Movies That Were Shown Every Year on TV

Scene from The Great Escape

Back in the days when there were three networks, what they chose to show had a much greater effect on the masses than in the present day. I might watch one or two network television shows per week, spending the rest of my time gleaning gems recorded by my DVR from The History Channel, TLC, and the like.

However, in the early-to-mid 60’s, you watched what NBC, ABC, or CBS had to offer. And that meant seeing certain movies year after year.

It almost became a treasured annual observance. Certain films were so good that they needed to be brought out and dusted off again so that they could be re-enjoyed.

In reality, it was probably a matter of a studio holding copyright on a particular film so that the paying of royalties that might have otherwise cut into profits were skipped. But I didn’t think about such mundane matters when I was a child. Instead, I just savored the annual showing of The Great Escape over two nights each summer.

Scene from the original War of the Worlds

Of course, the granddaddy of the annually-shown-movies was The Wizard of Oz. It was covered in its own article, so no further mention here.

But other movies were shown every year that I can recall. One was War of the Worlds, which was originally released in 1953. It had several things going for it. For one, it was in color. For another, it was an excellent blend of good acting and state-of-the-art special effects. That last scene where the dying Martian’s arm is seen trying to claw its way out of the ship was absolutely unforgettable. Come to think of it, I believe that was the only glimpse we had of an actual Martian the whole movie.

Another movie I remember being shown repetitively was Come Back Little Sheba. The movie’s dark plot was way over the head of a kid, but it was one of my mom’s favorite films, so it would be watched every time it was aired. I was a big Shirley Booth fan, so I would watch as much as I could before getting lost in the adult-themed story.

Birdman of Alcatraz

Of course, Burt Lancaster starred alongside Shirley Booth in that classic. Another Lancaster offering was an annual presentation: The Birdman of Alcatraz. I remember skipping the film when very young, then watching the next year because a schoolmate told me it featured a psychopath who would squeeze birds to death! What kid could resist that?

Well, of course, nothing like that happened in the film. But I still became a fan of the story of a man who overcomes his own violent past to become a distinguished authority on birds. And the film’s 7.9 IMDB rating is strong evidence that it truly was a classic.

Probably my favorite film, and that of most of my friends, was The Great Escape. It was a good film for kids to see who thought playing army was the height of fun. It graphically portrayed war and living in a POW camp as misery. We kids who watched lots of Rat Patrol needed that dose of reality.

Of course, many movies are still shown on an annual basis. but in today’s heavily-diluted menu of television choices, the days when the Big Three had a huge impact on what we watched are long gone.

Local Saturday Night Horror Shows

The elder statesmen of the Boomer generation have memories of watching some pretty scary flicks in theaters in the 50’s. That decade is considered by many to be the penultimate era of the horror movie. A website (now gone) site listed 72 movies of the genre that were produced between 1950 and 1959.

So what happened to all of those flicks, many of which were shot on a shoestring budget? And, for that matter, what about all of those Lon Chaney (Jr. and Sr., Warren! R.I.P.), Bela Lugosi, and Boris Karloff classics from the 30’s and beyond? Would they be doomed to disappearance, as has been the case of thousands of films whose very material existence disintegrated?

Not a chance. Local TV stations saved the horror movie.

In the 60’s (like today), days lasted 24 hours. However, the network that a local station was affiliated with would provide a limited amount of programming. That meant that a station would have to fill in the dead air time with SOMETHING. After all, if you ever broadcast static when viewers were in the mood to watch TV, you might permanently lose an audience.

Weeknights of the 60’s and early 70’s had Johnny Carson, Joey Bishop, and Dick Cavett to fill the 10:30 (11:30 to you east and west coasters) to signoff slots. But on Saturday nights, before NBC’s groundbreaking SNL, they were on their own.

Well, time for a reality check. Who watches TV on Saturday nights late? Dudes who don’t have dates, and kids. After all, our WWII generation parents would turn in by 10:00. So what would appeal to that demographic (and meet strict FCC regulations, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more)?

Ergo, the profligation of Saturday night horror movie-fests on our local stations.

