Tomorrow, June 12, marks the end of analog television broadcasting in the US. Tomorrow, all over-the-air transmission becomes digital.
I’m all in favor of technology and change, but I wanted to say good-bye to an era.
I got my start in broadcast television, but even before then, growing up in small towns in Wisconsin, I remember how magical TV seemed. First, in the days of black and white, being able to pull images out of the air with thin pieces of wire – and family rituals developed around EXACTLY how those rabbit ears should be pointed to get the best signal, NOT that my brothers were EVER right, of course – then, came color.
When color television first appeared, the TV set was the size of a bookcase laid on its side. More than entertainment, it was a sizable piece of very expensive furniture. Filled with strangely glowing tubes, it radiated both heat and a sense of unlimited power.
I still remember, as a small child, the first color television that came into our small community of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The TV was displayed in a local furniture store and was four feet high, three feet deep, and eight feet wide. It weighed about 800 pounds. The store owner, Katie Malvetz, was a friend of the family and, when NBC announced they would be playing the Wizard of OZ in COLOR for the first time on network television, Katie decided to turn this into a social event.
She and a team of men moved the TV from her showroom to her living room, then she invited her friends to watch with her. When the movie started, there must have been 30 people – adults and kids – in the room. And when Dorothy opened the door to step from black-and-white Kansas into colorful Oz… well, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
To this day I remember how stunned I was to see color images invisibly coalescing on a TV screen. I think, from that moment, I wanted to learn more about how it was done. I was hooked on media.
Fast-forward fifty or so years to tomorrow.
The switch from analog to digital won’t have the same poignancy as the switch from black-and-white to color. Nor will families gather in living rooms across the country to admire the transition.
The world has changed… and so have we.
But I didn’t want the switchover to occur without reflecting back on where we’ve come – with a look forward to the future.
Television has the power to spark emotions – and memories – with the stories it tells. And, sometimes, the stories we tell about it.
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