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Technology and Me: Television

by Judy Richardson | Published April 24, 2022

Technology and Me: Television

My father built our first television set. After he was discharged and working for a bank machine company, he took a correspondence course from  Heath, and built tools to begin learning all about electronics.  That is when my fascination with technology began.  While television was already a reality in the late 1930’s and 40’s, it was not readily available to viewers except on the east coast where NBC was launching programs from broadcasting stations. The innovators at the time were waiting for the war to be over so that they could launch a new era of news and entertainment. WOI-TV began broadcasting in 1950. It was one of the first to broadcast in central Iowa and one for first to be owned by an educational institution, Iowa State University.

Because WOI was so far from where we lived in Chariton, a very high antenna was needed to get the signal.  My dad attached a windmill tower to the side of our house and put our antenna on top.  As we grew up, dad had a side business fixing television sets for folks who began getting them.  We could watch him repair troubled sets, or even go with him when he visited a neighbor to work on a set.  Sometimes it was a simple adjustment, and other times he would replace a tube. 

With the launching of WOI, Iowa State University(according to their website) produced some educational programs and had their own talent. We watched The House With the Magic Window, a children’s program that started in 1951 and ran until 1994. It was the longest running children’s program in American history (according to Wikipedia). Betty Lou Varnum was the talent I remember. Of course, there was Howdy Doody, Mr. Rogers and The Micky Mouse Club.  Gradually more and more programs came on, many of them moving from radio to television. There were some great Saturday morning programs that entertained us so mom and dad could sleep a little later.  When we could fix our own Cheerios or Wheaties, we could enjoy The Lone Ranger and Superman. Soon the cartoons came along, and I will always love Bugs Bunny.

Sunday nights there were some favorite shows as well. When color television came along, we had to watch the Wonderful World of Walt Disney.  My dad built a color television. I remember seeing what the inside looked like. There were actually three tubes, one I think for each of the major colors. They had to be carefully aligned to get a full color picture. Like most of the technology of the time sets were heavy because of the need for tubes. Dad had a whole case of them, which he lugged around when he was doing house calls. There was a way to check if a tube was faulty.

All this would change with the invention of the microchip, a tiny piece of computer circuitry or integrated circuit that some refer to as one of the most important inventions in history. Most of our modern product use chip technology. 

When we moved to Des Moines in 1953-54, most of the programs we watched were in black and white. Color televisions were pricey and not many programs were in color.

Television did not play a big part in our lives as I recall. Sets were emerging as major pieces of furniture in your home. Some also had radios and vinal record players as well.

Records both 33 1/3 and 45 sold at record shops. Most of my friends in junior high in the late 1950’s collected 45 records as popular tunes emerged. Elvis began his career.

Rock and roll became a teen passion. We did watch Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show. They kept the camera above his waist to avoid showing the audience his “suggestive” body movements. 

Just a little aside to movie fans.  To compete with the growth of television as the stay-at-home entertainment, film makers went to CinemaScope and other devices to lure customers back to the movie theatre. Epic pictures like Ben Hur, and later The Titanic were shown in huge theatres with wide screens. They are now fairly easy to watch on the huge television screens. As ever the teacher, if you are interested in how television began, I recommended, The Columbia History of Television by Gary R. Edgerton, 2007.

When I entered high school in 1959, I chose to attend a newly renovated technical high school that was housed in a building that once manufactures Model T Fords. Des Moines Technical High School had a television station-KDPS -TV. Students in the Radio and Television vocational program learned to run both the radio and television station equipment. If you were interested, you could be a member of the KDPS standby club and help run shows that were broadcast. All the television shows were educational. 

I was studying Commercial Art and our department created artwork and title cards for the shows. I remember doing charcoal of Captain Ahab and another of Emily Dickenson. I graduated from high school in 1961 and started attending Drake University.

KDPS TV continued to broadcast until 1969 when it was bought from the Des Moines Schools and call letters were changed to KDIN. Later PBS was formed in a statewide program. For more history of the origin of Iowa Public Television, see their website.

Tech kept the radio station into the 1980s. I did not look to see what was happening there after Tech became Central Campus. 

This installment of Technology and Me ends with my starting off to college. 

Television re-entered my life once I started my job as a teacher in 1966.

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