Dimension 16 began shortly after UHF station KUHI out of Joplin, Mo. began broadcasting. UHF stations of the 50’s got a royal screwing, thanks to FCC regs of the 50’s, but by the next decade, they had a shot at real profits. New TV’s were being built with the ability to receive the channels above thirteen. Joplin affiliate KUHI began broadcasting in September, 1967. The brand new station (unviewable by thousands with 50’s era TV’s) was looking for programming to fill vast hours, and launched Dimension 16 as a 10:30 Saturday night offering.

The show would feature a moderator who would introduce the black and white horror movie and pop back in at commercial breaks to throw a few yuks at the audience before the next batch of local business’s ads would air while viewers went to the can or grabbed another beer.

The premise was repeated at TV stations all over the nation, and forgettable B movies like The Leech Woman, Tarantula, and Dead Man’s Eyes were played over and over to eager audiences. Of course, genuine classics like Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Werewolf also got lots of airplay.

Ft. Smith, Arkansas later had Boo! Theater, featuring Dr. Zechariah X. Boo and his sidekick, Melvin the Dummy Mummy.

The Saturday night horror flick show has passed, as have so many other things we grew up with and assumed would always exist, Fortunately, the movies we watched have been preserved. Sadly, many Hollywood classics have physically vanished because their master films have disintegrated. But thanks to the demand for horror movies by local stations in the 60’s, The Leech Woman survives!


The power of television is immense. When you see a collie, more particularly a rough collie with brown hair, the name “Lassie” immediately enters into your mind.

Lassie, the literary dog, originated with British author Eric Knight in a short story published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938. The story was a hit, and it led to a novel written two years later by Knight called Lassie Come Home. The book was likewise greatly successful, and in 1943, the movie Lassie Come Home was released, starring Roddy McDowell. Elizabeth Taylor was also in the film. Once again, it was a smash. People couldn’t get enough of Lassie.

A radio series followed in 1947 that ran until 1950. Soon after, it was time to put Lassie on television.

In 1954, Lassie the television series premiered. It starred a male dog named Pal. Pal was also the star of the original Lassie movie of twelve years earlier. As every Lassie fan already knows, the female Lassie has always been played by larger male dogs, mainly because that way they don’t have to go through so many child stars. More on that later.

Poster for Lassie Come Home, 1943

Anyhow, Pal played Lassie in the first two episodes of the series. Then he stepped aside for one of his descendants. And every Lassie afterwards on television was a descendant of Pal. by the way, Pal lived to the ripe old dog age of eighteen.

So the dog situation was handled. But those pesky child stars kept growing up.

So for the first four seasons, we had Jeff Miller. At the beginning of the fourth season, Timmy made his appearance as a runaway from a family of crippled and aged members. The Millers (Lassie’s owners) suggest to a social worker that Timmy spend the summer on the farm for its healthy influence. And since it was the 50’s, the social worker thought that was a great idea.

When Timmy became a teenager in 1964, the whole child actor scenario was abandoned in favor of adult companions. Characters from the series hung around as the Millers hit the road, so viewers wouldn’t get too confused.

Of course, the public didn’t have any problems keeping up, because the true star of the series was Lassie her-himself. The humans were simply add-ons to a dog’s TV show.

Of course, Lassie’s ratings weren’t hurt by the fact that two of its earlier actresses were played by Cloris Leachman and June Lockhart in all their 1950’s beauty.

Lassie the show hung around on the CBS schedule until 1971. It survived an additional two years in syndication. It was a great 17-year run for a show that every Baby Boomer can remember vividly.

Oh, one last thing. Lassie never saved Timmy from falling into a well. Though the heroic pooch did come to the rescue of at least two hapless humanoids who encountered that fate, Timmy was fortunate enough to avoid that particular crisis.

Elvis Makes a Triumphant Comeback

Elvis performing on his 1968 Comeback Special

Regular readers of I Remember JFK know where I stand on the subject of Elvis. He had as much performing talent as any one individual who was ever born, but unfortunately, he also had the naiveté to put his trust in a manipulative individual who saw nothing but dollar signs as far as his client was concerned. The result was that Colonel Tom Parker stifled the man’s talent to an extent that we may never know. During most of the 60’s, instead of recording more and more great rock and roll like he cranked out during the 50’s, he was in movie studios. Disposable, forgettable dreck was the overwhelming result. Each bad movie came out with a bad soundtrack. Lots of money was made, but untold quantities of God-given talent was tragically, permanently wasted.

