Thursday, February 02, 2012

Do You Remember a Time Before Television?

1950's CBC test pattern
Although we were the first house in our neighborhood to own a television set, I know we weren't the first family in the city to own one because my dad bought ours second-hand.   He seldom bought anything new.

The TV set, which sat on legs in the corner of the living room, was a brown box with a window for the picture tube, no remote, no buttons, only dials on the outside and tubes on the inside.  Most of the time, if someone turned it on, all they would get was a test pattern.  We had the choice of one station; it was either the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) or nothing.

When there wasn't any programming, the test pattern was accompanied by continuous drone.  The drone, although quieter, sounded like an air raid siren.  The type of sound you would hear in school, and when heard,  you were to "duck and cover", as if hiding under your desk would save you from a nuclear attack.

 Late afternoon held the promise of children's programming.  If my mother allowed me, I'd turn on the television and watch programs, such as Uncle Chichimus, an entirely original Canadian production or Howdy Doody, a Canadian program, which all but duplicated the American original.

"Hello Kids.  Do you know what time it is?"

The answer came from the peanut gallery, "It's Howdy Doodey Time."

Then the Howdy Doody song would be broadcast across the airways.

Some radio programs, like Jack Benny, Our Miss Brooks and My Favorite Husband successfully crossed over from radio to this new media.  My Favorite Husband became I Love Lucy, first broad October 15, 1951 and, over sixty years later, is likely still broadcast via some cable networks.  If you can't find Lucy on your television screen, she's on DVD and lurking around various places on the Internet, waiting for you to seek her out.

The only radio program I have a clear memory of listening to, was Our Miss Brooks, and when it moved to television; I could see the characters I'd come to know via radio.

In those days, most of the programming on CBC was American.  But, in 1970, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) began to change all that.  Today, Canada enjoys its own successful recording, television and movie industries because of CRTC regulations.  Canada needs to work to be culturally distinct from the United States, and regulation is necessary.

Although most televsion shows, apart from children's programming, were imported from the United States, the CBC managed to produce some Canadian content.  One of my favorites was The Plouffe Family.

 At first, only broadcast in French, after its first successful year, an English version was also produced.  The Plouffes' were a working class family.   Mama Plouffe, a rotund woman with a bun, was the family matriarch.  Her angular husband went to work carrying a metal lunch box.  The family communicated from one floor of the house to another using a tube.

No nostalgic remembrance of the very early days of television would be complete, without mention of the Ed Sullivan Show, from 1948 until 1971, every Sunday evening Mr. Sullivan promised, "a really big shoe."   Much imitated in his day, Mr. Sullivan couldn’t sing, dance or act, but managed to host all the great entertainers of his time. 

I could write a book about the first years of television, but I'm positive many people already have.

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