Armagideon Time

In the fall of 1984, my family moved out of our cramped North Woburn apartment and into the other side of my grandparents’ duplex just north of Woburn Center. Lil Bro and I got our own room with bunkbeds and a door and everything. That may not sound like a radical development, but it was compared our previous digs where we shared a bed in an open-plan offshoot of the living room.

My parents also found enough wiggle room in the moving and furnishing budget to buy us a TV, which was a still something of an envy-inducing luxury among kids in those days. The set was a Magnavox jobber, whose woodgrain and graytone futurism was further accented by a complete lack of dials. Tuning was done by pushbutton presets, which had to be set up using a little plastic tool and a series of sockets hidden behind a panel. It seemed like the coolest thing ever — until our indelicate fingers wore down the contacts until we had to repeatedly mash the button to keep the signal from fading into static. (Yet I somehow still managed to hold onto the damn thing until 1992.)

When the TV wasn’t being used to for videogames — first an Atari 2600, then a C64 and Sega Master System — it was usually tuned to one of two stations that became indelibly associated with the Bold New Chapter of our lives. One was V-66, a local music video channel whose impact outstripped its relatively short lifespan. The other was Channel 68, less renowned but probably even more influential in terms of shaping my impressionable young mind.

The station had been around for a few years as a bottom-grade striver that dabbled in subscription programming and negligible market share. That changed in the mid-Eighties when the owners made a concerted push into the Boston market with a programming line-up.

Most of the shows were creaky syndication staples that had tumbled down the local UHF station hierarchy — Gomer Pyle and I Dream of Jeannie and Bob Newhart and like. These shopworn standards were rounded out with a number of more offbeat items pulled from the packagers’ vaults, and became the real reason to tune it.

Channel 68 provided my introduction to the ITV import Robin of Sherwood (which had a massive impact on my early D&D adventures) and was where I first stumbled across Robotech (aired on Sunday mornings before it was poached by rival channel 25). It also ran several dropped-from-syndication classics like Burns and Allen and Jack Benny, new to me and far more entertaining than reruns of Cheers or Diff’rent Strokes.

Saturday nights were the real showstopper, though, with a supernatural-themed block kicked off by an episode of One Step Beyond, followed by Circle of Fear or Hammer House of Horror, then either the Elvira’s Movie Macabre or some monster flick from public domain or the Universal stable.

Not only did this provide my initial exposure to Night of the Living Dead and The Mole People, but it also gave me the opportunity to revisit Creature Double Feature favorites from at an age where I had the patience (and courage) to genuinely appreciate them. I’d “seen” Bride of Frankenstein and Creature From the Black Lagoon several times, but this was the first time I’d actually watched them.

Most of these viewed in the comfort of my cluttered room in the company of Lil Bro. There were a few occasions where my parents would make an event out if it, especially if the one of my mom’s childhood favorites was involved. We’d gather in the living room, scrounge up some popcorn from the kitchen cabinet, turn down the lights, and enjoy the show.

Moments like that were already becoming increasingly rare amidst our escalating dysfunction, which makes me appreciate the memory of those nights that much more.

Channel 68′s push to become a local market powerhouse stalled out within a couple of years. It aggressively over-extended itself at a time when cable’s mass-market saturation rendered the old models for local indie stations obsolete. The station was sold to the Christian Science Monitor and then Boston University, but never managed to regain its footing. There were rumors of it going dark entirely before it got absorbed into the PAX (now ION) combine.

A fate worse than death, if you ask me.

Recommended listening:

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4 Responses to “Halloween Countdown: Day 8 – Dead channel”

  1. Cygnia

    My big things were channel 56′s Creature Double Features on Saturday afternoons and straining to see “Friday the 13th: the Series” on channel 38 around midnight.

  2. Caffeinated Joe

    Wow – Quite the channel. I have lived in Mass all my life, when I was a kid, in the Fall River area. Not sure if we got this channel. I don’t recall it, and that Saturday line up alone would have been memorable. We had Channels 56 and 38. Creature Double Feature was a Saturday afternoon staple for a very long time. Good memories, thanks for sharing.

  3. Chris Wuchte

    This may have been a programming trend in the mid ’80s, because we had something very similar in the Chicago area, channel 66. For weeks leading up to its launch, they had a scroll of all of the old tv shows they’d be carrying that ran 24/7. I can remember being excited over finally being able to see The Prisoner, The Avengers, The Saint, etc, after only reading about them in books.

    For several years, it was non-stop reruns on weekdays, horror movies and British comedies late nights, and a solid block of British sci-fi and action Sunday nights. When people wonder why I have such a weird pop cultural background for someone my age, I tell them this is the reason why.

  4. Eric Lyden

    I remember on Sunday afternoons channel 68 would show The Phil Silvers Show and You Bet Your Life and I think Burns & Allen and I just loved it. And during the week they’d show Speed Racer and all this wonderfully obscure stuff.

    And as a kid we had one of those push button TVs and it didn’t occur to me until years later to wonder how exactly it worked with regards to setting the channels.

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