Stephen F. Austin State University

I really miss that Indian head test pattern (January 2013)

I really miss that Indian head test pattern
By Van Craddock

Television has too much sex and violence. And that's just the commercials.

It's my contention that television has been going downhill ever since 1955, which is the year my dad bought the first TV set for our Longview home. It was mostly cabinet and couldn't have had more than a 10-inch screen. But to me, a 7-year-old, it was the most beautiful TV in the world.

We placed it in a spot of honor in the living room and Dad plugged it in and turned it on. It took several minutes to warm up, and when the picture finally came on, there it was: A test pattern! It was the head of a handsome Indian chief, complete with fancy headdress. (That's what we called it, an "Indian chief test pattern." Nowadays, of course, it would be referred to as a "Native American test pattern.")

There were no programs on at the time but nobody in the family was the least bit disappointed. We just sat there staring at that beautiful black-and-white test pattern. Television, we all agreed, truly was a modern miracle.

Nowadays, in this age of 24-hour channels, it has become apparent that we have too much programming from which to choose. Honestly, why do we need 120 channels?

But way back in 1955 B.C. (Before Cable), that wasn't a problem. In Gregg County you could pick up two, maybe three stations. Occasionally, with the proper cloud cover and if you got the tin foil wrapped around the rabbit ears just right, an additional station from Dallas would come into fuzzy view.

The stations didn't sign on the air until early afternoon. They signed off at 11 p.m., maybe midnight at the latest. But when programming did come on, it generally was worth watching. Especially in 1955.

That was the year the "Mickey Mouse Club" debuted on television. I was one of millions of youngsters who donned our mouse ears and faithfully tuned in every afternoon. "Captain Kangaroo" first aired in 1955, too, as did "Gunsmoke" with Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty, Doc and Chester. (Yes, Chester. He was the marshal's sidekick before Festus came along.)

"Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and Hal March's "The $64,000 Question" were all the rage that year. Another new show was "You'll Never Get Rich" with Phil Silvers as Sgt. Bilko. A temporary summer replacement show, "Lawrence Welk," featured Kilgore's very own Alice Lon as Welk's bubbly "Champagne Lady."

Newscasts were 15 minutes long - pausing from the news only long enough to give us a couple of beer or cigarette commercials - and that year also saw Mary Martin flying across the tiny screen as "Peter Pan."

But alas, soap operas became popular, too. Television quickly grew from its infancy to adultery. (Some say it's still in its infancy. That's why we have to change channels so often.)

In 1955, only 20 million American homes had TVs. Today, some 115 million U.S. households have sets, and those sets are operating an average of seven-plus hours a day. That's remarkable considering there isn't seven hours of programming worth watching over an entire week.

However, TV can be educational. Late night television, for example, can teach you that you should have gone to bed earlier. Come to think of it, those old test patterns might be an improvement over many of today's TV offerings.

Yes, I've been watching television off and on for many years. I believe I prefer it off.