Watching Star Trek back in…the good old days?

The passing of Leonard Nimoy has had a lot of us thinking and talking about his impact, not just on Star Trek and pop culture but also what he’s meant to us as fans.

While I was writing about him yesterday, it made me think about watching Star Trek as a kid. Way back when, before the internet and home video and Netflix and all that jazz, Star Trek existed–for the most part–as a package of 79 episodes run, rerun, and rerun ad infinitum on local UHF (remember that?) TV stations. I was born in 1967, so I was too young to watch the show during its initial broadcast. I came to love it through those reruns, every afternoon after school and maybe an extra dose on Saturday.

There also, however, a Saturday morning cartoon…excuse me…animated series, that I got to watch first run, and there were sporadic comic books, along with coloring books, models, action figures, and the occasional paperback novel. First there were the adaptations of the original series episodes as written by James Blish, but later there were “original” novels featuring Kirk and the gang boldly going where they’d never been on TV.  Meanwhile, my friends and I would “play” Star Trek, the same way you played “Army” or “Cowboys & Indians.” We had our Tracer Guns and our walkie talkies communicators, and that big weird slide/climbing bars/ladder ball thing at the center of the nearby playground was our Starship Enterprise.

As for watching the show itself? For the longest time, there were many afternoons when Star Trek looked a lot like this:

st-blackwhite

I found some pictures on the ‘net to help me illustrate my point, and da-yum if this isn’t pretty much exactly the way I remember some of those days after school, or on a Saturday when the weather sucked or I was way out at my aunt’s place, well beyond the optimal distance for getting decent reception from WTOG, Channel 44 Tampa-St. Petersburg.

(Oh, and let’s not even get into the often savage cuts made to the episodes in order to cram in more commercials. Brutal, people. Simply brutal.)

startrek-titlecard-bwDepending on any number of factors, and despite my best efforts to angle my little black and white television’s rabbit ear antenna just so, there were times when I had to decide between watching Star Trek and listening to Star Trek. Hell, I don’t think I even knew the original series was a color show until some point in the mid 1970s. The only reason I knew what color everything was supposed to be was thanks to the cartoons and comics and toys and other stuff.

Ah. The good old days.

Fast forward to the present: forty years after those wonderful afternoons at the playground or being transfixed by that little black and white TV, here we are. High definition media has seen to it the show is as gorgeous as it’s ever been. If I’m not pulling my original series Blu-rays off the shelf, then I can stream them on my television or my computer. Hell, I can watch a favorite episode on the phone in my pocket. I can do any of that whenever and wherever I want, without having to wait for my local TV station to cycle back through the rerun package. This is awesome, amirite?

And yet, there’s something about that simpler time that always brings a smile to my face.

Okay. I could’ve probably lived without stuff like this:

st-blackwhite02

Anybody else old enough to remember watching Star Trek this way?

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About Dayton Ward

Freelance word pusher. Husband. Dad. Trekkie. Rush fan (the band). Tampa Bay Bucs fan. Observer/derider of human behavior. I know where my towel is.
This entry was posted in fandom, feelin' nostalgic, nerdity, ramblings, trek. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Watching Star Trek back in…the good old days?

  1. Doug Daniel says:

    Vertical hold– the bane of my personal existence.
    My grandmother had a color TV, when I was at her house and allowed to watch the show. Otherwise, yeah, black and white was my world.
    Good memories.

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  2. Tim says:

    Boy does that bring back memories – along with vise grips on the channel selector know because the dial was worn out and fell off. My father let me stay up and watch with him when it first came out, I was about 4 years old. But, when I asked too many questions – especially about Spock being green (kinda hard to convey on an b/w TV) or green blooded – it was time for bed. Still it was a good time with my dad.

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  3. We will control your vertical, we will control your horizontal. While I’m a handful of years younger, I do remember experiencing Trek this way and loving every minute of it. I remember it being on a little later at night on weekends and trying to stay up past bedtime to watch it with my older siblings. And as I got a little older, it was on in the late afternoon and was a nice after school adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ronny says:

    I had a similar viewing experience. The Saturday morning cartoons were how I was introduced to Trek and my mom told me it used to be a TV series. I read all the Blish and Foster episode novelizations before one of the local stations started showing it. I remember the first episode I saw was I, Mudd and I thought maybe this show wasn’t so great after all then they got better. But yeah, it was on channel 40. Is that UHF or VHF? I don’t even remember that stuff anymore. We had a color TV but of course the signal came in via rabbit ears.

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    • Dayton Ward says:

      It wasn’t until I got a copy of the first edition of the Star Trek Compendium that I had a list of the episodes in proper order, so I could then plot when my favorite episodes would supposedly be coming up in the rerun rotation 😀

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  5. Scott Mantz says:

    Well, you just summed up my childhood! We’re around the same age (I was born in 1968), so when I discovered Star Trek in 1974 on Channel 17 in Philadelphia, it looked a LOT like this! Sometimes the picture came in okay and I could watch it in color; other times, the reception was so bad that I could barely even listen to it. Either way, I was happy, because Star Trek was (and still is) the center of my universe, and Kirk, Spock and McCoy were (and still are) my very best friends! And I have to say that even with those hi-def Blu-rays, I still long for the innocent days when I watched a “new” Star Trek episode every night in all of its blurry, fuzzy glory! Kudos on mentioning the cool memorabilia too! Remember those 12 Fotonovels? Still the most prized mementos of my Trek collection. Thanks for a great write-up!

