Television has been an amazing invention. Not only was it amazing in the first place that an electronic gadget could reproduce moving pictures on a screen, but it is amazing how the invention of television has changed the way people live day to day.
We began hearing about TV becoming available in some places during the late 1940s, right at 70 years ago. The early sets would seem very primitive today, but they were quite the marvel in their day. Initially they were pretty expensive, and there were very few TV channels. Nevertheless, by 1951, TV sets began appearing in some of the homes in and around Pea Ridge. By 1953, when we bought our first TV set, we had our own TV Sales and Service Shop in Pea Ridge, run by one of the Thompson brothers. I think it was Verl or Dale, but I can't remember for sure which.
We bought our set and the attached equipment from Thompson TV Sales and Service of Pea Ridge. In those days, since channels were few and signals not that strong, the antenna was a major part of the TV investment. Our house sat rather low near Otter Creek north of Pea Ridge, so we had to erect a tower on top of the hill across the road from our house, on which we could install the antenna and the motor that would turn the antenna in the right direction for the channel we wanted to get. Our set had a control box on top for use in turning the antenna so as to pick up the signal most clearly. As I recall, we could get only three channels. There was a TV broadcast station at Pittsburg, Kan., one at Springfield, Mo., and one at Fort Smith, Ark. We could pick up those three stations, along with a little snowy effect in the picture.
Early TVs were based on a cathode ray tube, which was able to produce a stream of rays which, when directed properly by electronic controls, would excite the coating on the inside of the glass picture tube, which provided the screen for viewing. The earliest TVs had screens only about 5 inches in size. Interestingly, for a long time our TV screens were getting larger and larger, but these days we seem to be going back to those little screens, as people begin to view TV on their smart phones. When we bought our first TV at home, our screen was 13 inches diagonally. Of course, at first all TVs were black and white and shades of gray. There was no color.
This compared to the earlier film cameras, which also made pictures in black and white and shades of gray. Color film for cameras began appearing in the 1950s, but it would be the 1970s before color TV began to be available. Our family was content with black and white TV for a long time, and we didn't buy a color TV until about 1992. Nearly all TVs today are made in an Asian country, or by an Asian company operating in the U.S., but in the early days, we had such American brands as RCA, Philco, Magnavox and Zenith.
Now that TV has entered the digital age, our older TV sets are referred to as analog sets. We never heard of "analog" in the old days, nor did we hear of "digital," at least until computers started appearing in our homes and schools and businesses. I think the broadcasting of TV signals for the old analog sets has pretty much gone by the wayside now, and everything is digital. We also in the early days didn't have cable or satellite to provide TV signals; it was all broadcast over the air, and one always needed a good antenna to take in the signal.
My first time to see something on TV was in about 1952. We went to Solly Ricketts's house to watch boxing on Friday night. My second experience was to watch a world series baseball game at Charlie Crabtree's house along with a bunch of other boys from school.
I mentioned that the early TVs were based on a picture tube, technically called a cathode ray tube. The picture tubes were basically ray guns, which produced a ray which could be directionally controlled by a magnetic field. Using a horizontal control and a vertical control, the ray could be directed to trace rows across the screen, very rapidly, tracing the picture zip, zip, zip, many times a second across the screen. The ray itself was controlled in intensity, and so was able to form dark areas, gray areas of various shades, and bright white areas on the screen. Digital TVs, on the other hand, use digital numeric values to turn on or off the tiny screen pixels, control color and intensity, and reproduce sound.
Probably none of us would have guessed that TV would change so much of people's way of living, becoming such a prevalent source of information and entertainment, and connecting people across the world.
Editor's note: Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge, is a retired Methodist minister and on the board of the Pea Ridge Historical Society. The views expressed are the author's. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 621-1621.Editorial on 07/04/2018
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