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Then there was television

Watching the 48-inch television set in our den, with its push button remote controls and over 200 viewing channels, leaves me with a nostalgic feeling about the excitement and fun my family had with its first television set nearly three-quarters of a century ago. 

In the late 1940s, we knew about the remarkable invention of television by word of mouth and the printed word but had never seen one. That changed in 1948 when my father arrived home from a Saturday visit to town. When us kids heard him blowing his pickup’s horn we knew good news was in the making. Sure enough, sitting in the truck’s bed was a big cardboard box with the word “Admiral” stenciled across its side.

“What’s in the box?” we asked.

“It’s one of those television sets we’ve been hearing about,” he answered.

Its shiny cabinet and 19-inch screen was a thing to behold and we all held our breaths when the set was plugged into the only electrical wall outlet in our living room.  

The snowy image that appeared on the screen left a lot to be desired as far as clarity was concerned. 

“The dealer told me the reception will be better when the set is hooked up to an outdoor antenna,” our father explained. “We’re about 90 miles from both Birmingham and Atlanta, Ga. and should be able to pick up the signal from TV stations in both cities. We’ll also pick up the Alabama Pubic TV broadcasting station on Mt. Cheaha and might get some programs from a station in Columbus, Ga. when weather conditions are ideal.” 

We took his word and focused our attention on picking up the bits and pieces of stagecoaches being chased by Indians on horses on the screen in front of us. Looking away periodically to squint our eyes and rub the tears from them was only a temporary inconvenience.  

Thank goodness the ground-based antenna took away some of the snow and improved the images we were watching. We could make out what was being shown without having to strain our eyes. We still had snow, some days worst than others, depending on weather conditions. Since the antenna was not remote controlled, it was necessary for one of us to run outside and manually turn it west for Birmingham and east for Atlanta. We would stop turning when we heard viewers yell “stop” from inside. 

On certain days, the antenna would pick up an electric charge from the atmosphere and cause a shock when touched. A wise precaution was to lightly touch the metal pole before grasping it with both hands.  

Word of the TV’s existence spread quickly in the community and made our farmhouse a popular place to watch western movies, soap operas, live wrestling matches and popular entertainers.