(12/04/2018)
By Bob Weaver

Television came to Calhoun in 1950, not long after the national Rural Electrification Administration brought electric to the county's rural area.

We've always been behind a few decades.

The sets could receive a single station, WSAZ-TV in Huntington, the state and region's first outlet.

A few citizens managed to come up with the big bucks to buy a small screen black and white TV, and install what was generally elaborate antenna systems to get the signal into the house.

Having a TV antenna on the roof was a status symbol, and neighbors would flock to the house of owners to watch.

Frugal Howard Craddock was pressured by his wife Ruby to buy a TV set in the 1950s, caving in, he said, "I suppose we'll just watch it until we stave to death, tryin' to pay the electric bill."

Valley dwellers had to install their antennas on the hilltops and nail insulated ladder-wire to the trees to get any kind of signal down to the house.

The picture was fuzzy and snowy, sometimes fading from view, but most families would remain seated before the device staring at a test pattern, patiently waiting for service to be restored.

Those long-gone days have been replaced by the high-definition and surround sound technology of today, with hundreds of available channels.

It was the excitement of viewing old movies, quiz shows, dramas, variety shows, soap operas, boxing, wrestling and news, all in the comfort of one's home.

Oh, to get home from school in time to see "Howdy Doody."

My wife's grandmother would actually tidy the living room and put on her nicest house dress before she sat down to watch "As the World Turns," assured that the actors could see her too.

My great aunt had a habit of throwing objects at the TV screen when her favorite "good guy" wrestler was being plummeted, a habit which led to the breaking of the screen by a coffee mug.

Oak Hill TV, specialized in live wrestling on Saturday night, and folks from Calhoun would travel to be in the audience.

Now retired State Senator Shirley Love was the emcee, who frequently warned out-of-control wrestlers and audience members he would wash their mouth out. The wrestlers would, no fake, lose their temper and cut some heads down with steel chairs.

Sometimes audience members cut a few heads.

After a number off cuss words would flow on live wrestlin', Shirley Love, at the conclusion of the broadcast, tell viewers to go to church Sunday.

It was a time when most families routinely abandoned going to the movies, and some years later to church.

Editor Weaver decked out for a 1950s school prom,
posed by his mom, with the family's prized possession

While a few ridge dwellers had TVs in the early 50s, the county's big introduction was in Grantsville. Grantsville Appliance, at the bequest of Arlen Burns on High Street, erected a TV antenna on what would later be known as Hospital Hill.

Von Yoak, a former owner of the store, said people would crowd into Burns' living room, even stand in doorways, to watch the pictures on the small TV screen.

"It wasn't long that other residents wanted TV in their houses," Yoak said.

TV evangelists begged for money to keep their show on and we all watched the "Saturday Nigh Jamboree" with Dean Sturm.

Grantsville Appliance put a TV in their front window, with a timer turning it off at midnight.

"Most times during the day and evening, people would be standing in front of the store, watching," said Yoak. He remembered our favorite backwoods family, the Craddocks from Joker, positioning themselves for several hours of viewing.

"People would drive into town, get into their parking space, and watch window TV," he said.

A TV was installed for Oren Atkinson's son, who was fatally inflicted with a disease that locals said "turned him to stone," said Yoak.

"The very bright young man, confined to a wheelchair, worked hard to experience everything life had to offer before he died."

The fledgling cable system was expanded to 30 houses, and customers shared the expenses of operating it.

"It was a very crude system, but it worked. We kept it going for about 50 years. It never made any money, but it helped people get TV." Yoak said.

A second antenna was erected on Pine Creek Hill - Hardman's Knob - a higher spot. "That hill was so steep, we had to tie ourselves to trees to keep from falling over rock cliffs," Yoak said, "and use a boat to stretch the wire across the river."

"We were always doing some interesting things to attract customers. It was a very competitive business community. At that time the community had what would now be called an "expo" at the old NYA (Goodrich) building, demonstrating appliances and services.

Yoak said in the early 50s the appliance store ran a line to an antenna across the river behind the NYA building, and hooked up TVs for viewing. "I went to WOAY-TV in Oak Hill and rented a TV camera, hid it behind a curtain and hooked it to a TV," he said.

"People would come by and see themselves, startled and and sometimes confused," while some laughed, others complained the picture didn't really look like them.

Not long after electric came to the rural areas of the county, "We killed and froze a pig, standing it up in one of our General Electric freezers, placing an apple in its' mouth."

"The lid was left open, so visitors could peck on the really hard-frozen pig. We sold over 20,000 TVs and appliances during those years," Yoak said.

Some of the first TV viewing done by Calhoun kids was at the high school, where a TV was installed and hooked to a cable. Students watched the inauguration of President Dwight Eisenhower in January, 1953.

TVs were rather expensive. In 1963, I bought a "color TV" for my dad and mom at Hur. It cost almost $750, a lot of money at the time. Somehow, on a meager salary, I made monthly payments, allowing them to enjoy the transition, with a few programs broadcast each day in "living color."

The "color" TV picture got fuzzy and played out. My mom refused to remove it from the living room for many years, It had a large doily with family photos on the console, remaining in place until her death in 1985.


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