Telling Grandchildren About the Beginning of Television Now That We Are Nearing Its End As We Know It

Howdy DoodyThis past February 2017, NBC television celebrated 90 years of programming.  That is GG’s (great grandparent’s) generation, but we grandparents can claim we remember the beginnings of children’s programming on television.

This Grandma believes that we should share our history and childhood with our grandchildren to preserve and pass along how we lived.  I never thought I would we sharing how I believe television as we know it is nearing its end.  Our television screens are now “smart” monitors that provide more hours of Netflix, Amazon, video, internet than cable or network shows.  We “stream” and “binge” what interests us, and the variety is endless.  Having just participated in a social media seminar, I heard about these new trends:

*One billion hours are spent on YouTube

*50 minutes a day on the average is spent on Facebook

*44% of the population gets its news from Facebook

*88% of age 25 and younger find video on Facebook important (which is moving to all video within 5 years) and Snapchat is moving to video

*Ads are better on Facebook than television

I see these trends with my grandchildren.  So, I want to share with them what it was like at the beginning of television.  It is hard to believe that I remember watching a test pattern waiting for a television program to start, that the screen was blank and there were long periods with no programming on the television screen when I was their ages.  Television signed off at the end of limited programming with an American flag and the Star Spangled banner.  What did we have to watch on television when we were children?

Howdy Doody.

Howdy Doody was my favorite television show as a young child, on at 5:30 pm on weekdays, first just three days a week.  Not that we had anything else to choose from!  It will be hard for our grandchildren to fathom that we had such little choice.  Looking up the show to gets its history on Wikipedia, I found that it started in 1947 and ended in 1960.  Buffalo Bob Smith was a ventriloquist and Howdy Doody was his freckle faced puppet.  We were told he had red hair but could not see it because it was in black and white.  My favorite character on the show was Howdy Doody and second favorite was Clarabell the Clown, who did not speak (until the last show), and communicated by honking horns on his belt, and by squirting seltzer. Howdy Doody was in black and white until 1955 so you can, on YouTube, of course, share an early opening segment.

In the segment, you can see the “Peanut Gallery,” a number of children sitting on bleachers. Buffalo Bob would begin each show by asking the children, “Say kids, what time is it?” The children would respond, “It’s Howdy Doody Time!” Show the grandchildren how we dressed back then when we started school.  Then the kids all sang the show’s theme song, set to the tune of “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay”:

It’s Howdy Doody time

It’s Howdy Doody time

Bob Smith and Howdy too

Say “Howdy do” to you

Let’s give a rousing cheer

‘Cause Howdy Doody’s here

It’s time to start the show

So kids, let’s go!

Buffalo Bill would talk to us in the audience at home and we would respond, thinking somehow that there was two way communication.  Yes, we were young children and television was a new treat.  Our parents did not want us too close to the screen as they thought we could get radiation from the television.

We Boomers watched this show religiously daily after school at 5:30 pm, seated before the black and white television early watching the test pattern until it came on. The last show, on YouTube, in 1960 is in color, so the children can see the evolution of the show over 2343 episodes and near 13 years.  The last show is in its entirety so you and the grandchildren can watch “low tech” for as long as they can last.  Notice the old version of the NBC color peacock.

Winky Dink and You.

Winky Dink was Grandpa’s favorite television show as a child and it was not until I researched the show on Wikipedia, did I realize why I never saw Winky Dink and Grandpa did.  Grandma’s family was observant and did not watch television on Saturdays, and Winky Dink and You was a CBS children’s television show from 1953 to 1957, on Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m.

Winky Dink was a cartoon character.  The show was also in black and white.  On Wikipedia, it describes Winky Dink and You as the first interactive television program:

“. . . .the show’s central gimmick was the use of a “magic drawing screen”, which was a large piece of vinyl plastic that stuck to the television screen via static electricity. A kit containing the screen and various Winky Dink crayons could be purchased for 50 cents. At a climactic scene in every Winky Dink short, Winky would arrive upon a scene that contained a connect the dots picture. He would then prompt the children at home to complete the picture, and the finished result would help him continue the story. Examples include drawing a bridge to cross a river, an axe to chop down a tree, or a cage to trap a dangerous lion. Another use of the interactive screen was to decode messages. An image would be displayed, showing only the vertical lines of the letters of the secret message, which viewers at home would quickly trace onto their magic screen. A second image would then display the horizontal lines, completing the text. A final use of the screen was to create the outline of a character with whom Jack Barry would have a conversation. It would seem meaningless to viewers without the screen, further encouraging its purchase.”

50 cents was a lot of money back then to buy a kit.  It is equivalent of $4.52 today.  Yes, on Wikipedia it says one of the reasons Winky Dink was cancelled was complaints by parents that children, who did not own kits, were writing right on the television screen.  Take a look with your grandchildren on YouTube:

There was also Pinky Lee (beginning in 1954, a lead-in to Howdy Doody), Romper Room (beginning 1954), and Captain Video and his Video Rangers ( 1949 to 1955, but at 7 pm so you can to be older to watch it).

If you can think of more, you are better than Grandpa and me, but your grandchildren will see what few offerings we had as children.  The grandchildren may ask about cartoons, as they are fixated on Pokemon now, and they will be surprised at how late we had cartoon television shows.  Have you tried to get them to eat spinach like Popeye?  It might be worth watching with grandchildren today at: Here is a Wikipedia list of all animated television shows from the beginning of television to the present:

One family ritual was watching the Ed Sullivan show together on Sunday nights from 8-9 pm.  We had to be ready for bed to get to see this variety show that offered a little bit of everything.  The February 9, 1964 show was introducing the Beatles to the United States.  Take a look with your grandchildren and tell them how their hair was so outlandish and hated by our parents.  Notice how we looked in the audience.

Today, it seems, the family ritual is each individual member on his or her electronic device.  This Grandma has taken photographs of each grandchild’s family often showing each self involved in his or her video or game, each with earphones.  The May 6, 2017 New York Times’ article, “’Two-Minute Warnings’ Make Turning off the TV Harder,” gives us a tip we can share with the parents of our grandchildren, that parents should just say, “you are done.” Read the entire article at:

Now this Grandma knows to tell all the generations that they are done on electronics with no prior warnings!

After sharing our early television history, maybe the grandchildren can appreciate what they have, and maybe convince their parents that they need a family ritual that is electronics free.  Perhaps watching old television shows from their parents youth* with



*When I asked the parents of the grandchildren their favorite television programs when they were young children, they forgot Sesame Street!  They remembered Different Strokes, Facts of Life, Silver Spoons, the Jeffersons, Jeopardy and the Price is Right.  The parents of the grandchildren said they loved Full House, and their children (our grandchildren) love it too.



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