One TV Town

People in New York City could watch “network” television shortly after W. W. II, in 1947.  TV came to my little town at the edge of the universe in 1955.  Back then, television signals were taken from the air by metal aerials, and relied on line-of-sight and broadcaster strength, generally not much more than 35 or 40 miles.  Living back of beyond, we were well over 100 miles from Detroit, Buffalo or Toronto.

A foresighted businessman in Wingham, Ontario, about 40 miles south, wanted to get out ahead of the rest of the pack.  He already owned and ran a little AM radio station, and could see the coming profits from television.  He applied for the rights to channel 8, which was supposed to go to Buffalo.  He had to get on the air before the Americans were ready.  Normally a year or more job, he swung some deals, and started broadcasting at 6 PM, November 18, 1955, just over three months from his original application.

Wingham wasn’t much bigger than my stagecoach-stop town.  They bragged that they were the world’s tiniest town to have a TV station.  Like our down-the-road neighbor, they were a farm-based town.  The stock report on the new station didn’t include any NYSE, or NASDAQ info, rather, how many hogs were sold, how many cows were slaughtered, and the cost of hay and straw for cattle feed.

Early programming included an hour daily show for women, titled M’Lady, two Country and Western weekly shows, one called Circle 8 Ranch, playing off the channel number, and two half-hour religious shows Sunday mornings.  Initial scheduling had only 30 hours of broadcast per week.

My family joined the TV-watching elite in August, 1957.  By then, the bank manager, several of the local merchants, and the guy who made a small fortune in mining, had TVs.  Dad’s wages from one of the factories was the same as everyone else’s, but, he also received a small government check for wartime disability, he got a small honorarium for organizing the weekly party at the Legion, and Mom had just begun a part-time job.

We all, but especially my brother and I, were mesmerized by this new piece of entertainment.  We watched all kinds of things that we would describe as crap today, simply because they were the only things on.  We’d have watched the test pattern; in fact I did several times, talking to the Indian Chief with the feathered head-dress, and trying to hypnotise myself with the “telescopic sight” graphic.

By 1957, the schedule had expanded a little, but there was still a lot of that test pattern time.  In a way, I was exposed to some of the best entertainment, simply because the station was desperate to put something, anything, on the air.  No Saturday morning cartoons, so then, and after school, they showed all the 1930s’ movie serials.  I was able to watch Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Johnny Weissmuller Tarzans, as well as The Three Stooges, and The Marx Brothers.

All of these were shown in black and white.  Movies had graduated to color, but TV’s color days were still in the future.  All these old serials and movies had been shot in black and white, and suited the B&W format perfectly.  I got to see Laurel and Hardy make fools of each other, a house fall on and a train run away with Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd dangle from a tower clock hand.  I watched The Dead End Kids on TV, who had become The Bowery Boys, when I went to the theater.

Censorship was not a problem.  If it had been shown in theaters, it showed on my TV.  W. C. Fields said I was “My little chickadee”, although he also said, “I love kids.  I had two for breakfast,” and Mae West issued an invitation to “Come on up and see me some time.”  “Goodness had nothing to do with it!”

The ‘40s and ‘50s were the heyday of the western, the oater.  I saw Roy Rogers, and The Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry, who went on to own several radio stations and a TV station in California, as well as the Anaheim Angels baseball team from 1961 to 1997.  I also got to see dozens (hundreds?) of episodes of The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, Wild Bill Hickock and Hopalong Cassidy.  And you guys wonder why I’m odd!

My little one-horse television station broadcast at about one candle-power for years.  Their broadcast tower got situated at the top of the only local hill, and our aerial perched on top of a steel pipe which poked above our roof, and had to be “aimed” at Wingham.

They operated as an independent station for a while, and later became a CBC affiliate, but their operating budget didn’t allow for the importation of improving, expanding American network shows.  One of the things I won in my Rewards Of Radio post, was because I could name the first female police TV detective.

Several other callers got through to the station before I did, and every one of them guessed Angie Dickinson as Policewoman.  I knew that it was Anne Francis, as Honey West, ten years earlier. The DJ congratulated me, and said that I must have watched the show as a youngster.  Not in my One-TV town, I got my knowledge about that, from my other major source of information, MAD Magazine.

I wish that my kids could have got to see some of the stuff I watched as I was growing up.  It was a bit less brittle and stressful, and more idyllic and innocent.  Writing up one of these “remember when” posts is always like waving a double-edged sword.  On the one side, I get a lovely wave of nostalgia, especially if I can share it with you, my friends and readers.  On the other, I end up feeling old, about seven different ways.  Now, let’s discuss some of the shit that you watched as a kid.

