Nostalgia for that time when having a cable box was a thing
October 29, 2019 11:33 PM   Subscribe

 
This is fun! Boy, I sure would've loved to have lived through a version of the 80s and 90s that actually had that many music channels.
posted by acidnova at 11:55 PM on October 29 [3 favorites]


The first cable box we had used switches that had the most satisfying action. It felt like you were making things happen when you pressed one of them.

It was wired, wood grain, styled vaguely like a VCS or Intellivision, but covered in 36 channel selection switches. Press one and you'd feel a satisfying ka-chunk as the switch latched into place along with a tinny pop as the previously selected switch popped back up.

My fascination with the apparent complexity of the mechanism probably contributed to its relatively short lifetime in our home.
posted by wierdo at 11:57 PM on October 29 [24 favorites]


Our first cable remote was a wired box with a slider for every channel.
It had 40 something positions, but as I recall, we only had about 15 actual channels.
Which naturally were not adjacent.
So you'd slide from 2 to 4 to 9 to 17.

The cord that attached to the TV was something like 25 feet long, so you could get it tangled around every piece of solid wood, brown on brown furniture.
posted by madajb at 1:14 AM on October 30 [7 favorites]


Our 80's cable box was this small box with a cable in/out and a manual dial with maybe 50? channels. But the best part was that you could fold a bit of stiff paper "just so" and slide it in the crack between the faceplate and and the case and if you wiggled it "just so" you could unlock all of the pay channels. It was a valuable skill to have.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:26 AM on October 30 [6 favorites]


Our 90s cable box was a comically large remote control that worked via Rf signal to the very large satellite dish with mechanical positioning bits; when you wanted to watch Vh1 for example you had to type in the satellite address using the remote and then the satellite dish would slowly re-orient so that it was receiving the correct signal from space.
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:41 AM on October 30 [2 favorites]


When my street was first wired for cable, my brother and his friends would amuse themselves by taking one of their own remotes, sneaking around the neighborhood and creeping up outside people's houses to see if they were watching TV, and then they'd change the channel on them and run.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:11 AM on October 30 [5 favorites]


Cable didn’t reach our area until after I had left for university. What I remember most about my 70s (and early 80s)TV experiences we’re:

1) the aerial control. There was a dial which we turned to move the antenna on the roof. It made a cherchunk sound for each turn.

2) we were the first in the neighborhood with a Betamax and the wired remote had only Play, Stop and FF buttons. Rewinding could only be some from the huge main unit. I remember attempting to record Live Aid without commercials.
posted by terrapin at 4:15 AM on October 30 [2 favorites]


Minneapolis wasn't wired for cable until well into the 1980s. When my neighborhood was reached (late 84?) video rental places were already getting established. A lot of the music videos that the rest of the country saw first on MTV were viewable on projection screens in bars.
posted by gimonca at 4:32 AM on October 30 [1 favorite]


Also, nobody in the 1970s had a TV that looked like that, unless it was supplied by Sid & Marty Krofft.
posted by gimonca at 4:33 AM on October 30 [8 favorites]


We first got cable in the early 70s, when it was still just CATV. No box, just the coax and the little RF converter to attach to the VHF antenna screws on our B&W television. The only channels were the four local ones, one from Bangor, and a station from Montreal for the local Francophones. It was a big deal when they added Channel 38 and Channel 56 from Boston because my dad was a big Bruins fan, and those channels had all the kid shows in the afternoon.
posted by briank at 4:39 AM on October 30


The first cable box we had used switches that had the most satisfying action. It felt like you were making things happen when you pressed one of them.

At least on ours, if you pressed two of them, sometimes you could get premium channels that you hadn't paid for (read: porno).
posted by uncleozzy at 4:47 AM on October 30 [1 favorite]


This is great! My screensaver of choice these days is xanalogtv, with the images directory full of old ID cards from the TV stations of my childhood, screenshots of the "Community Bulletin Board" channels, Civil Defense/CONELRAD graphics, test patterns, "we're off the air" messages, and so on. And of course it shows these with all of the snow, ghosting, and other analog VHF/UHF artifacts which are basically a thing of the past.
posted by jquinby at 5:34 AM on October 30 [5 favorites]


jquinby: I used to do that too! I wonder where my directory full of old test patterns is. I don't use it at work these days because most of the people at my current job are too young to know what it was and it would brand me as An Old. Ah well.

