In the old days, the National Anthem played on our black-and-white to announce TV was done for the night. Nothing filled the midnight to 6 a.m. slot, not even infomercials for the amazing hair vacuum.
After the Anthem finished, we’d hear static and see snow. An announcer would say, “Please stand by.” My older brother would stand at attention, thinking he was funny.
The test pattern would follow, featuring a politically incorrect Indian chief.
I felt very adult when I got to stay up that late and had to be carried to bed. That wasn’t easy, since I was big for my age and weighed about as much as a steer with a monkey on its back.
Most nights I went to bed earlier, usually about 10, when an announcer would ask, “Do you know where your children are?”
My parents would say, “Going to bed.”
Today, TV has programs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We can get up at 3 in the morning and see infomercials for toenail fungus miracle cures.
We can watch news that is “constantly breaking” and work ourselves into a frenzy over unrest in Uzbekistan.
Back in the day, media was less pervasive. Our TV would have aluminum foil-covered rabbit ears to wiggle for better reception. Or we’d be sent to the roof or front yard or up a cottonwood tree to turn the antenna. Sometimes, we’d just stay up there for the whole show, with Dad occasionally shouting adjustment requests.
“One inch clockwise!” the old drill sergeant would bellow.
We got only three channels, all featuring ghosts and otherworldly apparitions. We’d watch the three networks — ABC, NBC and CBS — and if the president was speaking from the Rose Garden, that would be the only thing on TV.
In those days we, had to watch commercials. There was no recording of shows and no way to fast forward through ads for Aquanet hair spray or Timex watches, which kept on ticking no matter if you ran over them with a Mack truck.
We built character. We’d walk 15 feet in avocado green shag carpet, shocked by static electricity, and turn the TV nob with vice grips.
We were our parents’ remote control device.
I’d get up early on Saturday mornings for cartoons. I’d sit with a soggy bowl of Cheerios watching the test pattern hoping the shows would come on soon.
However, most of the time, growing up, our family had no TV. I’d walk in our 6-10s of a mile driveway from the school bus dreaming of seeing an antenna on the ranch-house roof.
Finally, the drill sergeant traded firewood for a TV and we were in business as he loved TV as much as I did. “The Lone Ranger” rode to our rescue.
That TV was looter proof. Several men who looked as if they had played in the National Football League trenches moved it in, a huge console with a 12-inch by 12-inch black-and-white screen. It included a radio and record player and weighed as much as a Volkswagen bug with a moose inside.
Even though we got only one channel with decent reception, I loved watching lots of shows. Some favorites were “American Bandstand,” “Andy Griffith,” “Bonanza,” “Gilligan’s Navy,” “Happy Days,” “I Love Lucy,” “The Brady Bunch” and “Wonderful World of Disney.”
Those were the days of laugh tracks. Every “joke” on TV had the “audience” rolling in the aisles with hysterical laughter. Sometimes I’d ask myself what was so funny. Maybe it was me, trying to watch TV with one hand wiggling the rabbit ears for better reception.