Rabbit ears were the way of old TVs

Sitting under a pile of papers and photos at home is one of my prize possessions. It’s a vintage Admiral console TV from 1948 – with a whopping 9 1/2-inch picture. Even in 1948, only a mouse would have thought it of it as a big-screen TV. Yet, at more than 60 years old, the old black-and-white set still works – for now.

I bought it from an eccentric antique dealer several years ago. He worked out of his home, and his entire dwelling – living room, kitchen and bedrooms – was filled with old TVs, radios and jukeboxes. He said he was married. “I figure my wife’s here somewhere,” he said. “But I haven’t seen her in awhile.”

Even the most remote cave dweller knows by now that on June 12, the entire United States television system is going to convert to digital signals only. That means farewell to analog sets like my old Admiral – unless watching snow is your thing. (Note: In a recent survey, 65 percent of viewers said they would prefer watching snow to ‘The Jerry Springer Show.’”)

Sure, there are converter boxes available, selling for between $40 and $80 a pop, that make it possible for even old black-and-white sets to receive a digital signal. But I think I’ll just leave the aged Admiral as is – and leave the converting to Uncle Ben and his wild rice.

I think my parents got their first TV set in the mid to late 50s – a huge console that dwarfed what seemed like a postage stamp size screen. My dad had five remotes for changing stations: my four brothers and me. Once color TV was introduced, my dad still thought our black-and-white set was just fine. He earnestly believed that if we all simply watched TV wearing sunglasses, we’d see the picture in living color. It was about this time that we began to wonder if he was losing his grip.

Anyone who remembers TV in those days can recall wrangling with rabbit ears – or even climbing onto the rooftop to adjust the aerial to improve the always-tenuous picture. During a World Series game one time, a neighbor clambered atop his house during a crucial inning. He made the adjustment – and then slipped and tumbled off the roof and into a lilac bush. Bruised and cut – and with a broken ankle – he nonetheless drug himself back into the house and watched the rest of the game before calling the doctor. It was about this time that we began to wonder if the neighbor was losing his grip.

In these days of reality shows, risqué nighttime dramas, tawdry daytime talk, judge shows, on-demand movies and a multitude of cable offerings – viewers might be surprised to know what was on the tube in the yesteryear. At a used bookstore recently, I found a book containing the Western Washington editions of every TV Guide from 1959.

Here are some of the listings:

At 7:05 in the morning there was Farm News on Channel 7. Five minutes later, at 7:10 on Channel 4, there was Farm Report. Viva la difference!

At 7:25, Channel 5 did some local news – but only five minutes of it. There apparently was little going on in 1959.

J.P. Patches came on at 7:45, getting a full 15-minute head start on Captain Puget at 8. In fact, there were scores of shows for kids throughout the broadcast day, with names like Frisky Frolics and Yankee Panky. Nowadays shows with those titles can only be found on the “adult” cable channels.

There were plenty of soap operas and game shows throughout the day.

Liberace tickled the ivories at 2 p.m. on Channel 13. Art Linkletter had a House Party at 2:30 on Channel 7. American Bandstand came on at 4 p.m. on Channel 4. And Channel 6 in Victoria, B.C., ran Science-Fiction Theatre at 6:30 p.m., with preposterous storylines about landing on the moon, earthlings talking on phones without wires – and even using personal computers. Crazy stuff.

Most TV stations signed off at night in those days. My old TV Guides list Channel 13 with a final movie: Swingshift Theater at 1 a.m. After that, there was nothing but test patterns and snowy pictures – no infomercials for exercise equipment, getting rich in real estate or George Forman grills. That’s really not so sad, is it?

Well, I’ve only got a few weeks left to watch my old Admiral, so I better wrap this up and turn it on – since it takes about a week to warm up.

Then I’ll put on my sunglasses and watch the Mariners’ game – in color!

Pat Cashman is a writer, actor and public speaker. He can be reached at pat@patcashman.com.