Captain Video deprivation: The ultimate in punishment

At a local coffee shop a few years ago, a group of older men was discussing the things they felt were necessities in their lives. When someone said “television,” all heads nodded affirmatively.

Yeah, they agreed, TV would be at the top of the list.

If you’re older than 70, you can probably remember life without TV. Today that’s hard to imagine.

For those of us whose early home entertainment technology was radio or phonographs or home movies, the coming of television was awe-inspiring.

I was 12 years old when Dad and Mom finally bought a TV set in 1953. Many of our neighbors had already installed television in their homes. The thing that finally cracked Dad’s reluctance was discovering that my brothers and I were sneaking onto the porch of a home at night, two houses away from ours, to peer through their living room window at their TV set.

Our first TV — black and white, of course — was a big Philco combination console that also included a radio and a phonograph.

It stood in the southeast corner of our living room, angled diagonally so it could be seen from chairs in all parts of the room. I don’t know the actual dimensions of the screen, but it was pretty small, and circular as well. Reception came through the antenna attached to the top of our chimney.

Back then there was only network TV, with a maximum of four channels: ABC, CBS, NBC and Dumont. Programming was not round the clock — there were programs during some of the daytime hours and every evening; it ended at or before midnight. Much of it was live TV, with studio audiences.

Every morning the stations would come on first with a test pattern.

That usually resembled a Navajo or Hopi representation of the sun, with a circle in the center and rays extending vertically and horizontally from it. There was no sound accompanying the test pattern. But my brothers and I would get up, come downstairs, turn on the TV and gaze at the test pattern quietly for half an hour or so.

TV was such a source of wonder back then that we would watch anything the screen had to offer.

My favorite program was “Captain Video and the Video Rangers.”

Captain Video piloted a space ship and went from adventure to adventure; the show came on daily in the late afternoon, after school was out.

As I recall, brother Bill preferred “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet,” who with his companions Roger Manning and Astro experienced the same type of adventures as Captain Video.

The special effects were pretty crude, with a simple space ship shakily blasting off whatever planet they happened to visit. But it was like movie entertainment right in our living room, and it was a big deal.

The worst punishment I ever received from our parents involved TV. I forget what my specific transgression was, but as penalty Dad forbade me to watch “Captain Video” for two weeks.

Dad and Mom were not spankers; Captain Video deprivation was far worse for me.

I’m sure I learned my lesson, and never committed that particular offense again, or was much more careful not to get caught.

It’s widely believed that television ended the weekend night shopping habits of rural and small town residents.

Friday and Saturday night boxing and wrestling programs drew consumers away from the square and back into their living rooms. “The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports” was a prime feature. Most all of us kids knew pro wrestlers like Vern Gagne (good guy), Hans Schmidt (bad guy), Gorgeous George, Bill Melby and Argentine Rocca, and we discussed their skills in fine detail.

The coming of color to television a few years later ramped up its pleasure level significantly, even though there were still just a few channels available.

Cable and satellite delivery multiplied the program offerings tremendously, of course, and 24-hour TV became standard.

Everyone takes today’s TV in stride.

But I can still remember the sense of power and high living from turning on the old Philco to watch the black and white test pattern on Saturday morning.

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