By the time even the earliest of you get to read this, the son and I will be on our way to Detroit for the weekend.  Please comment anyway, and I will reply Sunday night/Monday, as well as relate all the gory details.    🙂

Oktoberfest Revisited

Many years ago, the son and I developed a bit of a relationship with a young AM station DJ.  This was back when radio stations had live bodies pumping out their over-night broadcast shows.  I was doing midnight security shifts and heard a lot from this up-and-comer.  I called the station one night at 4 AM to show him where Billy Joel left in a small mistake, in a song about learning from our mistakes.

My son stayed up 24 hours one Friday night, to accompany me on my midnight shift.  He also phoned in and *won* a contest to “name the DJ’s lunch.”  We got to go to breakfast with him, on Saturday morning.  He finally got an afternoon shift, and I also got one.  His radio station sponsored a pancake breakfast in the parking lot of a local mall, the first Saturday morning of Oktoberfest.  It started small, with three to five hundred people.  The son and I went to it for years.

Like so many other things, it’s got much bigger, just not necessarily better.  The son surprised me the other day by expressing a wish to attend again.  He just turned 40.  Is this a wish to revisit his youth?  I can barely see mine any more.  He worked his usual Fri. night/ Sat. morning shift, stopped for some items at the Kitchener Market and got home around eight.  I went to bed at my usual 4:00 AM.

When he came home, I was ready for my four-hour washroom break anyway.  When he comes in, the dog rouses and wants to be let out of the bedroom.  I was up, so let’s go!  There’s nothing like sharing an intimate, chilly, outdoor breakfast with ten thousand of your closest friends total strangers.

Before the daughter ruined both knees, she was in the color guard of the Dutch Boy drum and bugle corps.  We had breakfast in the staging area of the big Oktoberfest parade that she got to march in once, long ago.  This year’s estimate puts a hundred and fifty thousand people on the sidewalks, some natives, many tourists, watching the parade live.  Several million more see it on national television

We managed to find parking only a block away, and walked down to join a block-long lineup for food.  When we finally got to the sign that said *Line Up Here*, we found that it snaked another half-block around the seating area and back into the plaza.  We were fortunate to have arrived so early.  As we left, the line had extended another block.

We each got two big pancakes with plenty of syrup, a large sausage and eight ounces of local apple juice.  Tim Hortons had sent a trailer where you could buy coffee or tea.  They had no hot chocolate.  We stood in line behind a young local couple with a baby girl.  I thought I caught her name but asked, to be sure.  She was called Ryla.  My daughter uses Rylah as an on-line name, and LadyRyl as her blog-name.

We sat down beside, and became instant best friends with, a couple even older than me.  At least that’s what the tree-ring count said.  The little old lady had a pair of beautiful knitted mitts on the table, but they were large enough to fit my son.  When I asked, she said that she had knitted them herself, and showed me that the occasional ecru stitches in the Kelly green pattern were actually tufts of un-spun fibre, filling the inside with extra insulation.  She learned this process, called thrumming, from a Newfie lady.  It is also used in hand weaving, and on boat sails.

Trainee chefs from our well-known community college cooked the food for us.  Somehow I expected that Conestoga College Culinary Arts would only provide pictures of food, but it was pretty good.  There was a little three-piece band providing live oompah Oktoberfest music.  One guy played the inevitable accordion, one had an electronic keyboard, and the third played kazoo drums.  They belted out all the old Oktoberfest staples, including The Monkees’, I’m A Believer, Johnny Cash’s, Ring Of Fire, and My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean.  A good time was had by some.

Just north and east of the city, is Ontario’s last/only covered bridge.  It sits about a hundred yards off the arrow-straight highway.  The original road made that jag to reach the narrowest spot on the river.  The old road comes in, makes a 90 degree turn, runs down and across the bridge, makes another ninety, and back up the bank.   There is a little country general store at the first bend which many Mennonites shop at.  Last year, a buggy-horse, perhaps startled by loud traffic, broke loose, galloped across the bridge, and tried to make the sharp left turn.  She slipped on the paving, dumping the wagon and scraping her one side.

There are signs at both ends reading, “No heavy trucks. Three ton load limit.”  Someone can’t read, or doesn’t give a sh*t.  Recent inspection reveals that one of the three main timbers is cracked.  I suspect a grocery delivery truck driver too lazy to turn around.  They can’t afford to dismantle it, but may be able to put a *cast* on the cracked beam.  In the meantime, the bridge is temporarily closed.  Aside from risking truck and limb to the river, some lazy idiot has smashed a chunk of irreplaceable history.  Thanks, doofus!

The good, the bad, and the ugly, the local cultural river slowly flows on.