When I was about 10 years old, there were only three television sets within 5 miles of my house.

Our next door neighbor had one and, 3 miles away, two of my relatives had sets.

We were not close friends with the neighbor, so I had no opportunity to ever watch TV there.

And one of the relatives was married to the meanest man I ever knew (the temperature in hell rose 10 degrees when he died), so we seldom, if ever, set foot in that house.

But the other relative had a TV and a brother about my age who didn’t have a television in his house, either. So every Saturday, he and I would migrate to his sister’s house to watch all those morning shows.

His name was Kenny and we are good friends to this day. Childhood bonds seldom break. These days, we seem to only run into each other once or twice a year in the woods while hunting at my farm, but as old friends do, we just pick up where we left off the last time.

Some Saturday mornings, Kenny and I would get to his sister’s house in time to watch the early cartoons, but we were almost always there in time for “Howdy Doody.” That show, which was pretty tame for two 10-year-old outdoor boys, was not our favorite, but it got us to the Westerns that came on later.

We always watched “Fury” (the story of a horse and the boy who loved him) and I suppose that was our favorite show.

Then, at noon as I remember, there was “Sky King,” a modern cowboy who saved the Western world with his Piper Cub or some such airplane.

Hopalong Cassidy was also a Saturday morning favorite, as were B-movies featuring the likes of Lash LaRue, Whip Wilson and Johnny Mack Brown. Two decades earlier, these cowboys were thrilling young boys at Saturday matinee movies, but now they were cashing in with TV audiences.

We could barely control ourselves during these Saturday morning Westerns, and when they were over, we headed for the rocks and hills in several nearby fields to play cowboys until Kenny’s ride came to take him home.

No, it wasn’t the Spahn Ranch (where many of those old Westerns were shot), but there were enough big rocks to hide behind and shoot at each other. We had great fun with nothing more than our imagination and maybe a cap gun with no caps.

Thinking back, Kenny’s sister had a pretty nice television (black and white, of course) with a 24- (or was it 26?) inch screen.

The relative with the mean husband had a TV that was about 3 feet wide and 2 feet high, but with only a 10-inch screen. On her TV, the people looked like ants.

Those old TVs, like the radios of the day, didn’t come on the instant you turned the button, either. It might take as long as a minute for the tubes in the back to warm up and bring you a picture.

And someone who watches a digital TV today would ruin their eyes on one of those old sets. They were black and white, but more often than not, there was more white than black. This was atmospheric “interference” commonly referred to as “snow.”

Depending on the weather conditions, it was sometimes so bad that it seemed that there was a blizzard inside Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall. Cheap antennas 60 miles from the nearest TV station did not make for great reception.

But Kenny and I didn’t really care. As long as we could see the white hats on the good guys and the black hats on the bad guys and hear the roar of their pistols and the thundering hooves of their horses, we were satisfied.

While the Platters were singing “Saturday Night at the Movies,” we were enjoying Saturday mornings in front of the TV.

And when the TV cowboys stabled their horses and hung up their six guns, it was time for us to go outside and be cowboys ourselves.

It was great fun.

Donnie Johnston:


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