Vintage Television

Vintage TV: Freakies

It was a sugar-sweetened cereal for kids. But the cartoony characters that advertised them connected with young viewers in new way, at least for the early 1970s. My mom was not usually a sucker for TV commercials aimed at kids, but she fell hook, line, and sinker for the Freakies. And so we ate Freakies until they were coming out of our ears. I remember them being “good,” in the way any young child finds pretty much any sugar-sweetened cereal to be good. But more than that, the Freakies had a backstory, narrated by no less than Burgess Meredith.

These were the days of toys being packed inside the boxes of cereals aimed at kids. All kinds of crazy stuff came packed in cereal boxes. I remember one cereal — was it Cap’n Crunch? — giving away reflectors to attach to bicycle spokes. Frosted Mini Wheats gave away trading cards of the Presidents of the United States. I had a complete set of them for years. I didn’t eat all those Mini Wheats; Mom sent a dollar to Kellogg’s and they sent a whole deck. But once again the Freakies were different: they gave away only toys related to the Freakies characters.

I had the plastic Freakie figurines and the Freakie refrigerator magnets, complete sets. The figurines didn’t survive childhood, but the magnets lasted into adulthood. When my wife divorced me, they were on our refrigerator. She kept them.

Snorkeldorf was my favorite Freakie. He’s the one with the long, elephant-like snout. The rest of them were Hamhose, Gargle, Cowmumble, Grumble, and Goody-Goody, led of course by BossMoss.

I wish I still had my Freakies magnets.

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Filming

Filming
Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Kodak T-Max 400
2015

Film Photography, Old Cars
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Film Photography, Stories Told

Tubes

We were the last family in the neighborhood without color TV. Dad was resolute: “Our set works. We’ll use it until can’t be fixed anymore.” And so we soldiered on with a black-and-white console set through most of the 1970s.  It broke down occasionally, as tube-type sets did. Mom called the TV repairman, a small, wiry, salt-and-pepper-headed fellow who remembered our set: “Oh! The 1966 RCA black-and-white console! I’ll be over this afternoon.”

RCA-TV

Dad’s latent impulsive streak emerged one evening in 1977: he brought home a new color set. Surprised us all! It was a table model, metal cabinet, solid state and reliable. We never saw our TV repairman again.

I brought that old RCA to my first apartment in 1989. The picture was out. A buddy of mine with electronics skills came over to have a look. We pulled a bunch of suspect-looking tubes and carried them over to an electronics shop a couple blocks away. Their tube tester — an anachronism even then — told us that a couple tubes were bad, so we asked a crusty old fellow at the counter for replacements. “Tubes!” he said, shaking his head and smiling. “Bill! These kids are here to buy tubes!

Mom and Dad moved out of the family home last summer after 38 years. All manner of stuff emerged as Mom prepared to downsize into a condo — including a bag full of tubes. Were they from our old TV? Mom said she thought so.

Progress Is Our Most Important Product

General Electric is one of the world’s largest manufacturers, but in recent years the company has sold off most of its consumer products lines. For example, Electrolux makes and markets GE washing machines and refrigerators. Walmart slaps GE labels on coffeemakers and toasters that are probably made in China. I guess GE still makes light bulbs.

The Forgotten Network

DuMont manufactured televisions and television components, and even had its own fledgling television network in commercial TV’s early days. Wikipedia has a pretty good article about the network; read it here.

Raytheon, ISC, Tung-Sol

We associate Raytheon with government military contracts today, but apparently they were once in the tube business. I’d never heard of IEC or Tung-Sol before.

Tubes, Naked

I unboxed a few tubes and set them up for this photo. I was shooting my Nikon F2AS and my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens, which focuses very close. I had a roll of expired Fujifilm Neopan 400 inside. I made all of these photos on my family-room coffee table with the blinds wide open on a gray day, with five incandescent lamps turned on around the room. Even with all that light, my shutter speeds were very slow; I put my camera on a tripod. All of these photos looked a little better in the viewfinder than they do here, but I’m not displeased with them.

You Can Be Sure

I lament how the red lettering (“Electronic Tube”) ended up a little washed out in this shot. I wonder what filter I might have attached to the lens to make those letters pop. But otherwise I like how all of these colorful tube boxes turned out in black and white.

Tubes

That old TV is long gone; we never could get it to work. So I’m not sure what I’m going to do with these tubes. But I enjoyed their vintage package designs and had fun photographing them.

