Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Longing for the days when test patterns meant something

I usually write this column early Monday afternoon, for consumption by newspaper readers the following Sunday.

As for those who read it as a blog, well, I don’t know when they read it, but I guess that can be almost any time.

I used to worry about that. What if I might want to make a correction on Friday?

Well, I quit worrying. Let’s just say that Sunday morning readers get the final version. As for blog readers, all I can say is, “Reader beware.”

But I can relax. My worries, like most of the others I harbor, are mostly unwarranted. That is because this effort almost always is read by Tricia Ambrose, who is not only executive editor of the newspaper but is also the namesake of one of our beloved puppies. If there is anything that escapes her attention, I am not aware of it.

But I digress.

My Rotary luncheon concludes at 1 p.m. on Monday. On the long drive from the old Mounds Club, now LaVera Party Center, in Willoughby Hills to The News-Herald building in Willoughby, I am usually thinking about the topic I am going to address.

Last Monday, I got to thinking about test patterns.

Early test patterns on TV were somewhat interesting, black-and-white designs. They had character. They had meaning.

The new test patterns in color? Boring. Useless. Nothing you would want to sit and watch for any length of time, I would venture.

A couple of weeks ago, Ray DelaMotte, president of the Lake County Chapter of the Kent State Alumni
Association, had asked me and George Inscho, the noted educator who now lives in Concord Township, to be the inspirational speakers at the Blue and Gold 50th Anniversary Dinner at Hellriegel’s Inn in Painesville Township.

Except he said “keynote” speakers. I’m the one who changed “keynote” to “inspirational.”

At any rate, George was tied up that evening because of a tune-up on his pacemaker, so I had to go it alone, as it were.

I have been attending these dinners for many years as a reasonably proud grad of KSU. Imagine my surprise (shock?) when Ray asked me to be a speaker.

I knew most of the folks in the audience. And I had a lot of time to fill. So I regaled them with tales of what it was like at Kent in the late 1940s.

Now, you can’t talk about such a slice of history in Kent without talking about a downtown saloon called Mandy’s.

Its real name was the Moon Night Club, operated by the Mandelari brothers. But everyone called it Mandy’s.

Calling it a nightclub is kind of funny in itself. Basically, it was a very long bar populated by college kids who drank beer at 20 cents a bottle and watched the TV located high on the wall behind the bar.

It was a 9-inch black-and-white set, and the only program on it was wrestling. People sat and watched wrestling as intently as if it were Jack Bauer trying to escape death every Monday night on “24.”

Jack’s escapades and brushes with death are hair-raising and remarkable. So was sitting and watching wrestling on a 9-inch black-and-white TV.

The only other TV entertainment those days was standing on the sidewalk in front of the appliance store next to the theater on Main Street and watching the test pattern.

The movie theater was an up-to-date place where we went as often as three times a week to see all the first-run films. The store next door left a TV on in the window all night, I presume, and the only picture on it was a test pattern.

A couple of dozen people would stand on the sidewalk and watch the test pattern. Some were probably college kids, but a lot of them were townspeople.

I’m not saying they were unsophisticated. Don’t forget, this was 1946. I don’t know how long they stood there. Perhaps they came and went in shifts. But the test pattern thrills were about the only entertainment they required on a warm October evening.

Time Warner, my cable company, allows me to watch the Golf Channel on the big TV set in the living room.

But not on the small set in the dining room.

No sir. There’s no Channel 29 in the dining room. Most of the other channels are there, but Channel 29 is just a color test pattern.

It is not even interesting. It is deadly dull. The pattern consists of series of vertical color stripes – bright and cheery stripes. But they don’t move.

Now, I am aware what Time Warner is up to. I wasn’t born yesterday. They want me to pay for a digital converter for every TV in the house. Not me. It gets too expensive.

So I can’t sit at the dining room table and switch back and forth between baseball and golf.

It makes me furious. And what does the lady of the house think about all this? Not very much. She is very understanding. She doesn’t care in the least.

Sometimes I wish I had her temperament.

And I wish Time Warner would cut out the money-grubbing and give us consumers a break.


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