My Brain, Peanuts, Remembers: Television

Hello Dear Readers!  Welcome to this edition of My Brain, Peanuts, Remembers.

Today’s Topic:  Television

Back in the 50’s, before there was nothing  good to watch on hundreds of satellite and cable TV channels,  we had to make do with nothing good to watch on only three measly little channels, ABC, NBC and CBS.

Ah the Simple Days!

Watching TV in the 50’s couldn’t have been simpler.  First of all, there was no remote to bother with.  We never had to spend upwards of a half hour rummaging around the Naugahyde davenport cushions trying to find the remote control.

Instead, my brothers and I would spend upwards of a half hour arguing over who should change the channel because they were the closest one to the television set.

I have one vivid memory of me and my little brother, Ricky, and my older brother, Peter, plastering ourselves against the back wall of our living room, each trying to make ourselves farthest away from the TV.  I can’t even imagine how many episodes of Ruff and Ready were wasted in this way.

Changing Channels

Changing the channel in those days was pretty simple.  You simply walked over to the TV and turned the dial until it would clunkily kachunk onto either 2 (ABC), 4 (CBS) or 6 (NBC).  The dial had way more numbers on it than 2, 4 and 6.  (It might have gone up to 11 now that I think about it.)

Obviously, TV manufacturers were the visionaries of the 1950’s. They kept their eyes focused on a day in the not too distant future when there might actually be more than snow to watch on all those other channels.

50's television snow
They saw the future and it didn’t look anything like this, thank god!

But in the 50’s, because there wasn’t that much on TV and because we were all so giddy about television viewing, we were all pretty much okay with watching snow.

My grandmother, who lived way out in the country and had no cable connection or antenna reception, claimed she got channel 13.  She’d proudly turn on her TV set and turn the dial to channel 13.  There  would be nothing but snow on the screen. But if you listened closely enough, you could occasionally make out the sound of voices although it was impossible to figure out what they were saying.

I remember visiting my grandmother and sitting in front of her TV set watching the snow and listening to the random voices.  Her TV set was pretty fancy.  It was in a blond wooden cabinet that had shuttered doors.  I’d sit in front of it, watching the snow and listening for voices while my grandmother would watch from her new white Naugahyde couch while she crocheted colorful afghans (the blankets not the people). My grandmother was totally on board with mid-century decor.

The Thrill of Saturday Morning Cartoons

My brothers and I would get up at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons.  But if we were too early, we would turn on the TV and watch the snow because all the stations quit broadcasting at midnight and didn’t resume broadcasting until about 7 a.m. in the morning.

So every night at midnight, all three stations would broadcast a recording of The Star Spangled Banner and then sign off.  Everybody was a lot more patriotic in those days.

Maybe because there was a cold war going on, and you never knew if tonight would be the night that Nikita Khrushchev would get tanked up on vodka and accidentally pass out on the atomic bomb button that was aimed directly at your hometown.

It’s little wonder that TV programmers figured it was probably a good idea to send everybody off to bed with a good dose of patriotism.

Anyway, on Saturday morning, my brothers and I would watch the snow until the thrill of the test pattern came on:

IndianHeadTestPattern16x9 (1)
Not only is this impressive, did you know one of the colors is magenta?

Once the test pattern came on things really got exciting.  It meant we were almost to the beginning of actual television broadcasting and one minute closer to watching the cartoon adventures of Ruff and Ready!

The test pattern was accompanied by a long tone like you would hear during an emergency broadcast warning.  Then an announcer would come on and explain what the colors of the test pattern were.  One of the colors was magenta. Every week my brothers and I wondered what color magenta was.

Okay just googled magenta,. and even google isn’t sure what color magenta is.

Sometimes while we were waiting for the cartoons to start, my brothers would scrape the frost off the freezer box in the refrigerator and eat it like a snow cone. I never cared much for the frost on the pre-defrost-free refrigerator freezers.  I always felt it had a funny aftertaste. But my brothers seemed to enjoy it.

freezer frost
Peter and Ricky viewed this freezer frost as the snow cone half full.

