By Citromike – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Ancestors, Legends & Time

When television was a novelty

Picture of Jeanne Newby

Jeanne Newby

April 10, 2024

I enjoy the remarks of a certain age folk, who say, “My parents had remote controls on their television, and I was the remote who got up and changed the channel.”Memories of the televisions of the ’50s and ’60s would drive the new generations batty.” We have a memory from Dave Allen in which he shares his memory of televisions from days gone by.

Dave Allen, remembers his dad, Fred, buying a brand new Zenith console from Mallos TV. Fred would diligently turn the adjustment knobs from the back then come around front to observe the results on the television screen. The next step was to turn the rabbit ears several angles, directions and combinations to obtain a better picture. The closest television station at this time was Springfield, some 70 miles away. It would be awhile before KOAM-TV in Pittsburg would be operational.

To get a better reception, Fred used the crystal radio trick. He connected the rabbit ears to all windows upstairs and downstairs and even to the clothesline. Adjusting the fine tuning in back, lighted by a 6-volt lantern and his one-eyed scrutiny from a kneeling position, Fred would ask the boys, “How’s that? Is that better?” Not trusting their judgment, Fred would crawl around to verify for himself. Getting up and down to check the screen was playing on Fred’s patience, so he came up with a better idea.

Fred turned the television screen toward the wall, which left the tuning knobs facing the sofa. He then took down the mantle mirror and angled it so that he could see the screen while playing with the adjustment knobs to his heart’s content.

Fred was well pleased with his self-taught tuning talents, but he was especially pleased with the mirror, claiming the reflected image was somehow even better than looking directly at the television screen. A drawback of the mirror was reading Milton Berle and other words backwards. But the quick thinker Fred came up with a solution. If there were enough words to warrant translation, then it became Ruth’s turn to do a mirror trick. She would hold her makeup mirror at an angle to view the mirror behind the television set so the letters would be in the right order. And looking in the makeup mirror made the picture even clearer, although a bit smaller than the screen image. Fred was pretty proud of his ingenuity… was even thinking there might be a future patent for his mirror images. With enough mirrors, television could be as clear as going to the movies. The rest of the family did not share his enthusiasm.

Dave recalls that the evening news followed Milton Berle, which was then followed by a picture of an Indian Chief who never moved or said anything, but was mesmerizing just the same. They watched the “Today Show” with Dave Garroway and J.Fred Mugg (the monkey), and Dave Allen said in the background you could see the downtown department stores. They always thought it was Springfield, finding out in later years that the show was being filmed in New York.

That Indian Chief was a common memory for many. When Fred Spille had his shop downtown in Webb City, he always kept a television in the window and it was turned on to catch the attention of anyone walking by. Many a time, there would be a crowd in front of the store; watching something of interest on the screen. Spille hoped that it would give someone the desire to buy a television set of their own. But even late in the evening when nothing was on but the Indian Chief, folks would stop as they walked by and stare. Some set their watches to happen by the store as their favorite television show came on the air.

I do believe with all the reality shows that are on the air now a days there could have been a place for Dave Allen and his family to entertain the folks. They never had a dull moment, and he might have outdone “Dennis the Menace” in his daring adventures! Dave, even if you are no longer with us, Thanks for the Memories!

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.