hey, gotta go. The game is on.
Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]