MY uncle Seng Chee probably owned the first television set in Kampung Cherong Lanjut in Kuala Terengganu back in the 1960s. Working as a headmaster, he was able to afford the technological luxury that came in the formof a four-legged cabinet with sliding doors that you could lock when not in use. The black-andwhite TV set was a Sharp.
When the TV was brought home, my uncle set it up on the verandah. With his limited technical know-how, he planted the antenna in the garden and I was told to twist it about as he tried tuning in. Our antics drew curious onlookers and word soon spread throughout the village that he had purchased a TV.
A ready audience materialised in the garden soon enough but to their disappointment, and ours, all we had to show was a fuzzy screen and noise. Some smart alecks who had never seen a TV programme speculated on what the fuzz was. Some said it was a snowstorm scene, others said it was a flock of birds taking off.
Only when that was all they had for over an hour did they realise that the TV was not tuned in, and what they were seeing was “snow ”, a technical term used to describe bad reception that I was to be acquainted with in later years.
The following day, a TV man came to mount the antenna on the roof of my uncle’s timber house and we tuned in to our first RTM broadcast — the Roadrunner Show. And before we knew it, the newspaper became more important than ever in the mornings, not only to us but those who had just owned TV sets. Everybody wanted to know what programme was on for the day.
I recall there were lottery “live ” draws, game shows like Ganda Wang Anda, the boring Wrestling from Great Britain, action series like Hawaii-Five-O, and midnight movies.
In the 1980s, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays were much looked forward to when Chinese, Hindi and Malay movies were respectively screened. These were long shows, stretching into midnight and with breaks for news.
For those who had television sets, their living rooms were never short of an audience in the neighbourhood’s children — regardless of race or religion, as I remember. TV ownership became more widespread in later years as the sets got cheaper and larger, and video cassette recorders arrived.
By the time TV programmes were in colour, every home had a TV set or two. If in the past, prosperity was marked by the ownership of a TV set, now it was about how the size and how many sets one owned. Satellite TV came and before long, also took its place as a status symbol.
To have “arrived” was to be able to subscribe to satellite TV. Of course, that was until it got cheaper to own a decoder and subscribe. Nowadays you can’t judge how well-to-do your neighbours are by the satellite dishes peeking out the eaves of their houses.
Last week, a colleague asked me how I managed without subscribing to the satellite TV. I am surprised myself, I said. I think I have my children to thank — they love books more than the idiot box.
I suppose like most people who do not subscribe to satellite TV— or to the need to keep up with their neighbours — I can only say that it’s just mind over matter—if you don’t mind not having satellite TV, it really doesn’t matter.