Future Transition Brings Back Memories
September 8, 2008 8:57 AM
Just for fun, let's step back in time this morning to an era long ago and for many of us far, far away. To another time and place. To another life.
As we travel back to the early 1950s, we may find that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The VHF band was getting crowded at the dawn of the golden age of television, and more channels were needed to satisfy the thirst for television in areas of the country that were not near the major metropolitan cities.
To address this problem, in 1952, the Federal Communications Commission created the UHF band with channels 14 through 83. Immediately applications were filed and stations began to slowly come on the air. KPTV in Portland, Ore., became the first commercial UHF station on the air on Sept. 18, 1952.
The problem at the time was that there were no televisions on the market with UHF tuners in them. So what to do? They manufactured set-top UHF-to-VHF converter boxes! As Yogi Berrea supposedly once said, "It's deja vu all over again."
According to AntiqueRadio.org, the UHF converter worked this way: You hooked up separate VHF and UHF antennas to the back of the converter box and a common antenna lead-in to the back of the VHF television. There were two knobs on the box, so when you wanted to watch UHF, you set the knob on the left to UHF and turned your channel selector on the TV to either channel 5 or 6 (whichever was not used in your area) and then tuned in the UHF channel you wanted with the knob on the right. When choosing VHF with the knob on the left, the signal was "passed through" to the TV and you chose what channel to watch with the channel selector on the TV. Sound familiar? Instead of analog pass-through, we had VHF pass-through.
I personally do not remember seeing one of these devices. We got our first television in 1955 with the extra tax deduction that my parents received from me being born the year before, and if my memory serves me (and it may not), it did in fact have a UHF tuner, although they were not mandated on all televisions until 1964. Our first TV was an Admiral, blond-wood console television set with a 21" screen.
I have no recollection of life without television, although my sister does. But I do have a memory of the audio going out on the TV one time, and until the repairman could get out to our house (yes, the TV doctors made house calls), we had a tall stand-up Hi-Fi radio and turntable unit that had a FM radio in it that we used to hear the audio from channel 6 at the bottom of the FM dial. "Gunsmoke" was not to be missed for any reason.
The first television stations in our area were UHF stations on channel 31 in Beaumont, Texas, pre-dated by a channel 25 in Lake Charles, La., but I have found no other reference to these other than an ad, in the archives of the local newspapers, for an antenna guaranteed to receive the stations.
We got our first VHF station, KFDM channel 6, in 1955, pre-dated by KPLC channel 7 in Lake Charles in 1954. I don't think channel 25 or channel 31 lasted much longer after that,
In fact, when KFDM signed on in 1955, the paper carried a headline that stated, "Big Time Television Comes to Area." That gives reference to the second-class status of UHF television at the time. The first UHF station I remember seeing listed in the TV Guide was a channel 16 in Galveston, Texas, although I never watched it, and it disappeared from the listings just a few years later. The next UHF station I remember is channel 39 in Houston, which is still on the air and is, at this time, a CW network affiliate.
If you are interested in seeing more of the UHF-to-VHF converter boxes or the accompanying signal boosters that were needed to receive the early stations, you can go to Mark Nelson's Web site the First Set-Top Boxes to view his collection.