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Viewing TV used to be hard work

Points East

When my dad and I were hauling horse, cow and chicken manure from the barn to the growing fields on Blair Branch, he used to tell me that you had to spread it around pretty thick and wide if you wanted it to do any good. So that is what I try to with this column, not that it does much good these days unless it makes you grin.

When I was growing up, we did not have a television until I was up in high school. The problem was not so much that people could not afford the appliance, but because it cost way more than the TV set itself to purchase wire, antennas and electric signal boosters that had to be placed on mountaintops more than half a mile almost straight up the mountain from our homes. Boosters, special-made, copper TV line, separate antennas for every station and other necessary hardware usually cost much more than the old black and white Zeniths, Phillips or RCA sets that folks had in their homes. Cable and satellites were unheard of in the ‘50s.

I can count on the fingers and thumb of one hand the number of families who had televisions on Blair Branch in the 1950’s and early ‘60s. My cousin, Arlie Adams, and his wife, Ila, were the only owners of TV sets in the head of Blair Branch for several years.

Then Hobart and Cathy Adams Blair, who rented a house from my parents for $5 a month, bought a television and all the accessories in the late ‘50s because they knew that Cathy’s siblings and/or my brothers and I would climb up and down the steep mountain in the dead of night to get critters or tree limbs that were shorting out the signal removed from the naked, copper television wire that ran from the back of the TV way over half a mile to the antennas on top of the mountain. We even packed “booster tubes” because, if you got to the top of the hill and found nothing on the line, that usually meant a tube was blown in the booster and they blew out almost as frequently as lightbulbs down at the house, but they were a lot harder to change out than a lightbulb in the dead of night.

Watching television was hard work way back then, but we younger Adams boys and girls believed the TV line work paid off better than picking beans and hoeing corn. Unfortunately, as has been true for the last several generations if not for all time, we did not realize how patently stupid we were until we had to go to work for a living.

In those days, you had to have a precisely shaped antenna mounted and aimed in a precise compass direction for each faraway broadcast station you wanted to receive at the foot of the hill. Hobart aimed at stations out of Knoxville (CBS) Channel 10, and Kingsport/Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia (NBC) Channels 3 and 5, and finally he bought an antenna so big that Marvin, Freida, and the late Carlos and France Adams and yours truly had to pack the parts, assemble it and mount it in the top of a tall oak sapling on which we had sawed off limbs and nailed on short 2×4 boards so we could climb up the natural tower.

We aimed it at Asheville, N.C., for ABC, Channel 13 because Cathy had a map of the United States and she figured out the coordinate and I had a compass I’d won for selling garden seed.

Sure enough, the new antenna made Hobart the only man on the holler who could get a Channel 13 signal free of snow and vertical and horizontal lines across the screen. Or one where the picture did not keep rolling down the screen so fast you couldn’t watch it.

But best of all, that station played battlefield action military shows and many old Western movies all day long on both Christmas and New Year’s Day, almost commercial free except for one pest-control company that I remember to this day. “RD gets rid of rats, better than 20 cats. Delayed action kills the pack. Always get RD.”

So I’m sitting here wondering how many readers remember that commercial and how many of you went to a neighbor’s home to laze around and watch TV on the holidays when your parents had chores that you should be doing.

So don’t be yelling too loudly at your kids and grandkids for being so absorbed in those new electronic game devices and apps they got for Christmas.

As far as our parents were concerned, we got away with far too much foolishness too.



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