Time Trip: Changing the Channel

When I was a kid in the 70s, we had a great stereo. It was capable of booming out Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra (aka the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey) at window-rattling decibels. Which is exactly the way my uber-nerd young dad liked it. He didn’t listen to rock-and-roll, and he didn’t care if the entire neighborhood knew it.

But there wasn’t much to that old stereo except the record player, the receiver, and the speakers. Dad had it mounted on a shelf installed above the TV. The record played at 72, 45 and 32 RPM. It was fun to listen to records at the wrong RPM, because the sound would either get too slow or too fast. The scratchy beat you hear in Rap music was well-known to us when someone bumped the record player, because the needle would go scratching across the record, often ruining the delicate vinyl.

Oh, and don’t leave records in your car on a hot day. They melt.

The TV was big and boxy and encased in actual wood. It had dials instead of buttons, and you had to turn the channel via knobs. It was considered furniture, and doubled as a sideboard. We kids sat on the floor in order to watch.

Here’s our TV, all decked out for Christmas. I think I see a volume slider. Check out the stereo and speakers above. I over-adjusted the color so you can see the detail.

70s TVA common superstition at the time was that you should not sit too close to the TV–it would hurt you, somehow. I don’t know the nature of this dreaded malady, but I did find out that if you tested your mother’s theory, your nose might get a nasty static shock.

There was no remote. To change the channel, you got up, walked over, and twisted a dial.

Where I grew up, we had channel 2 (NBC), 6 (CBS) and 9 (ABC), plus PBS, which I think may have been channel 5. Later on, we got a local independent channel at number 12 or so, and then even later, we got FOX on channel 15. Something else was on Channel 33 or thereabouts. These were on the UHF channels, because VHF (Very High Frequency and Ultra High Frequency) only went to channel 12 or 13.

When there was nothing on TV, there really was nothing on TV. Saturday morning was all cartoons, and Sunday morning was all Christian broadcasts. Star Trek reruns were on the independent channel on Sunday Nights at 6. Happy Days was on Tuesday Nights at 8. Love Boat was on Saturday Night at 9.

Advantages over Modern Tech

Yes, those old TVs had some advantages over modern tech. These days, when you turn on a TV, often nothing happens while it boots up. So unless you pressed the button on the TV itself (which I often do), you don’t know for about ten seconds if the danged thing is on, or if you didn’t aim the remote in the right direction. This situation often perplexes the older people in my life, who are accustomed to TVs lighting up immediately when you turn them on.

In the old days, when you turned on the TV, you would see a dot. It would eventually grow to fill the screen. If your hearing was good, you also heard a high-pitched whine that was quickly subsumed by the TV audio.

Got any old TV memories to share?


I came up with the idea for these Time Trips while writing my time travel novel, HIGHWAY TO YESTERDAY. For all the Time Trip posts I’ve written so far, click here.

7 Thoughts to “Time Trip: Changing the Channel”

  1. When I was really young our TV would show snow' (white static and rushing noise) if the wind blew in the wrong direction. I remember trying to watchRudolph the Red Nosed Raindeer’ and the TV snowing out just as they were all confronting the Abominable Snowman because a real-life storm was blowing in. It was very upsetting because I wasn’t quite sure all the characters hadn’t been eaten (except Rudolph. I did know how the song ends). I hate missing the end of a story.

    1. Yes, I remember the snow and hiss, but the distortions you get nowadays when the digital signal is interrupted by a storm is much worse. About ten years ago, we watched TV all throughout a hurricane on our analog TV. (For some reason, we didn’t lose power that time.) Nowadays, we don’t even have to have a particularly bad thunderstorm before we lose the signal. A little bit of snow and hiss was only a distraction. When you lose the digital signal, you may as well turn it off.

      And no, we don’t have cable. We’re among the cord-cutters who eschew cable, and we’ve been that way for many years now. So we actually use an antenna. Oh, and we have NetFlix.

  2. deborahblake1

    When I was growing up, that was about what our TV was like. Plus, it was black and white. We didn’t get color TV for quite a while. And you had to fiddle with the antenna to get the signal right.

    1. Oh, yes–the antenna. My dad has one mounted on the side of the house. It’s hard to describe what they looked like to those of you who are too young to remember–imagine a bunch of metallic rakes mounted in rows in a metal frame, and then attached to the end of a pole that stretched high above your roof.

      We had our first color tv by the time of the first moon launch in 1969, so that must have been quite an investment: https://tianevitt.com/2013/02/21/a-moonstruck-time-capsule-geek-out/

  3. Sitting too close tot he TV was supposed to cause eyestrain. (Grandma Mae was a retired nurse, and Dad a working biology professor, so things had to be more specific than “it’s bad for you.”) {wink, Smile}

    Our first TV was black and white, sot he snow was black and white, too. When we finally upgraded to a color TV, the snow became colored, too. Maybe that’s because we’ve always had cable. We don’t have much choice in this house. Even today, the choices are cable, satellite dish, some kind of internet option, or FOX (It used to be NBC, but the stations traded networks. We’re maybe three blocks from the station’s main tower, and something about that and the lay of the land means that that station comes thru as clear as you could wish, and everything else looks like a blizzard for all the snow on the station. If you’re lucky, you can draw shapes in the snow, but the way the shapes drift lazily across the screen suggests they don’t reflect what’s playing on that station, if anything. {lop-sided Smile}


    1. That’s right–I remember now. The same malady that reading in low light caused. Here in flat Florida, there was little trouble with television reception. That’s funny about imagining shapes in the snow. They did a movie based on that–remember Poltergeist? (I hated it.)

  4. P.S. I like your father’s choice of music, even if I’d rather it be a little softer. {wink, Smile}


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