I remember when my mom visited a friend of hers in Columbus and they had QUBE. I was blown away by it, mainly by the grid-style channel-selection remote…
posted by Ampersand692 at 5:44 AM on October 30 [3 favorites]


The first box I had connected via telephone line. I still have no idea how that worked. There was no coaxial cable, but the box had inputs for it and several other odd connecting things.

But this wonderful toy! Too cool! Watching "Guiding Light" from the 70's is really weird.
posted by james33 at 6:43 AM on October 30


One of my earliest memories was returning to the house after errands to the TV blasting and the channels changing rapidly. No one was home, but the reason the TV was on soon became clear: the cat was laying on top of the cable box and his weight was depressing the channel change button. The volume was blasting because my mom hadn't turned it down after she was done blow drying her hair. Tiger was not very happy with the noise of the TV, nor with my howling laughter. TV blasting, channels flipping, cat's tale flipping; what a great moment.

Happy USA national cat day!
posted by wires at 6:56 AM on October 30 [5 favorites]


The neighbors a few doors down got cable first, and they got all the channels, including HBO, Showtime, The Movie Channel, etc. I can't imagine how much their bill was every month, and in our neighborhood, too! I was friends with one of the daughters and that's how I saw "Delirious" before we got cable ourselves. I loved HBO's little intro to their features.

We got cable (basic) in 1984, after my aunt had the picture tube on the big color TV in the living room fixed after 3 years. Much to her chagrin, once the installer was done, he tuned it first to MTV right as the video for "Method of Modern Love" was just starting, and I squealed (Daryl Hall's picture was one of the bigger ones in my locker at school). Our cable box was all black with buttons on top and red digital numbers in front. I got permission to watch Live Aid in 1985, but only because "those heathen rock stars" were "doing something Christians should have already been doing."

Prior to cable in my area was SelecTV on one of the UHF channels, and the teen boys on my block had plenty of discussions on how to jack the signal. I'd have to sneak to watch NBC's "Friday Night Videos", overnight broadcasts of MuchMusic on the 13" B&W TV in my room with the volume way down, and "The Video Music Machine" on Saturday mornings.

I've seen schedules for the 1970s, and there's a lot of TV I don't remember, except for afternoon reruns of 50s and 60s shows, Sesame Street, Mister Rogers, Captain Kangaroo, Saturday morning cartoons and Saturday nights on CBS (I'd have to go to bed after Carol Burnett). I was a little kid in the 70s, and not up late enough to watch much prime-time TV until I was 10 or so.
posted by droplet at 7:05 AM on October 30


uncleozzy: At least on ours, if you pressed two of them, sometimes you could get premium channels that you hadn't paid for (read: porno).

Similar, but different: my 1990-something Buick LeSabre (a literal grandpa car, handed down to me by my grandfather) had six push-button radio presets. One of my friends or I realized that pushing two adjacent buttons created a new preset, so that increased the total number of possible saved stations up to 11.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:30 AM on October 30 [1 favorite]


My 70s tv was a huge heavy plastic faux-wood box that got hot on top. The VCR was enormous and had big fat buttons and a pop up thing on top you put the tape into.
posted by emjaybee at 8:00 AM on October 30 [3 favorites]


Fun! I'm gonna be playing around with this all day...
posted by aka burlap at 8:01 AM on October 30


Nostalgia for that time when having a cable box was a thing

there's a word for it, I think, or a phrase. Nostalgia for a thing that never happened. Sun Ra's Space Is The Place never aired on TV in my 1970s universe, but I sure wish it did ... and that's the decade I truly watched TV.
posted by philip-random at 8:23 AM on October 30


This intersects perfectly with my vaporwave O B S E S S I O N.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:30 AM on October 30 [1 favorite]


Absolutely, gimcona -- any 70s home would have had a big wood console TV, not that little plastic jobbie.
posted by jrochest at 8:45 AM on October 30 [2 favorites]


While my grandparents had maybe that exact TV, my parents' 70s TV was a non-console "portable", probably 18-19" (that was big at the time). We even had a TV cart so you (I mean, two people generally) could roll it into another room for special occasions. And I (spoiled only child) got my own TV in my room around 1980, which was plastic woodgrain.

