At the Discussion Club end-of-season pizza party we were sitting around discussing our childhood memories. It’s one of those activities that geezers enjoy. Exercising our brains while recalling pleasurable times.
We were remembering old TV shows, when I said “rabbit ears.” Everyone nodded knowingly.
Officially, it was probably sold as an “indoor antenna,” but it will always be remembered as rabbit ears. One of our first ones was a plastic ball with two metal antennas sticking out that sat squarely on top of our black and white TV set. You could extend the antenna “ears” by pulling on the metal rods. The rods could also be lifted up to a vertical position or down 90 degrees so both antenna stuck out horizontally.
The rabbit ears were attached to the TV with a U-shaped connection that my dad screwed into the back of the TV set. The screw was labelled “Antenna.”
The purpose of rabbit ears was to improve your TV reception. I was a kid, so the logic seemed simple to me. The TV stations sent out invisible waves with the picture and sound on it. Our TV could capture those waves and turn them, as if by magic, into picture and sound on your TV.
But if you wanted to “improve” the picture, you needed to enhance your TV with an antenna. Since we lived in an apartment building, no antennas were allowed to stick out of the windows or be put on the roof. Hence the need for an indoor antenna – the rabbit ears.
Because different TV stations (all 6 of them) had different length waves, or so I thought, the rabbit ears needed to be moved up or down or extended to capture and enhance those different waves. It was still magic to me.
So, every time someone changed the channel (by turning the knob on the TV) – you had to adjust the rabbit ears unless, miraculously, the position of the ears worked for more than one channel.
Dad would turn the knob, then step back to look at the small black and white TV picture. If the picture was not clear, that was my cue to rush in and adjust the rabbit ears. First, was the little twist, moving the entire unit left or right. If that didn’t work, there was the lift the left ear, then lift the right ear movements. Then I tried the combination – up, down, left, right until the picture was clearly visible with a minimum of fuzz and no ghost-like images haunting the background.
On “bad” days, when nothing was working and it seemed like the Gods were interfering with the invisible waves, it was time to break out the aluminum foil. The thinking was that if the metal of the ears would attract the right signal, then adding metal, in the form of aluminum foil, would attract even more and better waves.
So out came the Reynolds aluminum foil. A piece was torn and my dad, the technical expert, would twist it and roll it out. Then he would tie it around the bottom of one rabbit ear where it looked like a wing. He’d slowly move the foil wing up a few inches at a time, always observing the picture tube to see the effect. If needed, he would add a second wing to the other rabbit ear.
When the picture finally appeared in sharp black and white contrast, dad would give the foil the correct pinch to keep it in place.
I can visualize it now, rabbit ears spread wide in a horizontal position, aluminum foil wings on the ends of each antenna while below Ralph Kramden was threatening to send Alice to the moon. It was our own rabbit ear spaceship.
And it worked. At least until it was time to change the channel.