Cable Television in the 1980’s

                            

Most of my earliest memories of watching television are associated with my family’s move to Georgia in February 1983. I remember our first cable box was  beige with a silver dial and it sat on top of our television set. I think our cable company was called “Summit”. There was a sticker on the back of the cable box with a blue outline of mountains on a white background. 

We had televisions in the living room upstairs and the “rec” room downstairs. The upstairs television was our dad’s television, but we usually watched our Saturday morning cartoons on it. The rest of the week for our after school television lineups, we usually watched our mom’s television set downstairs. I wouldn’t get my own television set until I graduated college in the early 2000’s. 

We had both basic cable television and pay channels when we first moved into our house in Georgia. TBS Superstation, HBO, Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel, USA Network, TBS Superstation, and WGN were our most watched channels along with the “Big Three” networks. Later, we would add MTV and VH-1 to our line up, and let’s be honest, those channels deserve their own articles. 

These are some of my favorite cable television channels from the early 1980’s and memories I associate with each these channels. 

TBS Superstation 

To this day, I remember The Andy Griffith Show on TBS Superstation airing at 6:05 P.M. when we ate dinner. Whenever I hear the signature whistle of the theme, I’m ready for supper. The television was on in the other room as we ate, so we were usually busy talking about what we did during the day and didn’t hear much of the show. 

I also remember seeing The Addams Family and The Munsters for the first time on TBS. I also had vague memories of a game show revolving around video games, but thanks to Pitfall Gary’s awesome article, I now know that show was called Starcade

On Sundays, my dad watched wrestling on TBS. At the time, I didn’t know it was called wrestling. I thought it was “Men in Their Underwear Yell at the Camera”. Some of the wrestlers had really fun costumes. One of my favorites was Rowdy Roddy Piper. As I mentioned with the Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak, I love alliteration. I’ve been happy to learn from quite a few of my wrestling fan friends that even though Rowdy Roddy played a heel, he was a class act in real life. 

As much as I miss my early childhood in Chicago, there were also some really cool things about growing up in Atlanta. Whenever we went downtown for something, I looked forward to riding  by the TBS building. I’ve also been to the CNN Center a few times, usually before concerts. 

HBO

I remember when Fraggle Rock aired on Sunday nights preceded by HBO’s beautiful “Feature Presentation” opening. Whenever I saw the camera panning over the small-town street and then ascend into a starlit sky, I always knew something special was coming. They knew how to build anticipation back then. 

Another Muppet production I remember as seeing for the first time on HBO was Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. For a while, it just wasn’t Christmas without a visit to Emmett Otter and his Ma in Frog Hollow. The Riverbottom Nightmare Band terrified me, especially the snake. I’m surprised the ending never came up in high school English class when we read O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi”. 

Also, I remember watching Red Skelton’s Christmas special on Christmas morning while we waited for our parents to come down to unwrap presents. I don’t remember much about it because the anticipation for presents overshadowed everything else. 

Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite 

Being a child of the 1980’s meant we saw Nickelodeon in its earliest days. Their broadcast day would start with Pinwheel and would end with either You Can’t Do That on Television or a Danger Mouse cartoon in the early days. On weekend afternoons, we looked forward to seeing what we would get in our Special Delivery. 

On our cable service, Nickelodeon “shared” with A & E. At about eight every night, our Nickelodeon station would change over to A & E. Early on, this was our bedtime, so it didn’t really matter.  Once Nick at Nite started, we didn’t want to miss out on the fun, especially Dennis the Menace and Mister Ed

Pinwheel had characters like Plus and Minus (their version of Bert and Ernie) and their “Gotcha Last” game. Ebenezer T. Squint always reminded me of a cross between Oscar the Grouch and the Count. 

There were some great short (mostly European) animations on Pinwheel like “Hattytown Tales” Not only did the people in the town live in homes that look like hats, their actual heads were shaped like hats. There was also a French cartoon called “Emily” about a girl with a pet hedgehog. Some familiar characters from books like Paddington and Madeline. Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings. (Remember the Mike Myers SNL parody skit where he sat in the bathtub and held up drawings?)  The Magic Carousel,  and Chapi Chapo.  

