Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 14, 2012

Ed Hungness: My first television: For better or for worse

By Ed Hungness, Local columnist

---- — I remember a mid-October day when I was in the fifth grade as the most exciting day of my youth.

It was the day that our first television set was scheduled to be delivered. The TV man was going to set it up in the corner of our living room where our floor model radio previously resided.

The old, faithful radio had been banished to the attic, where it would collect dust and soon be forgotten. It was to be replaced by an 18-inch black and white RCA console television that had been manufactured utilizing cutting-edge technology.

I wanted to skip school so that I could be on hand to witness this arrival and lend a hand where necessary. Alas, my parents thought that school attendance was more important for my future development.

The day dragged on like an eternity. I didn't hear a word my teacher said and I doodled on my lined-writing tablet, drawing pictures of our new television. Finally the bell rang, and school was over for the day. Heel-dust flew from my sneakers as I ran home to view the new wonder that would allow us to watch cowboy movies in our own living room! I dashed up the steps, threw open the door and gazed into an empty corner. The TV guy hadn't arrived yet and I felt a sense of panic and disappointment.

Eventually, he arrived and I hovered over him, watching his every move. RCA included a rabbit ear antenna, which sat on top of the cabinet. As he hooked the twin-lead wire to the terminals on the back of the set, he explained how we must adjust the position of the rabbit ears to get the best picture.

I listened intently so I could teach Mom and Dad how to operate the new device. He explained the controls and then it happened. With a twist of his wrist, the off and on knob clicked and we waited while the tubes warmed up. The first thing we saw looked like snow. He turned the channel selector knob to 17 and presto, a picture appeared. On the screen right there in our living room was a guy in a suit telling us about the weather.

That night after supper, the family gathered in front of the new addition. Dad turned the knob and waited for a picture to appear. He stood beside the cabinet and we advised him when he had the rabbit ears tweaked to the perfect position.

There wasn't any discussion regarding what to watch; there was only one channel. The next closest station was in St. Louis, which was beyond the capabilities of our rabbit ears. To get another channel, we would have needed a tower or at least an antenna on the roof. So, for the first year of TV watching in our household, we watched whatever was on channel 17.

In the early days of television, our local station often broadcast old movies. Thank goodness many of them were cowboy movies, which kept me happy. On weekends I would often stay glued to the set until the station signed off the air at midnight and the only thing to watch was a test pattern with a picture of an Indian chief in the middle of the screen. I knew then that it was time to go to bed.

Eventually, we acquired a second channel from a nearby town, and after adding an outdoor antenna and rotor, which were attached to the chimney, we were able to pull in a third channel. With three channels to select from, we had to determine what the family was going to watch. This was the source of some differences of opinion. Like most of our neighbors, we were a one-television-family.

In those early days of TV, our family gathered before the set as Elvis Presley performed on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and later, a group of mop-headed lads from England first appeared on American television. They called themselves The Beatles.

We laughed at "I Love Lucy" and tuned in weekly to watch Ralph and Alice Kramden on "The Honeymooners." We witnessed history being made as NASA launched the first astronaut into space and we cried when President Kennedy was assassinated. Television changed the way we lived, for better or for worse, but Walter Cronkite summed it up best when he ended his nightly news broadcast by saying, "And that's the way it is."

Ed Hungness and his wife became full-time residents of Fife Lake in 2005 after Ed's retirement. He can be reached at or by mail at P.O. Box 57, Fife Lake, MI 49633