Back when we had to choose

Last Tuesday evening I updated my Facebook status: Glee or Lost

I was debating which program to watch that night, if any, knowing that I could watch both the next day on Hulu or ABC or whatever station Glee is on.

One of the responses, from Sandy — a mutual friend of Frances Lide, was DVR.

That got me thinking. There were times, in my life when I actually had to choose what program to watch because there was no DVR or Hulu or Tivo or VCR or On Demand programming. If you missed an episode of a program you could only hope a friend could explain the entire show to you or else you’d have to wait for reruns.

Of course, back when I was a kid growing up outside Chicago, we only had a few stations to choose from: 2  (CBS), 5 (NBC), 7 (ABC), 9 (WGN),  and 11 (WTTW — Public TV). It was not often that there were two programs I wanted to watch on at the same time. The only time I can think of where there were two programs on television that I wanted to watch was when I was in the third grade and Lost in Space and Batman were on at the same time. I probably would have watched both, had they been on at different times (or if we could have taped it), but I chose Lost in Space*.

We only had one television when I was a kid and my brother was far enough behind me in age that we rarely clashed over what to watch on television. I only recall one time that I wanted to watch a television program (Woody Woodpecker) when my parents wanted to watch something else which ended with me in tears and quite possibly a throwing a temper tantrum**. When my cousin, Bob, lived with us, we argued, once — that I recall anyway, about the TV. It was a Sunday night and I wanted to watch Masterpiece Theatre and he wanted to watch something else***. That too, probably ended with me in tears and throwing a temper tantrum.

I wonder if we all watched television together peacefully, or if we found other things to do when others were watching what they wanted to watch. I wonder how it was for larger families. Who got to choose what to watch? Did television stations compete like they do now? Did they pit family members against each other over what to watch? Were people less obsessive about television programs? Were the programs less addictive?

What do you remember about the days before the ability to record television programs? Who chose what to watch in your family? How did you choose?

*My third-grade class was divided into the Lost in Spacers and the Batmanites. We Lost in Spacers made up a rhyme about Batman that we thought was hilarious at the time, but I can only remember the not hilarious part of it now:

“Batman and Robin
Batman and Robin
Something something something something
That’s what Batman and Robin are!

**It turned out that Woody Woodpecker was not on that night and my temper tantrum was wasted.
***I think I won because 1. The only television I watched at the time was on Sunday evenings when I watched Masterpiece Theatre and Monty Python & 2. Bob didn’t want to be in the same room with a crazy cousin who threw temper tantrums at age 19.

14 thoughts on “Back when we had to choose

  1. We had so few channels when I was growing up I don’t think there was ever any conflict over what to watch: Batman, Get Smart, Mary Tyler Moore, Twilight Zone, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.


    1. I seriously wonder if there was anything my parents insisted on watching — I don’t recall anything. Of course my dad was probably working in the garage anyway, but my mom must have wanted to watch something.


  2. Oh — I remember the Batman and Robin song my 3rd grade class sang. I think I might have made it up.

    *Fatman and Garbage
    Fatman and Garbage
    Fatman and Garbage
    That’s what Batman and Robin are!

    *I think this was supposed to be sung to the tune of the Batman and Robin theme song but since we never watched Batman we didn’t know that the song went “Batman! Batman! Batman! Batman! Dadadadada Batman!”


  3. We only had one channel when I was little. Then I remember the excitement of getting a second! So we all watched things together. Sunday afternoons – my father’s only time off from the farm – watching old westerns or war movies, was a highlight. And Disneyland on Sunday nights when I was little.


  4. Parents got to decide what was watched. I remember watching both Lost in Space and Batman and Robin, but I think Batman and Robin was on in the afternoons, so it must have already been syndicated.

    My parents didn’t own a color TV until I was in my twenties and bought them one. I don’t know how old I was before I actually saw The Wizard of Oz turn color. Old.


    1. We got a color TV fairly early — although my grandparents had one before we did.

      I had a friend in college who didn’t have color tv at his house and he watched The Wizard of Oz turn color in my presence. It was pretty cool to see his reaction. “SO THAT’S WHAT THEY MEANT BY A HORSE OF A DIFFERENT COLOR!”


  5. AFter school there was really only one channel with cartoons, so Ian and I watched together–smurfs, He-man, GI Joe, Bugs Bunny, whatever. In prime time, it was my parents, and we were banish-ed from the TV room rather early in the evening if they were watching something. I remember many evenings going to bed to the theme song of Hill STreet. Or MASH…


  6. I can remember before television. We lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on the Canadian border and we got our first channel, CBC, when I was two. I can vaguely remember watching Howdy Doody. It was the only channel until I was, hmm, maybe in about 2nd or 3rd grade. Then we had 2 channels until I was a teenager and cable came to town.

    I don’t think we got Batman but I was a Lost in Space fan and still am. I own the DVDs. I have rarely watched TV in many years. I joke sometimes that I’m not even sure how to turn our vintage (1980s) Sony sets on.


    1. My folks still only get one real channel in their lake house. My dad thinks he gets more than one though, and uses the remote to change from one fuzzy “station” to the next.


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