HARLEM — Before the Thigh Master, Butt Master or Eight-Minute Abs, before Jack LaLanne touted the power of the juice, or Matthew Lesko boasted about free government money, or Ron Popeil reassured audiences that it was ok to “set it and forget it,” the broadcast day used to come to an end.
Some TV stations called it quits at 1 a.m. while some stayed on until 4 a.m. But at some point, they all pulled the plug for the night.
They haven’t done that for years, of course. There’s too much money to be made in infomercials. Still, I remember being just old enough to stay up late and get away with it, and the strange sense of accomplishment I felt whenever I lasted until the end.
Our family didn’t have cable back then and it seemed as if I was always watching KGO, the ABC affiliate in San Francisco, one of of our seven (count ’em, seven!) TV choices back then. So, it’s their version of the sign off I remember most clearly.
The station manager gave short editorial about some civic issue, the deep-voiced announcer declared the broadcast day finished, and a marching band played the Star Spangled Banner over a montage of scenes from all over the country. It always felt like I shouldn’t have been watching, as if I stayed up way later than I should have. And that late at night, the end of the broadcast day made me feel a little bit alone.
It’s crazy to look back at it from this era of constant media bombardment. A channel showing nothing? The idea is unfathomable. As is the notion that at the end of the broadcast day, you were cut off until the morning, whether you liked or not.
Now we’re all connected, of course, for better or worse. The broadcast day knows no end. It’s past 3 a.m. as I write this and there are about 400 television channels on the living room TV at my disposal. There’s YouTube, and Facebook, and Twitter — all of them going strong, 24/7 — all of them accessible from virtually anywhere.
It’s an era of endless possibilities — and for those who work in the information industry in the midst of the information age — profound challenges. We live in an exciting time, bound to one another like never before, pushing together to see how much further technology can take us.
But sometimes I miss being that kid laying awake at 4 a.m. — the announcer saying “this concludes our broadcast day,” the national anthem playing over an aerial shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, the color test pattern filling the screen, and then nothing — feeling eerily but blissfully disconnected.
* (Here is a version of the KGO sign-off I remember on YouTube. It may be a few years off, but it’s close enough. Skip ahead to the 2:29 mark. Now, as I did then, I don’t care for the random thunder in the middle of the anthem).
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