But in late 1968, Elvis, backed by TV producer Steve Binder, dug in his heels against Parker and starred in a December NBC special that reminded the world of what all of the excitement was about ten years earlier.

Parker wanted Elvis singing Christmas tunes. Binder, who had previously stood up to Chrysler over Petula Clark touching Harry Belafonte’s arm during a duet on her own 1968 special (Chrysler didn’t feel the world was ready for a white woman to touch a black man on broadcast TV), was not intimidated by Elvis’s doltish manager. The result was one of television’s greatest moments, and a revitalization of the King’s career.

The special consisted of staged songs on a set intermixed with live recordings.

There was all sorts of controversy. For example, one song was to be performed in a bordello! The network squawked, Binder held, and the scene was included.

Surprisingly, one of the strongest voices against the live segments was that of Elvis himself. His last live appearance, thanks to his Hollywood-obsessed manager, was in 1961. The Tupelo, Mississippi-born kid had stage fright after years of performing in front of movie crews instead of screaming fans.

Again, Binder stuck to his guns, and Elvis was convinced to get behind a microphone before applauding fans.

Thus, that summer, the King sat down on a Burbank stage before four different audiences in four different sessions, and history was made. Live performances would comprise the bulk of the rest of his career, definitely a positive move for the man and (sigh) unfortunately, the manager, too.

Elvis quickly got over his stage fright. Only a small portion of the live scenes were used in the show, but they had an impact. Plus, bootlegs were leaked onto the market of the four sessions. The lucky ones who got their hands on the boots were blown away by this man who had captured the imaginations of their parents and older siblings.

And fortunately, for us old goats, you can now obtain the four-CD set of the Comeback Sessions on the legal market. You can feel the passion of this man who was born to put soul into music finally getting his wish after so many years.

The next year, Elvis released an album in keeping with his newfound spirit. From Elvis in Memphis put the wasteland of the 60’s far, far behind. The man who had been coerced into taping stuff like Girls! Girls! Girls! was now belting out an R&B classic (Any Day Now), country fare (I’m Movin’ On, a harbinger of his future career path), and bold social commentary (In the Ghetto).

From Elvis in Memphis was justifiably given a place as one of the 500 greatest rock and roll albums ever created in the opinion of Rolling Stone magazine. I strongly agree.

Elvis was taken from us at too young an age, but how wonderful that his later career received a shot in the arm thanks to him and gutsy TV producer Steve Binder standing up to Colonel Tom Parker in 1968, and turning what was supposed to be 90 minutes of Christmas songs into a public reminder of just how much talent the King possessed.

50’s Nostalgia in the 70’s

The Mothers’ Ruben and the Jets, released in 1968, the oldest 50s nostalgia I can find

As we moved from the 60’s into the 70’s, we discovered something. We didn’t like the 70’s. Student protests turned into student apathy as the draft slowed down and finally disappeared. Everyone quit fighting for causes, and instead sat around thinking about themselves. Early in the decade, some termed it narcissistic.

I remember missing the 60’s very much by about 1972. I missed the Beatles. I missed Get Smart. Entering my tumultuous teen years, I missed the more carefree days of being a little kid.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one pining for the past. Because the early 70’s saw an unprecedented wave of nostalgia sweep the US, which stayed around right up until the start of the 80’s. We all wanted to go back in time, and the decade that was most sought after was the 1950’s.

Scene from American Graffiti

By and large, the nostalgic wave was kicked off by George Lucas’s brilliant low-budget smash American Graffiti. Lucas must have sensed the Boomer generation missing its youthful days when he envisioned a film about his own youthful cruising of Modesto’s strip in hot rods circa 1962. But he probably didn’t foresee what a smash the film would be, and the continuing flow of nostalgia that would follow.

The soundtrack became a Top Ten album. Songs that had been on the singles charts in the 50’s reappeared. And Wolfman Jack was given his due as one of the greatest DJ’s of all time.

