I grew up in a small town.
“How small was it?!?!”
Small enough that cable companies didn’t think it was worth extending the lines to where we lived, so my TV experience was the three networks, PBS and an independent station we randomly discovered one night that eventually became the local Fox affiliate.
Among other things, this means that the time MTV actually played music videos was something that happened in legend, in friends’ houses or in college dorm lounges until individual rooms got hooked up for cable in either my junior or senior year.
Those were the days … or so I’ve heard.
Instead, families with the means and the desire bought satellite dishes for their homes. We’re not talking about the birdbath-size ones from Dish Network (which we had at our house before the one we live in now) or DirecTV.
No, these were beasts that could have doubled as backup for the space program had NASA been so inclined. Different clusters of channels were on different satellites, so you had to actually turn the satellite, listen to it whir and see the picture on the screen go out of focus until it locked in on the next satellite.
You needed a large space to install one of these suckers, or you had to do what we did, which was clamp it on the back of the house. It actually became a landmark to guide people when we gave directions.
Most of the good channels were scrambled — I believe ESPN and MTV among them — meaning people had to pay extra to get them, and making things more complicated for us, the hill and trees directly behind our house basically rendered all but one satellite unwatchable.
But what a satellite that was — Satcom 4, also known as F4 for short.
It had a bunch of the regional sports channels of the day, which were the most-important thing for me: SportsChannels in New York and Chicago, NESN out of Boston (which we still get today), Home Team Sports from the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, Home Sports Entertainment from Texas.
When they weren’t showing games, most of them showed replays of games from either the night before or in the past — NESN’s “Summer Cooler” of Bruins games was a morning staple during summer vacations — or informational graphics like on the news board of your local public access channel.
There was also a sports news network, where I first picked up the “history … of … ever” term I still use today (too long a story to relate here), and probably others, but none of them noteworthy enough to remember.
We changed the channels with a box alongside the TV. Each satellite had 24 channels, paired off on a dial 1/2, 3/4, 5/6 and so on up to 23/24. A button on the box chose whether you would watch the odd channels or the evens.
One night, my father and I were watching an Orioles game on Home Team Sports (which is now NBC Sports Washington), but it wasn’t all that exciting, so he asked me to see if there was anything else on.
HTS was Channel 22, so I cycled back through the even channels until I got to Channel 2, then hit the odd/even button to see the channels up to 21.
I then hit the button again to go back to the Orioles game …
… except I wasn’t on Channel 21.
I was on Channel 23.
Which meant I was switching to Channel 24.
Remember that part about how most of the non-sports channels were not particularly memorable, except one?
That one was Channel 24.
The Playboy Channel.
It came on at 8 every night, and I don’t remember exactly what they were showing, but it was absolutely NOT a baseball game.
I changed the channel verrrry quickly, apologizing to my father and telling him it was an accident just as quickly.
I don’t remember him saying anything, but I didn’t get in trouble, so I guess he believed me.
The photo at the top of the post by Rattakarn_ on Pixabay isn’t an exact representation of our satellite dish setup, but it’s close enough so that you get the gist.