Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

TV memories prompted by a vintage sign in Faribault May 13, 2020

A vintage sign at a former TV shop in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


TELEVISION. I remember my life without a TV. I am that old and of a poor rural upbringing which made a TV unaffordable for many years.

At some point in my youth, maybe when I was around nine-ish, my parents purchased a small black-and-white TV that rested on a wheeled metal cart. Set along a living room wall, the rack could be pushed and turned for TV viewing from the kitchen.

How exciting to get a TV and watch Lassie, Lost in Space, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Sky King and popular westerns like Gunsmoke. Our show choices were limited to CBS, the only network reception we got on our southwestern Minnesota farm. The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite became a favorite as my interest in national and world events and journalism grew.


Randy remembers buying a TV here decades ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


I’m getting sidetracked here. But all of this traces to recent photos I took of a former TV service shop along Central Avenue in Faribault. I’ve passed by the place many times with the thought of stopping to photograph the vintage signage. Finally, I did, because I’ve learned the hard way that, if you wait too long, the opportunity will be lost. And I do appreciate the art and history of old signs.


The front window of the closed TV shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Who remembers Zenith TVs, like those sold at Modern TV Service? Or Sylvania, RCA, Maganox? Companies that once dominated the U.S. television market. I can’t tell you the brand of my childhood TV. But I recall the excitement of getting a television and later watching a color console TV at my dad’s cousin Ruby’s house when we visited the Meier family. What a treat.


A few weeks ago I photographed the cloud-studded sky, I also photographed the TV antenna atop our house. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Unlike most people today, Randy and I don’t have cable TV or subscribe to any streaming services. Instead, we still rely on a rooftop antenna for reception on the single television in our house. And, living in a valley, that reception often proves unreliable. Spotty. Affected by weather (especially the wind), by a medical helicopter flying over or nearby, even a vehicle passing on the busy street. I am most frustrated that the public television station typically does not come in on our TV. Oh, well, at least we have a TV and it’s color, right? And let’s not forget the remote control, although I wish every set came with two…

TELL ME: Do you remember a time when you didn’t have a television? Anyone out there old-school like us with reception coming only from a roof-top antenna?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


28 Responses to “TV memories prompted by a vintage sign in Faribault”

  1. Growing up we had a television when I was in elementary school and of course it was black and white. We had VERY limited viewing and were usually only allowed 30 minutes a night which usually was a show like Omaha’s Wild Kingdom . As we grew up we still did not watch much television until probably when I was in high school and we finally did get a color television. I would get up early on Saturday just so I could watch cartoons –how sad is that? We have always had cable or satellite television but now we have several streaming services including YouTube TV which allows us to get the regular channels as well. I enjoy watching a lot of what we can find and it is good for keeping up with local stuff as well.

  2. Marilyn Donnell Says:

    I grew up without a TV, but we often would walk up the hill to Grandpa and Grandma’s to watch theirs if something really significant was on. I especially remember Kennedy and Nixon’s inaugural ceremonies, and John Glenn going up into space. There were foil-wrapped bunny ears on top of the box (black and white only back in those days) to subtly tweak for a better picture. We married in 1969 and about a month later our landlady let us watch the moonwalk with her. But we never bought a TV until 1998. Occasionally we would rent a TV for a week or two during school vacations or some special event like the Olympics, royal weddings, FIFA World Soccer, etc. Time passed – we now have THREE – one to soon go to a charity as we were gifted a big screen by our kids. Now – I’d rather read a book.

    • I hear the part, “I’d rather read a book.”

      Thanks for sharing your memories of those special TV moments. I have some of those, too, like going to a teacher’s house across the street from school to watch something space-related and also to a distant relative’s house to watch the moon landing.

  3. Missy’s Crafty Mess/Missy’s Handarbeid Says:

    I don’t remember not having a tv but I do remember not having cable tv. When we did get it we had a huge satellite dish beside our house.

  4. Washe Koda Says:

    Way cool 🙂 My Daddy had just gotten a consul color in ’62. He kept us boys (2) home from school one morning to watch the flight of John Glenn 🇺🇸 first US astronaut 🚀 Freindship 7

  5. This brings back the childhood memories. Remember when TVs as well as vacuum cleaners were repaired. It was pretty cool as a kid to wonder the shop and see the various types of TVs from small to massive floor units (looked like a piece of furniture) and the vacuums could be pretty out there too. Growing up in a one TV in the living room family I now realize was a blessing because it made me a reader. I have fond memories of watching Hee Haw, The Muppet Show, Wheel of Fortune, etc. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  6. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Hi Audrey! We had a Zenith when I was growing up, and another Zenith when my parents replaced the tv they had. When I was very young, it was black and white. When I was around 10 (so around 1970) they got a color tv and I remember being glued to Saturday morning cartoons suddenly in beautiful, glorious color. But we always had just one tv in the living room until I was in high school and my mom got a tiny B&W set for their bedroom to watch the news. We watched Walter Cronkite, too. And Dave Moore on Channel 4 WCCO. My mom watched soap operas, so I also grew up with The Guiding Light and As the World Turns. I can’t imagine watching those now! We have very basic cable at our house, meaning we recently dumped all the extra stations in favor of local only. But we do stream – Netflix, Amazon Prime. We watch those more than tv channels. It’s interesting how many people keep cable with all the bells and whistles even if they only have a few channels they watch. In the summer, we are outside so much the tv pretty much just gathers dust. I do love that Zenith sign. That was definitely a familiar sight.

