Off The Air

The Nest loves political incorrectness.

The Nest loves political incorrectness.

No, don’t adjust your computer monitors!  My blog isn’t shutting down.  Sorry to make you think I was going to improve the quality of content on the internet by going away.  No, for flashback fridaytoday’s Flashback Friday, I want to talk about a phenomenon that truly is a dinosaur these days… and one my night owlish self was utterly fascinated with during my younger days.  Television has provided us so much during its seven decades of dominating our entertainment and information needs, broadcasting countless hours of news, movies, sports, sitcoms, dramas, and of course Honey Boo Boo.  But sometimes, television was at its most interesting after the broadcast day had ended…

Not to mention more colorful!

Not to mention more colorful!

In the olden days of broadcasting, it made little sense for television stations to broadcast during the overnight when few people would be watching since the cost to stay on the air all night exceeded the amount of ad revenue the station could bring in.  So almost every station signed off the air for some period of time during the middle of the night.  The transmitter, however, kept right on humming along… so the station had to broadcast something when it wasn’t showing regular programming.  During television’s golden era in the 50’s and 60’s, that was often a simple test card, which was mounted on an easel in front of a camera in the TV studio and actually filmed for broadcast.  The best known of these test cards is the one I led off this post with… only with Chief Turnoffateevee’s mug in there instead of ES’s.

The tribe is not amused!

The tribe is not amused!

More familiar to the generation of readers I typically dedicate these flashback posts to is the pretty colored bars pattern.  This pattern was typically accompanied by an atonal sine wave, and if you woke up at 3:00 in the morning back in the 80’s, this is what you’d probably see and hear when you turned on your TV…

I’ll give you a moment for your eardrums to recuperate from that 60 seconds of pure aural pleasure.

That'll clean your ears out better than a sanitary napkin.

That’ll clean your ears out better than a sanitary napkin.

Now you may be asking yourself what the purpose was behind these test cards and test patterns that would air late at night when literally nothing was on.  It’s hard to remember now that digital and LCD televisions have been commonplace for so long, but back in the days when the boob tube was actually a tube, it contained several different adjustment knobs to allow viewers to fine tune the picture.  While test cards and test patterns were primarily for the operators at the studio to calibrate their equipment, the overnight broadcast of these strange graphics was also a convenience for those at home to help adjust their sets.

Damned vertical hold!!!

Damned vertical hold!!!

Every 20th century television had about six knobs on it that controlled different aspects of the picture, like the contrast, brightness, and of course the vertical hold.  I’m sure there is a good technical reason for why it was necessary to have a knob to turn the vertical hold down low enough for the picture to start jumping every few seconds, but I’m too stupid to figure out why.

Geez, I'm going to have to wait for the station to go off the air to fix this damned thing!

Geez, I’m going to have to wait for the station to go off the air to fix this damned thing!

Of course, the reason these crazy off the air shenanigans are being discussed in a Flashback Friday post is because a certain 1990’s innovation completely destroyed the whole concept of television stations going off the air.  Of course, that would be the infomercial.  The overnight hours became filled with these 30 minute advertisements two decades ago, and if sponsors wanted to pay good money for a half hour block of time when nobody but insomniacs and myself were watching, that sounded like a better deal than showing the most annoying rainbow in history.

Thank you Susan Powter for stopping the insanity of strange overnight graphics and dog whistles.

Thank you Susan Powter for stopping the insanity of strange overnight graphics and dog whistles.

We here at The Nest always lived for the late night, and have to admit we miss these old, boring, one-note television downtime fillers, and would thus like to give a salute to the people out there who gave us a pretty palette of primary and secondary colors accompanied to a symphony of monotone.  In everlasting tribute to these bygone days, The Nest will be signing off for the next 24 hours, and we hope you enjoyed our broadcast day.  And now, one more tradition of the off the air process here in the good ol’ USA, and one which was referenced in one of the cheesiest but most awesome songs of the 1970’s…. ladies and gentlecritters, our National Anthem.  Good night, and we’ll resume broadcasting with tomorrow’s Saturday Squirrel….


About evilsquirrel13

Bored former 30-something who has nothing better to do with his life than draw cartoon squirrels.
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26 Responses to Off The Air

  1. merbear74 says:

    I love Fridays and Rainbow Donkey!

  2. PigLove says:

    Mommy said she’s old. She remembers all of that on television. XOXO – Bacon

  3. You mean like this? beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep! (ears bleed). Considering infomercials these days, I think I’d prefer the ear splitting noise. When I was really sick last year, I watched a lot of stupid infomercials. After a while, and some fever, it was like, hey, I NEED one of those leaf vacuums.

    • I actually think I’d prefer the screeching to Susan Powter…. though who couldn’t listen to Esteban play his herring bone guitar for half an hour five times a night? I guess when you can’t be a success the conventional way, you have to go the infomercial route to attract fans….

  4. Question: What do you use to make your computer art? Do you have a graphics pad or do you just use a computer program? I’m thinking of getting one of those graphic pads so I was curious.

  5. merbear74 says:

    Cause he is talented and awesomesauce, that’s why!!

  6. gentlestitches says:

    HaHa! TV came quite late to our part of the world. ( riverina region) When it did arrive it started at around 4pm and off at around 10:30. Two choices initially, watch or don’t watch. I hear colour will be along soon. 🙂 How things have changed. “Fat Cat” used to come on at around 7.30pm and tell all the kids to go to bed. Can you believe he was axed because he “didn’t have a clear gender!” Fair Dinkum!!! It was in all the papers. 🙂

  7. fransiweinstein says:

    Thanks for the memories 🙂 I’d forgotten about the knobs and the test patterns and the colour bars and the National anthem.

  8. reocochran says:

    It is true, television has come a long way, and other times, as mentioned there are Honey Boo Boo moments. I am thankful for PBS, good shows on Arts and Entertainment, other channels. I like the way we now address issues, we don’t have so many stereotypes and we are able to choose from more programming than ever before. I liked the days with the sign off, I liked the VHS and times where you could hear the latest songs with videos and feel like you were “hip” or cool.” Late night t.v. in Cleveland included Ghoulardi, Big Chuck and Houlihan and other funny/horror mixed shows. It was always cool when there were nights you were allowed to stay up and watch until the Nat’l. Anthem came on. Great post, got me “jabbering” too much, I am afraid!

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