Bay Area Television, circa 1973

At this point, due to training and work demands, the only evening of the week during which I can drink to excess is Friday. I carefully rationed my caloric intake yesterday and allotted space in the budget for a beer and three vodkas. This made watching Day Three of the NCAA Track and Field coverage (recorded) very enjoyable indeed, especially the boring bits.

It also triggered a strange dream, in which I was describing a show from my childhood, Big Time Wrestling, to someone. I haven’t thought about that show in years. Upon waking, I remembered a few other programs that were standard entertainment fare for me when I was around seven or eight years old. Here are some highlights. If you’re in your forties or older then you may remember some of these, especially if you grew up in the Bay Area, where much of this was broadcast on local channel 2.

Big Time Wrestling

I used to watch this program, hosted by the plaid-sportcoated Hank Renner, on Sunday mornings in my Dad’s “den” — basically a room with a built in bar, lounge chair and ottoman, couch,  pedestal ashtray and large color television. One reason I long for a home built in the seventies is that during those years architects really knew how to blueprint for a proper lifestyle. Who doesn’t want a room dedicated to sitting, smoking, drinking and watching television?

Big Time Wrestling started airing long before I discovered it in the early seventies, but I still think that was the heyday of the series. No matter how lovely the weather, you could guarantee that I would be inside on Sunday morning watching with rapt attention this weekly pastiche of camp theater, personal grudges and flabby action.

Here’s the complete history of the show. And here’s video typical of the time.

“Professional” wrestling still features the same mono-dimensional characters and simplistic story lines. But what I miss about the  seventies version is how out of shape the wrestlers were. Now they’re so pumped up on steroids that they look like assemblages from the local meat counter. The original guys looked like they probably drove a mail truck and ate piles of mashed potatoes and pork chops.

Voice of Agriculture

Even as a child, I was a morning person. Most days I was up long before anyone else in the family was awake, making my way down to the dark den at around 5AM. Before the days of cable, broadcast choices were limited in terms of available programs, especially so during insomniac hours. Most mornings I had a choice of two programs: The English As a Second Language show for speakers of Chinese or this show, Voice of Agriculture.

VOA was an interview format show produced by the American Farm Bureau and typically focused on California’s Central Valley, where agriculture is very, very big. The show’s titles appeared over grainy footage of a gigantic threshing machine in full action. That was the most exciting part of the show. Once the interviews started, I was left to stare, slack-jawed and glassy-eyed over my voluminous bowl of Cap’n Crunch, as the interviewer and interviewee earnestly discussed various farming- and commodity-related matters.

According to this history, the show was later changed to a magazine format. I imagine that made it much more engaging, or at least marginally more interesting than, say, reading the Cornish tide tables or watching mold form on an old orange. It’s still on.

Roller Derby

I saved the best for last. Specifically, women’s roller derby, because the level of tawdry theatrical malice among the female skaters made the men’s events look like a meeting of the local glee club. Here’s a history of the “sport” along with an article about the Bay Area action in particular.

I would probably watch this were it on today. Like English Premier League Soccer, in front of which I spend most Sundays zoned out in a post-long run stupor, the images are hypnotically repetitive and, as such, very relaxing. Yet punctuated with just enough moments of noteworthy action that you’re prevented from dozing off completely.

The fact that I still enjoy watching people moving round and round and round an oval at high speeds under their own steam is perhaps one of the few constants in my personal television viewing history. And any track and field fan will note that, minus the hair-pulling, track racing can be just as dirty and violent. More video typical of the time:

5 Responses

  1. I’m sure I watched tons of TV, but I don’t remember much of it. The only show that comes to mind, strangely, is Davey and Goliath, which I’m pretty sure had some religious message that never quite took. Other than that, I draw a blank, except for the first color I saw on TV, an episode of “Superman” glorious in its reds and blues on a brand new, our-first-color TV.

    Roller Derby is alive and well.

  2. Your great grandmother, (Nana Roth) LOVED to watch wrestling. Something no-one else in the family could understand….it must be in the genes. :-)

  3. My aunty was a big fan of Roller Derby (also dirt track speedway). Used to watch it with her when I was about 12 — she’d really get enthusiastic and yell at the TV! Must be something about violent action and going round and round! Roller Derby has made something of a comeback in my town, but not on banked tracks — http://canberrarollerderbyleague.com/ — so the drama of throwing an opponent over the fence isn’t possible.

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