President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 inauguration was my first television experience. School released early to allow students to go home and watch this important historical event. We did not yet have a television, so our neighbors, the Borhoffs, invited us over to their house to view it. I stood outside watching my first television screen through an open window, as the room was crowded with adults.
Sometime in the mid 50s, we got our first used television: a large wooden box with a small screen about 9”x9.” A little rabbit ear antenna had to be finely turned to get the best reception. A few months later we upgraded to a larger TV, with a huge 19” black and white screen. Now this is the good life! Soon Dad brought home an “instant color TV screen.” It was a plastic film that clung to the regular screen. It had a blue band across the top (for the sky), a green band across the bottom (for the grass), and a wide yellow band across the middle (use your imagination). It was good for a few laughs, then quickly disappeared. I am sure none have survived. Truth is, I still do not believe in color television! It is beyond a miracle – absolutely impossible.
Television broadcasting usually ended at midnight, with the playing of the national anthem. A screen pattern, featuring an Indian in a full headdress would appear, and stay on until the station signed on the morning at 7:00 AM. Most kids of that era recall staring at that universal Indian face, eagerly waiting for the station to sign on.
We gathered in front of our TV after dinner, watching the snowy black and white image from the one TV station we could receive: WIMA. Favorites of our family included “I Love Lucy,” “The Hit Parade,” “Jack Benny,” the “Red Skelton Show,” and the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Yes, we watched as Elvis made his first “outrageous” appearance.
We lived one block from the television station with its tall broadcasting tower. Often we would wander over, and the staff would let one or two of us into the studio. We got to know them on first-name basis. Sometimes we even sat in the audience during live studio broadcasts. On weekends, some of the crew would let us watch as they ran the various electronic gadgets that did their magic.
A special benefit was dumpster diving at the television station. Their huge trash bins were always loaded with discarded films, promotional photos, slides, and other unique collectibles. Weekends were best time to visit, as only a couple guys were on duty and we helped relieve their boredom, since most of the weekend programs were canned, or sent from the network. Great fun!
~ An Aside ~
Many years later, Jan and I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Columbus. It was an Ohio State football game weekend, so we weren’t surprised when a fire alarm went off at 2:00 AM. We were on about the 10th floor, so we called downstairs and were told it was not a false alarm, and we should walk down the stairs to the lobby. Do not use the elevator.
When we entered the lobby about 2:30, it was packed with people, some dressed in night clothes, others in tuxedos and gowns. We were told it was a minor kitchen fire and could definitely smell the smoke. The staff brought in beverages and we mingled.
About 3:00 AM, two stretch limos arrived at the front door, and bellmen began wheeling in huge carts, piled with large trunks – followed by Red Skelton [Google him if you were born after 1960] followed by his entourage. The entire crowd burst into enthusiastic applause. Skelton must have assumed he had an amazing PR man who could turn out this kind of crowd at 3:00 AM!
The next morning as we caught the elevator down to breakfast, the door opened and there stood Red Skelton! We entered and he looked me up and down, and quipped, “You’re big enough to become a state.”