The bottom knob, with thirteen channels, was where you found your three network stations; if you were in a major metro area, you might have also had a fuzzy, low-power public broadcasting station.
But the upper dial tantalized us with the promise of oh so much more — for that is where channels 14 through 83 lived. Channel 83! What a magical sound for young ears. Imagine a world with 83 channels! Surely, a world in which kids fly to school on their personal rocket belts and communicate via pocket video telephones.
How many hours did I spend exploring the snowy wasteland of UHF, eager to glimpse the occasional ghostly image from a distant station sent my way by a fluke of solar flare activity from some unknown region and caught momentarily by my antenna like an exotic fish nibbling on a cheap lure? One particularly fine day I was able to watch most of The Beatles’ Help — without sound, and maddeningly blizzarded by static — from a mysterious station three or four states away.
UHF stations were the repository of all the great low-budget TV shows and movies that the “lower 13” channels disdained: the leftover movie serials, monster movies, gumshoe detective thrillers, radioactive mutant alien invasion horror films, and — way past your bedtime — the movies that your parents said were only for mommies and daddies who loved each other very, very much.
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By day, I’m a freelance writer and editor. Way past my bedtime, I’m an aspiring SF writer who had the great good fortune of growing up with two such stations nearby. Although I appreciate and enjoy most forms of SF, thanks to those channels the warmest cockles of my SF-lovin’ heart are devoted to the glorious movie and TV products of the 1950s through the early 1970s.
Partly as a writing exercise, partly as an homage, I have created Channel 37 as a place to re-create my ideal UHF channel of my youth: a place where, by simply turning the dial, I can once again find the clunky tinfoil robots, rubber-suit monster menaces, spaceships dangling on strings, and quippy jut-jawed heroes battling it out in front of smoke-filled cardboard sets accompanied by really bad organ and Theremin music.
And maybe, if I stay up late enough, one or two of those mommy-and-daddy movies too.