May 28th……..“TELL US, GRANDPA, HOW MANY TELEVISIONS DID YOU HAVE ON YOUR FARM IN MINNESOTA DAYS? WERE THEY THE GIANT FLAT SCREENS? HOW MANY HUNDRED CHANNELS”?
Every one of the wooden, old-fashioned, vertical sliding windows our farm home possessed were slid up in their tracks to the open position. A brisk, prairie wind was blowing that evening and we hoped to catch the cooling effects of a crosswind through the window screens as our family sat down to enjoy some television together.
“Hey Daddy!!?, said I in my little boy curiosity, “Marshall Dillon on “Gunsmoke” looks like he’s in a snowstorm. But I can kinda see cactus behind him and the desert sun is shining in the background. How come”? “Well, son,” said our father, Russell, “Looks like it’s time for you run outside around the house to “fix it” for us”!!
What Dad meant by that remark was that, back in those simpler days of the long ago, television sets were in need of something called an antenna to bring in the image, from off of the invisible airwaves, and onto the TV’s “picture tube”. I was about to be the human instrument to make that happen in a fine-tuning sort of way. 😉
Being obedient to Dad’s directive, I stepped out the front door of our farm home and into the twilight of another handsome Minnesota evening. Mourning Doves in our nearby wooded windbreak sang a soothing melody to my ears as I rounded the corner of the house and arrived at, what seemed to be, a MILE HIGH metal pole that, at its crown, rested an aluminum wonder called a television antenna. This foldable metal marvel (which to me looked like something right out of a science fiction movie) somehow magically captured electrical impulses from television stations many miles away from us and transformed them into moving images on our TV inside our house. The invention up on our roof had a central “spine” or trunk with cross-beams of aluminum that went from wide at one end and graduated to little cross-beams at the other. I suppose you could say it resembled a horizontal “Christmas tree” of sorts.
Electronic TV engineering, still being in its infancy in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, was rather primitive in being able to send a strong “signal”, consistently, to local family television sets. A poor signal, that we called “snow”, often manifested its presence on the TV screen as a mass of black n white “confetti” rampaging across the screen that either hampered the TV show you were trying to see, or totally obliterated it in a “blizzard” of hissing sounds and a zillion black n white dots dancing all over the picture tube. Most times you could hear the actors voices in the background, but good luck on SEEING them on that TV screen!!
The tall metal pole, crowned by the antenna, had the ability to be turned by a type of handle system that would, simultaneously, turn the antenna far above the roofline of our humble home. Through the open screened window, either little sister Candice, or myself would hear our parent’s command to “Turn it (the antenna) farther to the right……..or left”!!! Eventually, our youthful endeavors would find the “sweet spot” in catching the broadcast waves over the air and we’d hear our parents through the window saying, “There ya go!!! That’s great!!! O.K., you can come inside now”!!!
With mission accomplished, my barefoot toes happily dug into the clover-mingled lawn below me and I zipped back around that corner and into the family Living Room once again to see a much more clear image of “Matt Dillion” (the sheriff on the Western TV show, “Gunsmoke”) capturing the bad guys and saving the day for all the good folks of Dodge City, Kansas.
To have even just the one television in our farm family’s life was a very big deal in those days. For one thing, even having a TV, at all, was considered a super fun luxury for any family of that era.
Some time in the early 1950’s is when our parents took a deep breath and made the plunge in buying a single television set for our farm family. Up until then, entertainment was gotten from various story-time radios shows to listen to, or the real old-fashioned entertainment of sitting down and reading a book.
Television industry advertisements of the early 1950’s sold some TV sets for about $300. In 2021 dollars, that would be over $3,000.00………so, you see, having even ONE television in your home was a BIG investment.
It’s likely that our farm parents bought our very first television from “Ralph’s Radio Shop” in Kiester, Minnesota. Ralph Courier was well-respected in our community for selling and servicing all types of radios, televisions, appliances, etc.. Besides buying the PHILCO television itself, Dad & Mom purchased a long cardboard box which housed our fold-out, aluminum antenna for “capturing” the pictures off of those invisible waves in the sky. What was kinda funny was, at first, rather than put the antenna up on the roof, our folks assembled the very large antenna in our sister Rosemary’s bedroom upstairs. Good thing our big sister was a bendable and wiry little girl in those days, cause she had to live life while dodging in, out and under that antenna. Eventually, Dad moved the antenna up onto the roof for a better TV picture reception.
Rather than hundreds of channels that are available in today’s high-tech electronic culture, there were only maybe four basic TV channels that I can recall. Channel 3 (KGLO) in Mason City, Iowa and there was also KTTC (NBC affiliate) out of Rochester, Minnesota. Then there was KAAL (ABC affiliate) out of Austin, Minnesota, and, I think, KEYC (CBS affiliate) out of Mankato, Minnesota.
And, ohhhhh, my young readers…….. I can attest that television gave your grandpa his first love for poetry. You know how? For one thing, back in our day, TV stations were not a 24 hour a day enterprise. Depending on the part of the USA you lived in, most broadcast companies shut down operations at either 11pm or 12am (Midnight). Some channels said “Goodnight” to their watching audience by playing our great nation’s National Anthem of “The Star Spangled Banner”. Some TV stations had a pastor read a prayer and still some other stations would broadcast an inspirational film footage of an airplane flying in and out of giant white clouds while the following poem was read to the audience.
“High Flight” written by Royal Canadian Air Force Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr. (1922 – 1941). At the tender age of just 19 years old, Officer Magee was killed in a mid-air collision over England during World War II. He was born in China to parents who were Christian missionaries to the Chinese people.
“OH!!! I HAVE SLIPPED THE SURLY BONDS OF EARTH, AND DANCED THE SKIES ON LAUGHTER-SILVERED WINGS; SUNWARD I’VE CLIMBED, AND JOINED THE TUMBLING MIRTH, OF SUN-SPLIT CLOUDS, __ AND DONE A HUNDRED THINGS YOU HAVE NOT DREAMED OF__WHEELED AND SOARED AND SWUNG HIGH IN THE SUNLIT SILENCE. HOVERING THERE, I’VE CHASED THE SHOUTING WIND ALONG, AND FLUNG MY EAGLE CRAFT THROUGH FOOTLESS HALLS OF AIR……..UP, UP THE LONG DELIRIOUS, BURNING BLUE I’VE TOPPED THE WINDSWEPT HEIGHTS WITH EASY GRACE. WHERE NEVER LARK, OR EVEN EAGLE FLEW___AND WHILE WITH SILENT, LIFTING MIND I’VE TROD THE HIGH UNTRESPASSED SANCTITY OF SPACE, ___PUT OUT MY HAND, AND TOUCHED THE FACE OF GOD. ><>
What a gifted young man Officer Magee was to have the maturity to write such elegant prose that was used in so many ways after his young death. In my young boy days, that grand poem was used to sign on and sign off the the business day for many a television station over the years. To have grown up in this era of television and family farm life, I give God thanks every day for being raised in the time of our nation when even television stations cared about families including ours says this grateful Norwegian Farmer’s Son.