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Column - Early TV was pure 'magic'

It's impossible to convey the "magic" of television to anyone younger than the age of, say, 55.

What a nostalgic treat it was to read Jo Colvin's story, "Keeping the KCMT legacy alive," in the September 8 Echo Press.

Colvin conveyed that early-TV excitement of both staff and viewers so well. As the story makes abundantly clear, those early television pioneers, the owners and staff, had no idea at first what an impact they were making on viewers far and wide. Even famous media pundits, 50 years ago, did not predict the pervasive role TV would come to play in all of our lives.

To this day, I consider TV to be something of a miracle. I first heard of it when I was about 6 or 7. My sister came home one day, almost speechless, to tell us a friend of hers on the other side of town had this "box thing" in her living room that showed moving pictures like a black-and-white movie. She said the story was about an Indian princess. At first we thought poor Ginger had lost it. Mom was ready to haul her off to the nearest mental institution. My family, technologically Stone-Age, had never heard of such an invention.

Lo and behold, less than a year later, the neighbors bought a television set. We were enthralled. Amazed. Astonished. Their living room was filled for days with eager neighbors, gaping wide-eyed, grinning ear-to-ear, like natives on a remote island suddenly seeing the landing of a "flying machine."

Then, another year later, after constant whining from us kids, Dad, who was always against the latest "trend," grudgingly caved in. He bought a used Motorola-brand TV set, a large box of deep-brown wood with a greenish-gray "window" on the front. My oldest brother Jimmy, who was about 14 at the time, had a knack for mechanical things. At least he thought he did. As we kids squirmed impatiently, Jimmy plugged the set in and fiddled with an antenna on top of the set. We peered and squinted, waiting for a movie to appear. Nothing but hissing "snow." We felt like we were looking out a porthole window of a ship in the middle of an at-sea blizzard. Whining with disappointment, we begged Dad to take it back and get a brand-new one - one that works.

"Shh! Listen, I hear something!" one of us said.

Sure enough, we could hear faint voices from the box, appearing, then disappearing.

"Why isn't the picture coming through?" we asked Jimmy, still putzing with the antenna.

"Must be sunspots," Johnny said.

Every time the neighbor's set didn't come in clear, we all said "Sunspots!" It had become a new curse word.

One neighbor was convinced jealous Russians were diverting sunspots to America just so we couldn't watch TV.

Jimmy, looking defeated, pronounced the verdict: "Needs a real antenna," he said. "Like the neighbors have."

We sank into despair, knowing Dad wouldn't spring for a real antenna.

Next day, Jimmy went and bought a big coil of copper wire. He rigged up a tall 2-by-4 beam on the garage at the other end of the back yard. Then he strung copper wire from that beam, through the living room window to the TV set. He apparently thought he was Thomas Edison. We thought he was crazy.

We turned the set on. Behold! Something was moving!

"Hey, I can see something!" I said.

Sure enough, there were people, moving and talking in the porthole, emerging from the blurry snowstorm. The clarity would fade now and then, but at least we could see and hear this new miracle. We kept turning the channel, click-click-clack. At that time we could only receive four channels: 4,5, 9 and 11, all of them quite blurry, especially when the villainous sunspots invaded. One day, a new channel came to town - Channel 7, KCMT, from Alexandria. We were elated. It was the clearest channel of all.

Colvin's Echo Press feature story and those great photos brought back those happy days: Glenn Flint reading the news in front of that familiar Rural Electric Cooperative logo; the Welcome Inn show with hosts Jon Haaven and Natalie Johnson sitting on a couch with a real tiger at their feet (yikes!) and Lawrence Welk Show musician Myron Floren (one of Dad's heroes) being interviewed.

In this age of high-definition TVs as big as walls, you've got to be mighty old to appreciate the magic of those early-TV days, when even blurry reception was a thrill and when sunspots were as bad as invading aliens from outer space.