But we wanted more! So the next year saw Happy Days appear on TV, starring none other than AG‘s Ron Howard. Though the show was eagerly watched by Boomers, the rest of the country didn’t catch on right away. But by 1976, it was the #1 rated show on TV, and it propelled ABC from its traditional distant third place into the top network on television.

Happy Days cast

Personal note: I loved the first season the best, when Fonzie was a side character who was very intimidating for the others to even talk to. When he was made the focus of the show, it suffered. Never mind the fact that he was the original shark jumper.

Happy Days spun off successful shows of its own, and I remember going to lots of 50’s parties about the time I got old enough to drive. And the commercials! My favorite was a 7Up ad featuring a ghostly 1950’s teenager who fades into and out of the commercial while a great doo-wop song blares in the background. YouTube has a plethora of old 7Up commercials, but I didn’t find this one.

Predating American Graffiti by two years was an off-broadway play called Grease. It scored great reviews and got lots of attention. It opened on Broadway in 1972 and drew huge crowds throughout the decade. A movie was eagerly anticipated, and in 1978 was released.

Grease vaulted the careers of already successful John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. It also garnered a #1 single for 60’s veteran Frankie Valli. And it brought on another tidal wave of 50’s nostalgia right in the heart of the disco era.

As we moved into the 80’s, the obsession with the 50’s finally began to wane. But it remains a hot era even in our time, as the recent smash success of Hairspray proves.

What genuinely surprised me was that we finally even got nostalgic about the 70’s! Dazed and Confused and That 70’s Show were big hits in their own right, although the popularity of 70’s nostalgia has never approached that for the 50’s.

But hey, the new century is still young. Let’s wait and see where longing for the past takes us next.

Your First Color TV

A magnificent 1964 Magnavox color TV console

For us Baby Boomers, the appearance of HDTV a few years ago brought back memories of the last big jump in TV technology.

When homes first started sprouting TV antennas in the 50’s, black and white sets were the norm. They weren’t cheap, either. A new one was an investment of hundreds of dollars. Most stations outside of big cities didn’t broadcast in color at first when it became possible in 1954. So spending over $1000 for the pictured 1954 CBS-Columbia color TV was simply out of the question.

But color was catching on fast. By 1965, most US TV stations were broadcasting in color, even though many network shows were still black and white. In fact, it was interesting that some TV shows “jumped the shark” when they went color, the Andy Griffith Show being the prime example.

The prices had dropped by then, as well. You could get a living-room sized color TV for around 500 bucks. So many, including my father, took the color TV plunge about that time.

1967 newspaper ad for Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant, Joplin, Missouri

I saw my first color TV at Mickey Mantle’s restaurant in Joplin, Missouri in 1964. They had one set up in the lobby. I remember standing there stunned at the incredible sight of seeing moving images in gorgeous color.

One of the first things a new color TV owner discovered was that the blasted colors wouldn’t stay the same! It would go in and out of tune during a single show. A nice flesh-colored face might end up with a greenish tint before a show ended. And passing airplanes would also wreak havoc with the picture.

Color TV tuning bars

Many homeowners, my father included, decided to spring for a rotor that would turn the antenna around to directly face the transmission tower. In our small northeast Oklahoma town, we had signals originating from places as diverse as Tulsa, Joplin, and Pittsburgh, Kansas. Being able to point the antenna perfectly greatly improved color reception.

Channel 7 in Pittsburgh would begin the broadcast day with color bars that you could use to perfectly adjust the tint and hue. An announcer would describe each color, and you would try to match it. The picture would then be perfect, until it started getting off track again within minutes. Automatic fine tuning appeared in the 70’s and ended this daily ritual.

I waited five years until I took the HDTV plunge. By then, the local networks were broadcasting in it, Dish Network offered a hi-def DVR at a reasonable fee, and the sets themselves had finally gotten reliable and cheaper. And as I installed it, it brought back fond memories of dad proudly hooking up our very first color set, circa 1965.

Why Does This TV Show Look…Different?

Love of Life, a 60’s soap

When I was a kid, I noticed something about TV very early in the game: my mom’s “stories,” as she called the soap operas she watched on weekday afternoons, had a different look to them than other shows like Leave It to Beaver or Bonanza.

