Friday, August 14, 2009

Life Before Cable & Satellite TV (by Josh Seff)


One of my best childhood memories was watching my favorite shows and sports on a black and white TV. The TV screen was small and of course had a rabbit ear antenna sitting on top. Remember how you had to get the antenna in just the right position to get decent reception? Usually this involved a family member (that would be me) having to hold the antenna to get the best reception. If you didn’t get the antenna just right, you get the dreaded lost horizontal control where the picture would scroll around and around making your head spin.

The TV’s back then had tubes and took a while to “warm-up.” There was a TV repair store on Church Ave. and Dahill Rd. that had a “Tube Tester” to check if you had a bad tube and get a new one if it was burned out. Unlike the hundreds of channels we have now, back then we only had 7 channel choices-2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13.

Changing channels actually involved some physical effort-getting off the couch and turning the dial. Remote control? We didn’t need no stinkin’ remote control! I’ve always been a channel changer whether it’s a radio or a TV. I actually broke our TV channel changer dial. I would spin the TV dial like a Vegas roulette wheel! The only way to turn the dial after my rough treatment was to use a pair of pliers on the little metal stub that remained. I remember watching TV at Charlie Gili’s house and changing the channels. When Charlie’s father saw me spin the dial he called out, “Hey, that’s not some part from a submarine!”

We finally got a color TV in 1975 or ‘76 but the rabbit ears remained a necessity. Now, the problem was not the horizontal control but losing the color if the antenna was not positioned perfectly. Many people had roof antennas but we rented and landlords usually didn’t like you messing with their roofs or chimneys. Roof antennas were not always the solution to bad reception either. You had to make sure the antenna was pointed towards the World Trade Center where the TV stations broadcasted their signals. I discovered the perfect solution one day-an antenna that rotates sold at RadioShack! A small motor that you control from your living room turns the antenna until you get the best reception. With the help of Steven Marshak (spelling?) we installed my rotary antenna on the roof above the second floor balcony. Hey, we weren’t on the actual roof of the house so no need to inform the landlord! The other selling point of the rotary antenna was the possibility of picking up a TV signal from Philadelphia and watching hockey games. Unfortunately, I was never able to pick up a strong signal out of Philly. I might have been hallucinating, (it was the 70’s) but a couple of times I could make out the resemblance of a hockey game mixed in with mostly TV snow.

Remember, this is before cable came to Brooklyn and we could only watch Ranger away games on channel 9 (WOR) with Jim Gordon doing play by play and Bill (The Big Whistle) Chadwick commentating. The home games were shown on the MSG Cable Network only in selected Manhattan areas around the Garden. My aunt and uncle lived in co-op apartment near the Garden so if we couldn’t get tickets to a play-off game, I would ask them if we could watch on their cable TV. Eventually Charlie, Alfred Guerrero and I got Ranger season tickets up in the blue seats-section 440! I think it was only around $180 per season ticket or around $4.50 per game! The problem is there were three people for only two seats. Fortunately, Charlie created a spreadsheet (pre-computer) and a schedule that had the three of us going to an equal number of games. The other amazing thing was that Charlie set up the schedule so we would each see the same number of visiting teams. Of course, there were complaints occasionally if someone didn’t have tickets to a big rivalry game. We even found a way around this problem so all three of us could go to a game. We would get an old ticket stub and wrap a ten dollar bill around it and hand it to the ticket taker. We knew which ticket takers would accept the “bribe.” The three of us would actually sit in the two seats if we couldn’t find an empty seat. It’s ironic that today Alfred is a security guard at the Garden! Look for Al and his big mustache at ice-level. He opens the gate to the dressing room between periods.

Today you can watch any game and team with the NHL Center Ice package on cable or satellite TV. The games are now broadcasted in high definition which is great for hockey viewing. It would’ve been nice having all these viewing options and technology when we were growing up. However, we sure had some good times trying to watch as many games as possible.

Josh Seff
 

3 comments:

Michael said...

There are still many of them who do not know what exactly a satellite TV is and how it can change your television viewing habits. It is wireless system that delivers television programming directly to the viewers’ house or business. It consists of a dish antenna which is about 18 to 24 inches in diameter that is perched on your terrace or roof top. It takes very less space than those cable wires that dangle around your house. Television and satellite stations transmit programming via radio signal.

Anonymous said...

LOL! "Not a part of a submarine!" Yep, my dad was a Navy man and he certainly knew that the TV channel dial was not any up periscope mechanism...although that is exactly how Josh treated it! I just broke the dial on my washing machine and before that, the dial on one of my window air-conditioners. That means we have to have 2 sets of pliers at the ready at all times! Josh was then (and still is, it sounds like) a master channel changer! Impatient little basta%rd! Drove me crazy. As far as picking up the Philly hockey games goes, it was sort of like one of those sci-fi flicks, peering into the haze of electrical fuzz and seeing who knows what! Hockey? Maybe. Don't forget the infamous UHF or was it VHS channels...#49! Wrestling with Goya commercials. Trouble dividing up season tickets? Nah. EXCEPT for the 1972 All-star game hosted at the Garden. If I recall correctly, we put our hames in a hockey helmet and picked 'em out. Josh and I were the "winners" and Al was pissed off and thought that we'd rigged it! BTW, Al still has my copy of Brad Parks' book "Play the Man!" Those were fun days! I can't tell you how many fights broke out between my brothers and me over which one of us would get up to change the channels, but it was more than a few! Great story Josh!!
Charlie G

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