It took a long time for television to make it over the mountains and through the woods to our house on Yuma Trail in Bisbee, Arizona. In this case, the “mountains” would be the Mule Mountains and the wood in question would be the scrub oak that grows on them.
Historical note about scrub oak. When mining first came to the area in the late 1800s, the surrounding hills were denuded of trees as they were cut down for firewood that was used in miner’s homes and in keeping the smelter fires burning. Scrub oak is a slow-growing tree. When I was a kid in Bisbee, the next generation of those downed trees consisted of little more than bushes. I know, because as kids we used a grove of those as a fort from which we fired my brother’s Red Ryder BB gun. (No, no one ever got an eye put out, but more on that later.)
The nearest TV stations were in Tucson–a hundred miles away. By the time the signals reached Bisbee, they were so weak that even with an antenna on the house, what mostly appeared on television screens were blurry, snowy images that were barely decipherable. Enter a guy named Carl Morris.
He was an entrepreneur who came to Bisbee and started a radio station–KSUN. (No, it is not the same station as the one broadcasting from Phoenix these days.) KSUN was a small town radio station with small town programs that featured local announcers and DJs. Father Howard’s mass from St. Patricks church was broadcast every afternoon, and the choir anthem and sermon from the Warren Community Church came on the air at 11:30 every Sunday morning.
So, despite the fact that Mr. Morris owned the radio station, he was smart enough to see that television would be a game-changer. For a while he was in both the radio AND the television business. He created a cable company that captured the Tucson-based TV signals on antennas located on Juniper Flats, the high point in the Mule Mountains. Then he used wires to bring those captured signals down into town. Suddenly whole families in Bisbee could gather in their living rooms to see whatever was on that night–I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Have Gun Will Travel, Maverick, River Boat, the Ed Sullivan Show, and the Garry Moore Show.
I notice that there’s a heavy preponderance of Westerns in that list, and I confess straight out that those were always my favorites. I’ve always loved stories, and those were the storytelling programs. Back then there was only one television set per household, and the idea of DVRs or TIVOs were decades away. In other words, what was on was what was on. Period.
There were nine people in our family. It wasn’t exactly a democracy. My parents were co-captains of the family ship. We kids could vote, but if we happened to be on the opposite side of the fence from what the parental units wanted to see, good luck with that.
Which brings me to Sunday nights way back then. There was no debate at all about the Ed Sullivan Show. We sat on my mother’s long “sectional,” lined up like so many birds on a branch, watching that in silent unison. But when we hit eight o’clock? That was the dividing line. River Boat was on one channel and Maverick on the other. I was the lonely voice in the wilderness who thought Darren McGavin was the cat’s meow. Everyone else was in favor of Bret and Bart Maverick, Guess which show we watched? You’ve got it–Maverick. I admit that James Garner grew on me over the years, and Darren McGavin has his revenge. Maverick is over, but we still watch Darren McGavin in that Red Ryder BB Gun movie, A Christmas Story, every single year.
What provoked me back then and the question I asked myself over and over was this: Why do television networks put all the good shows on at the same time?
They did it then, and they still do. In those days September marked the end of summer reruns and the beginning of fall TV, and that was something people looked forward to. When new programs came on, some of the commercials, which could NOT be skipped, featured previews of the “next year’s cars.” Now, they’ve muddied the scheduling waters so much with mid-season reruns that I’m not sure there is a real television season any more.
This week I read an article about how programs not aimed at the 18-25 market are scarce as hen’s teeth. We’re a good fifty years older than that. Longmire, anyone? That’s one’s long gone. Harry’s Law? That’s gone, too. But I notice that of the television programs we “golden-agers” might still enjoy, three of them have now been scheduled at the same time–Monday at ten o’clock.
No problem, at least not for us. We’re old enough that staying up until eleven no longer seems like such a great idea. As a result, we’ll take our discretionary income and go to bed after setting our downstairs recorder to tape two of the programs and the upstairs recorder to tape the third. The next day we’ll watch ALL of them without having to endure even a SINGLE commercial aimed at the eighteen to twenty-five demographic or mind-set.
Take that, you evil network programmers. We may be old, but we vote. With our clickers.