We live in an age of 24/7 television. No matter what time of day it is, if you turn on the tube, something will be playing. In fact, a LOT of somethings will be playing. With channels that go into the 500s, it’s no wonder.

But it wasn’t always that way.

In the 60s and most of the 70s, I lived in a household that got four local VHF channels that corresponded to the big three - ABC, NBC and CBS - plus PBS, the educational channel, and 3 UHF channels that were independent channels, two that showed very old reruns and movies and one that was strictly religious. These latter channels were local, but because reception depended on an antenna, and we had a very good antenna, one of them came all the way from DFW.

To get a Dallas channel in Lawton, OK was a big deal, and I was happy to have that extra channel. It showed great old cartoons like Crusader Rabbit and the old Popeyes, the ones where Popeye made absolutely hilarious comments under his breath. Most kids just watched Popeye for the surface story, but I tuned in for those comments. I never clued the other kids in about them, either. Half the fun was knowing I was the only one getting the real joke.

With so few channels, you would think that there would be slim pickings when it came to programming, but I don’t remember struggling much to find something to watch - certainly not more than I do now. I suppose I would have chosen other programs had I had a greater choice, but it was kind of nice watching things I wouldn’t normally watch. I learned a lot that way.

Inevitably, though, night would fall and soon all the channels began signing off one by one. I often stayed up late just to watch one particular sign off that was made by the US Air Force. As a lover of poetry, I was drawn to the poem being recited and the fact that it was written by an Air Force pilot who died in the line of duty. I particularly loved the end, because I knew it said exactly what pilots must feel.

I spent a lot of time looking for the exact version I heard as a child and finally came across it here:


I hope you enjoy it. :)

Of course, the night wasn’t over until the static started, and before that happened, we saw three things:

  1. The National Association of Broadcasters’ Seal of Good Practice - I never understood why all the stations insisted on displaying this image. I guess it was supposed to prove that they were following the rules, though I was never quite sure what those rules were.
  2. The Test Pattern - This was a very interesting image. Notice the Indian Chief in the middle. (Sorry, that’s what we called Native Americans back then. No offense intended.) I always thought that was a very odd thing to have in a test pattern, but apparently it was important, because all versions of the test pattern contained that guy’s picture in some form.
  3. The Color Bars - These were always accompanied by a tone that droned on and on. I think this was intended to wake us up, so we could turn off the TV, since no one would be crazy enough to be up watching it otherwise.

Once I’d made it through the video and all three of these images, I felt like I’d won and could give up the day to sleep at last. It was a satisfying feeling, and the world was as it should have been, each day with a defined beginning and ending.

I miss that a little bit. It’s nice to stay up and watch TV late into the night, but it would be comforting to see a test pattern or hear that tone droning on. It would make me feel like someone was out there looking out for us, like Mom and Dad used to. “Go to bed, kiddies. The test pattern is on. Nothing to see here.”

Instead, I think I’ll go out and catch an old rerun somewhere. Waking up on the couch at 3am isn’t so bad.