Mike Ruby

Mike Ruby

In the early 1950s, families were beginning to make a very expensive purchase – their first television. Word spread quickly at school whenever one of my friends got a TV. While delivering newspapers, I examined the rooftops to spot any newly installed TV antennas. Gleaming antennas meant the residents of the house were hip and a lot nicer than my parents.

To put it mildly, Dad and Mother were conservative, never wanting to be on the cutting edge of anything. It was embarrassing. You can imagine my excitement in 1954 when a used 21-inch black and white RCA console TV was delivered to our house. It was like Christmas morning. I was so excited I didn’t sleep for a week.

The TV was the crown jewel of the room, a piece of fine furniture to be admired, including the rabbit years, so prominently displayed on top. Soon we bought a set of TV trays and Sunday nights were extra special as we ate sandwiches and popcorn while watching the Ed Sullivan Show. Other shows like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Gun Smoke and Red Skelton quickly became favorites, but we were only permitted to eat in front of the TV on Sunday nights.

Two years later, a modest TV antenna was installed on our roof and the rabbit ears, minus the wads of tin foil that had been attached for better reception, were stored in the basement. The TV repairman showed up every few months to replace tubes and figure out why there was so much “snow” in the picture. Dad got mad when he saw the repair bills, exclaiming the service charges were outrageous and maybe he should start a TV repair business.

Minor family squabbles occasionally erupted when we couldn’t agree on which program to watch. There was no remote control, so I usually was the one to get up and change the channel and take a vote to determine if the program was OK or go to the next channel. Keep in mind there were only three channels to choose from, so it didn’t take long.

Today’s families own several TVs and enjoy an endless menu of programs. Rarely do they watch TV together because there are enough sets in the house for everyone to view separately. In addition to TVs, an abundance of computers, cell phones, and tablets do a good job of dividing the family unit, sending members to various parts of the house for their viewing pleasure.

The days when families gathered in the same room to enjoy wholesome entertainment on a black and white screen are gone forever. There’s no going back to the decade of the '50s but I’m glad I was a part of it.

Mike Ruby is a Muscatine resident who writes a monthly column about life for the Journal.

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