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Jim Six: Getting the Big Picture
Jim Six/South Jersey Newspapers - August 16, 2010
I was listening to Sammy Pepper on Rowan Radio Saturday morning and his Rock-and-Roll Time Machine really took me back.
Sammy was highlighting songs from 1957 and they all were familiar to me, even though I was only 10 going on 11 that year.
Thanks to Sammy’s excellent collection of old radio tapes, suddenly Joe Niagra, the Rockin’ Robin of WIBG, was doing a WIBBAGE commercial for TV sets.
“Are you tired of your current TV?” that oh-so-familiar radio voice said. “What have you got now? A 7-inch screen? 10-inch? Well, now, friends you can have a simply incredible 16-inch screen from Muntz TV!”
That really cracked me up.
I remember our first little TV, maybe a 7-inch screen housed in a big wooden console. It was probably 1949 or so.
To increase the view of that little screen, we had a huge ice-blue lens, maybe 12-inches square, that clamped onto the front of the set. It magnified the picture, although it distorted it, as well.
I realize this makes no sense to people who are so young they’ve never even seen a TV without at least a 20-inch screen (and that was probably a little bedroom set.)
But to guys like me, who literally grew up as TV was growing up, it’s a blast.
When I was little, TV wasn’t even ON all day. It came on at certain times during the day, there were some shows, and then it went off the air again. Usually, there was a test pattern on the screen, but sometimes it was just static.
Even after TV grew up a lot, it still went off the air late at night (with maybe a sermonette and the playing of the National Anthem) and came on again in the early morning hours. (Some low-power stations may still do this, I am told. I can’t confirm that.)
Some TV shows in the late ’40s and early ’50s were only 15 minutes long.
And — I’m sure some of you may have a hard time believing this — you had to get up from the couch, walk over to the TV set and change the channel or turn the volume up or down. No, really.
Just as families once sat gathered around a console radio and paid rapt attention to the music or the news or the drama being broadcast, people at first tended to do the same around their small-screen TV sets. Families still did things together, even if it was watching TV.
Who knew that TV would play a part in moving family members apart later? Portable TVs in every room. Remote controls. Video games (remember how Pong used to leave ghostly white lines on the TV tube?)
But back then, we just enjoyed the miracle of TV. We’d choose our favorite shows. We pasted a colored piece of vinyl on the screen to give the small black-and-white sets the illusion of color.
“Winky Dink and You” also used a vinyl static-cling screen, pioneering interactive media, to allow kids to draw pictures or decipher codes to help Winky Dink out of tight spots.
The fact is, Earl “Madman” Muntz had been selling a 16-inch TV model since 1950, (he’d gotten to 24-inchers by 1957) but the facts don’t always play an important part in our pleasant memories.