Writer’s Workshop: Friday Night TV

John Fogerty with "I Saw It On TV."

I was not what you’d call a social butterfly when I was in high school. I spent most of my evenings and nights at home, and a good portion of that time was spent in front of the TV. Especially on Friday night…

I’d spend the primetime hours (7-10 PM, because that’s what they are in Chicago) watching channel 7, WLS-TV, the ABC station. I’d sit and watch whatever they threw at me: The Partridge Family, The Brady Bunch (I had a crush on Marcia), Room 222, The Odd Couple, Love, American Style, and whatever else was being offered. Most of my "watching" was sitting there with the TV on, smoking cigarettes and drinking Dr Pepper. I wasn’t exactly engaged in the stories, it was just "somethin’ ta do." Some Friday nights I’d go to my room and find "somethin’ ta do" there.

At 10:00, I’d watch the news on either channel 7 or channel 5 (WMAQ-TV, the NBC station). Most of the time, I’d put on 5, because The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was on there at 10:30, but every other week, ABC would have In Concert, and sometimes the bands were worth watching. There were the nights where they’d tell you that David Bowie and Procol Harum were the featured performers, but they never said how much of the show would be David Bowie and how much would be Procol Harum. So, if you weren’t a Bowie fan, but really wanted to see Procol Harum, you could end up sitting through over an hour of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, with commercial breaks every fifteen minutes telling you "Coming up, Procol Harum!" It took a while, but soon I figured out that In Concert was more trouble than it was worth. They would simulcast In Concert on WDAI, so I’d figure out a way to record the audio feed, and watch Johnny, Doc, and Ed until midnight. The Tonight Show was pretty good on Friday nights. Maybe even a little zany.

(That was the big thing in the ’70’s, where the local TV station would co-ordinate with a local FM radio station that broadcast in stereo. They’d tell you at the beginning that the show was being simulcast, so turn on your FM radio and turn off the sound on the TV, and you could hear the show in glorious stereo. Trust me, it wasn’t anywhere near as cool as they made it sound, and again, more trouble than it was worth.)

After Carson was The Midnight Special, hosted by some musical artist and Wolfman Jack, the legendary Southern California DJ. That was usually pretty good, meaning there was at least one, and maybe two or three, artists worth watching. Even if not, it was after midnight, which made it cool to watch.

The music didn’t stop there: WMAQ picked up the syndicated Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and ran it after Midnight Special. Rock Concert was everything ABC’s In Concert promised but didn’t deliver. They didn’t simulcast, but who cared? That was just a pain, anyway….

By then, it was 2 AM and I’d usually be out of Dr Pepper and cigarettes, but I’d just have to stay up long enough to see the sermonette, the Seal of Good Practice, the signoff message, the National Anthem, and the "ant races"….

9 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Friday Night TV

  1. I barely remember Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and The Midnight Special. I do remember SNL having some great musical guests in the late 70s.
    Love the Fogerty song.

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    1. The first time I saw SNL was the infamous time that Elvis Costello, who had been ordered not to do “Radio, Radio,” started a song, said “no, I don’t want to do that,” and did “Radio, Radio” instead. He never did SNL again (at least not to my knowledge).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh…he came back in 1989 and re-enacted it again! The Beastie Boys were playing a song and he interrupted it and played Radio Radio.
        Here you go John…it was funny.

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  2. John,

    On Saturdays, I would try to stay up late to watch Chiller but usually fell asleep on the cough to only get woken by the sound of those pesky ants marching across the TV screen. I don’t know that I’ve heard it called that before now. I do recall TV shows using the term simulcast in stereo but didn’t understand how all of that worked and since I didn’t I never felt like I missed out on too much. It’s all in what you’re used to, I suppose. Great read on how you spent your late nights. I hope you gave up the cigarettes. That’s a horrible habit and one that equally horrible to break. Thanks for sharing, my friend. Have a good weekend!

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    1. I quit smoking and drinking about 25 years ago when I discovered I had high blood pressure. Oddly, I had no trouble quitting either of them…

      Simulcasts were a good thing when you were out and couldn’t see it on TV. Those were the days before VCR’s, too, so it was nice if you wanted to tape it for later. As for watching TV and listening to the stereo, it was a bit of overkill…

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  3. Wow, I did not realize that was where Stereo sound was generated from. Technology in those days must have felt mind-blowing and these days we’re like “how cumbersome!” 😉

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    1. Some stations got pretty good at it. WTTW, the PBS station in Chicago, had a bimonthly series called Soundstage that was simulcast in the Chicago area and likely at other PBS stations around the country. Getting the audio and video to sync up had to have been a problem. A few years later, they figured out how to broadcast TV in stereo (I think it’s the standard now) and it’s no big deal, but it was pretty cumbersome, as you say, especially when the TV was in one room and the stereo was in another (and there was no Bluetooth back then).

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