I’m made to understand that a big sporting event will take place this weekend, one that often inspires people to run out and buy new televisions in order to experience the action on the largest screen possible. Of course, we home theater junkies should already be prepared to watch this Puppy Bowl in all its high definition glory. Sadly, we didn’t always have things so good. In this week’s Roundtable, we take a look back to our modest origins to remember the TVs we used to own back before we even had a concept of “home theater.”
This topic comes in two parts:
- Describe the main TV(s) you grew up with in your childhood home.
- Describe the first TV you ever bought with your own money.
I don’t remember what brand our family’s first TV was, but I do remember one feature. It had cabinet doors that rolled shut. It’s very possible that it was similar (or the same) as the model shown in the photos below). My first TV memory isn’t ‘Sesame Street’ or ‘Mr. Rogers’. It’s sitting down with my mom (my dad must have been at work when it happened) and watching Nixon resign. I watched it on this TV.
The first non-HDTV I bought was probably some cheap 20- to 25-inch RCA to have in my first apartment. However, the very first HDTV I purchased was a monster, the Mitsubishi WS-55513. This beast of a set weighed 250 lbs and had a 1080i resolution screen. I had to invest in an over-the-air HD antenna to watch anything in high-def for a couple years, since my cable system didn’t yet provide any HD content. When this thing finally died, it took a couple of football player-types to haul it away. I envy the generation that will never know TVs that weighed more than we did.
I have no idea what the make or model of our TV growing up was, but it had a little keypad to the right of the screen. If I remember correctly, the number 7 was very hard to punch. Getting the channel to switch over to KTLA (27) or KCET (47) before rolling over to KNBC (4) was brutal.
The first television that I bought with my own money was a 20″ (maybe a 21″) APEX flatscreen in 2003. Mind you, this was when flatscreens were not necessarily HDTVs. This thing may have technically had a flat screen, but it still had the gigantic, bulky box look of an old tube set. I recall the image looking colorful and sharp for the first year that I had it, but then certain parts of the screen became blurred. The TV may not have been great, but it was better than the cheap DVD player / 5.1 receiver that I purchased with it. That dog crapped out in less than a year!
My childhood TV was a Zenith color set that was encased in a paneled console circa 1978. It had no remote, just an On/Off button, a Volume button, and two knobs for VHF and UHF channels. If you needed color adjustments, you had to get out the pliers and flip down a little panel to adjust several tiny nubs. We didn’t have cable and we were only allowed half an hour of television a day. That would be considered child abuse today.
After college, I got my first apartment and inherited my first TV from my friend Elizabeth, who had inherited it from her parents. It was a little color console, maybe a 19″ screen, weighed about 200 pounds, no remote, only knobs. This was the mid-’90s, so there was much better technology around, but you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I still didn’t have cable, just a Radio Shack antenna and a lot of tin foil. My father came to visit for a few days to help me with my recovery from knee surgery. After two days of frustration trying to adjust the foil to get a half decent picture, he made me hobble to the bar with him to watch the sports games. That Christmas, I received a very nice new television. Soon after, I got cable.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
The first TV I ever owned was a 13″ set my parents had gotten as a wedding present. Even before finding its way into my bedroom, it already bore my signature: a halfway-torn-off Garfield sticker. It was so old that I had to screw in an RF switch box for playing ancient videogames on my TRS-80 Color Computer 2.
I somehow wound up with a 19″ coax-only TV for a while in college, but I can’t remember if I bought that with my own money or not. The first TV I’m certain that I paid for myself was a 27″ RCA set during my senior year at Clemson University, bought right alongside my first DVD player in 1999. Back then, I didn’t even know what a widescreen TV looked like. I’ve bought four other TVs since then, but I do still have that old 27″ collecting dust in my garage.
Growing up, my family always had crappy TVs. Usually, we got TVs when a relative died. We started out with the classic big-ass console in a wooden cabinet. When my great grandmother died, we got her set, which I remember because the picture was always much too dark. When my grandfather died, we got his TV too. None of these were any good.
When I moved to Seattle and started dating my now wife, I used to go crazy with the TV she and her roommates had in their living room. The TV so crappy and past its time that someone had removed the back so that anytime the picture turned into one small blob of light, they could tap the tube (how no one died from electrocution, I don’t know), and the picture would blink back, often switching back and forth from black & white to color.
When my wife and I got our own place, a new TV was at the top of my list. Day One, after getting the apartment keys, I headed to Best Buy after work and bought one of those silver 27-inch Philips sets that it seemed like everyone had around 2003. It wouldn’t fit in my little Honda, so I had to take it out of the box in the store parking garage, and strap that monster into the passenger seat, spending the entire trip back to our apartment shifting gears while simultaneously keeping the TV in place with my elbow. Back at the apartment, a fourth floor walk-up, I waited for a break in the rain, hopped out, unbuckled the TV, struggled to get the front door open, and hauled that leaden monster all the way up to our place without stopping. I was afraid any break would make it impossible for me to pick it up again.