I get a much stronger nostalgic hum from old VCRs. Our cable boxes barely changed over the 10 years I was in my small hometown, but each VCR we got was a vast technological leap. The first one we got was too heavy for the abovementioned TV cart and we had to keep it on the floor. I could work the entire thing with my toes.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:03 AM on October 30


The other day I was telling Mr. Thinky that one of my great wishes as a kid was that you could stop a show (like, The Wild, Wild West) when you got called for dinner and then when you returned, the show would still be where you stopped it! What joy that would be!

Now I live in that world.

I really wish that I had wished for something much better.

(Yep we had the console TV but our first box was for Pong.)
posted by allthinky at 9:10 AM on October 30 [2 favorites]


My first tv was old when I got it in the 90's: a 10" B&W off-brand set with UHF and VHF knobs. I got cable through a gray plastic box that put all the channels onto the UHF and had a little conversion chart. My "remote" was a plastic squeezie thing that made a hissing/whistling sound that would turn the power to the set on or off. I learned how to make the noise myself and would turn off the set from bed by making the horrible skund.

I am None of the Above Seems That Weird to Me Years Old, which seems very old indeed.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:20 AM on October 30 [4 favorites]


Hey terrapin, I recorded Live Aid on Betamax too.
I managed to get the video from cable and the audio simulcast in stereo on FM. Did not figure out how to sync them, alas.

No consoles in my life. 60's TV was my parents' 19" B&W; 70's, we were gifted with a couple of 13" models, some color. 80's, some bigger second-hand color sets/monitors.
I've had a couple of cable boxes, but I can't remember what any of them looked like.
The 70's TV got me nostalgic for 'snow', so I just loaded up a 10-hour video on YouTube.
posted by MtDewd at 9:35 AM on October 30


jrochest: "Absolutely, gimcona -- any 70s home would have had a big wood console TV, not that little plastic jobbie."

That's our exact TV in the '70s, The RCA XL-100. That thing was a beast; I inherited it and took it to college one year and it was like moving a washing machine. Now a 25" TV is considered small.
posted by octothorpe at 9:52 AM on October 30 [1 favorite]


I remember when saying a TV was "portable" meant it was an appliance you could easily unplug and move from place to place, like a blender or a toaster... as opposed to a console tv set which was more like an oven or a washing machine in terms of moving it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:02 AM on October 30


I never had a stand-alone cable box until DirectTV in 2002. Before, that it was always just coax straight into the tv.

My grandparents had one of those giant satellite dishes in the '80s. That thing ruled.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:34 AM on October 30


I remember when saying a TV was "portable" meant it was an appliance you could easily unplug and move from place to place, like a blender or a toaster

We had cable by the time I was old enough to care, but there was a local station that was over-the-air only, and I discovered that I could get it on something very much like this little portable TV that we had. They showed Star Trek reruns every night and I would lie on the floor of my bedroom with my face like six inches from the screen, watching Kirk and crew in tiny black and white.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:20 AM on October 30


I had a Panasonic TV just like this one but mine was bright yellow. I bought it myself with paperboy and birthday money savings from Epsteins' Department Store in 1976 and used it until the early nineties. It spent most of its last decade as a monitor for a C-64. I wrote many term papers using a floppy based word-processor while staring at that tiny blurry screen.
posted by octothorpe at 11:41 AM on October 30 [1 favorite]


The neighbors a few doors down got cable first, and they got all the channels, including HBO, Showtime, The Movie Channel, etc. I can't imagine how much their bill was every month, and in our neighborhood, too

It was 80s money, so not quite the seeming pittance it would be today, but it was under $50 for that level of service. Even as late as 2000 it was maybe $80 a month where I lived. Not pocket change, to be sure, but not really the sole province of the rich, either. Still, phone bills were still only $12 with tone dialing surcharge (for the first line, second lines cost more)and basic cable around the same, so it wasn't exactly cheap, either.

