Our First TV Set

On that Saturday afternoon, his life changed forever.

By Knolan Benfield

Our First TV Set
My dad was a pastor. He knew when it was time for us to have our own TV set.

It was 1949, I was 9 years old and we were on a family vacation in Miami Beach. Mom, Dad, my sister and I were sitting on the porch of the Penguin Hotel enjoying the soft tropical breeze of the summer evening.

Some movement in the lobby caught my eye. It looked like a small movie screen. I asked my Dad if I could peep in the lobby.

Several overstuffed businessmen sitting in overstuffed chairs were looking at television. "Victory At Sea" was on. The powerful music, the roll of the warships at sea, the boom of the battleship's guns... it was thrilling. This was the first television set I'd ever seen! I ran back to get my family to come watch it.

Television was about all I talked about for the rest of the summer. I never considered the possibility of having one of our own. Once in a while, we would go over to the Hordes' house in the evening and watch "The Lone Ranger" on their television, eat popcorn and drink Pepsi Cola. The Hordes were members of the church my father pastored. And Mrs. Horde was my third grade teacher.

That autumn, Dad gathered our family in our living room. He and Mother had decided it was time we got a television. He said it would be delivered that day.

That afternoon a man climbed up on our roof and clamped a television antenna to the chimney. It was Mr. Horde. He was the only man who sold and installed television sets in my hometown. To us, he was the TV Man in more ways than one. I watched every move he made on our roof. It was a Saturday. I remember because the man on the roof was my teacher's husband. Having your third grade teacher's husband install your television is not something you forget.

Mr. Horde had hooked up that flat antenna wire and dropped one end to the ground. As he climbed down I asked him, "How long will it be before we can watch TV?"

"Oh, not for several days," he said. "It takes time to hook one of these things up."

Benfield-02Inspired by my hero-of-heroes, The Lone Ranger.

I was devastated. I knew that my hero-of-heroes, The Lone Ranger, would thunder onto the television screen at 7 o'clock that evening. Mr. Horde must have seen my disappointment because he said he was kidding, and we would be able to look at it in just a few minutes.

He showed my dad something about vertical and horizontal hold, and then our round, 12-inch Zenith television in a big double-door cabinet with a record player and an AM/FM radio was ready! Our family gathered and stared mesmerized at a still picture of an Indian with full war bonnet and little lines and drawings all around him. It didn't take long to grow tired of the audible tone that accompanied the Indian. We turned it down a little, but not off — had to be sure it stayed working. All the adults (Mother, Dad and Nana) wandered away to do whatever adults did on Saturday afternoons in those days, but sister and I kept watch over the Indian.

"Is anything on yet?" one of them would call from another room. At times they'd stick their heads in the room to see for themselves.

Where's the orchestra?

After awhile Dad said, "Better turn it up a little so we can hear when that tone stops. They usually start the shows right after that."

Eventually the tone stopped, the Indian disappeared and we yelled, "It's coming on! It's coming on!" Everyone rushed back. For several seconds the screen stayed blank. No sound came from the speaker. Was something wrong with our new TV set?

Then a man's mellow voice welcomed us to WBT-TV, Channel 3 in Charlotte — the first television station in the state. A photograph of the station appeared on the screen and stayed on without any sound for what seemed a long time.

Finally a trumpet sounded, a cloud of dust rose from the trail and The Lone Ranger himself rode out of the pages of yesteryear on his mighty steed Silver and thundered into our own living room. The thrill of knowing we would always be able to watch The Lone Ranger and his faithful friend Tonto every Saturday evening was overwhelming. Life would never be the same.

But I remember asking, "Where's the orchestra?"

My father laughed and said, "You don't see them. They're behind the scene out of the way so we can see the show."

I was disappointed. I'd thought you'd be able to see the orchestra, especially the trumpet player. After all, I'd listen to that man play "The William Tell Overture" on his trumpet on the radio at 5:30 Monday, Wednesday and Friday my entire life. It only seemed right, now that we had a television set, that we should be able to see him as he played. That trumpet had called a generation of us to the radio as the announcer said, "A fiery horse with a speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty 'Hi-yo Silver' — The Lone Ranger rides again!"

Any concern I had about the trumpet player was soon swept away. The show was better than my 9-year-old imagination had dreamed. It was as if we were right there with the masked rider of the plains dodging bullets and fighting for law and order in the early West. What a thrill it was! And we could ride again every Saturday night for the rest of time. Who even noticed that the program was in black and white? Who cared?

After the show, someone mentioned what was coming on next. I'd been so excited about "The Lone Ranger" I'd forgotten there were other shows.

We'd settle in for an evening of television together with our Pepsis and popcorn. Mother always fixed popcorn. We kids sat on the floor. Everybody was excited. This was something new.

After we got our own set I don't think we went back to the Hordes' to watch TV anymore, and I missed that. However, we began to have friends over to watch television with our family, and that was fun.

"The Red Skelton Show" kept us in stitches on Tuesday evenings at 8. And there was "The Gary Moore Show." Gary would beg for a sponsor. He introduced us to Carol Burnett.

"I Remember Mama" was a heart-warming program, but my Mama just couldn't watch it. She said, "That mother on the show is so perfect it makes me feel inadequate." She was as good a mother as the fictional one — and we told her so — but she still wouldn't watch it.

I still miss those old variety programs like "The Ed Sullivan Show" with the June Taylor dancers and the acrobats.

Ah yes, Arthur Godfrey and his ukulele. "How are ya, how are ya, how are ya." He'd talk a lot about flying airplanes and going to Hawaii.

The early day of television was a family time. Family and friends would gather and watch the modern miracle together. There was only one channel, and it didn't come on until about 5:15 in the afternoon. I don't know what time it went off. By that time I was in bed dreaming of riding the range with my pals Tonto and Kemosabe. "Hi-yo, Silver. Away!"

About the Author

Writer and photographer Knolan Benfield grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains and lives in Morganton. He is a member of Rutherford EMC. Learn more at KnolanBenfieldPhotography.com
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Comments (1)

  • Ken Brown

    Ken Brown

    05 January 2013 at 11:22

    Wonderful story. When I was growing up the Long Ranger was my hero too, including Gene Autry and the Melody Ranch Boys, but always on the radio. My folks didn't get a TV until the mid fifties after I had left home. Our local country store got a TV in the late forties and would stay opened late on Saturday nights while we gathering around watching the Pabst Blue Ribbon boxing fights.


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