What’s on telly?

“We were one of the first families with a television, in those days it was very exciting.”

It was the mid-1970s, Durban, South Africa. 18 years old, living in a 2-bedroom unit on the south beach front. Married and with 2 sons, she went to the local furniture store with her husband to purchase the new, top of the range television…and it was in colour!

* * *

This week, I spoke to my 58 year old next-door neighbour about her memories of growing up with television. Drawing on how she witnessed the technology evolve into what it is today. Her story reflects perfectly how place has played an enormous role in determining the types of media audiences are able to access. In my years of schooling I’ve been told television came here to Australia in 1956, particularly significant due to the broadcast of the Melbourne Olympics the same year.  However only by researching more into television on a global scale can we begin to understand how place defines our experiences of technology. It was not always as widely available as it is today.

In my neighbour’s case, in her South African hometown, television didn’t arrive until 20 years after Australia.  Despite the formation of the South African Broadcasting Company (SABC) in 1936, trial television broadcasts didn’t begin in South Africa until 1975 (SAHO, 2014). As a result, she never witnessed the black and white fuzzy screens of the first ever televisions.

Although, the first TVs in South Africa were quite technologically advanced, broadcast in the country was still limited. It was not until January 5, 1976, that official and regular daily TV transmissions occurred (SAHO, 2014). The following clip is the first TV broadcast in South Africa, a few momentous seconds that my neighbour still remembers today.

The excitement of watching that first broadcast in her living room became a special and important part of daily life.  My neighbour recalled that programs were broadcast for only 2 hours a day, in the early evening. A factor that ensured everyone was home and ready to sit down and watch what the TV had in store.

“At 5pm, there would be a half hour news bulletin and then a 1 hour program, which was usually ‘The Brady Bunch‘. A favourite, particularly for my sons.”

As the programs were broadcast at dinnertime, television slowly became an integral part of the evening meal. With the TV in the living room and visible from the dining table, as soon as the evening broadcast began, the TV was on.

As a result, dinner guests weren’t in short supply. As one of the only owners of a TV in their street she remembers all the neighbours and their children would come around daily to witness what the screen would reveal.

With this, then considered rare, piece of technology in their home, my neighbour found a new appreciation for the togetherness and sense of family it brought. With their favourite program, ‘The Brady Bunch’ shown regularly, she remembers TV being very family orientated. It was definitely an exciting luxury for their family at the time, something she believes that television today does not quite realise.

“There was definitely more appreciation for television back then. These days, it’s all just advertising, people become disinterested. Television for me has become something more in the background.”

She certainly has a point, nowadays, how has TV become so much less important in our lives? We’ve come to the point where waiting week by week for the next episode to air is not good enough, where TV piracy is sky-rocketing and we turn to the internet and our mobile devices to provide us with the entertainment and viewing pleasure these early TVs once provided.

Speaking to my neighbour, brought me to a state of nostalgia. Back to the mornings where I would set my alarm to just before 6am and sneak into my parents room, to watch the morning cartoons on ‘Cheese TV’ and always catching the last 5 minutes of  ‘Areobics Oz Style.‘ Or saving one cookie to eat when I saw Cookie monster on ‘Sesame Street.’ These things certainly became family TV rituals for my siblings and I growing up.

However tonight as I type, I’m on my laptop, the Facebook app open on my mobile phone and the TV on, showing the latest episode of  ‘The Bachelor Australia’ in the background.  Out of all these devices, the TV has got the least of my attention,  its more of a source of light and background noise.

It’s interesting to point out how it’s no longer a symbol at the centre of the family home. Today  in many households there’s one situated in every room, but is anyone really watching?





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