Friday, June 12, 2009

Goodbye "Halo Light," Hello HD

Someone once said that the more things change, the more they remain the same. I don’t think he was talking about technology when he made that statement. In my nearly 65 years that the Lord has allowed me to reside in this wonderful country of ours, I have seen more advancements in science and technology than my parents did in their relatively short lives. My wife never knew my father, Emerson Johnson, since he died about a year before Carol and I met while attending Purdue. However, she has often remarked how my mother, Elizabeth, would be amazed at the thought of personal computers, the internet, cell phones and many of the other innovations that we now take for granted.

Growing up in Elnora as a very young child in the late 1940’s and early 50’s, television was just beginning to come into existence. However, we were not one of the fortunate families to be first on the block with the “boob tube,” so I had to make do by listening to my grandmother’s small white Philco radio. On special occasions, I would go across the street to the Hobson girls’ house and watch some afterschool children’s shows.

Then, one day in 1954, when I was 10 years old my dad said, “Come on James Emerson, let’s go for a ride.” He wouldn’t tell me where we were going, saying it was a “surprise.” We drove from Elnora, went through Odon and then turned north at the Farlen General Store. After we ignored the turnoff leading to the Crane Gate, I was totally lost. We continued on and wound up in the tiny town of Scotland, Indiana. I had never been there and didn’t know what to expect.

I don’t remember the kind of store it was (a hardware store, maybe), but I waited in the car while my dad and mom went inside and a few minutes later came out with a beautiful new Sylvania “Halo Light” television. It was a 21” black and white console TV which is very small by today’s standards, but to me it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The halo light was a gimmick that was short-lived and was advertised to ease the eyestrain associated with watching television.

While researching some information about our old TV, I found an article on the website which reads in part: “Always looking for a leg up in the technology wars, the television manufacturers were sure to tackle the eyestrain issue themselves. And so it went as the 1950s saw the advent of the Sylvania Halo Light television. This nifty bit of ingenuity consisted of a fluorescent bulb that cast a “halo” of light around the screen, surrounding the picture with ambient light. The Halo Light ads, usually featuring a lovely lass in a golden dress made it clear this new discovery was a must-have. Pictures framed in exciting HALOLIGHT appear larger, sharper and clearer.”

Since TV cable wasn’t even a gleam in its father’s eye in those days, everyone who watched television had to put up an “aerial” which we now call an antenna. So, my dad and my cousin, Kenny Johnson, mounted a long vertical pipe at the south end of our house tall enough to clear the peak of the roof and using a big ladder, placed the huge aerial on top of it. Using “twin-lead” TV wire, one end was secured to the aerial and the other end went into the living room through the window and was screwed to the back of the TV. Since we didn’t have a motor to rotate the aerial, Kenny stayed outside and turned it by hand to get the best signal for the three stations available at the time until my dad told him to stop. Kenny clamped everything down to keep the wind from turning it and we were all set.

As I remember, channel 4 in Bloomington carried the long-defunct DuMont network, channel 7 in Evansville was ABC, and channel 10 in Terre Haute was CBS. The closest NBC station was in Indianapolis, too far for our rudimentary equipment to “pull in.” That didn’t matter. I was in Heaven, finally having a TV like most of our neighbors, even if we were a few years late. Soon, channel 2 in Terre Haute began broadcasting NBC programming and my father also installed a “rotator” on the “aerial” so we could receive the stations more clearly, including one or two from Louisville on nights when the atmospheric conditions were right.

Now we’ve fast forwarded fifty-five years and are entering the all-digital era. Today, June 12, 2009, all of the old-style “analog” televisions have become obsolete unless hooked up to cable, converter boxes, etc. Now it’s the age of high-definition television, known more simply as HDTV. I’m lucky enough to be a bit ahead of the game, having bought my first high-def Sony about four years ago and added a new 46” Samsung HDTV last year. I just wish my dad could have watched the old Friday Night Fights on one of these bad boys.

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