"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

KCMT TV brought the glowing tube here

Billy Graham once said "where there is no vision, the people perish."
Mad Magazine modified this to: "Where there is no television, the people perish."
People managed to survive here on the western Minnesota prairie before television.
Finally along came KCMT TV of Alexandria. It was quite adequate for opening up a new world of entertainment. It was affiliated with NBC which meant we watched Huntley and Brinkley for our evening news, not Walter Cronkite.
And we turned into The Virginian for our western fare, not Gunsmoke.
We heard and read about a lot of shows and personalities we couldn't see. We heard about Cronkite being "the most trusted man in America" but we had to take everyone's word for it - to trust them as it were.
We heard Huntley and Brinkley ending each night's news show with their trademark "good night Chet. . .good night David."
Chet Huntley seemed to fade as the years went by, while David Brinkley's celebrity (or "brand,"as the word is used today) remained strong. Impersonators came to like Brinkley.
I have to have a soft spot for Brinkley because of the way he got the giggles on the air once, quite hopelessly too. He was paired with John Chancellor at the time. Chancellor had just read a story about how some bad weather had damaged the Maraschino cherry crop. Chancellor gave some numbers on the Maraschino cherry industry.
We're less of an alcohol-oriented culture now so maybe you need a primer: Maraschino cherries adorn some mixed drinks in a frivolous way.
Anyway, the camera returned to Brinkley. Brinkley read the first few words of the next story, then he started breaking up. He composed himself but only for a couple seconds. He broke up again and this time he gave up trying to compose himself. They had to go to a commercial break.
It's fun sometimes so see an adult show the impulsiveness of a fifth grader.
Cronkite could have been living on Mount Olympus as far as most of us were concerned here in West Central Minnesota. We never saw him but we were supposed to revere him.
Cronkite eventually spoke out against the Viet Nam War. How quaint. Because looking back, it seemed like a pretty mild statement. It even seemed a little offensive in the eyes of my generation, because he talked of the need to leave "with honor."
We needed the impulsive judgment of a fifth grader. We simply needed to get out of Viet Nam.
President Lyndon Johnson reacted to the Cronkite comments by saying "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost America." It became a famous quote.
You certainly lost America, LBJ, because your name isn't even invoked in Democratic national campaigns anymore. You did so much to push America forward like with civil rights, but it's all negated by that war in our collective memory.
Maybe we're a warrior culture. Even with the boomers in power today, we acquiesce too easily in these things.
The "CMT" in KCMT TV stood for "Central Minnesota Television." The main studio was in Alexandria and there was a northern outlet in Walker.
The on-air personalities became like members of our families. It was always kind of a jolt when one of them left and was replaced by a "stranger."
The locally produced stuff could be a little primitive, certainly when observed through the prism of today.
There was a late-afternoon talk show called "Welcome Inn." This was the type of show that Martin Mull would later parody in "Fernwood 2nite."
It's mean to think of mocking those early local TV shows because those people were troopers, doing the best they could under a conservative code (i.e. nothing smacking of being edgy) in a fledgling medium.
The first "Welcome Inn" hosts were "Bud and Natalie." I can even remember that when it first aired, it had no name and in fact was called "The Show Without a Name." Viewers were invited to submit name suggestions.
I recall "Bud" (Gorham) being quite the snowmobile enthusiast in the early days of that sport. "Natalie" (Johnson) went on to become a tireless promoter of Alex Tech.
There was a church show called "Echoes from Calvary."
"Photo News" was a show that zeroed in on photos in newspapers.
There was a lively weekend music show called "Country Jubilee" that was pretty good. I'm biased on that because I played on a couple of shows myself. I played with the Tempo Kings out of Fairmount, North Dakota. Our host for those appearances was a guy named Archie who sang "Ain't She Sweet?" with us.
A talent often featured on that show was Jimmy Jensen. Who can forget Jimmy singing "Walking in my Winter Underwear?"
Some of the syndicated stuff on KCMT seemed pretty low-budget. There was a meager amount of football compared to today. You took what you got. We are so spoiled today, words really cannot describe.
Country kids out here had no real alternative to KCMT for a long time. Sometimes you could pick up the Garden City, SD, channel under "snow" (on the screen). It was always a thrill to get barely-adequate reception of that channel, so you could maybe catch a fleeting glimpse of "Gilligan's Island."
I remember being at the Minnesota State Fair one year, seeing a poster-size picture of Carol Burnett and asking "who's that?"
We out here in the hinterlands knew little about "Gunsmoke." But "Trampas" of the NBC western "The Virginian" was like a lovable older brother. He ended up upstaging the main character. Doug McClure played "Trampas."
"The Virginian" (satirized in Mad Magazine as "The Virginia Ham") had distinction as a 90-minute western. All the westerns of that time seemed to have a "moral of the story." It didn't seem to guide us boomers very well.
Slowly our narrow entertainment universe began to change as cable TV was born. It was called "Able Cable" in its early days in Morris. It was something that only the town kids could enjoy. I believe it had an erratic reputation in its very earliest days.
But it was definitely here to stay.
All the tech evolution eventually made KCMT obsolete. I'm not sure anyone has written a retrospective on the earliest days of KCMT. But it's something that should be done.
They had a real "character" weatherman whose name I can pronounce but I'm not sure I could spell it right. I can say that his first name was Jim.
"Bud" did the sports. I associate Jon Haaven with the earliest news segments. Haaven became a newspaper mogul. His Alexandria newspaper was eventually gobbled up by the Forum Communications chain.
Big, distant companies have come to blanket everything.
Cable TV has gone from being a blessing to being oddly unfulfilling. Every channel has to do what it must to get a maximum number of eyeballs, all the time. There's no time for anything really thoughtful to develop. Nothing incremental except for that glorious exception: C-Span. Nothing for us to really take time to appreciate.
We turn to our computers. In fact, TV itself seems to be migrating to online. It's a zoo.
Just think back to when there was one TV channel available to many of us, and it moved along at a lazy pace with lots of imperfections. We thought it was just dandy.
KCMT owner Glenn Flint made rare appearances on the screen to give commentary. I understand this fulfilled the FCC requirement for "public service." I recall the commentary as conservative but not hard-edged. Flint was known as a trumpet player in the area. (That was my "ax" too.)
No late-night TV in those early days. You knew you were at the end of the "broadcast day" when you heard the Sousa-type band rendition of the National Anthem. And saw stock footage of U.S. Navy jets taking off from aircraft carriers etc.
After that you were into the dark abyss of no TV. No infomercials at 3 a.m. Or "Girls Gone Wild" promos.
Just listen for the coyotes outside, I guess. Maybe we all slept better.
If you rose early in the morning you'd see that "test pattern" with that signature Indian headdress - perhaps politically incorrect.
Perhaps the headdress was a good way of testing the colors. But we just had black and white in the early 1960s.
Color TV fascinated us when it first became available. Sometimes if you were browsing at Morris Radio and TV, they'd let you into the "back room" where you could watch "color TV" for a few minutes. Maybe you'd get your enthusiasm whetted for buying a color set.
We "adjusted" the TV set for color in those days. A certain hue might not be quite right.
There were knobs also for the "horizontal" and "vertical." The picture would "flip" if the "vertical" ("vert" for short) was out of whack.
TV helped make the boomers what we are. I'll leave it at that.
Blame "Captain Kangaroo," not Dr. Spock.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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