Ah yes!  TV in the 50’s.  I often ask myself if there’s anything today that compares to that long-ago  thrill of hearing the theme song to Ruff and Ready while eating freezer snow cones . . . and the answer, Dear Readers, is yes . . . practically everything!


Until next time . . . I love you

24 thoughts on “My Brain, Peanuts, Remembers: Television

  1. Our TV worked pretty much the same. Though in Australia it didn’t begin until 1956. Only one family in our street had one during the early sixties and we saw a lot of snow too. My parents bought on in 1966 and we watched in glorious black and white such gems as I Love Lucy. Those were the days when school grades dropped but our knowledge of American culture grew. Enjoyed the memories Linda.

    • Oh Michael, you must have really appreciated TV — not having it until 1966! My parents got a TV in the early 50’s and I really can’t even remember life without it. Do you think life was better once you got TV or was it more fun before? And I still love I Love Lucy!

      • Oh gosh, i was 5 when my gran got a black and white television and it was 1976. True, that was when we got television and then we moved to Namibia where there was NO television and that things called the radio became prominent. My favourite programme used to be Bonanza. Did you have Bonanza and what on earth are Naugahyde davenport cushions?

        • What a coincidence that your favorite program was Bonanza as Bonanza is currently my favorite program! I watch reruns every night on Amazon Instant Video. And I must say that program has held up really well.

          Naugahyde davenport cushions! HA! I suppose that does sound weird. Well, Naugahyde was the 50’s version of faux leather and for some strange reason my parents always called the couch the davenport. Maybe that was a 50’s thing too. And I must say I’m enjoying Bonanza but I would be enjoying it more I bet if I were sitting on a Naugahyde davenport cushion. LOL!

    • Ahahahah! How delightfully bizarre! Gosh how I love the United Kingdom’s take on things!! I can’t decide which I like better about you guys, that one of you came up with that eerily creepy test pattern or that you call tic tack toe Noughts and Crosses!!

  2. “So every night at midnight, all three stations would broadcast a recording of The Star Spangled Banner and then sign off.”
    In the UK it was God Save the Queen (the BBC were still playing it on TV in the 1990s). It was even played in cinemas/movie theaters – before my time, although I’m told there was a “mad dash” for the exits in order to avoid standing to attention.

    • Really!? I find that so interesting! So does everyone stand at attention when they play God Save the Queen? And do you have to put your hand on your heart? I just listened to God Save the Queen on YouTube. We call that song My Country Tis of Thee over here. (At least in my part of the country.) There are so many beautiful songs in the world, what a pity that the ones we are all forced into hearing the most are those two horrid tunes. (But compared to the Star Spangled Banner, God Save the Queen is a masterpiece.)

      • If the national anthem is played at an event such as a military tattoo then people are asked to “be upstanding” or something similar. I think only the most loyal subjects would do the hand-on-heart routine. It’s not something I can recall witnessing.

        • So it’s pretty much optional. That’s the way it should be. Here it would never occur to anyone not to stand and put their hand on their heart when it’s played before a public event.

  3. Somehow having only three channels (one of which was snow) seems better for kid’s coping skills then having instant access to anything your heart desires immediately. Times sure have changed! By the time Henry has kids they will probably program TV into your brain so you don’t have to feel bored for even .1 second.

    I think the reason your brother’s craved ice box snow cones reaulted from watching hours of the snow channel.

    • LOL!! I never put the freezer box snow and the tv snow together! I think you hit the nail on the head! And I wouldn’t be surprised if they have Comcast transplants by the time Henry grows up! His whole life will be lived with Peppa Pig on in the background!

