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Simple Joys: Old TV Shows and Network Sign-Offs

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I've mentioned in previous columns my love of the simple joys of cast iron cooking, vinyl records, and manual typewriters. These are all niche pastimes, but pastimes that are either seeing a small resurgence, or are still holding on by a small thread; hanging on to the train of progress.

In today's age where technology moves at lightening speed across the Atlantic, e-mails send pictures of your children to friends across the world, and we can all be reached 24 hours a day, there are some some things that I lament the loss of.

Just the other day I was chatting about things we miss in today's connected life. I'm sure people of the older generations will come up with many more than I can, but a few from my childhood come to mind.

One thing that I miss is the old local children's television shows, broadcast and produced locally. Growing up within aerial antenna reach of Philadelphia I remember watching WPVI ABC Channel 6 and shows such as Chief Halftown and Captain Noah. I also remember this show called StarStuff, an odd little show about a kid with a supercomputer in his room that allowed him to talk to a girl in the future.

These shows were campy and had limited production value, but were programs that stuck with me. I can still hear the chords of "Send your pictures to dear old Captain Noah", a song sung during every Captain Noah episode when the submitted drawings of local children were shown on the air. I remember sitting by the TV set waiting anxiously to see the brief shot of my drawing.

Children today do not have access to these locally produced treasures. They are instead given multiple choices of half a dozen kid-oriented channels such as Nickelodeon, Disney, and Pax.

Another thing that you don't see anymore is the television sign-off. Around 2 or 3 every morning, television stations would give their vital stats, play the national anthem, and go dark for a few hours. As recently as 1991 the mighty WPVI Channel 6 in Philadelphia, the fourth largest television market in the nation, would go dark after the Million Dollar Movie (usually some campy B-movie such as Airport '77 or The Watermelon Man).

In those days it seemed that night was nearly endless. Insomniacs or those up feeding their newborns were subjected to a test signal or static if they turned on their televisions. Today we can watch movies, the late late show, the early early show, or go shopping. Night doesn't seem as long and there is always something on.

Is life better and more interesting today than those days past? Probably yes. There are some things we miss as we drive quickly down life's highway. We may see the big picture and get there in a hurry. The small things – the quaint little house, the picket fence, and the nice flower garden – are missed as we drive quickly by.

These were things we took for granted when they were a part of everyday life, but are now remembered as a quaint reminder of where we were and how far and fast we now travel.

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About Tom Bux

  • whorton

    I totally agree with you regarding TV signoffs. . . In these 24 hour days of continuous cable television, one misses the mandatory break that such signoffs ensured. Not to mention, the abject fear they caused in a 6 year old who has fallen asleep on the couch as he realized that his only link with the rest of the world is about to be severed.

  • Jay Umphres

    Thanks for the kind hearted post.