  7. Ken Wedding Says:

    Our household got a TV before it got a refrigerator. Saturday morning was kids’ time. And finally, Audrey, someone else who remembers Sky King and that wonderful,”modern” plane with TWO engines, Songbird!

    Growing up in Redwood Falls, we had a rooftop antenna until people organized and raised money to build a tower near Morton and install a UHF translator. As a fundraising trick, the organization would shut down the translator in March, just before the state basketball tournament, and only turn it back on when enough people subscribed to keep the thing going for another year.

    Thanks for reviving the memories.

    • I love hearing from another Redwood County native. And someone who remembers Sky King.

      I didn’t know that tidbit about the UHF translator. Does that explain why my mom sometimes had problems with reception from that tower? That seems like not a very nice thing to do.

      • Ken Wedding Says:

        The translator tower in Morton was not a city project. It was private and relied on donations for its operations. But, like public radio, there was no way to limit “customers” only to those who paid in. So, drastic measures were often needed to raise money. (Not unlike the public TV “Action Auctions” that we used to experience.

      • Thanks for clarifying with those details.

  8. Neil Says:

    This reminds me of a story from when I was deployed to Afghanistan. Sinbad (a comedian, for those who may not be familiar with the name) had come on a USO tour to do a stand-up show at our base.

    I could put a face on the name, but couldn’t recall what he had starred in, so I googled him. He has starred in two TV shows and has also appeared on numerous other TV shows and in several movies.

    I asked my co-workers if any of them were planning to attend the show. One of them replied, “I don’t know; is he even culturally relevant anymore?” What an unexpected response!

    I replied, “Who cares; he’s come a long way just to entertain us; the least we could do is show up. If the show is lame, we can always get up and leave early.” Nearly all of us went. He put on a great show! And I don’t recall any of us leaving before it ended.

    But the question has stuck with me. Just how many TV stars ever become culturally relevant? When (or if) they do, how does one determine that? Then, just how long do they remain relevant? I’m sure one could develop college courses on this topic alone…

    But I digress. We have not had TV reception of any kind for the past nine years. The last time we went out of our way to watch anything being aired was for the last Superbowl, when the KC Chiefs whipped the snot out the SF 49ers, and that only because we live near Kansas City and some friends of ours were hosting a party. The last thing before that was to watch the last game of the World Series in 2016, when I joined a neighbor to watch the Cubs FINALLY end their record losing streak. Thus, I can safely say that TV (and, by extension, it’s stars) has lost nearly all of it’s cultural relevance for us.

    • This is really a well-thought-out, philosophical comment. That all said, I remember coming up for the weekend with Randy to visit all of you while you were still in high school. You watched a lot of TV back in those days. That is one thing I really remember about you as a teen. I’m happy you outgrew that phase.

      • Neil Says:

        I’m pretty sure that the TV we had in those days was actually a Zenith, the first color TV that the folks owned. Six channels with our classic antenna, 7 when a UHF channel began airing. We had all of the major networks, so the coverage was good for that era.

        Yes, I was sucked into that vast wasteland… which has only gotten worse with so many more viewing options. It’s interesting that people with 200 channels often have difficulty finding anything that they want to watch. The law of diminishing returns definitely applies to TV entertainment.

        I guess that the programs and their stars are only relevant to those who make them relevant.

      • Your final sentence summarizes it well.

  9. I love your eye and perspective on things like this. I had one of those Old Curtis Mathis console stereos. You know the huge kind that was a real piece of furniture? I hauled and moved that thing all over the country with me. It was a beast, but it was also a treasure. I still miss it! 🙂

  10. Walter Says:

    My father bought a Norfolk TV that worked for ten years.
    Programming started at 11am and closed 2 p.m. Then it restarted 5 pm and finished 10 pm. On Saturdays it ended an hour later, 11 p.m., because there was a movie with no commercial cuts, it was like a visit to the cinema.

  11. “What ? No TV? How can you live like that?”

    We were the only kids in our area that didn’t have a TV. I think when I was in High School my parents might have purchased one. We did have books! Maybe why to this day I would rather have a book to look in about doing something new (DYI book) than relying on the internet or TV.

    My hubby and I decided years ago to forgo the TV here. We felt that it was wasted time. We only watched it for news and we were getting most of that instantly on our phones. I like the silence without one cluttering my life with endless BS chatter. Don’t miss it.😊

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