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When I Was Your Age (Part 2)

March 25, 2012

Last week I began a multi-part dissertation on ‘the way things were’ (primarily related to technology) way back when my generation (50+) was growing up.  After relating the horrific conditions that we were forced to endure with respect to telecommunications, banking, and the postal service, I thought I’d lighten things up a bit this week by reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ of late twentieth-century entertainment systems.  Baby boomers – prepare for a ‘blast from the past’; Gen Xs and Gen Ys – feel free to respond with heartfelt expressions like: ‘I don’t believe it!’, ‘How primitive!’, and ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’ 

Prior to the introduction of the first television sets in 1952, ‘entertainment’ in most Canadian households consisted of listening to radio shows, playing board games (Clue, Scrabble, Parcheesi, Chinese Checkers, Chess), or card games (Euchre, Crazy Eights, Go Fish) and reading (real books, not ‘ebooks’).  Television changed things in a big way.  However:

  • Old CBS LogoThere were fewer than a half a dozen stations to watch: American networks CBS, NBC and ABC; CBLT (our local CBC [Canada’s ‘flagship’ network] station); and – in my neck of the woods – local channels CFTO Toronto and a channel whose call letters I can’t remember from Barrie that was broadcast on Channel 3 (we only got reception on channels 3, 4, 7, 9, 11, 13).
  • There were no remote controls – if you wanted to change the channel or adjust the volume, you had to get up, walk across the room, and turn some dials.
  • Early TV screens were 10 – 12” across; this grew to 14 – 17” by the late 60s (you had to sit pretty close to see what was on the screen – but your parents warned repeatedly that if you sat ‘too close’ you would either ‘ruin your eyes’ or ‘get radiation poisoning’ – so you squinted a LOT).
  • TV Rabbit EarsYou could occasionally improve the picture and/or reception using ‘rabbit ears’ that were attached to the top of your television set, or an external antenna on the roof.
  • Televisions were considered ‘furniture’; most were encased in wood or put into elaborate cabinets (those that weren’t were called ‘portable televisions’, even though they weighed as much as 100 pounds).
  • In 1960 fewer than 1% of Canadian homes had more than one TV; this number had grown to 30% by 1970 (it was inconceivable that anyone would want/need more than two, as all television viewing took place in the living room and/or family room/ den / recreation room).
  • Early TV shows were black and white; color wasn’t introduced until the late 60s.
  • Family TV Watching 1960s‘Watching TV’ in most households was restricted to between the hours of 7:00 and 10:00 p.m.; Saturday morning cartoons (or live action shows like Sky King and My Friend Flicka) were the exception.
  • Most of the shows we watched were ‘syndicated’ U.S. shows (i.e., little forced Canadian content); almost all were ‘family friendly’ (since watching TV was considered something a family did together). I specifically recall these ‘favourites’ from the late 1950s and 1960s:  The Ed Sullivan Show, Gunsmoke, Disneyland, I’ve Got a Secret, Father Knows Best, The Red Skelton Show, Maverick, The Rifleman, Perry Mason, 77 Sunset Strip, Rawhide, Candid Camera, My Three Sons, The Flintstones, Bewitched, Dr. Kildare, Lassie, I Love Lucy, Sing Along with Mitch, The Beverly Hillbillies, What’s My Line?, Petticoat Junction, The Patty Duke Show, Gilligan’s Island, Batman, The Man from UNCLE, Green Acres, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Saturday  Night at the Movies, Mission Impossible, The Virginian, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, The Wonderful World of Disney, Hawaii Five O, The Wild, Wild West.  NOTE: check out these lists of the most popular shows from the 1950s and 1960s.
  • The only way you got to see a show more than once was via reruns; recording shows (to watch later or again) was unheard of (Betamax and VHS tape systems weren’t introduced until the late 1970s; DVDs and PVRs would have been considered science fiction fantasies).
  • TV Guide 1960s‘TV listings’ (what’s on when) were printed in a 5” x 8” booklet called a “TV Guide” that you either picked up at the supermarket, or paid to have delivered (by mail) to your home once a week (cost: 10 – 15 cents).
  • There was no: pay-TV, cable TV, satellite TV, reality TV, MTV, HDTV, Direct TV, HGTV, weather channel, all-news channel, movie channel, science fiction channel, fright channel, sports channel, discovery channel, religion channel, cartoon channel, ‘reality’ TV or ‘what-the-heck-am-I-watching-and-how-on-earth-did-it-produced?’ TV, nudity or swearing (i.e., it was a kinder, gentler time).

Another popular method of entertainment at the time was ‘going to the movies’.  This was a really big deal. Here’s why:

  • DriveIn Movie 1960sMost towns had only one cinema with one screen (although almost all had balcony seating); some really ‘lucky’ towns had drive-in theatres where you could pull your car in, hang speakers on the inside of your windows, and watch a movie (or two) from the comfort of your own vehicle (a few still exist).
  • Ushers (young men wearing red velveteen suits and pillbox hats) would guide you down the aisle and direct you to available (i.e., empty) seats in the theatre; they also ejected anyone who talked or otherwise misbehaved during the show.
  • Before the ‘Feature Presentation’ you got to watch a couple of cartoons (NOT commercials); it was a rare treat to be given a ‘Sneak Peak’ of an upcoming feature film.
  • 60s Movie TheatreMovies were generally shown only at 7:00 and 9:00 Monday through Friday, with mid-day matinees added on weekends (sometimes the matinee was a different movie – i.e., ‘family friendly’ or ‘suitable for children’).
  • It wasn’t unusual to have to line up (outside!) for as long as an hour before the movie was scheduled to start and often there would be a ‘Sorry – Theatre Full’ sign posted long before you got to the front door.
  • The price of admission was between 10 and 25 cents for children and 35 to 50 cents for adults (at a time when the average wage was $2.00 per hour); popcorn, candy, and drinks were available at 5 cents to 10 cents each.
  • New movies were released – on average – once or twice a month (i.e., only ONE new movie every week or two).
  • James Bond movie posterThe most popular movies were historicals (Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, Ben Hur, Doctor Zhivago), comedies (The Pink Panther, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Breakfast at Tiffanys), spy / heist films (the various James Bond films, Ocean’s Eleven, The Thomas Crown Affair), early science fiction epics (Jason and the Argonauts, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes), ‘escapism’ musicals (the Elvis Presley and ‘beach’ movies), and live action and animated Disney films (101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, The Incredible Journey, The Love Bug ); there were also, of course, several ‘big’ musical production films and a number of westerns produced during this period (but not a lot of things got blown up, and the only vampires or werewolves you saw were in cheesy ‘B’ movies that were often shown as matinees).
  • You rarely had to worry about ratings on movies – most were acceptable for viewing by all family members, and few were ‘Restricted’ (and an ‘R’ rating back then was significantly different from what it is now – I’d say ‘R’ then is equivalent to – or maybe even less risqué than – today’s PG13).
  • Saturday Night at the MoviesYou could only see a ‘motion picture’ at the theatre; it took several years before they were broadcast on television (‘Saturday Night at the Movies’ was eventually supplemented with ‘Friday Night at the Movies’ and then, surprisingly, ‘Tuesday Night at the Movies’); all movies shown on TV were ‘edited for content and to fit in the prescribed viewing time’ (which meant you generally missed about 1/3 of the content during commercials and/or to ‘fit’ into the 2 hour time slot).
  • There were no VHS tapes/machines, no DVDs or BluRay, no Netflix, no satellite or Internet feeds, no pirated copies of movies already released or yet-to-be released (because there was no way to view them!!!!)

When we weren’t hanging out at the movie theatre (maybe once a month) or watching TV (an hour or two a night), those of us born in ‘the dark ages’ liked to listen to music.  We did this in one of several ANALOG (not digital) ways:

  • 1050 CHUM AMAM or FM radio stations (around here that was 1050 CHUM-AM, or 104.5 CHUM-FM)  NOTE: in some parts of the world, it was considered ‘taboo’ to play and/or listen to ‘rock and roll’; if you’ve never seen the movie, “Pirate Radio: The Boat the Rocked”. rent it now (great tunes, fascinating look at ‘how things were’ in  Britain in the late 1960s).  
  • Playing 45 rpm or 33 rpm (‘LPs’) – what ‘young people’ today refer to as ‘vinyl’ – on our record players (they weren’t called ‘turntables’ until the 80s).
  • Stuffing an 8 track tape into an 8 track player (mid 60s); by 1969 most of these had been replaced with ‘cassette’ tapes and players.
  • Olden Day MediaAnd if you wanted to ‘take your music with you’, you bought a transistor radio (or, by the end of the 60s, a Walkman for your cassettes).
  • Headphones were enormous and fit OVER your ears, not IN your ears.
  • You couldn’t ‘record’ music yourself – if you wanted a particular song (or ‘album’) you had to go down to the ‘record store’ and buy it.
  • Songs made sense and had meaning to those who listened to them (I know, I know – that’s not really about technology, but I simply had to get that in … again).

Once more, I’ve run out of time and space.  So – tune in next week when I take a nostalgic look back at a few remaining aspects of pre-technology life as seen from … the other side of 55.

Where Were You In 62?

  1. Corby permalink
    April 11, 2012 9:30 am

    I think that Barrie would have been CKVR back then.

    • April 11, 2012 6:48 pm

      You’re probably right. The mind tends to forget the finer details as you age (something you’ve yet to discover!) 🙂


  2. March 26, 2012 8:15 am

    haha…we bought a wonderful, quality “Curtis Mathis” console television in the 80’s. True to its reputation, it was quality…but then, the thing just wouldn’t die. My daughters were mortified when their dates would look at it and actually ask “What’s that?” haha And then in the mid 2000’s yes, it did die and we entered the 21st century getting a flatscreen, etc, etc.

    • March 27, 2012 1:52 pm

      My husband and I ‘just’ upgraded our old 32″ ‘tube’ TV (which just WOULDN’T die) for a 47″ flat screen – talk about a big difference. Wow!


  3. March 25, 2012 4:37 pm

    My husband still insists that vinyl records sounded better than digital.

    • March 25, 2012 5:01 pm

      Honestly, I have to agree with him. I bought the ‘digitally remastered’ Beatles box set and several of the CDs sound TERRIBLE. It’s no wonder vinyl is all the rage again!


      • March 26, 2012 2:21 pm

        I’ve always wondered if they remastered them from worn out records as they couldn’t find any virgins. It’s even more noticeable on thirties and forties dance bands – and why do they soothe me? Maybe because they were the ones we listened to on the radio in the early fifties.

      • March 26, 2012 3:41 pm

        Sometimes the remastered versions (which I think they must have ‘good’ copies to work from, but can’t say for sure) are far worse than the originals. Weird. And I still like some of the really old stuff my parents used to play. Brings back some good memories.


  4. March 25, 2012 3:51 pm

    Ah! The good old days!!!

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