SIDNEY UNDERWOOD: Granddad's Old Radio & One Channel TV Set [A Doddridge County Story]

By Sidney Underwood 2018
It was summer 1954 and my Granddad, Johnson Williams, having heard so much about television decided to purchase one. Living on Upper Nutters Fork, he already had a Motorola radio that had given him good service since the 1930's.

I remember it was a small table model with the exterior made of polished wood. The single speaker was covered with fabric that matched the color of the wood. It had a wire antenna that went out the window and up the outside wall. I remember it was always tuned to WPDX Clarksburg on the AM band. {The FM band would come years later} WPDX gave the news every hour on the hour and Granddad usually tuned in around noon after completing his morning chores.

We grandchildren enjoyed listening to his radio when we tuned in to Big John and Cherokee Sue's program broadcast five days a week during the morning hours. We also listened to country music by Grandpa Jones, Hank Williams, and Little Jimmie Dickens.

Granddad didn't care for the music, but did enjoy listening to boxing matches that were broadcast late night all over the country on the Mutual Network. He listened to the fights of Joe Lewis, Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles. All of them heavyweights capable of ending fights with just one blow. Often, Granddad, my Uncle Steve Stephens, Floyd Knight and my Dad would gather around the radio to listen while the ring side announcer described the fighting. We grandchildren knew to be quiet when the men gathered in the sitting room on fight nights.

I remember Granddad often talked about listening to the Joe Lewis fights with Max Schmeling on that old radio. In the first fight held in 1936, Schmeling, the hero of Nazi Germany, embarrassed and humiliated Lewis. Lewis, a man of dignity, continued fighting other opponents and waited for the chance to redeem himself. In the rematch in 1938 at Yankee Stadium before 71, 000 fans, a seething Lewis destroyed Schmeling within two minutes of the first round putting an end to the myth of Aryan superiority.

Lewis would be interviewed over the airways after each fight and Grandad really enjoyed those moments. Lewis's championship reign ended in 1949 when he was decisioned by Ezzard Charles. Because his handlers had embezzled his winnings, Lewis was forced to continue fighting long past his prime in order to satisfy the Internal Revenue Service who claimed he owed over $500,000 in unpaid taxes. On the comeback trail at age 36, his career came to a halt when he was knocked out by a young Rocky Marciano in 1951. Eventually, Lewis and the IRS reached a settlement that wrote off his remaining debt. In his final years, Lewis was a greeter at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Today, there is a statue of him at that casino. It should be noted that Lewis and Schmeling became good friends after their fighting days were over. Lewis died in April 1981 at age 67 while Schmeling lived to be almost 100 dying in February 2005.

Granddad had heard about the Friday Night Fights sponsored by the Gillette Razer Company, and that was his primary reason for wanting a TV set. However, living in a deep hollow with hills on the north and south of the house brought concerns about the ability to capture those elusive signals. Another concern was the fact there were no local stations in the immediate area. (Channels 5 and 12 from Fairmont and Clarksburg had not yet powered up) Granddad needed help in sorting everything out. I remember someone told him about Carl Rinehart who was a TV dealer in Pennsboro. So, one day my Dad drove Granddad and me to Rinehart's shop located on an upper street in Pennsboro. I remember we walked into the place and it was cluttered with TV sets---both new and others needing repairs. There were console and table models along with antennas, sections of antenna pipe, rolls of ladder wire and other items I could not identify. On shelves were boxes of various tubes and assorted electrical testing equipment. I was impressed by all the items I could not identify.

After listening to Granddad's concerns, Rinehart stated that he would come out to Upper Nutters Fork in a few days and use his portable signal finder to establish the correct spot to put up an antenna. He mentioned that it might be necessary to install a booster depending on the distance from the antenna to the house. I learned that day the resistance in the wire reduces the intensity of the signal in longer spans.

