A different kind of snow | AspenTimes.com

A different kind of snow

Tim Willoughby

Television did not make it to Aspen until almost 1960. Parents had happily anticipated raising yet another generation of readers without distraction, but we children celebrated televisions arrival with glee.Even as Sputnik circled the earth in 1959, technology had to be stretched to provide television to mountain communities. For Aspen to receive TV broadcast transmissions, it was necessary to beam and boost a signal from Grand Junction over the mountains. Realtor Gene Mason, Hotel Jerome manager Lawrence Elisha and others raised the funds for the necessary equipment. Volunteers including Ken Broughton (Aspens electrician) and Albert Bishop installed the system.Barney Bishop remembers traveling with his father to locate the booster site. It was a low-tech process. A sight line had already been established from Grand Junction to the top of Sunlight Mountain above Glenwood Springs so one team went to Sunlight while a second group drove up Smuggler Mountain. Each carried a large dresser mirror. At a designated time, they signaled each other with the mirrors to verify a straight-line connection.Storage buildings to house the equipment were built on both mountains. A power line was extended from town to the Smuggler booster.Few Aspenites owned televisions, but demand for the devices grew quickly. Tom Sardy sold television sets at Aspen Supply and Dale Grant created a sideline businesses selling TVs at his plumbing office on Cooper Avenue.Early on, the quality of the broadcast signals was marginal. Sound was sufficient, but the picture was often mostly snow. You could see objects move, but they were not always identifiable. We did not care, because seeing a glowing picture screen was in itself a new and exciting experience.Aspen received only one channel: KREX-Grand Junction. It was part of Rex Howells XYZ network. Howell began broadcasting in Grand Junction in 1954 and his stations provided the only television on the Western Slope until cable providers entered the market.KREX carried mostly programs from CBS, but also offered programs from ABC and NBC. National news came from CBS. KREX offered its own Western Slope news broadcast, but their reporters rarely ventured as far as Aspen. CBS Ed Sullivan Show and Lawrence Welk Show and NBCs Dinah Shore Show offered popular variety entertainment. Gunsmoke and Have Gun-Will Travel provided the western fare. Family shows dominated prime time: Father Knows Best and Dennis the Menace. Red Skelton was the king of comedy and Raymond Burr as Perry Mason dominated drama. Sky King and Sea Hunt were childrens favorites.I never stayed up late enough to view the Jack Parr Show with the adults. It was common for Rex Howell to begin or end the day with personal comments, or to editorialize after the local news. KREX did not broadcast all night, signing off at what today would seem an early time. After sign-off, a test pattern was broadcast on the screen for a while and then there was nothing but snow. Many commercials touted local goods; some were even broadcast live. Jay Johnsons Auto seemed to be the major sponsor hawking tire deals every week. A Grand Junction cafeteria also sponsored shows frequently.TV arrived in my home as I suffered a bout with pneumonia. Through the five weeks of my convalescence my mother let me watch daytime programming. I remember trying to stay awake through As The World Turns. My favorite was the Arthur Godfrey Show, broadcast from Hawaii. As snow fell outside my living room and sometimes danced across my screen, visions of people in Hawaii nursed me back to health.

Tim Willoughbys family story parallels Aspens. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.Yore Aspen is a regular feature of the Aspen Times Weekly.

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