Press-Republican

January 22, 2012

TV has impacted life

GORDIE LITTLE, Small Talk
Press-Republican

---- — TV or not TV? That is the question. I was organizing a time line in my mind recently as to what memories I have concerning television and what impact it has had on my life.

I invite you to think, if you will, of the first time you saw television. In my case, it was decades before our family actually owned a set. My dad took us to New York City for an exciting television demonstration. I was probably 5, and to watch as a picture was transmitted from one room to the next was more mind-blowing than Flash Gordon.

It was probably 1942, when gasoline cost 19 cents a gallon, a postage stamp was 3 cents, and the minimum wage was 30 cents an hour. It was shortly after that amazing demonstration that World War II began, and most commercial television was banned for the duration.

Obviously, even the rich couldn't buy television sets during the war, and we were relegated to listening to Walter Winchell, Gabriel Heater and others over the ancient radio in our kitchen. After the war, the late 1940s saw an explosion in the production and sale of television sets and commercial TV broadcasting. Of course my poor preacher dad couldn't afford such a luxury, but some of our more well-to-do relatives could. I was thrilled when I was invited to stay for a few days with my Aunt Rae and Uncle Harold Brewer in Maplewood, N.J. Watching the tiny screen on their Crosley television set produced awe and wonder in this 11-year-old. I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor and watching with wide eyes such early TV offerings as Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts and the Howdy Doody Show. Uncle Harold's White Owl cigar smoke permeated the air as my aunt served delicious snacks.

Our family moved from Westchester County up to Carthage and later to Massena Center here in northern New York. Television was still an unknown luxury in our house or even the neighborhood. I was almost 16 and living in Franklin County's Moira when my dad came home with a huge surprise. He struggled into the house with a very heavy Fada television receiver, and we were finally part of the in-crowd. We climbed to the roof, affixed a tall antenna to the chimney, screwed myriad stand-offs to the side of the house and threaded many yards of wire through every eyelet, in the window and onto the new set. It grew stares from the neighbors and admonition from my vigilant mother.

Seeing a picture through the snow was a wonder. First came shows from a station in Montreal, Quebec. Then, in September of 1954, we welcomed WCAX from Burlington, Vt. Later that year, in December, came the first telecasts from WIRI (later WPTZ) in Plattsburgh. We finally installed a rotor, and if we turned the antenna just so much, we would pick up what was called "skip" from some far-off station in Louisiana or New York City. We were in heaven.

Liberace was one of my early favorites. I was delighted by his showmanship and piano artistry. For a long time, as I watched his trademark signature appear on the screen, I actually believed his name was "Silverace." Ah, the ignorance of youth.

I recall the late Beardsley "Van" Van Etten explaining his plan to erect a huge tower across the river from our Morrisonville home and starting the area's first cable system called Dimension Cable TV. I remember buying my first color TV from the local Sears Store on upper Cornelia Street and having my kids see Captain Kangaroo and Mister Green Jeans in all their chromatic splendor.

Never did I dream that my radio career would evolve into one with pictures and spanning almost 15 years with Calvin Castine's Hometown Cable.

And so it goes, this great North Country has been so good to Kaye and me and our large family. We are truly blessed in every way and thank all the readers of this column for their dedication and friendship.

Have a great day and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the "Our Little Corner" television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at gordandk@aol.com.