Signing Off, Signing On, Test Patterns, and the Peacock

Mamacita says:  Most of you have never seen this picture before. Most of you have never known a time when television wasn’t a 24-hour marathon of programming.  This is a test pattern.  If you turned on your television after midnight, this is all you saw.

The fact is, things used to have down time. Stores closed. Television and radio stations “signed off,” and each station often had its own unique signoff ritual. After midnight, people went to bed; they didn’t stay up for hours and watch because there was nothing to watch. When people said, “There’s nothing on TV,” it wasn’t just an expression.  Radio stations signed off, too.

Sometimes I think it was better the old way. After midnight, people generally went to bed. People didn’t watch show after show just because something was on, because something WASN’T on. Just blackness, static, or a test pattern.

I can remember turning on the TV on Saturday morning, seeing nothing but the test pattern, and waiting patiently until 6:00 a.m. or so for the station to “sign on.”

When my cousin C and I were kids, and would stay at our grandmother’s house every weekend we could manage it, the sign-off for Indianapolis’ WTTV channel 4 was a few minutes of Mahalia Jackson singing.  I can’t remember what she sang, specifically, because C and I usually watched our grandmother when Mahalia sang.  It was one of the few times we saw Mamaw laugh out loud.  Mahalia’s kind of singing just wasn’t heard much in southern Indiana, and the shock value of it set Mamaw off every Saturday night.

Most sign-off rituals were religious in nature, and patriotic as well.  A local clergyman would speak a few words, the National Anthem would play, and the sign-off words were spoken, along with a promise to sign-on again in the morning.  It was kind of cool.  It was also a signal that everybody still up ought to go to bed, as well.

Maybe that’s one reason people stay up so late these days.  They’re glued to the TV, and there’s nobody now to tell them it’s time to sign off and go to bed.  As long as there’s SOMETHING on TV, some people will watch it.  I’ve never understood the mentality.

This picture, now, is the NBC peacock, telling us that the next program would be in living color. Those of you who thought In Living Color was nothing but a funny television show have a lesson to learn here. And now you know why the title of that show was funny in more ways than one!

Seeing that NBC peacock flexing its tailfeathers was the signal that Bonanza was about to start. A lot of the old 50’s sitcoms had been filmed in color but never seen in color, and eventually those started to be shown as was intended, too.

Here’s your laugh of the day. I didn’t know The Wizard of Oz was partly in color until I was in my teens. It made the expression “a horse of a different color” understandable, for the first time.

I’m not really QUITE that old, but my family just waited that long to get a color TV.


Comments

Signing Off, Signing On, Test Patterns, and the Peacock — 23 Comments

  1. Does anyone remember a summer Friday night in 1968 (I think) in which on WTTV channel 4 after sign-off there was shown a military type footage film of UFOs flying low? No I’m not making this up, I remember it well. There were military men and many many UFOs. This was after Sammy Terry had been on, but I believe it was after sign-off. I know I can’t be the only one. Thanks.

  2. If you want some interesting videos of old TV sign-offs, permit me to recommend J. Alan Wall’s excellent web site, http://www.tv-signoffs.com. Some are mere quick “good-night”s, while others are quite elaborate productions. Still others are re-creations using old audio tracks from the 1950s.

  3. If you want some interesting videos of old TV sign-offs, permit me to recommend J. Alan Wall’s excellent web site, http://www.tv-signoffs.com. Some are mere quick “good-night”s, while others are quite elaborate productions. Still others are re-creations using old audio tracks from the 1950s.

  4. Yeah, I was scared of the Indian Head test pattern as a little kid. The Indian looked so angry and mean with all those weird lines and circles and the loud test tone. I later learned he looked angry when he really wasn’t because the channel often ran a copy of a copy of the original and the fuzzy analog signal distorted it even further.

    During the nationwide switch to digital TV last year, several stations said farewell to their analog signal with an old-school sign off, the national anthem, and the Indian Head test pattern one last time before violently cutting off the signal forever. It’s still freaky after all these years.

    Down in San Diego, XETV/San Diego 6 still has a traditional early morning sign-on with the playing of the Mexican and U.S. national anthems. But that’s because as the call letters suggest, XETV is actually a Tijuana TV station broadcasting across the border to San Diego, and Mexican broadcast law requires all stations to play the Mexican anthem at the start and close of broadcast days, and the anthem of a guest nation immediately afterward (in this case the United States). XETV broadcasts 24/7 like everybody else but still has the sign-on at 5:00 or 6:00am each day.

    I have a playlist of final analog TV signoffs from the digital TV transition at my YouTube page, http://www.youtube.com/richartrod.

  5. Yeah, I was scared of the Indian Head test pattern as a little kid. The Indian looked so angry and mean with all those weird lines and circles and the loud test tone. I later learned he looked angry when he really wasn’t because the channel often ran a copy of a copy of the original and the fuzzy analog signal distorted it even further.

    During the nationwide switch to digital TV last year, several stations said farewell to their analog signal with an old-school sign off, the national anthem, and the Indian Head test pattern one last time before violently cutting off the signal forever. It’s still freaky after all these years.

    Down in San Diego, XETV/San Diego 6 still has a traditional early morning sign-on with the playing of the Mexican and U.S. national anthems. But that’s because as the call letters suggest, XETV is actually a Tijuana TV station broadcasting across the border to San Diego, and Mexican broadcast law requires all stations to play the Mexican anthem at the start and close of broadcast days, and the anthem of a guest nation immediately afterward (in this case the United States). XETV broadcasts 24/7 like everybody else but still has the sign-on at 5:00 or 6:00am each day.

    I have a playlist of final analog TV signoffs from the digital TV transition at my YouTube page, http://www.youtube.com/richartrod.

