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TV's 'ancient history'

Today I mentioned to my 16-year-old son that hearing "The Star-Spangled Banner" always made me think of going to bed, since that's the song they used to play right before TV went off.

Charlie was puzzled. "When TV went off?" he asked.

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I didn't realize I'd made an obscure historical reference. He listened skeptically while I explained that television hadn't always been on 24 hours a day, that at one time it came to a halt every night around midnight.

"They'd show the American flag," I explained, "play the national anthem, and an announcer would say, 'This concludes our regular programming.' "

Charlie didn't say anything for a moment. "Then they showed infomercials?" he asked.

"Well, no," I said, wondering why this was such a hard concept to grasp. "Then there was nothing. TV was off for the night."

He looked so incredulous I started to feel as though I was making the whole thing up.

"So what was on the screen then?" His tone was challenging.

I searched my brain for an accurate answer. I didn't want him Googling the topic later and proving me wrong. "A test pattern, I think, for a few minutes. Then just static and snow." From there the conversation took another turn when I described the purpose of a test pattern.

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"So you had to adjust the color?" he asked.

"Yeah, there were these knobs for color and focusing, and you used the test pattern as a reference to calibrate it all. I really can't remember how it worked," I said apologetically. "It's been a long time."

The expression on his face reminded me of how I felt as a kid when my father spontaneously serenaded the family with the "Chiquita Banana" song.

"OK, then," Charlie said, patting my shoulder. "Thanks for sharing."

"You sound like you don't believe me," I said. "Ask your dad. Ask your teachers. Well, your older teachers, anyway." (At the last open house I'd caught several of the faculty looking suspiciously young.)

"I believe you," he said slowly. "Although it is funny this is the first I've heard of it." Then, before I could make a case for myself, his sister yelled from the next room that he'd gotten a phone call, and he left to answer it.

He thinks this is over, but I'm here to say I'm not done with this discussion. Tomorrow's topic: adjusting the rabbit ears.


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