Around the Island

Richard’s Almanac: Video killed the radio star

Looking to relive those old TV shows? Richard has found the source.

Do you remember the days before television? Those dark days of listening to the radio and reading the newspapers and books. Well, I barely do.

What I do remember was when my family got its first television. It was in 1950. I had seen TVs before at friends’ houses because television seemed to move into my neighborhood around 1948 or 1949. It was very exciting and to be asked over to someone’s house to watch a show was a big deal. There were not too many shows but what was on was spectacular. There were cartoons, there were westerns and of course there was “Howdy Doody.”

Then we had our own TV delivered. And it was a rather large piece of furniture with lots of dark wood surrounding a small screen. Ours was an RCA Victor and it had a channel changer with 13 stations. I remember hearing that it cost almost $500 so we had to be careful around it. And we also were always warned not to sit too close because of potentially dangerous rays being emitted. I forgot to mention that it was black and white. Color television was a dream back then as were remotes and a zillion channels and cable.

I remember hearing about the additional expense of having an antenna installed on the roof. A cost of $70 comes to mind. And those antennas were subject to variations in the weather. High winds, rain, snow and ice all could have adverse effects on the picture quality. But we lived with those risks.

They were worth it even if we had to squint to focus on the late afternoon western in which it seemed that horses ran very fast and there was plenty of gunfire. Good guys occasionally were wounded in the arm which was very minor and cowboys were hit over the head and “knocked out” without any lasting damage. The good guys always triumphed over the unshaven evildoers. That’s just the way it was.

Then there was Howdy Doody — a marionette with freckles who was the focus of a show that was run by a man called Buffalo Bob Smith and each day had kids visiting as the audience in the “Peanut Gallery” who could participate in the drama caused by another puppet named Mr. Bluster. Other humans on the show were Clarabelle the clown and Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring. There was always a lesson to be learned from the show.

That was the extent of my watching — TV couldn’t interfere with homework so I was not able to see the later shows like Milton Berle unless there was a holiday the next day and I could stay up late. I do recall “Uncle Miltie” providing big-time belly laughter when I did see him.

An important fact to remember is that these shows were all live. Later shows used filming and taping. That’s why there are not any copies of the very early shows. Actors had to be very careful of what they said on stage. Every once in a while an actor would get carried away with a part and use an inappropriate word or expression — they could not get bleeped.

I was reminded of television’s early days when I stumbled upon “ME TV” which only plays old shows, those shows that were taped or filmed. You can sit back and watch “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Father Knows Best,” and countless other shows that remind us of those days when we were much younger. They cause us to think about what we were doing when we watched them.

And the audience for these reruns — just watch the ads. They’re for life insurance, funeral homes, all kinds of medicines for all kinds of diseases, oxygen tanks, adult diapers, and any other products that the aging body can find a use for.

So take a look and be transported back to a more innocent time. It’s kind of fun once in a while.