For a while, TV service actually got cheaper in real terms, before the media companies were allowed to reconsolidate and abuse their market position with impunity, taking advantage of deregulation that contemplated robust competition and bribing their way into merger approval after merger approval, leaving them answerable to no one.
posted by wierdo at 2:36 PM on October 30


It spent most of its last decade as a monitor for a C-64.

My first TV was a clunky C-64 monitor I’d inherited from my dad, connected via RCA cables to a VCR which functioned as a TV tuner, with audio routed through the aux jack of an old wood-paneled stereo from the 70’s that weighed about 50lbs and had satisfyingly clunky metal switches and knobs. I was quite proud of that setup, which was perfectly adequate for my teenaged purposes.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:58 PM on October 30


And yes, my grandpa's C band dish was fascinating to me as a child.

It taught me a bit of basic physics regarding noise and the cosmological microwave background radiation, the polarization of light, and basic intuitions about how waves sum, among many other tidbits about electronics and motors and gears and such and made understanding all kinds of things later on in life a lot easier. It also taught me about orbits and stationkeeping and the celestial mechanics that cause the satellite blackouts around the equinoxes. To this day, I don't look up at the sky and see a two dimensional painting, I see a three dimensional stage moving in an obvious and unmistakable way.

See, that first receiver of his was actually three different boxes, and they weren't smart enough to keep you from telling it to do something that would end up bending metal. Their glowing red LED segment displays and few buttons hid an entire world, but you had to really know what it all did to find anything at all.

Back in those days, once tape had replaced film, the news got to New York and everywhere else on wild feeds, broadcast in the clear on whatever transponder was available, cheap, and on a bird visible to everyone they intended to be watching. Raw video, remote stand-ups, and even the finished product, all there for all to see, at least for a while.

Eventually, it all got more polished, scrambling and encryption became a thing, and all in one whiz bang boxes that would point the dish, rotate the feedhorn, and adjust the skew all automatically and with fancy graphics to boot, if you even still had a big dish at all. It makes the interesting things that remain to this day far more accessible, but we also miss out on the real wonder that is a radio repeater hanging in the sky over our heads, and what that really means. Even here, where WiFi, fiber optics, and dense storage media are all operating on the bleeding edge of what physics even allows so that we can author posts and make comments, we are inured to the beauty of the underlying phenomena and the staggering achievements that make this media possible.

It is as it ever was.
posted by wierdo at 11:57 PM on October 30 [5 favorites]


It was 80s money, so not quite the seeming pittance it would be today, but it was under $50 for that level of service. Even as late as 2000 it was maybe $80 a month where I lived.

Back then didn't HBO, Showtime, etc only have 1 channel each? So you paid $5 a month for a single HBO channel or $3 for Showtime. There has been some minor amount of price increase in TV packages but you also get way more channels, so it's actually tough to say without price comparisons if cable was cheaper then. That's why we all wanted to unbundle in the 2000s - we got too many channels we didn't want and wanted to pay less and get less.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:15 AM on October 31


I remember specifically paying $10 a month for TCI cable in ~1986 and another $5 for HBO.
posted by octothorpe at 9:56 AM on October 31


In 1993ish it was $5 for the first premium, $4 for #2, $3 for #3, and they threw in Encore (all of them) for free if you paid for the other three. I believe it was still TCI in our town at that point; it hadn't quite yet been sold off piecemeal to fund Craig's cellular dreams, but would be soon. At that point, Encore was the only premium that had multiple channels and Starz wasn't available in our town yet. (I don't remember seeing it in the C Band guide that early, either, so I don't think it had launched yet, but I'm not positive. It definitely had by the next time I had cable in 1997 or so, when expanded basic was $38 after tax)

Rates (and channel lineups!) were still regulated by most cities they operated in, as the feds hadn't yet preempted most local regulatory authority, so exact prices and policies varied quite a bit, even between adjacent cities.
posted by wierdo at 2:36 PM on October 31


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