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Mr. Goober’s Show

They watched those last three days, everytime Aunt Joanie left; afraid at first, watching only a few minutes, then turning it off, unplugging it, and closing it up and pushing it back into its place, careful not to scratch the floor.

Then they watched more, and more, and there was an excitement each time they went through the ritual, a tense expectation.

Since no sound came in, what they saw they referred to as “Mr. Goober’s Show,” from his shape, and his motions, and what went on around him. He was on anytime they turned the TV on.

They left Aunt Joanie’s reluctantly. She had never caught them watching it. They took the train home.

Eldon was in a kind of anxiety. He talked to all his friends, who knew nothing about anything like that, and some of them had been as far away as San Francisco during the summer. The only person he could talk to about it was his little sister, Irene.

He did not know what the jumpiness in him was.

They rushed into Aunt Joanie’s house the first time they visited at Christmas, and ran to the sitting room.

The wall was blank.

They looked at at each other, then ran back into the living room.

“Aunt Joanie!” said Eldon, interrupting her, Uncle Arthridge and his father. “Aunt Joanie, where’s the television?”

“Television … ? Oh, that thing. I sold it to a used furniture man at the end of the summer. He bought it for the cabinetry, he said, and was going to make an aquarium out of it. I suppose he sold the insides for scrap.”

They grew up, talking to each other, late at nights, about what they had seen. When their family got TV, they spent their time trying to find it again.

Then high school, then college, the ’60s. Eldon went to Nam, came back about the same.

Irene got a job in television, and sent him letters, while he taught bookkeeping at a junior college.



April 11, 1971

Dear Bro’ —

I ran down what kind of set Aunt Joanie had.

It was a mechanical television, with a Nipkov disk scanner. It was a model made between 1927 and 1929.

Mechanical: yes. You light a person, place, thing, very very brightly. On one side of the studio are photoelectric cells that turn light to current. Between the subject and the cells, you drop in a disk that spins 300 times a minute. Starting at the edge of the disk, and spiraling inward all the way around to the center are holes. You have a slit-scan shutter. As the light leaves the subject it’s broken into a series of lines by the holes passing across the slit. The photoelectric cells pick up the pulses of light. (An orthicon tube does exactly the same thing, except electronically, in a camera, and your modern TV is just a big orthicon tube on the other end.) Since it was a mechanical signal, your disk in the cabinet at home had to spin at exactly the same rate. So they had to send out a regulating signal at the same time.

Not swell, not good definition, but workable.

But Aunt Joanie (rest her soul) was right — nothing in 1953 was broadcasting that it could receive, because all early pre-war televisions were made with the picture-portion going out on FM and the sound going out on short-wave (so her set had receivers for both) andneither of them are where TV is now on the wavelengths (where they’ve been since 1946).

Mr. Goober could not have come from an FCC licensed broadcaster in 1953. I’ll check Canada and Mexico, but I’m pretty sure everything was moved off those bands by then, even experimental stations. Since we never got sound, either there was none, or maybe it was coming in with the picture (like now) and her set couldn’t separate four pieces of information (one-half each of two signals, which is why we use FM for TV).

It shouldn’t have happened, I don’t think. There are weird stories (the ghost signals of a Midwest station people saw the test patterns of more than a year after they quit broadcasting; the famous 2.8 second delay in radio transmissions all over the world on shortwave in 1927 and early 1928).

Am going to the NAB meeting in three weeks. Will talk to everybody there, especially the old guys, and find out if any of them knows about Mr. Goober’s Show. Stay sweet.

Your sis,Irene

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