Thursday, May 5, 2011

Radio With Pictures

A little article in the April 1950 edition of Popular Mechanics today has made me grateful for the television technology we have now, everything from flat screen TVs to s-video cables and VGA TV cables - all the things I never think about when we're watching The Office and reruns of Seinfeld and Pilot Guides. Just like I never think about that first TV set I remember from my childhood - a black and white model with rabbit ears on top, that sat in a wobbly metal stand in our living room.

Back then, there was no optimized cable company to make getting that television signal any easier. But even in 1964, when I was two, watching the six o'clock news from my playpen (yes, there is even a home movie of this) things were a tad easier than they were for the Parsons family back in 1950.

The pictures you see here are of Mr. and Mrs. Parsons, who lived in the little town of Astoria, Oregon in 1950. Mrs. Parsons was keen to have "radio with pictures," or television - since she knew that a lot of people were watching it down in Seattle. But Seattle was 140 miles away, with a lot of 4000 foot high mountains standing between Mrs. Parsons and Texaco Star Theater. Luckily, Mr. Parsons not only ran the local radio station (without pictures) but also maintained the radar and navigational devices for the local fishermen. So he rigged up an 8 tube receiver-sender up on top of his house and finally managed to get a signal.

Cue everyone going over to the Parsons' place to watch television - literally everyone in town. It got so that the doorbell would ring and they'd just yell, "Come in and have a seat!" without looking up. But eventually, as you can imagine, they started running out of those seats (also out of popcorn and soda). So Mr. Parsons decided to get the whole town rigged up using - you guessed it - cable:

He strung cable up buildings, down elevator shafts, through underground tunnels carrying utility lines. The cable went into private homes, taverns, stores...Parsons figures his receiving-sending unit with coaxial cable system to service 10 television sets could be manufactured to sell for about $1000.

That that was a lot of money back in 1950 - never mind a lot of buildings and elevator shafts decorated with a whole lot of cables. So I'm mindful of the amazing technology we have now. And we can even get Texaco Star Theater - on YouTube, for example - so there's that, too.


vanilla said...

I lkike the story. Lots of signals down the pipe since then!

IludiumPhosdex said...

After all, the main reason cable TV (or, as it was originally called, "community antenna television"--CATV for short) originated was to improve TV reception in difficult terrain.

And the very first such (and, for that matter, the oldest) cable TV company in the country, Service Electric Cable TV, traces its origins to a crude system in Mahanoy City, PA set up in 1947 to bring in the signals of the three Philadelphia TV stations as were otherwise impeded by hilly terrain.

Bill said...

I remember my mom's stories about having the first television for miles around when she was a girl. People would crowd into my grandparents' house to watch snowy moving pictures on a round screen.
Times have changed, and television viewing today reminds me of the pages of Fahrenheit 451.

Mimi said...

Wow. Just wow.