TV or not TV

I well remember our family’s first television set. I was twelve and returning from two weeks at the Guelph YMCA camp, Nagiwa. My father had picked me up at the bus and was driving me home when, just as our house hove into view, he pulled my cap down over my eyes. He didn’t want me to see the new television aerial decorating our house, preferring to unveil the surprise once I was inside.

Of course, I was excited by the RCA Victor black and white TV in a corner of the living room. “Can I turn it on?” I asked, the soul of good manners, then proceeded to watch anything that flickered for the next few days. The main entertainment came from the U.S. network stations in Buffalo, about 80 miles away as the signal flies. You probably could pick up CBC by sticking a finger out the window but, except for hockey, there wasn’t much on the public broadcaster for a young lad. Popular U.S. shows of that era included the Ed Sullivan Show, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World, I Love Lucy, and – Buffalo Bob Smith and Howdy Doody – airing just before supper. “Say kids, what time is it? It’s Howdy Doody time.”

Just as interesting was the American advertising that offered a better life than we knew in Canada. Among the mouth-watering delicacies unavailable here were Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks, Bosco syrup topping, and Beech-Nut gum. My father once went on business to Chicago and brought back a paper bag filled with packages of Beech-Nut. I was the star of the playground at King George Public School until my supply ran out.

Somewhere along the way, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) permitted Canadian stations that were running American shows to delete the U.S. ads and replace them with ones they’d sold. As revenue enhancement deals go, they don’t get any better. The audience was automatic; no effort was required. Canadians eventually rose up and demanded – not more Canadian shows – but to see the U.S. ads during the Super Bowl. And maybe that kind of thinking is what has always kept Canada back. We’ve had a few global successes, but for the most part, we’ve always been too eager to wallow in everything American rather than produce our own. Going against the grain is an old fight that’s always been worth fighting. May many more Canadians succeed at whatever homegrown ideas they can muster in 2020.

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