The look is hard to describe. But there are unmistakable differences.

Later in life, I learned that the soaps were filmed on videotape. The other TV shows were captured on cameras that utilized conventional film.

Go back to the early 50’s, and all shows were caught on film. However, most were captured as kinescopes. The cameras capturing the action were piping their feeds straight to broadcast. The only way to record what they were filming was to point a film camera at a monitor screen. Thus, the quality of the captured show was only as good as the sharpness of the monitor and the focus of the camera. In other words, lousy most of the time.

During that decade, AMPEX, makers of sound tape recorders, was experimenting with putting video on tape. By 1957, they had perfected the process enough that a TV episode was shot for the first time entirely by videotape cameras. This was The Edsel Show, a Bing Crosby-hosted special that was considerably better than its namesake. Rumor has it that a door handle fell off of a car shortly after it was featured on the show.

While many TV shows were captured on film, the process didn’t work well for shows that depended on live audiences. Scenes would often be shot out of sequence and pieced together in the spicing room. When you had three cameras filming live action, there wasn’t any way to put their outputs into one package, short of filming the monitor image.

But if your camera could record to tape, and have its images instantly accessible (i.e. not requiring darkroom developing), that would open up all kinds of new possibilities.

“Terrific!” you might say. “So that means old broadcasts were saved for posterity!” Well, sadly, videotape didn’t make much of an early contribution to the preserving of shows. The 2″ reels cost about $300 in 1950’s money. And coincidentally, they could be erased and reused. Thus, the same reel of videotape might have been used to capture many episodes of the same show only long enough to be rebroadcast three hours later for west coast viewers.

1960’s Ampex videotape machine at work in the TV studio

However, many episodes of early videotaped shows have survived. For example, in its second (1960-61) season, six episodes of The Twilight Zone were shot on videotape, in an effort to cut costs. Remember the one where the kid could talk to his deceased grandmother on a toy telephone? Notice how it has a different look and feel from most other offerings.

It was the soaps that embraced the new technology most quickly. They were filmed live on a daily basis, and videotape was perfect for the three-hour rebroadcasts that were essential due to the four time zones that span the US.

In the early 70’s, an interesting trend took place in TV studios. Many sitcoms started to be shot on videotape, giving them a “soap opera” look. Norman Lear was one of the pioneers of the movement, and all of his vast storehouse of comedies utilized videotape.

Lear’s success, driven by ratings giant All in the Family, caused others to switch to the videotape format. Thus, many of our favorite 70’s half-hour comedies, including Barney Miller and WKRP in Cincinnati, have the distinct videotape look.

Nowadays, digital has changed all of the rules. Digitally filmed shows do not have the videotape look, at least to me. Looking at the the current top twenty rated shows, I don’t spot a single one shot on videotape. I’m not sure if the soaps still use them, I haven’t seen one in thirty years. Perhaps a reader can enlighten us.

Videotaped TV episodes have largely been digitized, retaining their original look and feel, but now no longer subject to the deterioration of the tape itself. Many of us have likewise digitized the tapes we shot with our videocams in the 80’s and 90’s for the same reason. And if you haven’t done so yet, you’d better hurry!

So now, when you spot one of the six Twilight Zone episodes that look different from the rest, you, as Paul Harvey would say, now know the rest of the story.

When You Got Your First VCR

1980 VCR

As I sit back and watch my episodes of The Sopranos that my DVR automatically records every Wednesday night from A&E, I sometimes think about days long ago when you either watched a show on TV, or you missed it. If you were watching Bonanza, and the telephone rang, or company came over, you didn’t see the ending. Your only hope was catching the rerun.

If you can recall TV from the early 50’s, even THAT was not an option. It was live, and the only recordings were kinescopes, which were films shot by pointing a camera at a television monitor.

The first kinescopes were useful for preserving performances for posterity, but they weren’t suitable for broadcasts, although they would be later used to air shows three hours later for west coast audiences.

This all changed in 1975. That was the year Sony introduced the Betamax. This machine was instrumental in turning the world into commercial-skippers, thanks to that handy remote control. It also meant that you could watch TV programs ANY TIME YOU WANTED TO. That was pretty profound stuff the first time we realized it.