  6. Crusader Rabbit and Mighty Mouse came on in all their black and white splendor at 6am Saturday morning , just after Modern Farmer.

    My rich uncle bought my grandmother a color television when my grandfather got sick (is there a trend here in your comments??) and Bonanza was never the same at home after that.

    I wish I remembered when I first saw The Wizard of Oz….. I am old…
    a/b

  7. Crusader Rabbit and Mighty Mouse came on in all their black and white splendor at 6am Saturday morning , just after Modern Farmer.

    My rich uncle bought my grandmother a color television when my grandfather got sick (is there a trend here in your comments??) and Bonanza was never the same at home after that.

    I wish I remembered when I first saw The Wizard of Oz….. I am old…
    a/b

  8. In the late 60’s and early 70’s I work as a part time
    weekend DJ at a 5000 watt AM country music station. Every
    Sunday night at 12 midnight I would sign the station
    off and power down the old tube transmitter.
    Now, stations stay on 24/7 because with modern solid
    state equipment, there is less problems if they just
    run all the time. TV stations were the same way.
    Sad in a way, but somehow they call it progress.
    Maybe? Maybe not?

  9. In the late 60’s and early 70’s I work as a part time
    weekend DJ at a 5000 watt AM country music station. Every
    Sunday night at 12 midnight I would sign the station
    off and power down the old tube transmitter.
    Now, stations stay on 24/7 because with modern solid
    state equipment, there is less problems if they just
    run all the time. TV stations were the same way.
    Sad in a way, but somehow they call it progress.
    Maybe? Maybe not?

  10. We did not have a color TV until after I left home for college, in 1980. My parents were one of the last holdouts. My grandparents had a large console set that was color and it was AWFUL. My dad said that if that was what color looked like, he didn’t want it!

    Also, where I lived in Indiana, we did not get public television. We got 3 channels through our antenna: 15 (CBS), 21 (ABC), & 33 (NBC). When I was about 11 yrs. old, we started getting an independent channel (55).

    Although the neighbors had cable, my parents didn’t until 1985, when my dad became ill with cancer. Finally, they were able to receive channel 4 and public TV!

  11. We did not have a color TV until after I left home for college, in 1980. My parents were one of the last holdouts. My grandparents had a large console set that was color and it was AWFUL. My dad said that if that was what color looked like, he didn’t want it!

    Also, where I lived in Indiana, we did not get public television. We got 3 channels through our antenna: 15 (CBS), 21 (ABC), & 33 (NBC). When I was about 11 yrs. old, we started getting an independent channel (55).

    Although the neighbors had cable, my parents didn’t until 1985, when my dad became ill with cancer. Finally, they were able to receive channel 4 and public TV!

  12. TV after midnight is no worse than internet after midnight. Not really any different at all for that matter. I like to sleep with the TV on low, just on the Weather Channel or Animal Planet so I don’t hear any outside noises.

  13. TV after midnight is no worse than internet after midnight. Not really any different at all for that matter. I like to sleep with the TV on low, just on the Weather Channel or Animal Planet so I don’t hear any outside noises.

  14. Regarding NBC: My first music theory teacher used the musical mnemonic device of the notes between N and B to teach a major 6th. The first two notes from the theme from Love Story was a minor 6th. I have tried for years to forget this information to no avail!

  15. Regarding NBC: My first music theory teacher used the musical mnemonic device of the notes between N and B to teach a major 6th. The first two notes from the theme from Love Story was a minor 6th. I have tried for years to forget this information to no avail!

  16. We didn’t have color TV for a very long time. The black & white worked just fine, so there was no reason to replace it.

    I knew that part of the Wizard of Oz was in color only because my mom told me. She had seen it at the theater as a little girl. Every year when we watched, she would tell us at what point the color started and when it reverted back to B&W.

    Side note: A lady that used to work with us was in The Wizard of Oz. She was 7 years old at the tine. The casting directors went to local dance studios to cast children as “background munchkins.”

  17. We didn’t have color TV for a very long time. The black & white worked just fine, so there was no reason to replace it.

    I knew that part of the Wizard of Oz was in color only because my mom told me. She had seen it at the theater as a little girl. Every year when we watched, she would tell us at what point the color started and when it reverted back to B&W.

    Side note: A lady that used to work with us was in The Wizard of Oz. She was 7 years old at the tine. The casting directors went to local dance studios to cast children as “background munchkins.”

  18. I remember the first show I saw in color (a football bowl game on New Year’s about 1961 or 2).

    I remember moving to the South and finding out stores were closed on Sunday. Since I remember that, I guess they were open on Sunday on the West Coast.

    I remember 4 channels” ABC, NBC, CBS and public tv.

  19. I remember the first show I saw in color (a football bowl game on New Year’s about 1961 or 2).

    I remember moving to the South and finding out stores were closed on Sunday. Since I remember that, I guess they were open on Sunday on the West Coast.

    I remember 4 channels” ABC, NBC, CBS and public tv.

  20. Not me. I like knowing that if I’M up, others are up, too. I don’t care what it is: infomercial for The Magic Bullet, Bare Escentuals (I have both, BTW–love ’em!), reruns of Three’s Company–I’ll watch. The test patterns always scared me–like God was telling me to go to bed. Scary.

    Besides–I have a very hard time believing that you, of all people, would actually consider going to bed after the test pattern. It wasn’t 4 a.m. yet…:)

  21. Not me. I like knowing that if I’M up, others are up, too. I don’t care what it is: infomercial for The Magic Bullet, Bare Escentuals (I have both, BTW–love ’em!), reruns of Three’s Company–I’ll watch. The test patterns always scared me–like God was telling me to go to bed. Scary.

    Besides–I have a very hard time believing that you, of all people, would actually consider going to bed after the test pattern. It wasn’t 4 a.m. yet…:)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *