Friday, April 3, 2009

No.16: Test Patterns and Tupelo Television

Do you remember "test patterns"? These days television stations, and particularly cable channels, are 24-hour operations. But when television first arrived in Tupelo in 1957 in the form of WTWV, most stations ended their broadcast day at midnight and didn't resume until something like 7:00 am. If you fell asleep watching The Late Show, you woke up to the test pattern. Young children were known to rise early on Saturday morning and watch the test pattern until the cartoons came on.

My family got our first television set (a cabinet model RCA, I think) about that time, and I became a fan of Captain Kangaroo (and Mr. Greenjeans, Grandfather Clock, Mr. Moose, Bunny Rabbit, etc.) as a kindergartner. As I remember it, network news was only a 15 minute proposition, and local news with Bill Landers filled the remaining 15 minutes. Tupelo's Hilda Hill starred in a cooking show and sometimes interviewed local personalities. WTWV's commercials were mostly close-ups of posters on an easel with voice-overs that were basically radio ads.

Of course, my taste ran toward network programs like The Mickey Mouse Club with Bobby, Cubby and Annette and the rest of the Mousekateers. The show featured song and dance numbers (these I merely endured), old Disney cartoons and serials like Spin and Marty and The Hardy Boys. Later in the 50's an evening program called Walt Disney Presents introduced such unforgettable dramas as Zorro, The Swamp Fox, and The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca. Am I the only one who remembers Elfego Baca?

Some quality programs were produced in the 50's (Playhouse 90, Westinghouse Theater, Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, etc,) and that era is sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of Television. But I was young and enjoyed junk TV like Westerns (Wagon Train, The Rifleman, Maverick, Gunsmoke) and game shows (Truth or Consequences, Concentration, What's My Line, Beat the Clock).

If you remember all of those shows, you can't be a lot younger than I am.

To read a history of WTWV (now WTVA), click on the following link:

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