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My neighbor says he’s got to expand his satellite system because his current system only lets him choose from up to 300 channels. When I asked him why he needed more than 300 channels he said: “There's nothing to watch on the channels I have now.”
I was born into a family that didn't own a television set. We had lots of radios and plenty of storytellers available, with tales to entertain us, but no television. Maybe that's why, even today, I can go a good stretch without turning to my TV and not feel deprived. I can’t go without my radio though.
Before you start thinking that I must have come from the wrong side of the Maine Central railroad tracks and been deprived as a child, let me assure you that I wasn't. First, as far as I know, my hometown town didn't have any train tracks with a right or wrong side. As for being “deprived,” my father was a dentist with a successful practice and there wasn't much that we lacked. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of lying on the floor in the parlor in front of our massive, Westinghouse floor-model radio, listening to Dick Tracy, the Lone Ranger, Gasoline Alley or Ripley's Believe It or Not.
In our town in those days no one had televisions until the mid- to late Fifties, which is when we finally bought ours. When it arrived, we could watch anything we wanted in our house as long as it was on one of the two stations we received in those primitive and unenlightened days of early televison. The biggest problem people had in those days was with what we called “reception.” We lived so far from television transmitting facilities that we needed more than a flimsy set of rabbit ears to get anything close to good reception.
Our neighbor Sherm Ames was the first person in our town with a television. He was a clever handyman with all kinds of fancy tools and he considered the television just another challenge. He wanted a television, not so much to watch things, but because he liked the challenge of designing a superior reception system that would allow him to watch things if he wanted to. Sherm built himself a huge tower right there beside his house and lashed a large TV antenna to the top of it. Sherm's antenna rig had a remote-control mechanism on it that allowed him to turn that antenna in any direction he wanted right from the comfort of his recliner there in his front parlor.
I thought of Sherm Ames the other day as I sat channel surfing and found nothing worth watching. True, I don't have as many channels as my 300-channel satellite neighbor. I have a slightly expanded cable package, where the cable company allows me unlimited access to a bunch of shopping channels, an all-bowling channel, an archery channel and the ever-popular psycho-friends network – all for just $86.40 per month.
If Sherm Ames were still around I don't think he'd waste his time with cable – expanded or otherwise. He'd have designed and built himself the largest, most expanded digital satellite rig in the state and he'd be pulling in thousands of channels from around the world and beyond. And once he was finished building and installing it he'd check it out a few times to see that it was working and then he'd go on to something else. I’m sure he'd hardly ever watch it.
Like my neighbor said: “There's nothing to watch, anyway.”
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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