Baby Boomer Television

I love the Coen Brothers’ movies! They’ve been writing, directing and producing their own films for more than 30 years. They’re generally quirky while being profound at the same time. I go to them just because.


About five years ago, I went to the Coen Brother’s latest movie, “A Serious Man.” That movie is set in the Midwest in the mid-‘60’s. I was struck with the authenticity of the houses and other period-appropriate neighborhood scenes. One of those scenes involved a father, who had climbed up on his roof to adjust the family’s TV antenna, so that his family could receive a distant station’s signal.


That scene immediately took me back to my family’s back yard and the 1950’s antenna that was attached to it. Until my family could afford a rotor system, my Dad regularly climbed the antenna tower to adjust its orientation to point toward one of two areas where broadcast antenna towers were located.


Television sets were available to the relatively affluent families that lived near a large city. In fact, according to an article, Television Comes to America, 1947-57, “Of the 102,000 TV sets in the United States in early 1948, two-thirds were in the New York area, from which most of the first TV stations operated. Those living more than seventy-five miles from such urban centers as New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, or Los Angeles could do little more than read about TV.”


We got our set in about 1954, a small black and white console. I think we might have received three stations, one for ABC, one for CBS and the other for NBC. Programming was limited to certain hours, and for many other hours, I remember turning on the TV set to stare at one of the test signals that were being broadcast. No matter how hard I stared, the signal never changed.

In years to come, we got to watch “Howdy Doody Time,” “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” and “Beany and Cecil.” Next came Hopalong Cassidy, Little Rascals, Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, “Lassie,” “Rin Tin Tin,” “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon,” “Superman,” and “Sky King.”


As my grandmother used to say, “Things were swell.”