Of course, that convenience would cost you. The Betamax recorder, which came with a 19″ Trinitron TV, cost $2495 in 1975. Yikes.

But VCR’s were the devices that taught us that when something cool and expensive comes out, just be patient. It will soon get INexpensive, and still be cool!

By the next year, you could get a rival VHS recorder for less than a thousand dollars. By 1985, when I finally sprang for one, it was down to $299. And it played back in stereo, too, so I could watch movies like Days of Thunder and listen to the stock cars roar by from the left side of my living room to the right!

It also came with a digital clock, which, if you’ll recall, usually flashed all zeros.

That leads to another new concept which arrived shortly after the VCR’s themselves: renting movies.

We rented movies because they were too stinking expensive to buy. A movie on tape circa 1978 could cost over a hundred dollars. As a result, we signed up at video rental outfits, and didn’t mind shelling out as much as fifty bucks to sign on! That seems outrageous today, but I recall my older brother, who obtained a VCR about 1980, ponying up that cash to join a store that required a 15 mile drive to get to.

Betamax VCR

Oh, and the movies we watched. Years before the world wide web, VCR’s allowed you to watch ANYTHING you wanted to. The result was that many video rental places had a special “back room” that was opened to you by request only. You can guess what sorts of films were available in there. And, they generally were quite regularly rented.

In the meantime, Hollywood, in a rare moment of conscious thought, realized that the pricing structure for taped movies would have to be changed. Movie prices dropped dramatically, with many rental places being put out of business since you could buy a film for twenty bucks, the price of renting it four times. Paid memberships were also gone by the mid 80’s.

The buyers of the original Betamax machines, which had visibly better picture quality, were dismayed to see the VHS format win out. By 1998, you had to go to Japan to find a new one. But Sony kept cranking out a few each year until production finally ceased in 2002.

Today, the same situation exists in the high-definition DVD field with Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD. If you invest in a player for either format, which are incompatible with each other, you run the risk of putting lots of bucks into a dead technology.

That’s okay. My standard DVD looks pretty darned good on my modest 30″ high-def TV. I’ll be happy to wait a few years while the two technologies slug it out. When I finally sprang for a VCR in 1985, it was clear who the winner would be.

Weather Radar of the 60’s

TV radar image from 1965

As regular visitors to this site already know, I grew up in Miami, Oklahoma, not in the heart of tornado alley, but certainly within spleen distance ;-). I remember being terrified with break-ins on TV shows from the likes of KOAM and KODE with reports of tornadoes in the area, complete with scary, indecipherable radar screens that showed ominous big white images against a black background.

What I was looking at was state-of-the-art of its time. Our parents grew up with absolutely no way to know bad weather was on the way except to look for signs like all of the cattle gathered up in one area facing the same direction. Perhaps they would look for a red sky at morning. Radio stations would help, but weather forecasting was still more art than science.

In 1957, a quantum leap was taken in the forecasting and tracking of bad weather. The first WSR-57 was commissioned at the Miami Hurricane Forecast Center. WSR stood for weather surveillance radar, and 57 stood for 1957, duh!

The radar unit was basically a WWII vintage piece of equipment, domesticized to look for cloud masses instead of enemy bombers. While a large advance in the science of meteorology, it didn’t show windspeed. It also only showed the thickest cloud masses, making subtleties like rotation difficult or impossible to discern. The parts were 40’s vintage, and repairs often consisted of scrounging through old boxes of stuff to find the right tube.

The WSR-57 radar units began spreading across the United States. One went up in downtown Kansas City in 1959. Key West, Wichita, Cincinnati, Galveston, and St. Louis all received units in 1960. The next year, Amarillo, Detroit, and Fort Worth got theirs. Weather hotspots were beginning to receive an additional tool to forecast bad conditions, and the hope was that local residents would be given opportunity to prepare for any onslaughts.

The WSR-57’s served our country well. Many of them were still functioning as good as new thirty or more years after deployment. The last of them was taken offline on December 2, 1996, at Charleston, SC, after an amazing 37-year run. Not bad for something that was essentially pieced together from parts that were manufactured to see action in WWII.

