January 6, 2013

TV size matters


---- — When it comes to television, size matters. 

When I first saw it in Radio City as a child in the early 1940s, I remember a screen that measured only a few inches. It was a real miracle.

When my aunt and uncle bought their first set in New Jersey, the box was huge but the screen was about 6 inches. I remember straining to watch “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” through the snow in black and white in about 1949.

When my dad could finally afford a TV, our living room was graced with a Fada set. I’m guessing the screen was 13 inches.

Kaye and I finally graduated to a 24-inch screen with stereo sound in the ‘70s and thought that was as good as it gets. Wrong again. In the ‘90s, our wonderful kids got together and gifted us with a 35-inch set. It served us well until a few weeks ago when it began to snap and bang, and I thought it was about to blow us to oblivion. I pulled the plug and headed downtown to find a replacement.

Our living room is 30 feet long, so we decided to go for 50 inches and 40 pounds in weight compared to more than 200 pounds for the old one. I know, because I had to roll it end-over-end to get it out on the back deck where it will rest till spring.

As we set up the new TV and worked to make the picture fill the screen for every program and every channel, our son Dale told me I should write a column about that “aspect” of modern television.

I have read thousands of words purporting to explain aspect ratios, pixels, resolution, SD (standard definition) and HD (high definition). In the interest of full disclosure, I failed physics at Clarkson back in 1956-1957. The more I tried to fathom the reasons the picture on my new television didn’t always fill the screen, the more frustrated I became. I zoomed and stretched and closed one eye, but none of that helped every time. I finally found a button that seemed to work most of the time and stuck with it.

Before you tell me I should subscribe to the high-definition channels offered by our local cable system with a special box and a premium price, my answer is that I’m not ready for that leap yet. My mind is already boggled and fershimmeled with all this newfangled technology. Heck, I didn’t even know if fershimmeled was a real word until I looked it up. One source said it was a very old Yiddish term that means “dirty or moldy.” I guess in my mother’s lexicon, it meant “confused.” Come to think of it, I’ve spent much of my life in that state.

I hope I live long enough for TV stations and TV sets to automatically make sure that every program, old or new, standard or high definition, fills the screen without distorting a camel so it looks like an elephant.

Kaye and I had a nice dinner downtown recently. There were numerous, wide-screen sets around the place. I checked all of them and noticed that the pictures didn’t fill the screen in a single instance. At our house, the screen is pretty full, but having forced the images to expand, I sometimes lose the tiny scores and headlines that scroll across the bottom. I don’t care. I’m leaving it the way it is.

Sound? That’s another issue altogether. We have a new law on the books that, in theory, prohibits any station from broadcasting commercials louder than the show content. Do you mind if I laugh out loud? I’ve been monitoring area stations and have noticed almost no effort to keep sound consistent. Up, down, up, down like a teeter-totter.

It’s a good thing we have remotes (Kaye calls them “clickers”) by our chairs to adjust the volume. In the old days, we had to walk over to the set to change channels or loudness.

And how was your holiday? Have a Happy New Year 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