Sunday, March 25, 2018

Reminiscing: Eh, Can You See?

Saturday night at dinner, we were talking about watching television when we were kids. While we don’t have the traditional television in our house, it’s miles away different from anything we ever had when we were younger. Some of the things that Wendy, her mom, and I were talking about had the girls responding with blank stares. They couldn’t quite understand.

In our house, we don’t have cable or satellite television. We have Netflix and an antenna that we take in and out of the front bedroom window as needed. When we use the antenna to watch something over the air, it’s almost like it was when we were kids. We get the local networks, 2, 4, and 7. Plus we get 29 and 49. If I want to get the Canadian stations, I re-run an extra antenna cable up the basement stairs, up the main stairs, and into the back bedroom. Then I hang it out the window. That’s how we watched The Tragically Hip’s final concert.

I’ve written before about how my kids occasionally ask me to pause the show we were watching so they can use the bathroom. They are almost completely unfamiliar with commercials or the idea of having to wait until a show came out as a rerun over a year later if we missed the show. These were some of the things that we talked about at the dinner table.

One of the things that everyone who grew up on the Niagara Frontier will surely remember is the French-speaking channels out of Canada. Sometimes when there was nothing else on TV, you turn the channel to the those stations and watch Sesame Street with badly overdubbed French. There’s nothing quite like hearing “Un...ah...ah..ah! Deux!..ah..ah..ah!”  (Any of you who grew up in the 1970s and 80s, that earworm will now stick with you all day. You’re welcome.)

The coolest thing about Canadian TV during my time growing up was a series of shows that were part of their children’s broadcasting. I grew up adoring Mr. Dress Up, and watching the Polka Dot Door. Fred Penner’s Place came a bit later, but I did get some of those shows, too. Casey and Finnegan on Mr. Dress Up’s show. And I liked the crafting projects that he did. I even tried some of them on my own, probably to the chagrin of my mother.

Wendy reminded me of Romper Room as I was telling her about this article. I don’t really remember that show too well, but I know my younger sister and brother watched it. And that brought me to another station that was widely overlooked when I first started talking about this. Channel 17 -- PBS. That was the channel we watched Sesame Street on. We also watched The Great Space Coaster on that channel, I think. (No gnews is good gnews with Gary...Gnu. --Another earworm. I am just that awesome.)

We always had a problem with Channel 29 in those days. If the wind blew wrong, the signal would cut out. It was one of the hardest stations to get. Even the Canadian stations were easier to get on most days. If your show was on 29, you simply crossed your fingers and hoped for the best. Or you could make your sister stand next to the TV with one hand near the foiled antenna and the other hand raised in the air. “A little more. A little more. Stop! Don’t move!”

Another thing that stuck out in my head was when the Buffalo Bills games were blacked out locally. It happened a lot in those days. If the games didn’t sell out, you couldn’t watch in TV. The Bills were terrible in those years, so more often than not, we couldn’t see them. That’s where Canadian TV came into play. You’d simply pull up the French station and there would be the Bills. Of course, everything was in French so you’d mute the television and listen to Van Miller on the radio at almost the same time.

Of course, if you kept the TV sound on, it might sound something like this: (NOTE: I don’t speak French. I went to Google Translate for this. If it’s wrong, blame Larry Page.) “Il baisse en arrière. Cherche un homme sur le terrain. Il y a le lancer ...TOUCHDOWN!!!”

Those were the days when ratings for television actually mattered. People would schedule their weeknights around their favorite shows. Now, you can watch almost anything anytime you want. Reception problems, for the most part, are a thing of the past. Younger siblings are no longer needed to stand in certain spots so we could watch our shows. And everyone has a remote today. When I was growing up, I was the remote. Dad would ask for the channel to be changed to whatever station the A-Team was on.

Craig Bacon is still trying to figure out “zed.” Maybe he needs to hang the antenna out the back window to watch that Canadian station. Is Sesame Street still on?