When color TVs were the message


By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

I was thinking recently what would be my childhood’s equivalent of today’s cell phone craze and concluded that it had to be the advent of color TV.

Not all of us jumped at the chance to buy up the newest models with the brightest and biggest color screens. They cost a lot. Some of us remained satisfied watching a monochrome screen until the color prices came down.

We did eventually get a color TV, one of those consoles with the 25-inch screen (measured diagonally). To us, it was huge. We were glued to the TV and watched anything in color. The set was the message more than the program, some of which were still produced in black and white. Soon, everything was broadcast in color.

It was a grand day when the set was delivered in the summer of 1969. It dominated our living room. From the top of it extended a rabbit-ear antenna, and my mother placed some decorations on it to make the set look pretty.

We invited some of the neighbors to watch it with us Sunday night. They still had black and white TVs. The conversation focused on the set and how vivid the colors were. The programing was secondary.

The kids looked in the TV Guide to see when our favorite cartoons came on in color on Saturday mornings, and we watched them together, taking in every inch of that beautiful color screen.

The networks had a full load of cartoons Saturday mornings, and if you wanted to see them, you just had to watch them when they were broadcast. We couldn’t record them to watch later. The medium controlled the message and what we did at certain times.

I remember in the fall of 1968 walking past an electronics store on my way home from school and seeing in the window a 25-inch color TV. I stopped and watched it for a few minutes. One of the post-season baseball games was on. I was in a small crowd standing in front of the store window.

Those of us standing there did so because we could not afford a giant color TV. Those who already had one watched the game in their homes, not on the street.

I also remember thinking that we have to get one of these. A year later, I hurried past the storefront to watch the playoffs on our big, beautiful color TV.

But soon this fabulous addition to our home started ailing as its vacuum tubes weakened. It had to be one of the last models still made with tubes before the advent of the transistor. Maybe that’s why we could even afford it, because they were pushing them out the door to make room for the newer, more dependable models.

The TV started losing its picture quality. The colors were all mixed up. We couldn’t afford a repair service to come out and look at it, and this was way before I could get on Google or Youtube and get detailed instructions on how to try to fix it.

So, I went down to the local TV repair shop, explained to the technician the symptoms, and he hooked me up with some new tubes. I was 14 years old and about to start high school. The technician who sold me the tubes also pointed out which parts of the TV not to touch because even when the set was turned off, it contained high voltage.

I wasn’t going to touch anything but the tubes, anyway, but it was nice of him to mention it. I went home, took off the back of the TV set and replaced three tubes. When I turned the TV on, the bright, vivid color screen was back, for a while at least. I felt like a neighborhood hero.

Warning: Please don’t do stuff like this, although it is unlikely that anyone these days would still have a working TV set with vacuum tubes.

I could never do the same thing to a cell phone, They are too small and complicated and don’t have vacuum tubes.