Friday Flashback #315

Alert “06880” reader — and 1970 Staples High School graduate Scott Brodie — writes:

These days, if you glance at the back of your flat-panel TV or computer monitor you may see a label like this:

It is a reference to the time decades ago, when TV sets were mysterious boxes filled with dozens of warm, glowing vacuum tubes. Here’s an RCA console model from 1958:

Here’s the back view:

When the tubes burned out (inevitably on a Sunday afternoon just before the start of the football game), my dad and I would gingerly remove the back cover, carefully avoiding touching the main picture tube (allegedly a serious shock hazard), and remove the various tubes within reach.

We would take them to Calise’s — the only store open on the Post Road — where it still stands. They stocked a remarkably complete assortment of groceries, but on these Sunday afternoons we headed to the self-service “tube tester,” similar to this:

One by one, the meter would declare if the tube was defective or performing as intended. Once we found the defective tube we summoned the cashier. He opened the locked cabinet at the bottom of the kiosk. With luck we would find a suitable replacement tube, or its equivalent, and buy it.

At home we would install the new tube, replace all the others (hopefully) in the right places, and — if the TV gods favored us — enjoy the rest of the game.

Why did this matter on a Sunday? The NFL forbade broadcasting home games in a team’s market area, to ensure ticket sales. But Dad had invested in the  biggest TV antenna he could find. He mounted it on our chimney with a rotor, so it could be aimed at the New Haven TV station just outside the blackout region, and pull in a (barely) serviceable TV signal:

It’s a different world today — both for TVs, and the NFL.


14 responses to “Friday Flashback #315

  1. Dan, it was Western Auto that had the tubes in the tube tester. That’s in the approximate location of 5 guys now. As far as the warning about shocks, that was a very real item due to the flyback transformer that could store a ton of electricity. As a side tangent, some specific tubes for audio amplifiers are extremely valuable these days and command hundreds if not thousands of dollars each (said the Macintosh MC225 amplifier owner).

  2. I worked at the Radio Shack on Post Rd. during early 70’s. Our tube tester was always pretty busy and we stocked and sold quite a few tubes!

  3. I remember going to a local pharmacy and testing our TV tubes. Gone are the days.

  4. Just down the road from Calise’s was my Dad’s store, Stanley’s TV in what is now the Westport Animal Hospital. We were not open on Sunday so Calise’s and Western Auto were the only Sunday choices to test tubes. Stanley’s made house calls 24/7 because of the many people in Westport that were involved in TV productions in the 50’s & 60’s. Stanley’s moved downtown in 1963.

  5. Brian j.Taylor

    Became a raiders fan in 1967, because Jets & Giants were blacked out. Brian j. Taylor

  6. My Dad taught me how to work on tube TVs back when I was 8 years old. He taught me how to ground the picture tube so as to drain any charge. He also taught me how to play safe around high voltages by always keeping one hand in your back pocket (grabbing your own ass) – this way if you did touch a big capacitor or flyback transformer, the current would not pass through your heart. Lessons from 58 years ago…

  7. Wow that brings back memories. In our family, the biggest TV development was circa 1970 when my dad brought home our first color TV: a 12″ Sony Trinitron. It sparked a big fight with my mom, because it was an unplanned purchase and our old early 60’s B&W TV was still working fine.

    The Trinitron – originally available in 12″ only — became an iconic 1970’s consumer product. It made Sony’s name as well as advancing the reputation of “Japan Incorporated” as a whole. (Until then, Japanese products were seen as cheap and schlocky.)

    The story of its development and success makes interesting reading.

  8. Scott, fascinating stuff. I had no idea this kind of service existed—perhaps because we did not have this kind of technical knowhow in our family.

    One slight correction: that giant TV antenna was most likely aimed at the Hartford TV station, Channel 3, because it was the CBS affiliate in CT (and it was CBS that had the broadcast rights to NFL Sunday afternoon games when we were growing up).

  9. Fellow 1970’s fans will be happy to learn that around mid-decade my dad brought home a Sony Betamax, the first consumer videocassette recorder/player.)

    My mom had long since given up objecting to Dad’s impulse-buying habits, but the marketplace was not as kind. Another Japanese company, JVC, developed the competing VHS standard for videocassettes, and it soon won out over Sony’s “Beta.”

    Since few, if any pre-recorded videocassettes were available in Beta, that Sony VCR became obsolete long before it had a chance to wear out.

    • Peter, Betamax was actually a technological better offering than VHS. Unfortunately, Sony was on their high horse and refused to license two other companies the Betamax format. Panasonic thought otherwise and licensed their VHS format to any and everyone. That absolutely crushed the betamax product. To this day Betacam (a slightly different technology than Betamax) is the standard for video and news production.

      Sony’s old slogan was Beta is bettah!

      For the sake of disclosure, I owned a Betamax starting in 1981. If you wanted to configure the machine one way it would be a digital audio recorder.

  10. Westfair Pharmacy, also on the Post Road, had a tube tester. It in fact, had a bit of everything–a pharmacy, soda fountain, large toy section and even a post office.

    The Sunday NFL games were carried on CBS and you probably picked them up from Hartford. Channel 8 in New Haven was ABC, and we could pick it up without a fancy antenna, but apparently some of my classmates couldn’t get it–it depended on how your TV antenna was mounted (we never thought of a roter).. We could barely get Channel 9 though many classmates would watch Million Dollar Movie on it–they would play the same movie all week.. We could barely get Channel 3 in Hartford and there was a Channel 3 in Philadelphia we could also barely get–TV stations were offset slightly so the Philadelphia and Hartford/Providence stations were not actually on the same channels and TV sets had a fine tuning knob for the offset.

  11. When I was a kid (not that long ago, in the 80’s and 90’s), you could still bring tubes to Beacon Electronics (the small yellow building, now Body Quest I believe). They had quite a decent business fixing both solid state and tube radios, TV’s, stereos, etc, but had a tube tester available to the public on the left as you walked in the door. Tubes have come back into fashion for audio equipment and guitar amps, but you’ve got to test them yourself at home. The funny thing about this is… Most of these “drug store” type tube testers were essentially made to sell tubes – they’d show a serviceable tube as weak, so you’d buy a new one. In reality, that tube may have another 10 yrs of life left in it!

  12. Thank you for bringing back TV. My memories of TV are nostalgic. I was always notified when to go to sleep by the TV Gods, after the Late Late Show, and the National Anthem played; with the security of our armed forces keeping me safe while I slept. The finishing touch was the sound of audio hash synchronized with the beautiful electronic snow. Unfortunately there is no more TV. In 10 years it will be a word like the word typewriter, almost non-existent except in museums and history books.

  13. Vacuum tubes are still fairly available as “New Old Stock” (aka NOS). Some are still being manufactured in Russ…(oh. never mind). Perhaps even more valuable than tubes are in fact the vintage (well, there are no “modern”) tube testers as shown here. Also quite sought after are vintage b&w or color CRT television sets worthy of restoration. These are still usable today with the use of an antenna and digital TV converter. You did save yours after the Government subsidized their purchase with coupons in 2008, right? Several Youtubers specialize in such TV restorations, my favorite is “shango066” out of L.A. Final Tip: If you have such a TV in the attic, never simply plug it in to see if it works without having it looked at by someone competent, as its components’ aging may cause it to malfunction causing, at best, more component damage. Enjoy!