Sometimes I think we were better off when there were only three television channels to choose from. It’s possible, though, I’ve been seduced by the sirens of bygone days. Nostalgia has a way of enhancing old memories. Like southern tea, the flavor grows sweeter with time.
When I asked readers for column ideas a few months ago, a teenage girl named Megan sent me an email. She suggested I reflect on lessons learned from television shows of my childhood. Her idea immediately struck me as one with great potential. That’s my unbiased opinion and has nothing to do with Megan being my granddaughter.
Also, I was appreciative that her response proved I’m not totally devoid of youthful readers. Megan will no doubt win the Joiner’s Corner Young Reader Award in 2021. Because of her, I can publicly assert that my weekly audience ranges from ages 15 to 99.
Mr. Charles Speight, who turned 99 on April 2, is the column’s most senior reader as far as I know. He was teaching a men’s Sunday School class until COVID hit, plus visiting friends and staying actively engaged around his hometown of Unadilla. Trying to stay safe during a pandemic has changed his routine, as it has for many others. I trust he knows how much his friends miss seeing him. We’re all looking forward to next year’s lighting of one hundred candles.
Three television channels were available to choose from when I was a child. Channel 13 WMAZ, a CBS station based in Macon, was our mainstay. With our outside antenna aimed to the north their signal was as clear as the weather. I don’t remember what time they began broadcasting in the morning or stopped at night, but when leaving the air they showed a cartoon drawing of a cat. It never occurred to me to ask how that kitty found stardom. Now I wonder if there was a story and a name. The cat had a friendly smile, but we were dog people so I didn’t understand the rarity of a feline’s grin.
To see Albany’s WALB Channel 10 NBC affiliate our antenna had to be turned to the west. One person would go outside and twist the metal pole with a pipe wrench, while another would watch the screen for when the picture reached its peak. “Whoa!” we’d shout through the window. “Too far! Turn it back a little. Not that much! Turn it back the other way. Not that much the other way. Stop! That’s it.”
Channel 9 in Columbus, an ABC station, was our third option. Our antenna only needed minor tweaking to switch between Albany and Columbus, but the Channel 9 station was farther away so the images weren’t as sharp. Macon and Albany had a reliable color spectrum of black and white, except when experiencing technical difficulty. Columbus, however, was often gray with wavering lines of static.
I’m not sure which networks carried the individual shows we watched, except for the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. There aren’t any special moments during his long career which I recall with clarity. What I remember best is how he concluded each broadcast by saying, “And that’s the way it is.” When Uncle Walter said that’s how it is, we believed him. He gave us no reason not to.
The most trusted man in America brought us the news as it was, not as he or his corporate bosses decided it should be. That’s seldom the case today as most tilt left while some lean right. It’s rare to find reporting without any spin. Some filter the facts with quiet deception while others prove their points with angry shouts. Uncle Walter didn’t need to raise his voice. Truth doesn’t change with volume.
There were several old television series I planned to mention but it’s about time to put the cat on the screen. Maybe we’ll get to them later. What I mostly wanted to do was thank Megan for a good idea. And to let her know that while writing this column, I became aware of a lesson I learned from early TV. Walter Cronkite helped me understand the value of a having a trusted source for news.
Headlines of today are offered in 50 shades of distortion. When a largely unchecked social media platform is added, sometimes truth gets pushed off the charts. There’s never been a greater need for discernment. That’s true whether you’re 15, 99, or somewhere in between or beyond.
I don’t know if we were better off when there were only three television channels to choose from, but I sure do miss Walter Cronkite. I miss the simple telling of truth. And that’s the way it is.