My Little Town 20120509: C. W. Clark and the TeeVee

(8 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

C. W., Mr. Clark to me, was a very nice man.  He worked at a TeeVee repair shop in Fort Smith (yes, people actually had TeeVees fixed back then when they broke) and moonlighted some as well.  At the time, a TeeVee was relatively much more expensive that they are now, so repairing them was the norm.

We had the same TeeVee from since I could remember until my father finally upgraded to a color unit around 1968 or so.  Actually, that is not quite true.  I remember a very old console unit with a round picture tube and watching it, but that must have been before I was three.

The one that remember best was a black and white console with a 4:3 aspect ratio rectangular screen.  I seem to remember that it was a Magnavox, but I could be wrong.  I do remember that it had a remote control.  My best guess was the we got it around 1961.  The remote control actually activated servo motors that physically turned the channel selector, and the volume, the contrast, and the brightness potentiometers.  It was 100% analogue and physical.

Those of you who grew up during the digital age have no idea how crude electronics were back in 1961.  I am amazed that they worked at all in retrospect.  Without going into gory electronics details, let me compare a modern TeeVee with a 1961 model.  This will also illustrate why TeeVees were so expensive at the time.

In a 1961 TeeVee, everything was analogue, and now everything is digital.  The single advantage that analogue had over digital was that weak signals could be received IF you could tolerate the “snow” and crackling sound.  With digital, it is “all or nothing” in that if the signal falls below a specific sampling rate, the picture just goes dark and there is NO sound.  The transistor had just been discovered, and was not used much in TeeVee then, whilst now integrated circuits, mostly a whole bunch of transistors on a chip rule.  The function of the chips are to control all functions of reception through reproduction, but with no transistors what was used?

Vacuum tubes were the workhorse devices before transistor technology became dominant.  Tubes were just that, evacuated small or large pieces of glass and metal that controlled electronic flow, often used as amplifiers.  Remember, the signal both then and now are relatively tiny, so something has to be used to boost them using power from the mains.

The only vacuum tubes that most digital age puppies have ever seen are the almost obsolete CRT picture tubes on computer displays and older TeeVees.  Yes, that big and heavy picture tube is a vacuum tube.  But in 1961 vacuum tubes provided almost all of the control functions for TeeVees as well as displaying the picture.

Vacuum tubes do have some advantages, and are still used for many applications.  If you have a microwave oven, then there is a vacuum tube called a magnetron in it that coverts electricity to microwaves.  High power applications, such as broadcast transmitter power outputs that operate at many thousands of watts are also still best handled by tubes.  However, they have several serious downsides.

First, the are power hungry beasties.  This is similar to the difference betwixt an incandescent light bulb and an LED source.  The incandescent one degrades most of the energy supplied to it as heat, whilst in an LED a much higher fraction or the energy goes to light.

Second, although the technology to manufacture tubes was quite advanced for the time, it was not amenable to making them that cheaply, because they were complex mechanically, with lots of small parts that had to be assembled quite precisely.  In contrast, chips can be made using modern X-ray lithographic methods by the thousands.

One of the biggest drawbacks with vacuum tubes is their relatively short life.  Unlike transistors, the mere act of powering up a tube hammers it with thermal stress, shortening its life.  Many tubes also have an emissive coating that is degraded over time as electrons are “boilt” off from the hot cathode.  Although most tubes did not have moving parts (the magnetron is a notable exception), the hot/cold cycling and other mechanical wear gets to them after a while.

So, how does this relate to C. W.?  AT that time, TeeVee repairmen made house calls!  Yes, they would come right into your living room and fix your TeeVee!  Back in those days the two most common failure modes for viewing TeeVee were vertical roll followed (at least in my experience) horizontal roll.  For those of you who have forgotten or never knew, there were two other controls on the panel.

One was called “vertical hold”, and if the picture started scrolling up or down, just to be replaced with the next frame, or several frames later, you could twist the potentiometer and stabilize the picture so that you could watch it without motion sickness.  The “horizontal hold” did the same thing if it tried to scroll left or right, but as I remember if the horizontal went out, the picture was horribly distorted, now really scrolling.

Enter C. W..  He would look at the picture, make adjustments, and then diagnose the problem.  In only a few minutes he would have the back off of the TeeVee (they were easy to remove at the time because tubes had to be replaced all the time) and pull the suspect tube.  Then he would plug it into his tube tester, and if it were bad, replace it.  That almost always did the trick, and when he set the hold pots back to nominal, almost like magick the picture was stable!

As a little kid completely addicted to TeeVee, I considered him to be godlike!  He was also nice to me, and kidded me a lot, in a good natured way.  I remember once when he came to repair the TeeVee I was drinking a Nesbitt’s Root Beer and he teased me about me drinking beer.  I was about seven.

As I told you earlier, he worked at a TeeVee repair shop in Fort Smith.  When I started going to Saint Anne’s High School and rode there with my mum, sometimes we would be right behind him.  He drove a little, brown station wagon that was easy to spot.  She observed one day that his ears looked just like the ears on a fox squirrel.  

I do not know what finally happened to C. W..  I am sure that he is no longer with us, or he would be on the list for the oldest 10 men in the US.  He was always nice to me, and thanks to him I could watch Captain Kangaroo without the image rolling.  I remember him very fondly.

For those of you that keep up with my medical condition, there is really good news.  I am about 50% functional insofar as my right wrist goes now, and am actually typing without my splint!  It is is the washing machine for a well deserved cleaning.  I have worn it almost 24 hours a day since I damaged my radial nerve, and it helped at LOT!  The rinse cycle is just about done, and I shall dry it and put it back on my forearm before I retire.  My recovery is accelerating.

Please add any recollections that you have about growing up, either in a small town or elsewhere.  I know that I love reading them, and from the feedback that I get, so does everyone else.

Crossposted at

The Stars Hollow Gazette,

Daily Kos, and



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  1. remembering distant memories?

    Warmest regards,


  2. I very much appreciate it.

    Warmest regards,


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