As I got older, I moved into programming like You Can’t Do That on Television, Out of Control, and Turkey Television. As a pre-teen and teen, I watched shows like like Hey Dude, Salute Your Shorts, Clarissa Explains it All, Ren & Stimpy, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Roundhouse, and All That

I remember watching the SNICK block while I was babysitting. Fortunately, the parents usually came home well after Are You Afraid of the Dark aired. I would be watching the local community bulletin board channel set to the local Adult Contemporary radio station, playing the kind of innocuous soft rock Delilah plays. 

No discussion of Nickelodeon in the 1990’s is complete without a mention of Nicktoons. Ren and Stimpy, Doug, Rugrats (my personal favorite), and Rocko’s Modern Life. Ren and Stimpy had a lot of scary things in it. Sometimes, it scared me even more than Are You Afraid of the Dark! 

One of my favorite Nick at Nite shows was SCTV, especially when Joe Flaherty appeared as Count Floyd in the “Monster Horror Chiller Theater” sketches. I also loved the “3D” effect in the sketch within a sketch from the fictional “Dr. Tongue” franchise. 

The Disney Channel 

The early days of The Disney Channel were wonderful. Their day started with Good Morning Mickey and Donald Duck Presents. I can still remember the Donald Duck Presents theme, especially the parts where they had Donald Duck’s voice saying things like “surprises” and “crazy stuff”. 

Other Disney Channel shows we watched on a daily basis were Mousercise, Welcome to Pooh Corner, and Dumbo’s Circus. It’s also where we went for a lot of the classic holiday specials like Disney’s Halloween Treat and Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Our parents decided to cancel it just as Good Morning, Miss Bliss was about to start.

USA Network

Eventually, I grew out of Nickelodeon’s target audience, but one cable channel seemed to grow and evolve with me from childhood through my adolescence and adult years. From Calliope and USA Cartoon Express to Youthquake, Dance Party USA and edited versions of theatrical releases. In the early 2000’s, USA had a string of successful light dramas. Monk, Psych, Burn Notice, In Plain Sight and White Collar were my personal favorites of those. 

I didn’t watch Calliope often. I think it was on at the same time as Pinwheel and/or Bozo’s Circus. Also, if I would be watching any of these shows, it was summer vacation, a sick day, or a holiday break of some kind because I was in the middle of kindergarten when we moved to Georgia. 

I also remember during the time off from school waiting for The Gong Show to end and the USA Cartoon Network to start. This was where I saw many classic Hanna-Barbara shows like Laff-A-Lympics, Jabberjaw and Grape Ape. When Cartoon Network started in 1992 followed by Boomerang in 2000, the cartoon characters on the new channel were like old friends. 

As for Youth Quake, this was a newsmagazine for teenagers. The show aired at around ten or eleven on Saturday morning in the 1990’s. Most of the times I watched it was when the TV Guide listing mentioned a musical artist or actor I liked would be making an appearance. There were other times where they highlighted current events around the world. I remember seeing a fair amount of interviews with teens about various subjects on this show. 

WGN 

WGN was the Chicago channel. This was where we watched The Bozo Show, at least part of our after school cartoon line up, “edited for television” movies, and Chicago Cubs games during the summer.  I remember how my brother would set up his Hot Wheels track and play with his cars while he watched the day game. 

My parents also watched the Chicago news on this channel and sometimes we even saw commercials for Chicago companies like Empire. (588-2300 for Chicago kids, this number in this jingle is as easy to remember as “Jenny’s”) . When I was very little, I was terrified of that man and didn’t know why until I was a teenager: the jingle starts in a minor key. 

When my friends from the Northeast talk about their fondness for WPIX, I recall my own fond memories of watching WGN’s programming. 

By the way, if you want to see a great series of videos about Nickelodeon, check out the “Nick Knacks” video series by Pop Arena on YouTube. This video was particularly helpful in identifying Pinwheel’s animated shorts. 

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About Karen Flieger 25 Articles
I was born in the late 1970’s, spent my childhood in the 1980’s, and my pre-teen and teen years in the 1990’s. I graduated from Kennesaw State University in 2001 with a B.A. in English. I collect various forms of media (books, music, movies, and television shows) as well as plush toys, dolls, and Funko figures.