Getting good TV reception was a family affair


There was a time when we couldn’t sit in our easy chair and change TV channels, control the volume, or check what program was next, all at the touch of a button. We had to move to make sure our TV was on the right channel. And if we wanted to change channels and the TV stations were not in the same direction, it was also necessary to turn the antenna. It was not easy.

We had a towering antenna beside our house, and it had to be turned manually. These days this is just another funny story told at family gatherings, recalling the arduous task that was required to make sure our TV reception came in clearly. At the time it had to be done, however, it was a serious undertaking. But we had it under control. We would form a TV reception assembly line. Ruble, who was the first in our assembly line, was stationed beside the antenna. He was the only one strong enough to turn the big metal pole, and he had to have a special tool to help him. 

The tool was a huge wrench of sorts with which he could get a firm grip on the antenna pole. Then, with both hands and lots of muscle power, he would use the long handles of the wrench to slowly turn it. Michelle was next in the assembly line, standing in the kitchen door so she could relay messages back and forth about how the reception was coming in. Dawn’s position was in front of the TV in the den. She would shout to Michelle as to how the picture was looking on the screen. Michelle would then shout the message to her Daddy and he would act accordingly, turning the pole if more turning was needed. 

I was sort of the floating member of the group, making sure the two daughters were giving and receiving correct information. It was quite a sight (and sound) to behold as we handled this task. Picture it if you can. Ruble would take the big wrench and start to slowly turn the pole. He would then shout to Michelle, “HOW’S THAT?” Michelle would yell out to Dawn at the TV, “HOW’S THAT?” When the answer came from Dawn, then Michelle would relay the message on to her dad so he would know if more turning was needed. 

Many times there would be several commands such as, “TOO FAR, TOO FAR . . . BACK THE OTHER WAY, BACK THE OTHER WAY!,” or “TURN IT JUST A TINY BIT MORE!“ Ruble found out “a tiny bit more” was the hardest command shouted out to him. A “tiny bit more” was hard to estimate. “WHOA!” was the final command given and the favorite to hear. Those were the days. 

It was a destructive windstorm in the early 80s that retired the big wrench and put our assembly line out of business. After the howling winds of that storm subsided, our antenna looked like dozens of silver coat hangers all gnarled together. To replace it, Ruble bought a more modern antenna. And on the table beside his easy chair set a plastic box. The little box featured a wheel that could be turned to point north, south, east or west. Ruble could sit in his easy chair and adjust our TV reception perfectly. Just a turn of the wheel and reception was clear, whether it was from Tupelo, Columbus, or Birmingham. 

Our antenna turning assembly line is another one of our “we’ll always remember” family adventures. It is one of our favorites. You know – one of those that’s a tiny bit better to tell about than it actually was to live it.

LaVale Mills is Publisher Emeritus of The Red Bay News.