  4. Linda…

    Peanut’s memories of 50’s TV seems again to parallel my own experience, with some minor alterations, possibly due to geography… My earliest memory of TV was during the 1954, or perhaps ’57 election, & nothing was on the tube but boring speeches, and fanatics chanting “I like Ike”; maybe it has something to do with how boring I find a lot of TV still today… But, my sibs and I also fought to stay furthest away from the channel changer, too. We got up to watch either Sheriff John, or Crusader Rabbit, or the sailor guy who drew Popeye in between cartoons… this was in the Seattle area, I guess, while my dad was stationed at Fort Lewis, near there….

    Nice retrospective, my dear, though was it really necessary to make us listen to that intro? Sheer comedic cruelty, if you ask me…not to mention what the lyrics did to my breakfast…. well, we won’t speak of it…. But, then, too, I’m easily offended, with a delicate system, so, don’t mind me….

    Thanks, for the memories, and the chortles… I haven’t chortled in months….


    Ned, aka, gigoid, the dubious


    • Aha Dubious! So you and I had the Saturday morning cartoon experience in common! (Maybe that explains everything! What exactly, I’m not sure, but still!) I grew up in Southeastern Washington (Waitsburg) and we didn’t have Sheriff John or Crusader Rabbit. But a door has opened up in my brain that is suddenly remembering that guy who drew Popeye between commercials! Oh I love when that happens! Good remembering Ned! I wish I remembered something historical from TV like I like Ike! My parents must have been democrats. I do remember how boring the Friday night fights were though.

      • Linda… or in Spanish, Hermosillita….

        Aye, I agree, the fights were mostly boring, unless Floyd Patterson was fighting…. but, they also had professional wrestling on TV, on Saturday nights, I think… I remember seeing Gorgeous George (the first male in long hair I ever saw) on a black and white, tiny screen,, flying off the turnbuckle with his long hair streaming, to hit his opponent with a cross-body takedown… Sheer poetry in motion!….

        If you were in eastern Washington in the fifties, I guess you were pretty lucky to get any signal there at all, (unless you were near Spokane, or Walla Walla…. I still love that name….), so, you may not have heard about the sailor who drew Popeye…. I found out years later, the reason he disappeared from the show was because he got tired of kids, and began coming to work drunk, drawing Popeye a bit too realistically, until the parents saw it a couple times, & ran him off the air….It was quite a scandal at the time, from what I’ve read about it…. I love history…. it’s often not quite the same as we read about in school, though, which I find even more interesting….

        See ya, & thanks for the memories…. to channel Bob Hope…. 😉



        • Oh I forgot about the professional wrestlers! I do remember my brothers watching them. They were complete originals weren’t they? Oh! and I just remembered they also had roller derby girls too! Remember them?

          That’s interesting about the Popeye artist! Oh that would have been a fun episode to watch!

          I actually graduated from Walla Walla high school. Walla Walla only had three channels too. I think you had to be in Spokane before you could pick up any signals though. We were pretty backwater!

  5. Ah, you paint the picture so accurately, Linda. Your article plus ‘joehoover’s contribution are spot on.
    When Lew Grade was finally granted a license in the UK to launch a THIRD television station that would compete with the BBC by offering ‘light entertainment’ financed by advertising breaks, the intellectual elite of Britain were unimpressed.
    When Lew encountered a rather sneering and snobbish put-down of his program plans by a member of the broadcasting elite, he rather famously replied:

    “Nobody ever went broke by UNDERESTIMATING public taste.”
    His wise words live on…! 🙂

  6. Ah… those carefree days of Saturday morning cartoons, with their special guests, The Three Stooges… I was a faithful viewer, tho it was hard to hear the shows when my head was in the freezer. I stayed in too long once, and the frost suddenly mushroomed and encased my head– kinda like the white corpuscle scene in Fantastic Voyage… How I survived childhood, I’ll never know… : P

    • LOL!! I too loved the Three Stooges! Oh how we laughed. I remember one particular episode when Curly got his head stuck in the freezer and . . . oh wait a minute . . . that was you Mark? Ha! I always thought you looked familiar to me. I just couldn’t place you!

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