Sunday, May 16, 2010

My dad, the inventor


Nearly sixty years ago my dad did something that seems pretty goofy now, but at the time we were all amazed and impressed. He was very proud of himself.


This was back in the fifties when TV was black-and-white, we only had two or three channels and a huge number of American households didn't even have a TV yet. Nobody had more than one. That would have been as silly and pointless as having two cars!

TV commercials in those days seem quaintly funny in retrospect. Some seem flat-out unbelievable. Click here and check this out:

"More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!"

The commercials annoyed my dad. Not the messages themselves, just the fact that there were any. He thought all TV programs should be absolutely free. I don't know if he ever considered why anybody would bother to create them if they were.

I don't think it bothered him much that his favorite program, The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports was presented by the Gillette Safety Razor company. Boxing was purely formatted and made sense: three minutes of two guys trying to kill each other followed by a one minute commercial and then back to the fight.

I think Dad felt that having us watch a commercial in that situation was more a matter of respecting the fighters' private dignity than commercialism. I think he also figured -- as an afterthought -- it was better that his six-year-old son watch an Old Spice commercial rather than be subjected to the between-rounds visuals of two guys sweating, bleeding and spitting teeth into a bucket while receiving one minute of facial reconstructive surgery as fat men yelled at them before they go back out to resume the effort to kill or be killed.

Dad was sensitive like that.

Incongruous as it seems now, any of these commercials might have popped up between fight rounds. I remember them all:

"Bosco gives me iron, and sunshine vitamin D!"

But Dad seemed to think that TV commercials were essentially the same thing as somebody intruding on our private home life. It was almost as if John Cameron Swayze or George Fenneman were making a habit of walking right into our living room every few minutes and interrupting our evening's family entertainment.

So, what did he do?

My dad invented the MUTE switch!

I kid you, not.

Decades before the invention of TiVo and the insufferable mysteries of universal remote control units, my dad attached a long cord to one end of our TV's speaker through the rear of the console. The other end was attached to a simple two-position plastic switch that allowed him to click the sound on and off at will!

Sure, we still had to watch and wait for the commercials to end but we didn't have to actually listen to stuff like this...

"That's a woman for ya! I ask her to get my shirts whiter... "

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

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