A new world in our front room

Published 10:07 am Monday, January 20, 2014

by Archie Howell

Last year, after crops were harvested, my father purchased a television set for our family. It sits on four legs in our front (living) room. Along with the purchase comes a long list of instructions and controls. There’s the usual off, on and volume control knob on the bottom left side, and a large knob on the right side with a series of numbers etched on its edge. I learn that this is a “channel” selector. I don’t know why they call it a channel selector instead of a station selector.

Behind a fold-down door in the middle of the bottom are smaller knobs, labeled: brightness, horizontal hold and vertical hold. The instruction booklet that came with the set gives directions for using all these controls along with the fine-tuning circular ring behind the channel knob. It all seems a bit complex, and I guess it is, but when it’s adjusted properly, magic happens.

My siblings and I quickly become the gurus of television fine-tuning. Mostly it’s when the channel is changed that the picture goes nuts; sometimes it’s when a commercial breaks into or out of regular programming. The vertical hold is generally the problem, and the screen seems to scroll in either direction from top to bottom or vice versa. It also generates a scramble among all watching, to see who can get to the set first and solve the problems. It’s kinda fun sometimes to intentionally distort the controls just so I can reset the picture. Such behavior is met with disapproval from my parents when they are aware of it.

Black-and-white images from around the world as well as our local area take some guesswork out our imagination. Distant places, ideas, physical workings, and all manner of entertainment is available right in our front room. Our set is about 19 inches across and can be seen easily from across the room. My favorite viewing position is directly in front of the set as close as I can comfortably get. I want to crawl inside the set and visit those distant places. Most work free time finds me in front of the television; my favorite shows are newscasts with pictures and motion pictures from around the world.

We get two channels, both in Norfolk. I hear that some people can get a Richmond station; we can’t, although our antenna is attached to the highest part of the house – the chimney. I think it’s strange to put an antenna on the chimney.

My aunt has a house with lightening rods on both ends of the roof and the chimney. I think the antenna will be some kind of lightning rod that will redirect a bolt of lightning into our front room. Nobody consults me about antennas.

I walk over to Hunterdale to find friends on weekends. Sometimes I wind up in the Carter’s house on Sunday afternoon. They have a television and it’s usually tuned to the station that has Ed Sullivans “Toast of the Town” show. I like that show; you never know exactly what will be presented. It may be singing, dancing, or a circus act, or whoever is popular at the moment. If I watch the whole show, it will be almost dark when I get home.

Along with other newsworthy events is the weather. Every day, a local personality stands in front of boards that display maps with cold and warm fronts, forecasts for the next few days and any other weather events that may affect our area. The ability to graphically see such events dramatically alters the methods of planning farm operations.

I will learn later in life that most of the weather presenters are not meteorologists. For now I don’t know what meteorology is.

Television, and associated mass communications media will shrink the earth’s boundaries in the future. I will personally visit many of the places that I can only dream about as a child. I will witness the raw, violent side of a people’s struggle for equality; I will see the walls of Camelot fall; I will remotely, quietly, somberly, also have a dream.

I will sit on the floor in front of a future television set and watch Neil Armstrong step from the lunar module onto the surface of the moon.

The television set will have no knobs.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at archiepix@kingwoodcable.com