I was in first grade, maybe, when we got our first television. It was a massive mahogany structure, complete with a 10-inch screen that required us to huddle together on the floor with our noses pressed to the screen. Unfortunately, that tended to fog it up a bit and caused no end of jockeying for position to enjoy the best view. There was no need for a remote control because we were happy with any action on the tiny screen. I’m not even sure we knew we could change the channel. It was a real luxury in the early 50s.
Actually the cost of a new television then was about the same as the price of a new television today, but watching was free. No cable company, no dish, no direct tv or monthly charge of any kind, just entertainment pouring in freely from the invisible airwaves or whatever. In those days and until it actually happened, it was inconceivable that anyone would pay to watch. Because, after all, radio was free and television was just radio with a face.
I wonder if they could have even sold those early televisions, if part of the deal was paying to watch. I was just a kid, but it seemed like in the 50s, there weren’t a lot of monthly bills and everything was pay as you go. People just cashed their paychecks, drove around town and paid their bills in cash. No need for stamps or checks or online banking. Just bring home the cash and separate into payment envelopes. Whatever was left over was for savings or funny money.
And there wasn’t much fancy stuff to have, really, except for a television or a transistor radio or maybe a toaster oven. It seems as if plastic and the whole “buy now, pay later” thing became the norm just about the time all those newfangled gadgets and electronic devices came to be. How incredibly convenient.
Now we pay more for television each month than we do for gas and electricity. Granted, our cable bill includes internet and phone, but it seems totally out of whack to me. When I started paying bills forty-some years ago, I could never have conceived of paying for the privilege of watching television, much less paying an arm and a leg for it. Of course, in those days our gas and electricity bill was about $9 a month. If television had been that much, I would have had to choose between Johnny Carson and health insurance.
So is television still a luxury? Or do we just pay for it like it is? Maybe I’m just not keeping up with the times, but the idea of paying so much really bugs me. Maybe I should just watch tv sometime to see if it’s worth it. But since Johnny retired and Laugh In went off the air, how good could it really be?
NOTE: As Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea builds it s new public website scheduled to go live in early 2012, Tuesday Talk will no longer be available. The last Tuesday Talk on the public website will be Nov. 29.