Saturday, December 12, 2020

If you're younger than 50, you can't imagine what a revelation cable TV was in the early 80s


In 1980, cable television came to my hometown of Wickliffe, Ohio.

As I recall, the technicians from Continental Cablevision began stringing wire and performing home installations on the far east side of the city where we lived, so we were among the very earliest adopters (which was so like my dad).

If you never lived with only the channels a rooftop antenna can get you, it's difficult to understand what a stunning advancement cable TV was.

Before, we had channels 3, 5, 8, 43, and 61. Now we had 36 channels. Thirty-six!!

Before, reception was often spotty, especially in bad weather and especially on the UHF channels (i.e., Channel 43, which had all of the good weekday afternoon cartoons and evening reruns). Now every channel came in crystal clear...or at least what passed for "crystal clear" before HDTV.

There was even a channel devoted just to showing the current weather stats: Temperature, humidity, precipitation, etc. I have an old photo I took of the TV screen showing that channel the first time it hit 100 degrees in Wickliffe during the sweltering summer of 1988.

And if your parents would spring for it (mine did), you also had HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax. The latter is often referred to as "Skinemax," and there was good reason for that. But we won't get into it here.

Suffice it to say, cable TV changed our lives to a very real degree.

For one thing, when we got cable, we also got our first TV remote. It looked like this:

Yes, it was wired to the cable box, but the wire was really long and you could sit in your chair and change channels without ever getting up. Do you understand the significance of that? Not that we had much selection prior to the advent of cable, but we did occasionally want to flip around the channels and see what was on, and to do that we had to stand next to the TV and turn a dial. Those days were gone forever!

We also had the channel switcher box shown at the top of this post, which was cool and all, but not chunky-remote cool.

Nowadays, of course, cable is fast becoming a relic. It has given way to streaming services, satellite TV, etc. But in 1980, cable TV was the wave of the future.

And it was a future where I would never have to manually change a channel again. It was stunning.

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