That night, we slept on the old Murphy Bed in our new apartment while we waited for our furniture to get there. I went into work the next day and, at some point, got up from my desk and threw my back out. I spent the rest of the day hobbling around and stifling screams of pain. When I asked my wife if the Murphy Bed had messed up her back as well, she reminded me of the TV and pointed out that I was a moron. After all the rotten TVs I’d previously owned, that big-ass Philips was heaven, though.
M. Enois Duarte
I remember growing up with an ugly, brown Zenith console TV. It was the floor model type with the gross wood paneling and a table top. Boasting a 25″ color screen, which was considered pretty large in those days, this monster of a unit featured stereophonic sound, which amounted to a pair of speakers on either side hidden behind hideous thick fabric with gold tinsel. I recall it having RCA inputs and outputs as well, because we also had a humongous satellite dish in the backyard and everything connected to my dad’s Technics stereo system. I also remember sitting really close to the screen while playing with the hilariously useless gold drawer handles that decorated the bottom.
In the late ’80s – I think it was 1989, to be exact – I finally bought my first television set with my own money. Going to school and working part time, I saved enough cash to buy a 19″ Sony Trinitron with a speaker on the right side and buttons running down alongside it. I still remember the red-green-blue logo at the bottom. That was a really great year because I also purchased some Technics components including a CD player and speakers soon after.
In a short period (two years, I think), my family bought two TVs that we kept for years. One was a 25″ Sharp with a digital channel selector, and the second was a 27″ Sony Trinitron with detachable stereo speakers and Picture-in-Picture that seemed out of this world by comparison.
I bought a brand new 19″ mono Magnavox from Circuit City as my first new TV, but the set I owned before that was really the first that I ever owned. It was a Zenith (some odd size) that had a power switch on the front and took a minute to turn on and another minute to warm up and stabilize. The shape of the tube cut the corners off of everything, including my much beloved SNES ‘Pacific Theater of Operations II’. The TV was notorious for acting up whenever I had just walked back from Blockbuster with my friends. I ended up having to cut a big hole in the back so as to bypass the crummy antennae mounts after they were no longer usable. I seem to recall that the Zenith had a carrying handle that could never have hoped to hold the weight of the TV. When it quit for the last time, I held out hope that it was it was just being temperamental for a month or two before seeing it off. I hope it’s gone to a better place.
The TV I grew up with was a 19-inch color model. It was of walnut color and the brand was RCA. This was in 1981. It had a turn dial, but it also had a remote, and I remember sitting in the living room with my parents watching numerous movies and TV shows on the few channels we had back then. Hell, I even remember watching ‘Fraggle Rock’ on HBO on this set.
The first television I ever purchased with my own money happened in my second year in college, when I moved from the dorm to an apartment. Well, I paid for half, and my parents paid for the other half. It was a 46-inch rear projection Hitachi from Circuit City. (R.I.P. Circuit City.) It had great speakers and was a matte silver color. This was in 2001 and HD had just become popular. I remember having Dish Network hooked up with the HD package and thought the picture looked incredible.
My memories of the living room TV in my childhood home are hazy, but I have much fonder memories of the 13″ black & white set I was allowed to keep in my bedroom. My very own TV! I could watch whatever I wanted, regardless of what my mom wanted to watch! It was amazing! One night in 1983 when my grandmother was babysitting and I was supposed to be in bed early, I secretly snuck up close to the screen and plugged the mono earphone in one ear so that I could watch the ‘V’ miniseries without my grandmother knowing I was still up. Any time I heard her coming down the hallway towards my room, I’d dial the Brightness knob way down so that I could still hear the dialogue but she wouldn’t see the glow beneath my door. It totally worked!
Years later, my mother moved us down to Florida to move in with her deadbeat, drunkard boyfriend. (It’s a long story. I’m still bitter.) He had an old clunker of a Zenith console TV in a huge wooden cabinet. I think he stole it from the house of an elderly neighbor who’d recently passed away. Every hour or so, the picture would start rolling upwards uncontrollably, and the only way to stop it was to pound on the top of the set with my fists. I’m the only one who bothered to do this, as the rolling picture didn’t seem to trouble my mother or the drunk. This was my main TV through all of high school.
After college, the first TV I ever bought with my own money was a monstrous 25″ color set purchased at the now-defunct Lechmere department store in Boston. I remember waiting an unreasonably long time for a sales person to help me. A gaggle of them were standing around bullshitting with each other, totally ignoring all the customers. I literally had to wave my credit card in the air and yell, “I want this one. Can someone please get it for me?” With customer service like that, no wonder the chain went under. The set was so bulky and heavy that we had to unbox it to fit it in the backseat of our car. It remained in our living room through a couple of apartments, even as I built a home theater in the spare bedroom where I did any serious movie or TV viewing.
I finally dumped that piece of crap a few years ago when I couldn’t stand it anymore and needed to purge all the CRT tubes from my home. I surprised Mrs. Z when she came home from a weekend trip to find a decent flatscreen staring her in the face. She had insisted that she wasn’t bothered by the old TV, but I can tell that she likes the new one better.
In the Comments below, tell us your stories about your first TVs.