Featured Column
Week of 5.30.2005
"Television is here to stay..."
          Let’s take a trip backwards in time, to when television first started.
          In 1945 TV was an exotic toy. Three years later Milton Berle had an audience pushing 5 million. Berle, a popular nightclub comic noted for borrowing jokes, became the first big television star. Starting with a blend of wacky costumes, old vaudeville routines and a parade of wisecracking burlesque buddies Uncle Miltie hosted the “Texaco Star Theater” and made Tuesday nights his.
           Berle’s closest rival was gossip columnist Ed Sullivan, who hosted a Sunday night variety show called “The Toast of the Town.” The show debuted in 1948 and remained on the air for 23 years.
          It was 1948. One Friday, late in the afternoon, my dad pulled his old Studebaker in front of our house. He got out of the car, leaned over the roof and whistled for me. I came running. He said, “How about giving me a hand, it’s kind of heavy.” He walked around to the back of the car and opened the trunk. There laid a box with large lettering stamped on it, spelling out “Motorola.” My dad lifted one side and I the other. We sidestepped into the house where we placed the large box on the living room floor. My mother, grandmother, baby sister and I watched as my dad made a dramatic production of opening the mystery box.
          Slowly, carefully he separated the box from its contents. He took a deep breath and lifted a heavy imitation wood and plastic device and placed it on a small table in the living room. 
          Dad had brought home our family’s first television set. It had a 7 inch (diagonal) screen and everything that appeared on the screen was in black and white. Color TV was years away for us.
          The Motorola was plugged in, the rabbit ears unfolded and connected when dad gave the honor of turning the on switch to mom. Click went the TV and the screen came alive, first with a snowy texture and then a test pattern. We all had big smiles on our faces. Imagine! Our family had a television set.
          It was 2 hours before the test pattern was replaced with a one camera cooking show on TV station KTLA from Los Angeles.
         We all sat and watched that 7 inch screen the rest of the afternoon, and into the late evening. Following the cooking show came wrestling from the Olympic Auditorium. Imagine, there in our living room came wrestling, with announcer Dick Lane. We watched Gorgeous George strut and pose as the audience went wild. After wrestling came a brief one- camera newscast. Still glued to the small screen, we watched an old western movie starring Hopalong Cassidy. We stopped watching only when the late evening test pattern came on the screen, signaling the end of the broadcast day.
          Berle and Ed Sullivan were soon followed on the new medium by show biz veterans Jimmy Durante, Red Skelton, Groucho Marx, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca and then the great Jackie Gleason as Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden in the “Honeymooners,” about a working-class family dreaming of, and scheming up, ways to make it big in America. 
          Television reached 17 million living rooms by 1951. All America was entertained by “I love Lucy.” Detective shows like “Dragnet” became popular.
          Soon the TV screens were filled with the family shows that America took to heart and tried to emulate – “Father Knows Best,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “The Donna Reed Show” and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”
          As broadcast hours increased and more homes tuned in, television found a new role to play: Electronic babysitter. “Howdy Doody” started its long run and the tube’s potential for influencing kids grew by gleeful leaps and bounds. Next came “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” “Ding Dong School,” “The Mickey Mouse Club” and “Captain Kangaroo.”
          Westerns, too, were kids’ favorites, beginning with “Hopalong Cassidy,” starring William Boyd, followed quickly by “The Roy Rogers Show,” “The Gene Autry Show,” “The Lone Ranger” and “Gunsmoke.”
          Great drama shows emerged to bring theatrical class to TV. Viewers enjoyed quality drama on shows such as “Kraft Television Theatre,” “Playhouse 90” and “Studio One.” Rod Steiger, Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anne Bancroft and Eva Marie Saint all launched their careers on television.
          These were the years of great investigative journalists like Edward R. Murrow. No one was more admired than Murrow, whose sad eyes and smoldering cigarette became national icons of journalistic integrity.
          A member of the Federal Communications Commission, in 1948, daringly stated, “Television is here to stay. It is a new force unloosed in the land.”
          Over the years television has improved a thousand fold. Americans and indeed, much of the world, has formed an addiction to watching TV. The screens are bigger and brighter. Most of the content is intelligent, helpful and entertaining. We can do without the Brittany Spears, the Jessica Simpsons, reality shows like “The New Gilligan’s Island,” “Fear Factor,” “Donald Trump” and “The Survivors.” But, that’s why we have remote controls – to each his own.
          And yet, with the new giant plasma screens, high definition pictures and better actors, directors and creativity nothing since has excited me more than that late afternoon in 1948 when we plugged in that diminutive Motorola and the 7 inch screen lit up and we saw our first test pattern.
          We felt, indeed, that we had seen the beginning of a miracle.
The magic in our homes
      Ron was born in the Bronx, New York. He was raised in Southern California and lived in Honolulu, Hawaii for three decades. He attended Inglewood High School and U.C.L.A.. His youthful goal was to become a major league baseball player. In Hawaii Ron played on a series of championship softball teams. He is an active tennis player.
      Ron’s career began at the Inglewood Daily News where as a youngster was enrolled in a publisher training program. He served as an advertising salesman, circulation manager, writer and layout and design staffer. He has been a newspaper publisher at the Oregon City Oregon Enterprise Courier, the Beloit Wisconsin Daily News, the Elizabeth, New Jersey Daily Journal and This Week Magazines (Hawaii).
      Ron lives with his wife, Marilyn, in San Diego, California. His two children, Douglas and Diane also live in the San Diego area. Ron’s interests range far and wide and are reflected in his columns diverse topics.
Ron Cruger