By DAVID JONES
EARLY COMEDY: Burns and Allen was an early TV team.
celebrated its 60th anniversary Oct. 15. I remember those early years:
The first television I actually learned about was a year before started. We read of television in the school newspaper “Our Weekly Reader” and learned to call it TV even if we had never seen it.
Then the Watts, who lived two doors down from my house, bought a television set. It was an action so unique, a picture of the sale appeared in the Tulsa Tribune. There was no station in town, so the Watts built a television antenna tall enough to endanger low-flying aircraft and got the signal from Oklahoma City. The Watt’s seven-inch television picture, housed in a gigantic cabinet, was my first experience with television. They would kindly invite the Joneses down for an evening’s entertainment and we would watch a succession of programs, often only 15 minutes in length, seemingly shot through a snowstorm. Reception was, at best, iffy.
opened in 1949, but the Joneses didn’t get their first television set, a 15-inch Crosley, for over a year. It changed our lives. Friday night became movie night. Saturday night was devoted to Ken Murray and “Your Show of Shows.” We didn’t get the shows live of course. They were filmed live but that image was then transferred to film. We got the films, which meant the Christmas shows usually turned up in mid-January.
Television, however, was still a sometimes thing. Saturday morning would offer two and a half hours of television and then the set would go blank (except for the ubiquitous test pattern) until five o’clock, when the evening programming would begin, only to sign off at 10:30.
There were a lot of thrillers, variety shows and comedies but the major sport was wrestling. Viewed through my boyish memories, I’ll never forget the titanic duel between Chief Thundercloud and the Atomic Blond! Another time, my sister and I howled through one show starring a second-tier Hollywood star and we insisted my parents see it the next week. It was a dud and it took us a long time to get them to give “I Love Lucy” another chance.
Another high point of the week for we children came on Sunday afternoons. A fading B-movie actor had acquired the rights to all his movies and was leasing them to television stations market by market. It turned William Boyd from a near pauper to a multi-millionaire and the character he played, Hopalong Cassidy, became a national sensation. But the real fun of watching the Hoppy movies was looking at the commercials. The movie would be stopped for four or five minutes while some hapless, scared-to-death, sales person would try to sell items from Brown-Dunkin, then one of Tulsa’s finest department stores. Watching some poor girl try to extol red towels on black-and-white television was, to the 12-year-old mind, hysterical.
In 1952, I returned from vacation and raced to the television where I saw former Republican presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey being interviewed on TV. It was not that he was being interviewed that made it so special; it was that I actually saw him in Tulsa while he was being interviewed in New York. Live television had finally made it to Tulsa. That was followed by both political conventions in an era when you didn’t know who the nominee was going in. Exciting stuff!
Sunday mornings became known as the sea of talking heads. Stations were required by the Federal Communications Commission to have so many hours of local programming and the cheapest way to satisfy this need was to invite physicians or politicians or lawyers or whatever down to the station and talk about problems for half an hour. It wasn’t exhilarating television but it did keep the happy. One Tulsa entrepreneur, however, used this to his advantage. Appearing every Sunday morning, Lewis Meyer shamelessly plugged his Brookside bookstore and won a host of fans. When he died, after 40 years on the air, he had set a record for the longest-running weekly television show in U.S. history.
More attractions followed. An Ultra High Frequency station, , tried to give some competition but since most sets were built to receive only Very High Frequency stations, a special converter had to be added and not enough Tulsans bought one to keep alive. -TV (now ) soon entered the market, followed by -TV, which moved from Muskogee. For years those three stations and Educational Television (later ) comprised the programming choice of Tulsans.
And so things stayed until the mid-70s when Tulsa Cable entered the television market. For a long time cable brought us the Tulsa stations, an independent station from Ft. Worth, another from Kansas City, and one channel devoted to movies. That was what you paid your money for, but the additional programming was enough. Then Home Box Office arrived and the whole TV scene shifted again with viewers willing to shell out an additional $10 a month for movies that were newer, some sports events and some original programming.
Then sports broadcasting arrived on television. An outfit started showcasing Connecticut University basketball games. Later they went wider and was born. It was soon followed by channels centering on weather, cooking, history and both houses of Congress. Ultra High Frequency stations were added to the mix. Now hundreds of channels can be seen where 60 years ago only reigned supreme.
Yet despite that cornucopia of video goodies, sometimes there still is nothing worth watching!