Hurricane caught on radar, 1961

What ultimately replaced the original radar units was a new technology called 88-D. This stands for Doppler 1988. That was the year that the smart technology of measuring approaching and receding wind speeds to determine rotation was launched.

Of course, there were many other hi-tech features of Doppler radar. For one, computers were extensively used in the background, making for better alerting, compiling of data over time, and preservation of historical records.

The WSR-57 would flash blips on the screen, which would disappear with each rotation of the antenna. Operators made grease pencil markings on the screen to track the movements of cloud masses. Doppler would actually display a map, showing precise locations of cloud formations, which did NOT disappear with each pass.

Radar usage involves varying power output, adjusting antenna rotation speed, and also antenna pitch. It wasn’t unusual in the early days for operators to make these tweaks via cranks that turned huge rheostats. It took good physical stamina to be a meteorologist back then.

It also took serious training to make sense of the high-contrast white blips on the black screen. Thus, a kid already deathly afraid or tornadoes was further terrified by the ominous images that would be flashed up on TV by local weathermen Earl Ludlum or Lee George during the interminable breaks in network programming while we were experiencing bad weather.

But it was certainly an advancement, one our Depression-raised parents appreciated. My father had no problems understanding the weatherman and the radar display, thus, he never ordered us to take cover during the years that I have memories of Miami, Oklahoma, from 1963 to 1968. We had tornadoes hit close, I remember one tearing up some trees north of town, but our little tract home remained safe.

Nowadays, a colorful live radar display is depicted in the lower right corner of our high-def television, and the fine detail lets us see exactly where the squall line is while we’re enjoying a rerun of Andy Griffith on a weekday evening.

But those of us old enough to remember JFK can also recall when radar weather tracking was very much an art, subject to the interpretation of an educated user.

The Most Stunning TV Ever Made: the Philco Predicta

Philco Predicta

My subjects for columns are frequently decided upon by pure gut feeling. If it feels right, write about it!

I’m a subscriber to Charles Phoenix’s Slide of the Week, and I recommend you do so too. Last week, I received a slide that featured a TV that I’d known about, but didn’t know too much about. It’s called the Philco Predicta, and it had the picture tube on a yoke in a wonderful expression of modern design. Charles had located a slide that featured a Predicta “in real life,” as he excitedly put it.

The next thing you know, I’m watching Revenge of the Nerds on TNT, and lo and behold: a Predicta! It was being used to play 80’s Atari games.

OK, two Predicta sightings in one week. Time to write a column!

Philco began in in 1892 as the Helios Electric Company. They manufactured batteries at first, but as electricity caught on, they diversified. In 1927, they began manufacturing radios, and soon became one of the Big Three in the business, along with RCA and Zenith. When televisions began appearing after WWII, Philco jumped on board.

A working Predicta

By 1957, Philco’s sales were flat. That year, the Russians electrified the world by launching Sputnik. Suddenly, the modern look was red-hot.

Philco looked at redesigning the traditional cabinet-mounted picture tube in TV’s to something radically different and uber-modern. The first Predicta, with a yoke-mounted shortened picture tube, thus appeared in 1958.

One of Philco’ biggest customers for the futuristic TV was none other than Holiday Inn. They bought thousands of the sadly unreliable television sets, probably to their regret.

You see, the Predicta was more gorgeous than gorgeous. But Philco never created a color Predicta, and there was a growing demand for color by the dawn of the 60’s. More significantly, it wasn’t well-engineered. The shortened picture tube ran very hot, bad for electronics. The circuit board for the tube was also extremely difficult to access, and the combination of the two made certain that Predictas were in the shop on a sadly regular basis, perhaps three or four times a year.

I think we Boomers remember how depressing it was to have the TV off at the shop in the 60’s.

Thus, ultimately, the Predicta was a failure. Many sat unsold in TV dealerships. Customers preferred reliability over drop-dead coolness. And Philco went under in 1961. It survived as a purchased product of the Ford Motor Company until the 70’s. Nowadays, what remains of it is in South America.

But you have to admit that it was absolutely the coolest TV ever built. And guess what! You Boomers with a little money to burn can get Predictas from the Telstar Company, which now owns the name and produces new models faithful to the original design!