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  6. I’m only a year older, and I remember watching Trek like that on WPIX 11 in NY. I would also record episodes on audio cassette because VCRs weren’t around yet. What a great time to be a kid.. Six Million Dollar Man, Bionic Woman, Buck Rogers, Battlestar, Jason of Star Command, Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets, and of course Star Wars before any of the numbers..lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dayton Ward says:

      Yes, it was indeed a great time to be a kid. A lot of that stuff doesn’t hold up all that well, anymore, but my kids are big SixMil/Bionic Woman fans, as well as Buck Rogers and Star Wars.

      Like

  7. 3illsweet says:

    Yep, pretty much my experience. Also with a black and white watching WPIX. As I recall, it was on every day at some point.

    Then there was the Yule Log …

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    • Dayton Ward says:

      There was a channel devoted to the Yule Log on my U-verse package over the holidays.

      And I see a lot of mentions of WPIX in comments here and elsewhere. Did you all live in the same apartment building, or what? 😉

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  8. David Bent says:

    I started watching Star Trek in 73 or 74 on my dad’s black and white TV set. We had a color set but we were too far away from the station for it to come in. Also watched it on WTOG. Lived in Spring Hill Fl.
    If the weather was funky, could sometimes watch on channel 6 out of Orlando. This is how I watched the cartoon series, early Saturday mornings while the signal skip was still there.
    Never saw it in color (or clearly) until 1978 while visiting my aunt in Mass. It was on two different stations at two different times there.
    While watching on channel 44 though, I remember watching episodes multiple times as the cuts for the ads were usually different and sometimes you would see scenes you hadn’t seen before in the episode.

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  9. Jai Johnson-Pickett says:

    I was 12yo in 1966, so I watched the original broadcasts, but it was still on a black and white TV, broadcast over the airwaves so with a fair share of static and distortion. Of course, all TV was like that back then, so we really didn’t notice so much. Also, I was lucky enough to live in the suburbs of a big city (Atlanta), so it could have been a lot worse. I remember visiting my brother’s in-laws who lived in a small town in south Georgia, and I was CRUSHED to find out they didn’t get Star Trek at all. It’s not like we ever thought it would be rerun except maybe once in the summer (and those were often pre-empted if the network bothered to run them at all). Funny the things you remember after all these years, Thanks Dayton!

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    • Dayton Ward says:

      When I was stationed on Okinawa in the summer of 1988, the original series was being rerun every day on the Armed Forces TV station. TNG had only been on for one season at that point, and I’d brought with me VHS tapes of episodes I’d recorded off the air. Those things were the second most-borrowed tapes in the barracks where I was living, second only to the guy down the hall who had all the porn. 😀

      I had to watch Season 2 via VHS tapes sent to me by my wife (who at the time was my girlfriend). Those were very sought after, as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. vhosking says:

    Glad I did not get interested in Star Trek until TNG. Plenty of books and fan memorabilia by then.

    Like

  11. I was born in 72, so didn’t quite get the same good old days you did; but I did watch TOS reruns (back when TOS was the *only* Trek in town, thank you very much) on a fuzzy UHF station in Houston, TX; and I checked out the Blish adaptations from my middle school library (one reason your SEEKERS books grabbed me immediately – such awesome cover art associations!); and I never knew there was any order BUT the production order for the longest time.

    I did watch TNG season 4, in my first year at college, on a 3″ black-and-white clock/TV/radio. I had to miss the first night (Best of Both Worlds Part 2), so my roommate, also a fan,*scribbled down notes longhand while it was on* so he could fill me in later. No VCR in our room! No DVR! Back in my day….! 🙂

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  13. John Kirk says:

    I grew up in the Baltimore area, and watched Star Trek on my Zenith Black & White TV. I can remember times where “angling” my antenna a certain way in the afternoon would get Channel 47 from Philadelphia, and late night weekends I could get WTVR TV Richmond Virginia Channel 6. But at home, we had Baltimore WJZ 13 on the weekend late nights (uncut!), and Channel 5 and/or 20 out of Washington DC. I remember watching Trek on “Network” for the first time when the cast guest starred on Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow” show in 1975… I didn’t have a color TV until I was 18 with a job, and that’s when I started watching Trek in color….

    Liked by 1 person

  14. i remember as a kid before we had cable watching all my favorite shows off UHF channels, not just Star Trek. Lost in Space, the Batman tv series, Get Smart, Bewitched, I dream of Jeannie, F-Troop, Flying nun. Who didnt watch reruns of all these classic shows on UHF channels?

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  16. I was six years old in 1975 when I first saw Star Trek. It was on Channel 56 in Boston. Every day I’d have to change the UHF dial from 25 to 56 to see it. UGH lol

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  17. Mark Risney says:

    I have a certain amount of nostalgia for watching these old episodes in black and white and questionable reception at my grandparents house in the middle of Nowhere, Kansas in 1972. I certainly approve of all the bells and whistles that have come along since then, but the show was somehow … cooler, back then! Also, remember how you needed to turn the TV on five minutes BEFORE the program started so it could warm up?

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