When I was growing up we had three television channels. That’s right kids, three whole channels. By the time I was in high school they added a fourth one. In my hometown it was Channel 55. We could hardly contain ourselves.
It was probably a good thing we only had three channels because we didn’t have remote controls back then. We had to actually stand up and walk across the room to change what we were watching. Could you imagine if we still didn’t have a remote control but had 800 channels to choose from? We’d all be forty pounds lighter just from all that channel surfing.
When you only had three channels, you just didn’t watch as much TV. People complain that there’s nothing good on TV now. There was nothing good on TV then either. It was just that with so few channels it didn’t take us as long to figure that out. Today it takes a lot more time to go through hundreds of channels just to find out there’s nothing to watch.
Back in the day it took about eight seconds to figure out there was nothing but crap on, so we were off the couch and on to better things to occupy our time much more quickly than today.
There are several things younger people may not know about the old three-channel system. Not only did we have three channels but they all went off the air after one or two in the morning. They didn’t start up again until the morning news.
Television screens were usually small, but the consoles they were embedded in were massive and weighed about as much as a small car. And having more than one television in the house was only for those quickly edging into the upper-middle class.
Three channels also meant that when we did watch TV, we all pretty much watched the same thing. This made for easier conversations when we got together with other people at work or school.
“Did you watch such-and-such last night?”
“Oh yeah, can you believe so-and-so did that?”
With so many channels today, everyone is often watching something completely different. This eliminates the social bonding we all once shared.
Back in the day we would discuss what happened on the latest episode of Happy Days or Charlie’s Angels or J.R.’s latest shenanigans. If we want Americans to get along better and form closer bonds, perhaps we should go back to three channels.
We didn’t fight as much back then, and when we did, we quickly got over it and moved on to other things.
Unfortunately, I have my doubts we would get along better today, even if we had fewer channels. We’re just too divided as a country. People who watch Championship Wrestling aren’t going to have much in common with the people who watch Masterpiece Theater on PBS. The chasm is too wide.
Of course there’s always cable and the endless cycle of reruns for those of us who prefer to stay safely tucked away, back in the day.