Evolution of TV: Rabbit ears hop over the horizon

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer November 01, 2013 10:41 am

In the old days, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, when men wore hairdos that looked like landing strips for tiny planes, where many TVs showed only artsy black and white, there was the Game of the Week.

Today, there is the Game of the Hour. Buy short attention span stock.

My grandad, Oswald Swensen Jensen Olafsen Luthersen Alansen Leroysen Petersen, after completing his 90-hour work week wrestling wild steers and even heavier hay bales, would celebrate by turning on the Saturday afternoon baseball game. The TV console was the size of a pipe organ. The TV itself was the size of a Popeye lunch box. 

The baseball players were different then. Players with not even a single tattoo, in a time when art was found in galleries and not on bodies, in a day when players who proudly chewed tobacco and didn’t worry about losing body parts to cancer, would spit on their hands. Then they would tote the bat and swing for the fences. Even if the hit barely dribbled to the pitcher, they’d sprint for first base, oftentimes not being able to drop the bat stuck to their non-gloved hands with a generous coating of tobacco juice.

Today, we can celebrate sports any day of the week. Every network, it seems, has a 24-hour sports channel. Besides the 19 ESPNs, there are CBS Sports, Fox Sports, the Pac-12 Network, the Big 10 Network, maybe even the Tiny 4 Network.

Soon, it’s certain, even the Food Network and Home and Garden TV will have celebrity chefs and landscape architects throwing frying pans and tossing decorative boulders.

I remember a less crowded TV landscape. Back in the day,  as a young lad growing up in the Pleistocene Epoch, my favorite show was “The Wide World of Sports,” with its thrill of victory and agony of defeat. Then, it was a once-a-week celebration of Austrian ski jumpers and their compressed vertebrae. Today, turn on the TV any time, day or night, and you can view the Romanian horse-throwing champions or a sand-castle building competition from the scantily clad beaches of Greece.

I’m not complaining. I love the variety. As an obsessive-compulsive channel changer, I love exploring the giant library of TV options, the quick draw variety of Short Attention Span Theater, with its NASCAR, rodeo and more versions of poker than you can find in the best Las Vegas casino.

The evolution of TV has been amazing. In the early days, there were rabbit ears that perched on top of the TV to improve reception to the point where there were only two of everything.

Then rooftops everywhere began sprouting antennas. Soon, small cities like La Grande became Antennae National Forests, improving reception to the point where sometimes greens were garish and where there were only 1-1/2 of everything.

Then came cable. You could be sitting in Wallowa watching superstations from Atlanta and Chicago, become a Cubs fan and then, due to the incompetence of this Major League Baseball club, have to pay for weekly therapy for the rest of your life.

Cable also got the local networks plus a Disney Channel or two. Princesses were everywhere.

Finally, satellite dishes came along. The first versions were large enough to communicate with aliens. You could get 48 stations from Canada, innumerable televangelists, the cow auction network, an extremely grainy channel featuring skimpily clothed bad actors and TV news outtakes. These were my favorites. You’d see announcers fixing their hair incessantly and sometimes, in the case of football announcer Al Michaels, see them disparage their current surroundings, in his case Minneapolis, making him forevermore unwelcome in the frozen tundra.

No matter to Michaels. Less need to buy parkas, mukluks and caps with ear flaps.

Today, even if you live in the tules beyond the sticks, even if you live in a decrepit single-wide trailer, with dead washers and refrigerators for lawn ornaments, you can get 500 channels with perfect reception. What’s more, the dish on the side of your home is barely large enough to hold Thanksgiving dinner.

It’s time travel at its finest. No matter where you live, New York and the Game of the Hour is just one click of the remote away.

Contact Jeff Petersen at 541-963-3161 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Jeff on Twitter @lagrandenewsGo.