Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Test Patterns

Picture from Wikipedia is in the Public Domain
Remember test patterns?  Remember when insomniacs listened to "Taps" played by an Air Force Band while watching the flag lowered, and then there was the static we called "snow," until television reappeared in the morning via the test patterns?

Off and on during my childhood, we didn't own a television.  When we did, it was not like TV is today.  Reno only had one channel until I was in junior high school when the second channel was added.  When I was in high school, we received a third channel.

We had a little black and white TV with a "rabbit ear" antenna.  Mom was a marvel at adjusting the rabbit ears just right to get optimum reception -- even if it required aluminum foil or a clothes hanger be attached.  Sometimes an assignment was made to sit next to the TV and hold the rabbit ears.

Television used to come with tubes inside, which would burn out and have to be replaced.  Mom was the master of finding, testing, and replacing bad tubes.

At some point the sound began to fizzle on our little black and white TV.  Mom showed us how to hit the top of the TV in just the right spot to get the sound on again.  That worked for a time, then it became so bad that an assignment was made to sit next to the TV and keep banging on it.

When my grandmother Janes passed away, we inherited her television.  At first we were thrilled because it was somewhat larger than our little TV, but the big one had a bad picture tube, which was too expensive to replace.  It only lasted a few weeks.  As usual, Mom saved the day, and the "piggy back" TV was born.  She put the small TV with no sound on top of the larger TV with no picture, and we were back in business.

Television used to be a family activity.  It was charming to gather every Sunday evening for The Ed Sullivan Show.   Dad loved westerns, so we all grew up on Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Have Gun, Will Travel, and a western that I only remember by Dad's name for it, "Tight Pants" -- or maybe that was his name for Paladin on Have Gun, Will Travel -- I don't remember.  Dad loved the movie, The High and the Mighty with John Wayne as an airplane pilot.  We watched it over and over again.  We were visiting Mom in the hospital when she had double pneumonia, and The High and the Mighty came on TV.  We all gathered around her bed to watch it -- me perched on the window sill.  Later, Mom told us that she just wished we had all left her alone so she could rest.
Lorne Greene in Bonanza
Picture from Wikipedia is in the Public Domain
Ironically, the best part of TV was the commercials -- especially cigarette commercials.  I can still hear the music from the Marlboro Man, and I remember the slogan, "I'd walk a mile for a Camel."  Although my siblings and I can still remember some of the lyrics, they must not have been very effective because none of us smoke.  I would much rather have children watching cigarette commercials than male enhancement commercials or feminine hygiene product commercials!

As I sit mindlessly watching reality TV some evenings, I long for those days of simplicity sitting on the floor, propped up with my pillow, dog curled up beside me, watching Bonanza or Big Valley.  During each commercial, someone would take a potty break.  It was then the responsibility of those left in the room to yell, "It's on!" when the show returned.

Dad sometimes made homemade milkshakes for us, or sliced two Milky Way candy bars into thin slices on a plate to share during the show.

Memories are good -- especially those memories of a much less complicated time.


  1. This post sure brought back a lot of memories. My family got TV in the very late 50s--AFTER many of my friends did. We were thrilled to have 2 networks to choose from (NBC & CBS) at first. I'd take back those simple days anytime! Even having to get up to change the channel.

  2. Mom was a master at "making do." We didn't get that TV until the 1960 Presidential Election. Pa felt sorry for Mom because she loved politics and arrived with the TV in hand. I was 13. Before that, every Wednesday night, Rick and I were invited over to Beverly Cale's across the street to watch Disneyland, and Dragnet. "Just the facts, Mam, just the facts."

  3. "Tight Pants" was Wanted Dead or Alive.

  4. Betsy, glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for stopping by!

    Cheri, I remember the story about the 1960 election, but I didn't know about you and Rick going to the Cale's. I was too little. Wanted Dead or Alive! That's right! I couldn't remember that to save me!

  5. I remember as a very young child (maybe 2 or 3, so about 1971 or 1972-ish) being up way late with my mother because I was sick (I remember there was a fair amount of coughing involved). I asked her where the people in the TV had gone, and she told me they needed to sleep too. Made sense to a little kid. :)

  6. What a cool thing to say to a sick kid! You probably went right to sleep.

  7. Oh so many memories! I was always an insomniac, and I'd see that crying Indian and then listen to nation anthem or taps as the flag waved. Then I would switch over to the only thing on TV at night... LaBrie's Waterbed Night Comfort Theater. And then I would hope there wasn't a scary movie on that night because I knew I'd be terrified.