Houses with antenna

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Don’t Touch That Dial

March 10, 2015

There’s never been a drug more addicting than television. Given his reluctance to allow one in our home, I think my father understood this instinctively.

He preferred the simple pleasures of radio, which you could listen to while doing other things. You could drive while music played, work with a comedy show on in the background. You could move around the house and never miss a thing. Not so with tv, which demanded that you devote your entire worshipful attention to it.

That didn’t bother me or my sister. The magical glowing box was more than worthy of our full devotion. Never before in the entire history of man had something so astonishingly captivating been created. We would have watched almost anything, but early tv was GOOD.

The first shows were often recreations of radio programs, many of which had their roots in vaudeville, and those entertainers knew how to hold an audience. Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason and their peers were brilliant showmen, and they brought all their mighty talents to the screen. The radio westerns and crime dramas made an easy transition, and old and new comedies and game shows proliferated.

Then there were the true innovators like the astonishing Ernie Kovaks, who delighted in exploring the visual possibilities of the new medium. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Burns and Allen and Danny Thomas were reinventing the sitcom for the small screen, and Edward R. Murrow and his gang at CBS were making sure that tv news was important and relevant.

But for my Dad, the invasion of tv antennas in the neighborhood was an ominous portent of a changing world.

Wednesday’s tale is called “Antennas Attack!”