Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Wanna see the TV we had when I was a kid. Well, here it is in this commercial from 1965. It was our first color set. My parents didn't buy a color set until I was old enough to operate it for them.

In the day, Zenith was considered one of the top brands for televisions, and as you can see in the ad, it really was built with a hand-wired tube chassis. Made in America. This was an advantage in the era, because tubes were much easier and cheaper to replace than an entire circuit board. Nowadays it's the opposite. The downsides to this technology: compared to today's TV's it was a power hog, it poured heat into the room, and it took about a minute to power up and another five or so to "warm up" to produce a quality picture.

Notice the ad promotes the rectangular picture tube. Prior to this model color sets had round tubes that fit behind a "TV shape" mask, with a flat top and bottom but rounded ends. You gained a lot of video real estate with the rectangular format. Compared to today's TV's though, the tube corners are rounded off and the whole thing had quite a bulge.

But the sound... This was one of the first sets to use the phrase "high fidelity." And it was. Separate bass and treble controls graced the front panel to adjust the FM radio quality sound. Now in those days, network audio traveled to local affiliates via special phone lines. This rendered all network audio - say like while watching "Batman" - in a quality more like AM radio. But it was still cool.

It's odd that the commercial overlooks a big Gee Whiz feature of this set. To change the channel, you pushed a button on the front panel, which engaged a motor drive that turned the channel selector until it stopped at the next local channel. This function was not electronic, but rather electro-mechanical: the local Zenith dealer pre-set the motorized channel selector to stop at local channels. (VHF only. The UHF tuner was a separate knob that you have to adjust manually. A real pain if you wanted to change UHF stations. TV's like this couldn't have sold well in UHF only cities like Fort Wayne.) But if you wanted to go backwards, you had to reach around behind the set and turn a manual knob.

Still, it was a reliable, robust system that served us until 1980 or so. Not bad. In fact, the quality really did go in.


Greg Oen said...

Steve, I found it interesting that you mentioned the high fidelity sound in the old Zenith TV's. These days the flat panel HDTV's don't have room for decent speaker systems and most of them sound horrible, as a result. You have to have some sort of add-on system to get anything close to "high fidelity" sound.

Steve said...

In the 1960's when you bought a TV like the Zenith a truck rolled up in your driveway, the men installed the set, connected the antenna, fine tuned it, adjusted the color, showed you how it worked and didn't leave until you were satisfied. Today you lug the TV home in the back of your car, struggle through connecting everything via the 52 page instruction manual poorly translated from Mandarin, and watch it propped up against the wall for a week until you go back to the store to buy a table to put it on. (Assembly required.)

Greg Oen said...

Steve, you must have been looking through my window a couple of weeks ago. That's exactly what happened here, including assembling the TV stand!