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The good old days when snow was black & white
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

Sixty years ago a typical TV screen was no bigger than a laptop encased in a wooden box the size of a Mini-Cooper weighing slightly less than the front line of the New England Patriots. A TV was as easy to move as a king-sized mattress up three flights of stairs.

The analog TVs of the day had more snow than is now in the Sierra. A set's warm-up period was so long you had to turn it on well in advance of your favorite show or you'd risk seeing only the credits.

The ability to receive TV programming was free if you didn't count the half-month's wages to buy roof antennas that dwarf today's intergalactic radio telescopes.

For almost all TV owners the world was still black and white. It helps explain why westerns were all the rage with clear definitions of good guys and bad guys.

Despite what would seem primitive today, if you had a black and white TV you had it made.

Watching TV was serious business. Rare was the family that didn't see it as a group activity. Eating dinner while watching TV was risqué although it didn't take long for an entire cottage industry to pop up selling frozen TV dinners and even TV trays that were made of metal with the most garish designs possible.

Today people may still watch TV together while eating but usually they are on their own mobile devices. And if they're plugged into anything it's not conversation. It is ear buds.

It was considered obscene in 1956 when Elvis Presley gyrated his hips on the Milton Berle Show as a 21-year-old singing "Hound Dog" prompting TV shows after that for the rest of the decade to only broadcast Presley from the waist up. Today you can make vulgar references on national TV alluding to the president performing sex acts and most people yawn.

You didn't toss out TVs when they went on the fritz. New TVs cost between $90 and $200 depending on how fancy you got. It is why you called a TV repair shop instead. TV repairmen were the code writers of the 1950s. It was considered a well-paid, bulletproof career.

TV prices today can run into the thousands but most fall between $150 and $300. Considering gas was 24 cents a gallon in 1957 compared to $3.60 today while a first-class stamp was three cents as opposed to 47 cents it costs less proportionately today to buy a TV than in 1957. And if you toss in the advances you can almost argue they're giving them away.

It explains why we toss - well, actually recycle - TVs today while TV repairmen had been regulated to the back burner much like farriers. TV repair, just like horseshoeing, is still around but it is in danger of going the way of the test pattern and "must see" sign offs employing poetry such as "High Flight" by John Magee with the narrator breathless uttering the words, "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth . . . "

That was the big thing to do at 1 a.m. on a non-school night a half-century ago as the TV channels started going off the air one by one. That's as opposed to today when a kid is seated in front of a TV screen at 1 a.m. playing the 10th straight hour of a video game with a cyber friend in Iceland.

Now every kid seems to want to see the latest video game on their TV screen. Sixty years ago the dream was to see the NBC Living Color peacock in color instead of in various hues of black and white.

Back in the day if you lived near Sacramento you got four primary channels - the three major networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) and the public education channel (PBS). Depending upon the time of the day or night you might pick up a duplicate network with different local programming and commercials out of Chico or the Bay Area. If everything aligned just right, you might even get to see and hear a Reno station although the picture snow and the audio static would dominate.

Watching the San Francisco 49ers on a Sunday in the 1960s was a treat. Today - depending upon your bundle - you have access to 1,001 channels, endless TV shows and movies on demand and can flip between every NFL game being televised live.

TVs were pretty straight forward. You had knobs to turn them on, adjust the volume, monkey with the contrast, and dial in the brightness. Today you have to make sure your TV is in "TV mode" as opposed to four or five other options in order to watch TV.

It also can involve the use of several remotes with more buttons than a 747 cockpit.

Some would argue the programming was better back then but that is debatable especially if you revisit some of the old shows you fondly recall on You Tube. Try as they might but no one has come up with a show yet that's worse than "My Mother the Car". It was a one season wonder in 1965. Geraldo Rivera did give it the old college try in 1986 during the two-hour live opening of the secret vault in the Lexington Hotel once owned by Al Capone.

I really don't yearn for the good old days when it comes to TV although there was something magical about Saturday morning cartoons that weren't animated on the cheap.

It was nice, though, when the only talking heads were on at 6 p.m. for 30 minutes instead of the 24/7 smug-a-thon of what is today pushed as news programming.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.