6/19/09

Bye Bye, Buzz



The Evitt sent me the above image, using one of my Infinite League drawings and some gimmicky website or other. I like the effect of seeing Ash art appearing on these old television sets, as if I had my own Saturday morning cartoon in 1976. In reality, I’ve never had that kind of opportunity to be Part of the Problem. But I have to confess the sight of these crummy old TV sets has me feeling overwhelmingly nostalgic.


In this new dawn of widescreen, high-definition, digital television, the fuzz and crackle of VHF broadcasting has now become an antiquated condition, known only to the eldest TV generation. In particular, the crappiest of these dinosaur sets, like the old portables pictured above, are now completely extinct, unlikely as they are to be converted to the new digital signal. This is the type of television I’ll miss most, the buzzing, black and white miniatures with scrolling vertical hold. I picture them plugged in on garage workbenches, tin foil on the antennae, desperately trying to maintain the sound and video of some deadly dull Saturday afternoon fishing show, while an aging dad secludes himself from the wife and kids by pretending to fix a toaster. An occasional tap on the channel changer might temporarily improve reception, but needlenose pliers are required to turn the sound up.

This was MY television, droning in the corner with strangled rabbit ears, surrendering to static when you walked two steps in the wrong direction. It was tiny and malfunctioned constantly, and it broadcast only two of the four available channels, putting you at the mercy of whatever public affairs program or Laurel and Hardy movie or college basketball game happened to be on. And at 1 or 2 am, the Star Spangled Banner played and the stations shut down, leaving that same hissing static that spoke to Carol Ann in Poltergeist. Let me emphasize that for those of you having grown up with nothing but cable: TV WENT TO BED. The box went dead for several hours. Not a program was stirring, not even a buckwheat pillow infommercial.

In short, this was TV that knew its place. It didn’t take up an entire wall of a McMansion living room, blasting Spider-Man 3 on demand with the booming bass of Surroundsound., and it didn’t offer 800 channels 24 hours a day. It sat unobtrusively on a shelf, doing its best to spit out Hollywood Squares between fits of distortion, just another element of environmental control, like the bubbling of a fish tank or hum of a window unit. It was often on, but rarely watched. And when it got out of line, it got smacked. And if it got especially irritating, unplugged. You were bigger than TV and you made the rules.

So now, in an age where television’s non-stop strobe of high-def intensity may soon be injected directly into your vein, I bid farewell to VHF, the Little Television That Could, But Usually Didn’t. So strange to think that Newton Minow’s “vast wasteland” used to be so very, very small.

6 comments:

jazzjames said...

WELL WRITTEN...I miss my old black and white TV with the face of Shirley from "What's Happening" on it! ^Those were the days.

Amy Walker said...

I love this piece- well said, friend. I especially like "You were bigger than TV and you made the rules." Televisions and all the digital/cable/satellite stuff that now seemingly *has* to come with it (except in our house- Jeff and I still don't have cable and we haven't gotten around to getting a converter box yet) have made it into a complex, mysterious behemoth that's out of your control.

And all the goddamn remotes for one TV! Pardon me while I start talking like an 86-year-old man, but when I was little, I was my dad's TV remote. He would tell me to stand next to the TV and turn the channel knob (which turned with a big *thunk*) around all 4 channels until he was satisfied, or resigned, with one of them. Our TV was one of those fatass wooden cabinet models that were supposed to look like classy furniture.

Now my dad has a giant flat screen whatever with about five remotes in their bedroom. But when they got this new TV and the older one (still pretty snazzy) went down to the garage awaiting a new home, I came down for a visit to find my dad in the garage fiddling with the TV. He'd plugged it into an outlet and showed me that he could still receive signals by putting a big pocketknife in a certain place on the top to act as an antenna. I was deeply impressed! But his dad opened a TV repair shop for a little while in old North Charleston, so I think he remembers a lot of the ins and outs.

I really am going to miss analog TV.

Al Bigley said...

This was the TV that accompanied most of us thru 3 and 4 years of college, too.

And our first years of apartment living...

And the time you finally got our own room as a kid....

Sigh...

Al Bigley

Anonymous said...

I met Shirley Hampril for what's happened form tv at a mall when I ws 11. She was very nice and not like she plays on the show. She was bigger and darker than on tv, but a sweet lady star. I was scared at first but my mom held me to her.

Can you draw her? Maybe the other stars of tv shows love?

Mike

A.Owsley said...

I also think about the different televisions my family's household had in the past.
Like the clunky old Zenith console we had in our living room with its high sound-frequency remote control. Its channels would change every time someone clinked two coins together or an alarm clock went off. The ringing phone would cause the set to spontaneously switch on to maximum volume.
There was an old set in the den of our basement that I would often watch while drawing my cartoons. I often felt a rebel for staying up past midnight watching the Late Movies; usually old Hammer Horror or Ray Harryhausen flicks.
There was a small black and white portable that my Dad once got me when I had chicken pox in 3rd grade. We barely had it for a week when lightning struck it and caused the picture tube to permanently switch on. There was no way that we could ever turn the bloody thing off!
After the digital conversion I decided to see what analogue stations remained in the snowy wasteland of my screen. I found only three: A Home Shopping Network, some Christian station discussing National defense policy, and a Spanish Language channel that endlessly repeated an infomercial about the digital conversion process.
-Anth.

Anonymous said...

I also had a TV we could NOT TURN OFF!!!!! In 1987, I was 18, and got a small set for my dorm college room at UNC. I went to lunch one day in October, and, when I got back, my roomate,Bill Parton, was watching a SMALL WONDER marathon on the set, and seemed nervous and twitchy. To this day, I never found out what he did to the set, but it could not be switched off unless you unplugged it! We kept it on for the rest of the year, learning to ignore the sound all night, as you also could not adjust the fully loud volume.

I got another cheap model the next year, but ran the set later, all thru 1989-92. It lost it's picture around '91, but you could still listen to it as you fell asleep at night.

I still have that set today, in the attic.

Lee Fender