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In the Good Old Days Antiques Corner This Week in History
In the Good Old Days

Trivia Question

What was Zenith's efficient upgrade to the TV in 1950?

A Remote Control With Feet

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Spoiler alert: Hurry and read the answer to the trivia question posed above.

Are you back? Good. Because I'm going to write about the onset of the remote control in my childhood home, or rather, the lack of it.

Shortly before they were married in 1952, my parents purchased an old two-story house on the edge of our small town, just up the hill from a river. One of the first improvements they made to the home (aside from installing a furnace, which they found out the hard way the house did not have) was to add on a "TV room." Cut into the new pine-wood cabinetry along one wall of the room was a space for a television set.

Living in a rural area, we were not in close proximity to any major television stations. The signals were weak, so over the years my dad tried a variety of wires and antennas and other contraptions to lessen the "snow" on the screen and increase our viewing pleasure. These devices had to be turned and twisted and moved around in order to be even a little bit effective. How was my dad going to accomplish this while seated on the couch at the opposite end of the room?

Enter the two-footed remote control: me ... and sometimes my brothers. We were routinely dispatched from our spots on the floor to the TV cabinet to spin some dial or turn some knob or bend some wire in order to attempt to get better reception. We would no sooner be settled on the floor with a few pillows when one of us would once again be called into service. It was many years later (probably when the last kid moved out) when my dad purchased a television with a real remote channel changer and the signal strength improved enough that no one had to manually turn an antenna when the channel was changed.

Nowadays I look at my living-room coffee table where a confusing multitude of remote controls lie nestled in a leaf-shaped bowl. There's one for the satellite, one for the DVD player, one for the actual TV and one for who-knows-what. I never seem to pick the right one and, even if I do, I don't understand all the buttons and commands.

It makes me want to just get up off the couch and go turn a knob.

'Til next time,

Mary Beth Weisenburger,
Good Old Days® magazine

PS. When did you get your first television or your first remote control? We want to hear about it! Send a brief response to me at and it could appear in a future update or in Good Old Days magazine! Here are several email responses from the Dec. 23, 2015 update question: Did you ever go Christmas caroling, or have you been the recipient of a caroling group?

Deb L. recalled: "I just read your piece about Christmas caroling in French. How wonderful! I took four years of Spanish and three years of French throughout high school and college, and we never did something like that. The most we did was visit the first graders to teach them some basic words and games. But I digress.

I do recall about 20-25 years ago when members of my church walked around our little town caroling for the shut-ins. It was a lot of fun, and the recipients always enjoyed and appreciated our efforts. Since our pastor always made arrangements with the residents to make sure it would be OK, they were prepared for us and always had cocoa, cookies or candy canes on hand. After caroling, we would go back to the church for a small party with (more) cocoa, coffee, cookies and a visit from Santa Claus. Of course the kids loved Santa, but I have more than one photo of an adult sitting on his lap as well.

Sadly, the church I attend now doesn't do caroling, but I am a den leader with my son's Cub Scout pack, and we go caroling every year as part of our Christmas party. It fulfills one of their service requirements. We visit the local retirement homes and sing for them. I hope the boys find some meaning in the activity. Merry Christmas to you!"

Ann V. shared: "I was in fourth grade in a new city for me when our teacher decided that we would carol in a few nursing homes in the area. All I remember is going into this big old building with a bunch of old people and starting to sing. The next thing I remember was my mom picking me up there. I had passed out cold, and they had trouble reviving me so I had to go home -- they thought it best if I didn't go to any more nursing homes. To this day I cannot go to a hospital or nursing facility without smelling that alcohol. What a memory."

Mary Beth Weisenburger has been with Annie's since April 2011. She has 25 years of experience in the marketing, advertising and publishing fields. In addition to her job as editor of Good Old Days, she has been writing a family humor column for over a decade. She and her husband, two college-age kids, two dogs and various other critters live on five acres in the country, where she enjoys reading on the back porch, refinishing furniture, feeding the birds and digging in the dirt of her perennial gardens.

Fill out the easy feedback form and let me know your thoughts, questions and ideas.

Trivia Answer

The remote control. Television began a rapid rise in popularity during 1950 and became an important industry and cultural force. There were only about three million TV sets in the United States when the year began. By December, almost 10 million families had a television in their homes. With the introduction of the press-button automatic remote control from Zenith Radio Corp., it was no longer necessary to walk to the TV to turn a knob to change the channel -- a cable ran from the handset to a motor inside the TV that turned the knob. You could also turn the TV on and off with the remote. The television also featured a reflection-proof, glare-free picture even when rooms were lighted.

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