Channel Surfing in the 1950s

How did people channel surf in the 1950s, before the invention of remote controls?

Mrs. Cooper's solution was to own a different TV set for every channel. To change channels she just had to move to a different room.

Medford Mail Tribune - Mar 28, 1957

     Posted By: Alex - Sun Aug 29, 2021
     Category: Television | 1950s

That was in the days of rabbit ears antennas, so you had to fiddle with the antenna to get the best reception. I see they're still on the market.
Posted by ges on 08/29/21 at 12:00 PM
This is a complete bear to try to explain, especially since RF is not my field . . . refer to:
for illustrations which might make it understandable.

Every time you turn the knob, the tuner switches in the appropriate coil/circuit for the frequency of that channel.

As a new tv came out of the box, the tuner was set in an okay way, but it was rarely as good as it could be. Location, antenna, and a myriad of other factors affect how the coil/circuit for each channel should be tuned to bring in the best picture and sound. (My uncle's first job was tagging along when a new set was delivered. He fine-tuned the local channels for the customers.) Some sets had a ring around the main selector (push it in and turn) while others had a separate dial for that fine-tuning.

In theory, that fine-tuning only needs to be done once, but there's a little shock/bump each time the knob is turned, and screws creep, so it's normal for it to have to be redone periodically.

Also, there are a lot of contacts involved in switching. These become dirty/weak. According to the article I cited, it can cost up to $5 to have the tuner cleaned! (That was a lot of money back in those days.)

Remember, it was standard that televisions required four or five service calls a year! People often endured watching raggedy pictures and/or had poor sound before they broke down and called in a technician.

Having nine sets was a little excessive, but if she was OCD about getting good reception, it's understandable.
Posted by Phideaux on 08/29/21 at 05:54 PM
We got our first TV in 1949 and never had rabbit ears, only an antenna on the roof.
Posted by F.U.D in Stockholm on 08/30/21 at 01:40 AM
I remember the fine tuning knob.
Posted by crc on 08/30/21 at 03:21 PM
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