UHF, Choplifter! and the Bay City Rollers: Tech and My Early Years

Originally posted on LinkedIn

Written by Mel Lewis

May 16, 2019

I love the possibilities promised by change, particularly technology-related change. But it does cause me to think back over changes I’ve experienced throughout my life. Those of us who’ve been on this Earth for a while have dealt with technology ups and downs for decades. As an example, here’s a brief trip through my early exposure to technology that either aggravated or wowed me.

Television

UHF channel(s). How am I supposed to maintain a crush on Racer X or find out what’s going to happen to Kimba the White Lion if I can’t get reception on our one UHF station?

Cable TV and MTV. No, they don’t air anime, but the reception is much better – no fiddling with vertical hold! And with Eddie Van Halen or Sting on the screen, who needs Racer X?

Electronic Games

Pong is cool until I want to watch our one TV set. How am I supposed to maintain a crush on Peter Brady if people keep playing Pong all the time? And ba-bip-ba-bop-ba-bip-bip-ba-bop is getting on my nerves.

Mattel’s handheld football game. I can play and watch TV at the same time? And almost get fired from my job in the electronic game section at the toy store because I can’t stop playing?

Atari Choplifter! I play this with my brother for four hours straight. Who cares about TV?

  Zork. I play this with my brother for 18 hours straight. Who cares about TV? Or homework? Or sleep? Or food? Or game addition?

Music

 Record players. I’m trying to play a record by slowly and very carefully lowering the arm and needle, keeping its motion perpendicular to the record so it doesn’t…screeeeeeee! Oops. Maybe if I hide this Creedence Clearwater Revival LP behind the Hi-Fi, my mother won’t know I scratched it.

My first personal high-tech device: Kenner Close N’ Play. My own 45 rpm records. No more scratches. I can buy single songs. Score!

More Television

Movies and specials that air once a year. I have one shot to watch Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, The Wizard of Oz, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and many others. If I miss them, I have to wait an entire year before they air again. And my mother will have to deal with very unpleasant, whining children. She’d better memorize that TV guide or so help me…

Video cassettes. Best. Thing. For. Children. Ever. OK, for parents, too. Give a girl a Disney video cassette, teach her how to rewind, and she’ll entertain herself for hours watching Pinocchio over and over. Plus, we don’t have to rearrange our lives just to make sure my brother and I don’t miss Frosty the Snowman or A Charlie Brown Christmas each December.

More Music

Record players, again. I’m trying to select a song in the middle of an LP by slowly and very carefully lowering the, well, you get the picture. I destroy my mother’s Carly Simon record. She finds it, and the CCR LP, too. Busted. Now I have to wash dishes for a week (by hand, of all things, because the only dishwasher we had was human).

 8-track cartridges. I can fast-forward to my favorite song! But that can take a long time. And I have to buy the whole Bay City Rollers album just to get “Saturday Night”? Aggravating. Compact cassette? Nope. Compact Disc? Getting warmer. iPod? There we go – one song at a time!

If most of this was before your time, then what wowed me may seem lame to you now. But at the time it was pretty cool (as was using the term lame) – and much of it is the basis for today’s tech and our tech-integrated lifestyles. Perhaps the lesson here is to embrace aggravation, because it can lead to innovation. And game addiction. But mostly innovation.