Evening Television Before Cable

Growing up on HH highway, now known as Bear Creek Road in Taney County near the Stone County line, I remember evenings at home watching television with my parents and three brothers and our elder sister. Our home sat on a small hill overlooking the Ozarks, and the seven us crammed comfortably into the 1,000 square foot space with a solitary bathroom. We didn’t know anything different.


My Dad worked construction during the day, while my Mom stayed home tending to our garden, cows, dogs, cats, and us kids. We helped in the gardens in the summers, along with playing baseball. Falls and winters were for football and basketball games, but mostly in the evenings, they were times to gather around the television.


There was no remote back then. One of us boys served Dad as the remote. “Change the channel!” There was no cable or satellite TV, and of course, no streaming or internet. Just our very large 24 inch TV screen with the nice rabbit ears with aluminum foil rolled on top to aide in reception. We got CBS, NBC and ABC only back then, along with PBS. Later we graduated to FOX as well.


Evenings were spent watching our favorite shows. I can still recall looking to see if Dad laughed at a comedy to make sure it was, in fact, funny. Tim Conway with The Carol Burnett Show, Red Skelton and Johnny Carson got Dad laughing the most, along with Fred Sanford and Archie Bunker.


Both Mom and Dad loved watching Gunsmoke and Bonanza for westerns, along with The Big Valley to a lesser extent. Us kids loved Friday evenings with The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family back to back. Later these shows were replaced as favorites with Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley.


We liked Game Shows such as To Tell the Truth, Truth or Consequences and Beat the Clock. Mom with Grandma Margaret enjoyed cop shows such as Mannix, Barretta, Cannon and The Rockford Files.


Silly shows were common back then such as Hee Haw and Laugh In. Our hearts were tugged with family shows such as The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie and Family. I had a huge crush on Kristy McNichol back in the day.


Saturday cartoons were just flat better than today’s Saturday morning shows. Do they even have Saturday morning cartoons anymore? Bugs Bunny, Speed Buggy, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Jetsons, Hong Kong Phooey and Scooby Doo brought hours of Saturday entertainment while Mom and Dad got groceries. Then, after lunch, we watched with Dad the Saturday afternoon baseball game of the week, with Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek announcing.


Television, while having the potential danger of being an unhealthy habit of sedentary confinement, became for us a unifying and bonding glue in our family. We didn’t venture on family vacations. We did go to the creek, work in the garden, chase cows when they broke through the fence, played wiffleball and fumble football in the yard, picked up walnuts, rode bikes up and down the road (or in the case of little brother David push a bike with no tires around the yard making the motorcycle sound), and played with our dogs and cats. But in the evenings especially, when the sun went down, we enjoyed our television shows and movies. Sunday nights was Mutual Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, where Marlin Perkins hung out in the tent sipping on lemonade while assistant Jim wrestled an alligator, and the many memorable shows on The Wonderful World of Disney.


I remember also loving show such as One Day at a Time, MASH, Emergency, Hill Street Blues, and Welcome Back Kotter. I also remember watch Billy Graham Crusades with Dad on television. Back then Mom and Dad didn't go to church, but he always enjoyed watching Billy preach. I did too. I must have mentally walked down the aisle to Just As I Am dozens of times as a kid, not wanting to go to hell. However, God did in fact cultivate the soil of my heart through those times watching Billy with Dad. I believe he did the same with Dad, too.


Today we can stream almost any show we want on our television screens. We can record shows, pause shows, and watch shows on our phones or computers. Back then, you held your bladder during the scary parts of Night Gallery and ran for the bathroom during the commercial. If a brother beat you to the bathroom, you relieved yourself off the porch.


Television took my family into other worlds with other people I wasn’t familiar with. I got to know folks of different races and cultures. Branson in the 70’s was small town and white. I got to know folks who lived in the city, learn more about past wars and ways of life during the depression. I got to see families work through problems and clever investigators like Columbo solve crimes.  And I got learn all this with my family.


Shows today seem so much more bent on pushing cultural and moral boundaries, flaunt language and sexual tension, leaving little room for the imagination. I am concerned with all the bombardment of choices for today’s families what happens in the evenings when everyone is home? Is Dad in one room watching a football game while Mom is in another room watching a romance movie, while the kids are all in their rooms watching YouTube videos or interacting on Instagram? Could our families be more fragmented today than they were when I was younger? I wonder.


What do you think? What were your favorite television shows growing up? Was television an important part of your family time?




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