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Remote control can't keep classics on

POSTED: May 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.

For the first few years of my life, I was a television remote control. My parents would tell me what channel they wanted and off I scampered to change it.

In those days, we had a set of rabbit ears and changing the channel often meant an adjustment of the "aerial" to make it come in better.

For those of you who are too young to remember, a set of rabbit ears was a pair of telescoping antennas that captured the broadcast signal over the air in the pre-cable era.

I had an aunt who had a real honest-to-goodness remote control. It was a noisy thing that activated an electric motor that physically turned the channel knob. Changing the channel was not for the faint of heart. If someone was snoozing in a nearby recliner, a channel change would stir them from their sleep.

We had three channels to choose from. There was channel 2, WSB, which was the NBC station at that time. There was channel 5, WAGA, which was CBS. Lastly, there was channel 11, which went through several sets of call letters and carried ABC programs.

Also on the old dial was channel 8, which was the "educational" channel.

It stayed that way until 1967, when channel 17, WJRJ, signed on the air. We didn't know about that for some time.

Our old set, a black and white Magnavox console with a built in hi-fi record player, was not equipped to pick up the UHF stations of 14 to 83.

One day, dad came home with a special receiver to pick up the new channels. He hooked it up and suddenly our world was expanded.

It was branded as "Good-looking Channel 17." In hindsight, it was really awkward looking in those early days. But they filled their programing day with lots of cartoons, as well as shorts from "The Little Rascals" and "The Three Stooges."

A TV channel became my friend.

A few years later, Ted Turner bought it and added wrestling and Braves baseball. He also figured out ways to spread it first throughout the Southeast, and then to the whole country, via satellite as WTBS.

When I travelled, it was like finding my friend in a strange town.

Over the years, the Braves telecasts became fewer and they stopped showing "The Little Rascals" and "The Three Stooges."

On Oct. 1, any last remaining signs of the old channel 17 became a memory.

The channel was split two ways. One is a local station called "Peachtree TV" which, based on my viewing, has little to do with Peachtree Street and is just another channel with lots of reruns and movies.

The old TBS is now a cable-only channel and is no different from those hundreds of other cable channels that come into my house.

When I look back on life with just four or five channel of television, it didn't seem that bad. We were content to watch the shows that were available and many of them are now considered classics.

But now, I have a fancy remote that controls my access to more than 100 channels. I keep flipping and flipping on the chance of finding a television friend, like old channel 17. That seems as unlikely as me getting off the sofa to change the channel.

Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays in the print edition only and Sundays.



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