Big Chuck: TV Guide was once a thing you just had to have

As many of you know, in the late 1950s and all through the 1960s, I worked in my parents’ little grocery store on Main Street in Sidney. Lots of people made us their food shopping destination every week, and for that we were all grateful.

As with stores much larger than Don’s Super Market, the big sellers were meat, bread, dairy products, produce, canned food and beer. But for all the necessities we sold, this one item stood head and shoulders above all the others when it came to “don’t come home without it.”

The TV Guide.

We sold our TV Guide magazines right at the checkout counter. They were 15 cents and came out every week with the full listings of the still nascent world of television. At the end of the weekend, I dare say there wasn’t an order I didn’t ring up, or bag, that the customer wouldn’t throw a TV Guide in at the end. Everybody did it.

Remember, at this time television was a new item, a wonderment if you will. Not everybody had a TV, but with every passing year, more and more did. The TV Guide was the medium’s bible. We only had about three channels to choose from, so getting the information on “what was playing where” was vital to family life.

It had gossip, interviews, a full and accurate listing of every show, a TV-themed crossword puzzle and a great cover featuring one of TV’s biggest stars. In the mid-1960s, things really got interesting when a little icon would pop up on the page next to just a handful of shows. IN COLOR it said. Now, that was must-see TV.

The first issue came out on April 3, 1955, and featured a color photo of Lucille Ball’s newborn son, Desi Arnaz Jr. The title on the front read: “Lucy’s $50,000,000 Baby.”

Over the years, great artists drew covers for the TV Guide, most notably Al Hirschfeld, the legendary theater caricaturist who contributed dozens, from game show host Hal March in 1957 to the cast of “Seinfeld” in 1999.

We didn’t have to buy a TV Guide, we just brought one home from the store. But we still had rules. That little magazine stayed in my mother’s desk drawer by her chair or was on top of the new television set. And it was never to be moved. God forbid, we couldn’t find what channel Jackie Gleason or Red Skelton was on. It was a moment of high tension when the TV Guide went missing in our house.

One of the most exciting times of the year, as far as television went, was when TV Guide came out with their Fall Preview edition. All the new shows, all the new stars, all the new made-for-TV specials. People tore through those editions.

I guess over the years newspaper listings ate into the TV Guide readership, or maybe it was their new, slicker magazines, which were much larger and more expensive than the little 15 cent edition. Newspapers even had full pull-out television listing insert sections, and some, including The Daily Star, still do. Much later, there was even a full-fledged TV Guide television network.

Of course, today you can see what is playing on the 400 channels you subscribe to with just the click of a button. And honestly, I have no idea if  TV Guide is still published in any print form at all. I haven’t bought one in a half-century.

I can’t tell you how many times, back in the day, when I was sweeping up the store just after the 9 o’clock closing time, I would hear the front door latch rattling frantically. I’d walk up and see a man (usually) making all kinds of gestures to me to open the door. I would and say, “Can I help you?” The answer was usually, “Can you let me in please? I forgot to get the TV Guide today and the family will kill me if I don’t bring one home. Please!” The desperation on the man’s face told me that I had to rescue this poor soul, so I gave him a TV Guide.

Desperate for an item he just had to have. That the whole family demanded that he go out to get late at night. Not bread or milk. Or baby food or toothpaste. But a TV Guide.

Fifteen cents.

Hey, you just had to have it!

I’ll catch you in two…..

“Big Chuck” D’Imperio’s morning radio show can be heard weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Otsego County, WDLA-AM 1270 in Delaware County and WCHN-AM 970 in Chenango County.  All of his columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns.

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