The magic of television

Super Bowl Sunday is less than two weeks away. I’m looking forward to the annual get-together in front of the electronic moving-picture machine, all in bright sounds and colors, instant replays and live explanations from the refs.

It was not always thus.

For most of the first decade of my life, TV was something I saw at Grampa’s, or heard about after Dad visited a friend Saturday nights to watch comedian Jimmy Durante.

Then came 1960. A young Catholic fellow from Boston, MA named John Fitzgerald Kennedy set out to become president of the United States. Mom, within a few months of the young fellow’s age, and also a Catholic from the Boston area, thought we children should watch history being made.

Of course, I didn’t know that when Dad came home from his job at the Western Auto store one dark winter evening with a couple of pipes and a long narrow box tied to the Pontiac station wagon. But one characteristic I received from my dad was when he made up his mind he wanted a thing, he wouldn’t wait until tomorrow.

He immediately directed me to dress warmly and grabbed a flashlight, a drill and extension cord, a pair of wrenches and the extension ladder. I didn’t know yet our purpose, but Dad said climb and I climbed, to sit in about a foot of snow, one foot on either side of the roof peak, and await further instructions.

Dad assembled the pipes, and the stand-off frame to hold it. A benefit of seniority is that the person in that position knows, or may claim to know, which tool is needed that was not brought out to the job. That person is, of course, charged with dashing down the ladder to obtain the correct drill bit, or the necessary bolts and wrenches, or whatever other tool was necessary – while the junior member remains straddling the snow-covered roof, securely holding the mast pipe from falling into the snow below.

Then, of course, came the contents of that long narrow box, the antenna with all its little arms folded against itself. We mounted the antenna atop the mast pole and unfolded it into a space-age arrowhead-shaped contraption intended to gather signals from television stations more than 100 miles away.

The antenna, we discovered, would haul in the state’s three stations, one of them clearly. Mom and Dad did not talk about politics – at least not within earshot of us children – but Mom shushed us kids for the evening news.

Newscasters back in the day were often better known than movie stars. I enjoyed the Huntley-Brinkley report – a nightly news show anchored by Chet Huntley in New York City, and David Brinkley in Washington. They signed off each night with “Good night, Chet.” “Good Night, David.”

The likes of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Morrow probably led me into journalism – along with a book I read about visitors from space who came here just to observe our human foibles. Think Robin Williams as Mork from Ork, only less funny.

Three of my favorite shows took me flying with Penny, Sky King and a couple of guys who flew a helicopter from one emergency to the next. And thousands of us thought Pat Garret was funny as heck as he stood next to his WWII-era Jeep and shadow-boxed bad guys while Roy Rogers fought the real black hat-wearing bandits.

All in black and white which, amazingly, our imaginations turned to color in our minds. It was truly magic. Especially to a young man watching his family’s first television.

Thanks for coming along. Please take a minute to comment and share the conversation. I appreciate the help spreading the word.

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