The TV was on the blink and I knew how to fix it, but the adults freaked out and wouldn’t let me.
By John Toth / Editor and Publisher
Today’s TVs are light, slick and thin with a picture that looks almost as good as real life. They are as big as you want and as expensive and inexpensive as you want. That’s not the way it used to be when I began to discover electronics as an 11-year-old in the 1960s.
Many of you remember when televisions had vacuum tubes that had to heat up, along with the bulky picture tubes. Sets back in those days also contained capacitors with enough built-up charge to kill a person. There were warnings all over on what not to touch and not to open the back cover unless you were an “authorized television technician.”
When we visited one of my mother’s friends from work in 1967, I wanted to watch TV in her living room while the adults engaged in boring conversation in the kitchen. But something was wrong with her set. The picture kept rolling upwards.
It wasn’t a hard fix. There were vertical and horizontal hold buttons on the back of the set. The adults were not really paying attention to the TV, or me. I looked in the back of the set and saw the two buttons, but they could not be turned by hand. I needed a screwdriver or something of the sorts to stop the rolling.
I considered myself pretty handy when it came to electronics, even at that age. I used to put together those christal AM radio kits from Radio Shack, the ones that worked on just the signal. No batteries needed. I think it was able to tune in one station.
Things were a lot simpler back then. Televisions, and just about everything else, are now computerized. Oftentimes fixing a TV is not even worth it. It’s easier to just throw it away and buy another one. But in 1967, when a TV broke, it got fixed. The new ones were just too expensive.
When the picture started rolling up or sideways, we just adjusted the hold buttons in the back until the rolling could no longer be stopped. Then we took the set to the neighborhood repair shop, where they replaced whatever broke.
When it came to TVs, my skills as an 11-year-old stopped at the vertical hold button. I had no desire to venture past the back cover and risk getting zapped by one of those high-voltage capacitors.
So, when the picture on this particular set kept rolling, I began searching for a screwdriver, but couldn’t find one.
What’s the next best thing? A knife, of course. Its tip would do the trick. So, I went to the kitchen and got a small knife from one of the drawers. The adults were absorbed in their conversation.
I took the knife into the living room and headed toward the set. Then I rolled the rickety old black and white TV away from the wall, and proceeded to insert the knife’s tip into the vertical hold button.
Just when I was about to turn it to make the picture stay in one place, I heard ear-shattering screams from the kitchen, and the two adult women were running towards me. The knife fell on the ground, and I was pulled away from the set.
I guess it looked pretty bad - a kid sticking a knife in the back of a television set. I can see now why they freaked out, but at the particular moment it didn’t quite register.
They were really mad at me, and probably had visions that I would be fried to a crisp on the spot had they not acted quickly.
I was so close, yet so far - and completely misunderstood.
I never got to adjust the picture on that TV. As a matter of fact, for some reason we never went back to visit that friend. We did run into each other years later and exchanged pleasantries.
She was probably thinking: “I wonder how he made this far without being fried by a TV set?”
I was thinking: “I wonder if her television picture is still rolling?”