Johnny Wood has retired. He deserves the rest. He has been a constant in my life. I haven’t always gotten to live in the viewing area, but so much of my life revolved around Channel 5 during my most formative years that I feel like he’s my uncle or something.
Johnny started to work at WCYB in Bristol, Virginia in 1963. He had 40 years of service. I remember him at all the newscast hours, the morning show from 5 to 7 a.m., the noon broadcast, where sometimes he read the news, other times sports, and later, weather. He was also known to give the news at 6 and 11.
It was hard to see what he looked like on our 19 inch cabinet-type tube TV. We had a set of rabbit ears on that thing. If you wanted good reception you had to stand near by and squeeze the antennae with your hand. Of course it was hard to sit on the couch and watch it when you kept having to go and mess with the antennae. Later my mom got a little 13 inch color TV and we thought we were big stuff. But we could still only get Channel 5.
So I grew up with Johnny, but also Merrill Moore, Evelyn Booher, and Walter Crockett. Yes, Crockett, not Cronkite. That would have been channel 11, and we couldn’t get that. Walter Crockett did the editorial each day. I was told he stood on some kind of step because he was so short the camera couldn’t get him without elevating him. He read each editorial in monotone, stopping to look up at the camera at the end of the line. It was just his opinion. And it always bored us kids to death. But it didn’t last long, and it signaled supper was getting ready.
Evelyn Booher was the first woman broadcaster we saw. She had short, blondish hair, and seemed to always wear a string of pearls. She didn’t smile much. There wasn’t any friendly banter between the newscasters. This was serious business. It was the hard news. They could read a story quicker than the newspaper could print it and get it to your porch. So they were always trying to beat the printed news. And they were very serious about it. I remember Evelyn Booher looking up at the end of each line, as if to see if we were listening.
We got an outdoor antennae that was strapped on to the side of the house. You could go outside and turn it to try to get better signals. And the wind blew it a lot, so you had to go out and fine tune your signal. With the aerial we could get channel five a lot clearer, with only a little shadow and a few little stripes on the screen. We could also get our Kingsport ABC station, and once in a while we could actual get “Johnson City,” as we called it, or Channel 11. We called our stations Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City, not channel 5, channel 19 and channel 11. We could also get PBS on channel 2. When we started getting that, I was entertained daily with a show about a wizard, who I think was named Merlin, but I can’t remember much about it. It was followed by Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Sesame Street.
After the local news came and went off, we always let the NBC news air in our house. John Chancellor and David Brinkley shared that for years. I remember hearing John Chancellor give an update each day on the war in Vietnam. I also remember when the adults in my house were talking about someone killing some man named King (MLK), and one of the Kennedys (Robert). These are the earliest memories from our TV viewing.
I grew up when Laugh-in was popular. We watched it, but as a kid I didn’t understand it, though I tried to copy Artie Johnson’s German character who would pop through the bushes and say “Verrrry IN-teresting!” Rowan and Martin would tell jokes and Lily Tomlin would do a character of a telephone operator, snorting when she laughed.
The vertical hold on our little 13 inch color TV was always needing adjusting. I remember during the Super Bowls and other ball games, my dad would try to get me to stand by the tv and keep the picture from rolling by turning that knob. It was not fun, but the rolling picture would drive you crazy.
TV time at our house was after supper when the dishes had been washed (usually by my sisters) and homework was out of the way. Then if we were good, we could watch from 8 to 9, or later as we got older, but the TV was only for mom and dad after 11. They watched the news and caught the monologue on the Tonight Show before going to bed.
I remember Adam-12, Emergency, some detective show with Bill Cosby in it, and lots of westerns. The thirty-minute sitcom was popular in our home. We watched Bewitched, I Dream of Jeanie, My Three Sons, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. Later we got Gilligan’s Island in syndication. My parents thought these shows were “silly” but we watched them because we didn’t have anything else.
My grandparents (on both sides) kept TVs that had the old tube in them for years. When you turned them off, the picture would shrink, then go to a little white dot that stayed on for several minutes before it finally disappeared. My Pappaw Scott finally got a color TV, but my uncles got annoyed at him for always messing with the tuning knobs on this new TV, especially the color adjustment. One of my uncles, Rodney, had a job in an electronics store and he made a little silver box that was powered by batteries and had a row of five lights across the top. There were knobs on the box that allowed the lights to grow bright, shine or turn off one by one, and they were different colors. He told him to mess with this box whenever he wanted to tune the TV. It was meant as a joke, but I treasured getting to play with this colored light box whenever I went to their house.
The thing I miss most is that in those days we watched the TV together. We don’t seem to do that anymore. And with the advent of the ratings wars, there aren’t many good folks on air like they were in the days of Johnny Wood and the folks at “Bristol”.