Several days later, Rinehart arrived at Granddad's house. He had with him a little metal box with dials and switches and it sprouted a small antenna. It was about the size of a woman's makeup case. Dad and I followed him up the hill in front of the house all the way to the top. Rinehart moved slowly left and right with that little box under his arm. No signal was detected anywhere on that hill and the metal box remained silent. Next, we came down to the front yard and went around the house and up the hill behind it northward toward granddad's orchard which was in an open area. About half way to the top, the signal finder started beeping occasionally. The higher we went, the louder the beeping noise. When we reached the knoll overlooking the orchard, the signal finder was going crazy with rapid strong beeping sounds. Rinehart looked at my Dad and said that the antenna should be placed on this spot. I remember he adjusted the dials and then announced that we were getting a signal from WTRF-TV, Wheeling WV. Dad asked if we were getting signals from other stations. Rinehart just shook his head no.

A few days later, Granddad purchased an antenna, rolls of copper wire, insulators and a booster with 800 feet of electric cable. We learned from Rinehart that the booster did not have to be on the antenna but should be mounted downhill from it. The object being to boost the signal enough to carry it to the house.

I remember looking down at the old farmhouse from the antenna site and thinking it was a good distance. That day we stepped it off and determined the distance to be approximately 1100 feet. We certainly have tall hills in Doddridge County!

My Dad and my Uncle Steve in one weekend strung the wires to the top of the hill. Uncle Steve was a lineman for AT&T and had knowledge in this type of work. Next, they installed the booster 300 feet below the antenna in a weather proof box on a platform nailed to the side of a tree. Everything was now ready for a brand new TV set.

That same day Granddad came home with a table model Motorola TV with a twenty-one inch screen which was standard size at the time. He had purchased it from Rinehart's shop. That TV had a brown Bakelite finish. My Grandma hurried around and found a small table and carried it to the sitting room on which the new TV was placed. Wow, everyone was so excited that day. With the antenna on the pole at the top of the hill and the booster plugged into current in the pantry, the men were ready to zero the antenna to WTRF-TV, the one and only station available. Dad told mom to blow the car horn when the picture quality seemed perfect. Granddad was to stay by the TV and tell Grandma who was stationed on the porch and she in turn would signal my Mom standing beside the car. They had cooked up a primitive relay system.

At the top of the hill, I watched Uncle Steve on a ladder use a small pipe wrench to slowly turn the antenna in small increments toward the north. He would pause about one minute each time he moved the antenna. When it was pointed almost true north, we all heard the car horn start blowing. Let me tell you, after all the nuts and bolts were snugged tight, we hurried down off the hill past the cellar house through the back door down the hallway to the sitting room. Granddad was there in his rocking chair with a big grin on his face. The TV was on and the Cleveland Indians were hosting the Chicago White Sox in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. The picture was perfect and everyone grabbed a chair and we all watched baseball the rest of that afternoon. The Indians defeated the Sox that day and Herb Score, a lefthander with a high kick and wicked curve ball, was the winning pitcher. It was a wonderful time that I will never forget. I got so tickled listening to Granddad explaining baseball rules to Grandma who had never seen a baseball game before!

I am so glad that my grandparents bought that TV set. I should add that they were able to receive the Weston-Clarksburg channels a few years later. They got so much enjoyment out of watching their favorite shows. Together, they watched Arthur Godfrey, Milton Berle and the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. Everything was in black and white, but, for them it was magical.

Granddad watched his fights and he enjoyed the Jimmie Durante show, especially when Durante signed off saying, "Good night Mrs. Calabash wherever you are." I learned years later that Durante was remembering his departed wife when he spoke those words. Grandma had her special shows and loved watching the Lassie show with us grandchildren on Sunday nights sponsored by the Campbell Soup Company.

The TV was such a big deal that often everyone would get up in the early morning hours just to look at the TV Test Pattern that preceded the Today Show with Dave Garaway.

1954 was a good year for Granddad. During that year, he sold off his cattle and sheep and retired from farming. He signed up for and started receiving his social security at the ripe old age of 84 which he would draw for the next ten years. After doing all that, he certainly had more free time to watch TV.