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Essay

Why local news is no longer appointment TV for me

The drunk police officer plowed his squad car into two motorcycles stopped at a red light. One rider was killed; two others were injured. A bungled and compromised investigation, continued bad behavior by the officer, and the slow wheels of justice kept this story at the top of the news for three years. At last, the officer was convicted of drunk driving, criminal recklessness, and reckless homicide.

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WRTV photo

On the day of the verdict, I turned to local television news for the story. I hoped for reporting and analysis that would help me understand the conviction in the context of the investigation and the trial. Instead, the station I chose led with — and heavily promoted — the emotional reaction of one dead rider’s mother as the verdict was read.

Then the newscast cut to an early weather report, and made no more mention of a top local story of this decade.

It’s not like most viewers didn’t know of this story, which was heavily reported over the three years between accident and conviction. But there was so much more to tell that evening: to recount the story’s timeline, to summarize the trial, to connect the dots that led to the guilty verdict, and to share the day’s courtroom drama. The mother’s tears were rightly part of that story. But they were not the story.

To be fair: a good television news program shows the news as much as it tells it. Without action video, all that’s left is talking heads. When I was a boy 40 years ago, local TV news was balding men in gray suits, sitting at a desk, droning on about city-council meetings. Yecch; who wants to watch that? Unless those council members were throwing punches at each other, there was nothing to see.

Also, many stories would benefit from explanation and analysis that television doesn’t have time for. Even if it did, television news is by its nature a short-attention-span theater. People watch the news while living their lives: getting ready for work, sending kids off to school, making dinner.

But even within these realities, an average TV newscast was once a good enough summary of a day’s events. I don’t find that to be true anymore. Instead, I find TV news trying to keep me on the hook by driving strong emotions.

I’m no industry insider, but here’s what I think is going on. Thanks to hundred-channel cable and the Internet, viewers have more choices and any single news outlet has to compete harder than ever for viewers. Younger viewers favor these other choices so overwhelmingly that the TV newscast viewer’s average age has risen sharply away from the younger viewers advertisers want — and the remaining audience that remains. And the large corporations that own most television stations today have shareholders to please and/or enormous debt loads to shoulder, so they cut costs to the bone.

It’s driven TV news to rely increasingly on young, pretty, and presumably inexpensive talent, and to focus on dramatic stories they can tell easily and quickly. Bus crashes, police standoffs, drive-by shootings, train derailments, shackled felons shuffling into jail — these stories create compelling video and generate a dramatic, fast-paced news program.

I live in the 27th largest television market in the United States, which I would think would have a glut of experienced reporters to choose from. But in the last ten years or so, I’ve watched many middle-aged, experienced reporters disappear to be replaced by good-looking youngsters. They can’t possibly have their predecessors’ experience or contacts.

I don’t know whether it’s their thin experience or corporate edict, but their reporting often shuns depth and context in favor of immediacy and drama. A reporter stands live at the scene, even when the story happened eight hours ago and the place is empty and quiet now. She reports what she sees and perhaps what a police spokesman told her. She asks a man on the street for his opinion or gets a teary-eyed victim to emote for the camera, and then tosses back to the anchor. I come away knowing only that the thing happened and someone was upset about it.

And then there are the fear-inducing health and safety stories and the ambush-style “tough questions” that masquerade as investigative journalism. It’s all wrapped in a shiny package of needless, endless swoosh sounds and “Breaking News” banners.

Well, I’m repelled by it all. The 6:00 news used to be appointment television for me. But over the past ten years or so I’ve watched less and less of it. I catch it when I happen to, and when the weather is bad.

I’m not suggesting that local TV news return to 40 years ago with the middle-aged men and the droning. The things I mentioned above are not all inherently a problem. The over-reliance on them is.

So TV news: To win me back, dig deeper into your stories and tell them straight up, without only playing on my emotions. And when a mother cries as her son’s killer is convicted, go ahead and show her tears. Just wrap them in the bigger story that shows those tears’ context.

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Vintage Television

Vintage TV: Beany and Cecil

Have you ever had a childhood memory so dim and sparse that you wondered if you had dreamed it? I’ve had a few. Sometimes I’ll encounter something that cracks such a memory open.

