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Donnie Johnston: Today's TV watchers rely on the remote

Donnie Johnston: Today's TV watchers rely on the remote

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Remote control

Unlike the television sets of my youth, there is no way to control anything on these modern TVs without a remote control.

I about had a panic attack a few weeks ago when my TV remote went bad.

Unlike the television sets of my youth, there is no way to control anything on these modern TVs without a remote control.

When the remote goes, you’re stuck with one channel at one volume. It seems you can’t even turn the set off unless you unplug it.

My remote hadn’t completely bitten the dust. It had just gotten to the point where the zero and the five wouldn’t work. I suppose I use those two buttons more than any other.

The “five” went out about six months ago, but that didn’t bother me too much. I would just go to “guide,” hit a number that would work, then go forward or backward until I found the channel I wanted. Then I would hit “select.”

But that process became even more complicated when the zero stopped working. At that point, I decided it was time to do something, so I called my satellite TV provider and requested a new remote. After all, the baseball playoffs were coming up, and I didn’t want to be stuck on a channel that didn’t carry them.

I had a similar TV problem when I was a teenager, so I learned a long time ago to improvise. Our first TV was a console that we bought used at a radio/TV repair shop for $20. Apparently, someone had brought it in to have it fixed but never picked it up, so the shop owner sold it for the repair bill.

By the time we got the TV, it was maybe 10 years old and the knobs were pretty well worn down. The youth of today will not believe it, but back then, you actually had to get up and walk over to the TV to change the channel or turn up the volume. Why, you even had to walk over to the set to turn it on or off.

After about a year or so, the plastic dial that turned the channel broke and came off the metal bar that went back into the tuner. For the first time in my life, I was stuck on one channel.

Of course, there were only four local channels available in those days (four, five, seven and nine) and most of the time we could get only two of them, Channel 4 (WRC–TV) and Channel 5 (WTTG).

As I recall, that old TV was stuck on Channel 4 when the knob broke and that wasn’t too bad because “Bonanza” was on NBC. But if we were stuck on Channel 4, we couldn’t get “rassling” that came on Channel 5 two nights a week. My grandmother loved “rassling.”

That just wouldn’t do, so I had to come up with some kind of a solution to my problem. And I did. I got a pair of pliers and found that I could turn the channel with them. As long as those pliers were on top of the console, life was sweet.

But if my grandmother or one of my brothers misplaced those pliers, we were in deep trouble, because we were stuck with whatever channel the TV happened to be on at the time. Keeping the pliers in plain sight was a high priority.

The problem of changing the channel was fixed, but about six months later, the knob that controlled the volume broke. Plastic apparently wasn’t very strong in those days.

We could use those same pliers to turn up volume but there was the problem of turning the TV set on and off. It was one of those models where you pulled the volume knob out to turn the set on and pushed it in to turn it off.

The pliers would change the volume because the metal tuner was pulled out when the TV set was on. But the head of the pliers were too big to push that protruding metal back into a very small hole and turn the set off.

When you’re poor, you learn to find cheap solutions, and I came up with one in short order. I jumped on my bike and rode up to my uncle’s house three miles away to borrow some needle-nose pliers.

They worked just fine, the ends just small enough to push that metal bar back in and turn the TV off. They would also go in there and grip the metal and allow me to pull the bar out to turn on the set. So, for about five years, until we got another set, we used needle-nose pliers for volume control and regular pliers to turn the channel. Both tools were on top on the TV at all times.

Yep, there was life and TV before the remote control, but it was only for the rugged. Times were tough back then.

Actually, I did know someone who had a remote control for his television back then. A friend’s father bought a set that had a remote on the end of a cable that stretched all the way across the room.

The first time I saw it, I was amazed. You could really change the channel or pump up the volume without getting off the sofa. It was like an eighth wonder of the world. Little did we know …

Last month, I got a new remote, so now I am happy. Now, I can flip those channels like crazy from the comfort of my chair.

Trouble is that most of the time I still can’t find anything on all those channels worth watching.

I might as well have the four channels we could get when I was child.

Some things never change.

Donnie Johnston:

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