Peter on Television

Television has had a major influence on society, although whether for good or for ill is up for discussion. Anyway, today I am going to revisit the television of my youth, and I may even touch on a more recent incarnation of it before I run out of stuff to say this week. 

My earliest memories of television are those of a black and white Cyclops, which covered 3 channels, unless you had “rabbit ears”. The stations that you could access would play the National Anthem at around midnight, then go off the air. If you turned on the TV between then and about 7:00 A.M., you would either see a test pattern or a screen composed of a display of horizontal lines, accompanied by a soundtrack of white noise, which my siblings and I christened ” the early morning gunfight”. (We were between the ages of 4 and 7 at the time, so were somewhat bereft of imagination.)

There was no 24 hour news cycle, programs were frequently interrupted by breaking news which the television network had just become aware of in those far off days before everyone with a cellphone was a journalist. I still remember that night in 1968 when “The Pig And Whistle” was broken into mid song to announce that the Russians had invaded Czechoslovakia. Blessing the fact that my parents encouraged us to learn, I didn’t have to ask myself where the Hell THAT country was.

No, I could instead wonder WHY it had happened. I clearly remember that within the next while, my high school classes began to include teenaged refugees, letting us put a human face to a situation which we had previously only read about. Sobering times.

And news shows were designed to be informative, not entertaining. The news readers reported the news, they weren’t the news. However, I am now digressing, not to mention sounding like a grumpy old man, so I shall return to my original point.

As I said previously, television was black and white, although I knew a neighbour who sent in a money order for a few bucks in response to a magazine ad that promised to “…add color to your television…”. After allowing 3-5 weeks for delivery, their package arrived. They invited several of their neighbours to witness the opening of the parcel. The brown paper wrapping concealed a piece of cellophane with several broad ascending coloured stripes. The new owner had to supply the adhesive tape. I remember being in their living room only once after this marvel was installed. I couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of the situation as they gravely viewed their “enhanced” television and was asked to leave. 

Anyway, around that same time, I remember a television technician coming to our house on a rainy morning and installing some strange device called ” cable”. I believe that the company was a local company, not a tentacled monolith which had a large percentage of everyone who used electricity in Canada in their grip. Of course, in the course of time, the little local company would be swallowed up, as that is how monopolies are made.

But wow, was this cool! While we still got CBC and CTV and CKVR, we also got ABC, CBS and NBC, and other “lesser known” stations such as TVO, CHCH and CHEX. Movies, sports, variety shows, comedies and dramas, all at the touch of a button. Our home, like most homes in those distant times, had self propelled channel changers and there was a greater variety of them at our place than most other houses in Orillia. ( There was one home which had 9 children, and I think that there was one other family with 8 kids. ) 

Mum and Dad had first call on the “set list”, as was meet and proper. I can still see my Dad watching “Pierre Berton” and yelling at the screen! Mum watched the news in the evening and she watched CKVR, the Barrie station, which has since been swallowed up by a tentacled monolith, of course. Again, on a Friday night, Mum lying on the couch, a furtive change of channel would be attempted as her offspring would endeavour to get a jump on viewing the “sci-fi” double feature on WKBW, two channels up from”CKVR” on the dial. Out of the darkness would float our Mother’s voice, saying “I was watching that!” 

It was Dad who inspired me to take an interest in the political process. I can still sit very calmly with snacks and watch election results unfold. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to analyze the whole story. Whether I was watching Trudeaumania sweep the nation or the Conservatives being reduced to a party of two, I appreciated the overview and was spurred on to examine exactly how and why that result came about. ( I remember being surprised when I went to school the next day and found out that few other kids wanted to discuss the election.) Anyway, I never miss the opportunity to vote. We are privileged here in Canada to have some say in who sails the ship of state. I encourage you all to acquaint yourself with the issues at election time and make your voice heard. During the last provincial election in Ontario, 40 percent of the people who were eligible to vote went home and watched television rather than vote.

While political and discussion shows featured a great deal on our little black and white, we could watch Hockey Night In Canada as well, from time to time. When I started watching it, the broadcast picked up part way through the first period! I remember the first time

I watched a game from the opening face off, that felt strange. Of course, I also remember the night when my Montreal Canadiens were playing my brother’s favourite team, the Maple Leafs. It was a 0-0 tie with 5 seconds left in the game. The face off was in the Toronto end. Peter Mahovlich scored right off the puck drop, and the Leafs lost ( nyuk nyuk) 1-0. I gloated so much that I almost punched myself in the nose 😉 .

Although Dad was not a sports fan by any means, he ensured that we had equipment to play and he would sometimes watch a game with us, for example during the Canada Russia series. He would also watch the Olympics with his flock, and I fondly remember the whole family in the living room, cheering on a Canadian athlete. Wonderful memories of a far distant time, with people whom I fondly remember.

Of course television has also “bookmarked” our lives, our “advances” as a society. Those of us of a certain age saw the incredible impact of the first landing on the Moon. As an aside, television certainly brought the “Space Race” into our living rooms, at least from the American perspective. Ironically, I feel that this continued exposure took a lot of the “magic” out of the whole venture. I feel that most of us became blasé, and we began to view the exploration of space as just another “run of the mill” chore, relegated to the back pages of the newspaper, the last item on the newscast.

Of course, “Challenger” changed that perception, at least for a while.

Television also projected the horror of the 9/11 attacks into our lives. As we watched the disaster unfold, I remember feeling that our world would never quite be the same again. I can’t help but think of the airliner crash which occurred in New York a couple of months later and how many of us expressed relief that that disaster had not been a terrorist attack. Small comfort for those who lost loved ones in the crash, but such is Life in the “age of mass communication”.

Of course television also gives us our voyeuristic view of royal weddings, state funerals, should one be so inclined to “scratch that particular itch.”

It’s still a great source of documentaries and information about a myriad of topics, all the way from major league baseball to the iconic music of that distinctly Canadian band “Teenage Head“. 

Seek and ye shall find, Loyal Reader, but be aware that you may have to take some of the content provided with a grain of salt, as some “researchers” are less than diligent in the performance of their duties.

On a personal note, I went through a succession of television sets before finally upgrading to colour. Over the last few years of my unhappy life in Brampton, I didn’t even have a television in my quarters, preferring to sit out in my backyard at night, drink beer and listen to the neighbours fight. 

When I moved to Toronto, I bought a big screen TV and home entertainment centre, complete with tower speakers. It came with us to London and takes pride of place in our living room. Betty has her own big screen TV, which perches on a chest of drawers in our bedroom. If we have trouble getting to sleep, we can always watch “Question Period” reruns from the provincial legislature.

See you soon. 


A confirmed Cat person, Peter dabbled with being a water boy, a paper boy and an altar boy before finally settling on a career with the Canadian federal government.  Once, in his youth, he ate a Dutch  oven full of mashed potatoes to win a 5 cent bet with his beloved sister Mary’s boyfriend. (Of course he was much younger and a nickel went a lot farther!) He has retired to palatial “Chez Montreuil”, which he shares with his little buddy CoCo the Fashionable. He is blessed to have the beautiful Betty in his life. He is not only a plastic aircraft modeller, but a proud “rivet counter”. Military aviation and live music are among other interests of his, and he tries to get out to as many shows as he can. He will be here for your enlightenment whenever the stars align. Profile photo courtesy of Pat Blythe, caricature courtesy of Peter Mossman.

One Response to “Peter on Television”

  1. Catherine Says:

    Perfection in his writing of his personal history with Television. Being around the same age I related to all. His columns are so entertaining! Thanks Pete!

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