Here’s one. In college thirty years ago, I built a collection of Paul McCartney vinyl. One day I bought a 45 of the song Another Day, a song I didn’t think I knew. But when I played the record I was suddenly three years old, at breakfast in my mother’s kitchen. I could see everything clearly. The kitchen table was covered in dark simulated woodgrain laminate with a brown plastic edge and brown steel tubes for legs. My high-backed chair was covered in vinyl with a loud green floral pattern. The fridge stood in the corner, its long chrome door handle like a giant upside-down T. A white plastic table radio sat atop the fridge, tuned to an AM station that played this song every morning while it was a hit. Transported, I played the song over and over that college afternoon, enjoying the remembered connection.

While Another Day had slipped entirely from memory, a particular cartoon sea serpent had not, at least not entirely. I clearly remembered the main character’s lisp: Theethil the Thee-Thick Thea Therpent. So I was excited to find this clip of the show’s open on YouTube the other day:

My brother was over the other day and I showed this to him. “Of course I remember it,” he said. “You wouldn’t quit saying ‘Nyah-ah-ahh’ over and over again! You did it for years! I wanted to pummel you!” I felt my brain pop with the recalled memory. It was the villain Dishonest John’s signature laugh! I adopted it as my own until I was 9 or 10! How could I forget? Here’s an entire Beany and Cecil cartoon with plenty of Dishonest John nyah-ah-ahhing:

Beany and Cecil were created by Bob Clampett, who animated the craziest Warner Brothers cartoons. (Side trip: On his blog, John Kricfalusi, creator of the cartoon Ren and Stimpy, deconstructs several of Clampett’s WB cartoons and reveals the man’s genius. See those posts here.) Clampett first created Beany and Cecil as puppets, Cecil just a sock with eyes glued on. In 1949, these puppets became a huge hit on TV in Los Angeles. Albert Einstein is said to have been a fan. In 1959, Clampett animated these characters for theatrical cartoons in foreign markets. In 1962, ABC started running the cartoons in prime time and got Clampett to make more of them. The cartoons ran on ABC until 1967 and in syndication through the early 1970s.

I learned recently from the FuzzyMemories forum that the BJ and the Dirty Dragon Show on WFLD in Chicago showed Beany and Cecil cartoons, and that’s where I must have watched them. The Dirty Dragon finished his run on WFLD in July, 1973, which was about six months after we got cable and could have seen the show. Moreover, it was on at noon, meaning we could watch only during the summer. So after watching Beany and Cecil cartoons for maybe four weeks that summer, I then annoyed my brother for four years repeating Dishonest John’s laugh.

Righteous.

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Photography, Vintage Television

Vintage TV: 1950s commercials for Ansco cameras and films

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Pacific Rim Camera photo

Do you remember Ansco cameras and films?

For many decades, Ansco was second only to Kodak in the United States. Headquartered in Binghamton, New York, the company’s history stretched back to 1841. But its peak years were probably the 1950s, when it routinely manufactured two million cameras a year.

Ansco Shur Shot
My Ansco Shur Shot

Ansco manufactured simple cameras that anyone could operate, like my Ansco Shur Shot box camera.

Ansco also imported more fully featured cameras from other makers around the world, including Agfa, Ricoh, and Minolta, and rebadged them as Anscos.

During the 1950s, Ansco advertised its cameras and films on television. Many of its commercials were shot on film, and survive.

Here’s a short spot for Ansco films with a simple jingle. Don’t those harmonies just scream 1950s?

Here’s a spot for three Ansco cameras that took 127 film. Ansco manufactured the two Cadet cameras, but imported the Lancer from a German maker. I had a Lancer in my childhood collection. I never put film into it because its weak latch kept popping open, which would have spoiled the film. I hear that this was a common problem with Lancers.

This spot for Anscochrome color slide film mentions its “big extra margin of sensitivity” that makes up for challenging lighting. It also mentions making prints from slides using the Printon process. You can see a Printon print here, which shows that Anscochrome was a capable film.

If you have boxes full of Anscochrome slides, you’re going to want to project them. So you’ll need an Anscomatic projector!

It cracks me up how formally everybody dressed in these commercials. In the 1950s, did friends really gather casually in each others’ homes wearing suits?

Whatever happened to Ansco? Well, in 1967 it began to favor using the name of its parent, General Aniline and Film, or GAF. As GAF, it stopped making cameras, instead selling GAF-branded cameras that other companies made. By the late 1970s, the Ansco brand name was sold to a Chinese camera maker. You could buy Chinese Ansco film cameras through the 1990s.

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