TV through the ages

When I realised I knew individuals in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s I couldn’t resist the opportunity to interview each of them for memories of television in their homes to see how their experiences might compare. Television was introduced to Australian homes starting in 1957. Mary and Jon both grew up in suburban Sydney while Grace and David grew up in rural Australian towns. Jon is an only child while Mary, Grace and David each have younger siblings.

Grace acquired her first television was when her eldest child (Mary) was one year old. Jon first encountered a television in the windows of Grace Brothers on Broadway. He was eleven years old at the time. Before David had a TV in their house, he and his siblings used to sneak over to their next-door neighbour’s place to have a look. The neighbour would come home and kick them out eventually.

“You’d see it in the movies and think ‘Gee, that’d be great [to have a TV at home].’”

All four of them recall the limitations: black-and-white picture, no remote control, specific program periods between 4:30 PM and 10:30 PM. Jon and Mary living in Sydney were also able to see programming in the morning for a few hours. When programming was on hold, there would be static or a test pattern on the screen.

For decades, television sets were three-dimensional shapes and things could be stored on top of them. David recalls the need for a light over the screen in order to see it properly. Mary mentioned the antennae that sat on top.

They each only had one set in the house, since it was so expensive to buy at the time. Eventually Grace and Mary’s house would have a second set. Originally, the sets were in the lounge room, and in Grace and Mary’s informal sitting room, since they had a formal lounge room with stricter rules.

As an only child, Jon would sit on the floor while his parents would sit on the lounge to watch the TV together. They would mostly watch ABC news. Grace didn’t have much time for the television; Mary would watch programs with her brothers and sometimes with their father. The kids would sit on chairs at the front and their father would sit on a big chair at the back. Notable shows include I Dream of Jeannie, Division 4, Homicide, and The Three Stooges. (Mary would watch from near the door so she could hide when they got too violent). David would watch TV on his own, with the whole family or sometimes with just his brothers, usually whomever was awake. He developed the same habits as his father, watching both sets of news (ABC and commercial) and all the popular shows.

When asked to reflect on any meaningful experiences, Jon remarked that he did not have many strong memories of television. “Because it was new, a lot of people had rules about when the television was going to go on. A lot of people predicted that this would be the end of radio. Drive-in movies and picture shows immediately started to lose people. They predicted it would take up a lot of their time. There were all sorts of scare campaigns like, ‘You shouldn’t sit too close because it would affect your eyes or melt your brain.’” Whereas David claimed television “Felt great! Life was boring in the bush” and Mary summarised watching television as “something we did as a family.”

From these four people I’ve found there are a variety of emotions when it comes to the introduction and impact of television on their lives. Some people connect strongly with television while others leave it playing the background as a simulation of company. Nevertheless, the medium is pervasive throughout most family homes.

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4 comments

  1. Thanks K
    It is interesting how we talk about the early days of television and compare it in the context of current times and services. Interesting that the ABC has maintained a dominant position in some cohorts.
    Jon

  2. I’m sorry it’s taken me a while to comment here, but I really love this post. Having the four voices makes it absolutely clear that different people experience the same media moment according to a wide range of different expectations and contexts. So the pervasive medium is never exactly the same medium. Thank you (and all your collaborators) so much.

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