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That's Entertainment . . . '50s Style!
by Newt Harlan

Remember rabbit ear antennas for television sets? When I was a kid in the '50s and '60s, almost everyone had rabbit ears sitting atop their TV. Many times the ears were wrapped in aluminum foil with little ribbons hanging off, hoping to improve reception. If the picture was snowy or unclear, we moved those ears up and down and to one side or the other, anxious to improve the picture. Same thing with fuzzy pictures or “ghosts.” There was always one person in every family with just the right touch to get the set fine-tuned.

The area where I grew up was right on the fringe for rabbit ear reception from the Houston stations; so many people had outside antennas mounted atop towers in an effort to improve reception. Folks discovered those antennas could be moved to receive the best signal from each station, and rich people had motors that turned the antenna, using a control box inside the house.

At our house we had a pipe wrench attached to the pipe on which the antenna was mounted. I’d go outside and turn the pipe, and one of my sisters would stand at the window and shout instructions to me. “Left, left, a little bit more…hold it, now a little bit back to the right, right there. That’s great."

Of course, by the time I got back into the house and settled down to watch, the danged thing was out of adjustment again.

I'm guessing there are fewer and fewer of us who remember those rabbit ears. The big old console color TV is also a thing of the past. The big console was a status symbol of sorts, and people who had only table model sets often put them on tables with phonographs and radios on the shelves below so they resembled consoles.

Ours was a table model, but it was big enough that Mama put framed school pictures of us on top. In those days, the current thinking was watching TV in a completely dark room was bad for your eyes, so lots of folks had ceramic lamps in the shape of a big cat painted like a leopard, tiger or panther sitting on top of their sets. Other popular TV top ceramic lamps were in the shape of sailing ships and old cars. Personally, I preferred no light at all when I was visiting my love interest of the moment.

Speaking of love interests, remember going down to the local lake or river or beach to park and watch the submarine races? Or did you watch “submarine races” at an old country oilfield road or the turn rows in corn and cotton fields? We called our spot “Possum Park.” Did you ever park on the back rows at the drive-in theater? I’ll bet you didn’t see the end of many movies. If the truth were known, some of you often didn’t even get very far past the newsreel; the steamed windows were proof enough.

We lived in a world where AM radio was king. The people who played the records on air were called disc jockeys or DJ's for short. They were big-time personalities with egos to match and many had large followings. They were local celebrities, spinning records at local teen clubs for dancing, attending ribbon cuttings at shopping center grand openings, and of course, entertaining us with their jokes and playing the top 50 songs on the radio for 3 or 4 hours a day.

Next to listening to the radio, our favorite source of music was our record player. By the time we reached our teen years, we’d graduated from the old 78-rpm records to 45’s. Do you remember them? They were the small diameter discs with the large hole, the ones that had to have either a little snap-in adaptor or that piece you slid over the middle so you could stack the 45's to play on a regular phonograph. Everyone had a 45 collection, and there was competition among the “in crowd” to see who could be the first in the group to own the latest number one hit. The 45’s were also great for sock hops and parties and things like that.

Before leaving records, we’ve got to remember the 33 rpm long-play albums. You could put one of those on the record machine and kick back and listen to 8 or 10 uninterrupted songs by the same artist, or even hear a complete concert or symphony. It was considered stylish in those days to have 33 rpm albums playing softly full-time in the home as background music, much the same as what we call elevator music is played in public buildings nowadays.

Did you have a traveling roller skating rink, housed in a circus-type tent, that came around to your small town every six months or so? The one in our town always set up in an empty field at the edge of town and was an every night attraction for most all the teens and young adults.

All these things are about gone now. Rabbit ears are replaced by cable or satellite TV. Those big old console and table model TV’s are replaced by wall hanging flat screen models. DJ’s are that in name only as radio shows are now mostly computerized like everything else. Records and phonographs are now iPods and other such electronic gear.

The drive-in, where we never saw the end of a movie, was torn down years ago. Possum Park, where we used to go to park (and do what teens do when they are parked in the woods) is gone for sometime now, replaced by a golf course and subdivisions, and the police no longer allow parking along the bridge or in public areas around the lake.

The field where they erected the tent roller-skating rink every year is gone for quite some time now, replaced by a strip shopping center. I never cared for skating and considered it a somewhat sissy recreation. Looking back now I can no longer give you a reason, since many of my friends enjoyed participating and even followed the rink around to neighboring towns.

I don’t believe I’d trade today for those days of long ago, but I’d sure like to go back for a visit.


Newt tells us about himself:

I was born, raised and educated in Texas. With the exception of a few brief sojourns and the 4 years during the Vietnam Era that I spent riding around on airplanes courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, I've spent the more than 65 years of my life within spittin’ distance of the place where I grew up. I managed to cram a four-year college degree into nine years and by virtue of that remarkable feat, I am a former student of six different schools, which sure helps the odds of rooting for a winner in sporting events. The academic standards committee had a moment of weakness and I was the fortunate recipient of a degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

I'm Southern to the bone. The sound of “Dixie” being played gives me goose bumps and I stand and remove my hat. My yard dog, B.J., controls the squirrels, cats, meter readers and peddlers around my place. I’ve picked cotton by hand, plowed behind a mule, churned butter, shelled back-eyed peas, and for the first 12 years of my life, went without shoes from April until October. Several of my friends regularly hold conversations with mules, but as of yet I can’t get the danged mules to answer me. I think grits are as much a part of breakfast as bacon, eggs and cathead biscuits. I think ain’t is a perfectly good word and don’t plan to quit using it just because some damnyankee dictionary writer arbitrarily thinks it ain’t.

I've been married for 30-some odd years and have beaucoup kids and grandkids. I'm now retired after having spent the better part of the past 37 years traveling around Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast areas of Mississippi and Alabama, trying to sell steel products. My hobbies, in no particular order, include writing, grandkids, hunting, fishing and visiting the local watering hole to swap honest lies and research material for stories.

E-mail Newt at: Newt281@embarqmail.com

Want to read more of Newt’s stories at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Ol’ Red and the Armadillo
Telephones and memories
Tastes like chicken
Railroad Money
Basura Blanca News
Juicing Bovines
Southern Words
Railroad Fireman
Curing Colds
Belly Waddin' Lunch


Read many more great stories listed on our USADS Articles pages.



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