Only three channels, but it was the whole world in television

(Part three)

In the early 1960s, a 23-inch black and white television set cost $219, with a 26-inch color TV going for $379. If a family owned a black and white set that was still working just fine, not very many were in a huge hurry to shell out nearly $400 for a newfangled item that they could just as easily do without.

Three channels

For one thing, no American household had much choice in the viewing department, with only three channels from which to select.

There was NBC, ABC and CBS, (or 3, 5 and 8) and quite a few of the shows people liked best were still being filmed in black and white even after color TV sets had been sold and delivered. The Wild, Wild West on CBS ran one full season in black and white, then ran two more seasons in “full, living color.”

Other shows that fell in to this same situation included Twelve O’Clock High, The Andy Griffith Show and Bewitched. Advertisers were asked to pay a premium toward filming in color, and it was a frustrating battle for network management.

For the average family, imagine shelling out the money for a new color TV, only to find that your favorite show was still being filmed in black and white.

Servicing televisions

The small town stores were wise to add “TV service” signs in front windows, because there was a growing population that had one television in the home and suddenly didn’t want to be without it.

My husband remembers it was a small drugstore in his hometown that offered tube checks as a free service, and if the tube tested was determined to be a goner, the drugstore had the tubes a fellow would need to purchase.

“I remember just hopin’ and prayin’ that the tube was the only problem and it wasn’t going to cost too much. Once we had a show or two to watch, we sure didn’t want to give that up.”

Pride in work

My maternal grandmother had some sort of innate knowledge of how things worked, and if one of her neighbors couldn’t figure out why the radio wasn’t working quite right, or if the TV tube tested fine but the thing still wasn’t performing up to par, chances were good that it would end up in my grandma’s living room fix-it corner, sitting near the north window for best light.

She would take things apart slowly, studying each connection, each tiny part. She was almost always successful in bringing renewed life to those old sets. She would just smile as the grateful neighbor bragged her up, her cheeks slightly pink with embarrassment.

“I’m just glad I could help!” she would say.

She might never have admitted it, but it seemed clear that she was proud of her accomplishments. Her payment was their gratitude, though some offered a dime or a quarter for her time.

In the early 1960s, a “portable” transistor radio was also a new realization, and sold for $6.95. It was amazing to imagine being able to listen to the ballgame without an electrical connection. We could go anywhere! It brought a sense of power and freedom. We could listen to music while we baled hay, or find out the score of the game during milking time.

At that time, our U.S. population was about 178 million, unemployment was 6.7 percent, and minimum wage was $1. The national debt was $302.9 billion.

Coal, the source of heat in most homes, sold for $14.95 a ton in Ohio in 1962. A new car ran about $2,600 and the gas to fuel it cost 25 cents a gallon. A sewing machine, a staple in most homes, cost about $49, with a 26-inch bike being sold for about $30, a tricycle $9. Families who could afford to buy a new home, at $12,700, likely still felt it was a frighteningly large amount of money.

By Jan. 1, 1965, 9.7 percent of TV households had “traded up” to a color TV. I knew of absolutely no one who had more than one TV in their home, and it was always in the living room to be shared by all.

(This is part three in a series by Sutherland. Parts I and II ran in the May 10 and May 17 editions of the Farm and Dairy.)

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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