KORT TV

The events relayed here took place in the 1970’s in Bush Alaska. 
 
This was prior to the wide incorporation and acceptance of political correctness in our society. It was also prior to much of anything resembling refinement in Alaska. Please remember this as you read. If you are easily offended skip this entry. Honestly. Skip it.
 
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When I was about five years old my father decided he wanted to be able to watch television in his own home.
 
The problem was, as we established in  Ironing Money, that we lived in the bushes. Deep in the bushes. We lived so far in the bushes that not only was there no television reception, there was no radio reception either. And newspapers and magazines arrived via the Post Office and were weeks old by the time we saw them. I suppose it kept anyone from worrying too much about the state of the world.
 
Anyway, the closest thing to television reception at the time came to us from Fairbanks via a repeater in Tok. By the time it reached our airspace the signal had been bounced off at least two repeaters. What this meant is that we had lovely pictures of snow to watch. We didn’t need that on our TVs. We had enough of that out our windows eight and a half months of the year.
 
So my father got together with my uncle, an a/v guru living in Anchorage, who did a bunch of research and figured out what was needed to bring the glory of television into our home. These early efforts resulted in me learning to thread a reel-to-reel recorder at the age of five so my brother and I could watch The Sound of Music in black and white.
 
My uncle recorded movies in Anchorage that were broadcast via antenna with that clear big city picture and sent us the reels. He always took the time to edit out the commercials. This meant that my brother and I managed to survive our American childhood without having watched the requisite 5000 hours of commercials by the age of 10.
 
Of course my father wasn’t satisfied with just us being able to enjoy a movie or television show once in a while. He wanted to share the experience.
 
So he and my uncle strung cable to the lodge and bar my father owned. They strung two cables actually, one for picture and one for sound. The cable was run on the telephone poles. It was no short distance and no simple feat.  Then when we played a movie anyone in either of those buildings with access to a TV could watch it at the same time. It was good business for my father to rent hotels rooms with in-room television. In Bush Alaska in the 1970’s this was very, very cool.
 
And then along came the VCR and videocassette tapes. And with them . . . color recordings.
 
About once a month a box would magically appear in our lives filled with videocassette tapes. I vividly remember the brown cardboard box with red and black lettering . . . opening it and seeing all those black cassette sleeves lined up in perfect little rows with their little white piece of tape on the spine – my uncle’s neat handwriting telling us what treasure lay inside. Eagerly I would search for Mr. Rogers and anything labeled Disney®. Later it was CHiPs and Emergency. Ah, Larry Wilcox (Officer Baker, be still my heart) was delivered to me monthly in a little box from town. After we had watched the shows to death we’d send the tapes back to my uncle to be reused.
 
And then along came satellite television. That gave the world channels like HBO and Showtime. Of course at that time practically no one had a satellite on their roof. They were reserved for people with acres of land and boatloads of money. Anchorage reaped the benefit of satellite television via a local company called Visions.
 
Visions captured programs streaming via satellite one show at a time and then built their own programming. They sold subscriptions and installed equipment at each customer’s house and sent out a monthly schedule. By capturing and rebroadcasting Visions allowed people in Anchorage to watch those all time classics like Smokey and the Bandit at 7:00 p.m. instead of 4:00 a.m. Living in a state with its own time zone does have its challenges.
 
Well, my father subscribed to this service for my uncle and from then on our little care packages from Anchorage contained full length feature movies like the aforementioned Burt Reynolds classic and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. (I’m still paying for that – serves me right for sneaking into the living room, hiding behind the couch and watching it unbeknownst to any adult in the vicinity.)
 
Somewhere in the midst of all this my uncle and father figured out how to ditch the cable and push the television signal out to a four mile radius. This was achieved by running the VCR through a “fringe area” antenna amplifier into a channel 3-tuned antenna on the telephone pole outside our house. This gave TV signal access to people at the FAA compound, the village and even up toward the highway. Thus was born KORT. Low power, short distance but just like a real TV station.
 
Operating a “television station,” as it were, changed our lives a bit. It was a little weird knowing that what you put in your VCR people down the road were watching in their homes too.
 
It meant that every day my exit from the school bus was accompanied by a cacophony of voices submitting requests for at least a dozen different movies. “Wait twenty minutes and then put in such and such!” and “I want Witch Mountain!” and “Don’t start it yet!” I think we watched the Shaggy D.A. (“the shaggy dog movie” as the kids called it) no less than 112 times that year.
 
Of course my father was a businessman and not being one to miss a good business opportunity he also started selling TVs in his store around this time.
 
Generally speaking programming was a little sporadic. The station was off the air much of the day but my parents usually tried to have a movie in around 7:00 each night. For awhile I understand they were posting a bulletin listing the evening’s movie at the store so folks would know what would be available for their viewing pleasure that night.
 
Tapes were sometimes put in and set to run when we weren’t home. People would call and request specific shows. If possible one of us would run up to the house and pop in the movie to oblige their request. Occasionally the request was, “Play it again!” And often we did.
 
Of course, setting the VCR to play and then leaving the house caused problems on occasion. Sometimes when tapes were reused a G rated show would be taped over a longer running but . . . uh. . . less than family friendly movie. The G rated movie would end and . . . oops! . . .  something entirely inappropriate for a young viewing audience would appear onscreen. This generally resulted in a phone call to the lodge from someone in the village and one of my parents running madly to the house to shut off the VCR. A tad embarrassing, I’m sure.
 
Of course there were times when my parents played less than family friendly movies intentionally. One evening a woman from the village called and asked my father if he had any idea what he was showing. Being who he was his response was, “Yeah and if you don’t like it you can turn off your TV and you don’t have to watch.” Her response was, “I can’t! My house is full of people . . . but I think I will make my husband wait out in the yard until it is over.”
 
Now don’t think that some of those ladies didn’t enjoy those adult shows. There was a local lunch program for elders over 65. The elders would come into the café as a group at noon for a warm meal several days a week. My parents agreed to try to give them some entertainment with their food. Well the regular entertainment pool in a town of 300 doesn’t run particularly deep so TV served as entertainment. So what did they pop into the ol’ VCR on occasion?
 
A burlesque show.
 
I mean really . . . lunch and half-naked ladies. They brought Las Vegas right there into the village. There was no plot so the show didn’t have to be followed particularly closely. The visual factor was high. This helped those who were a bit hard of hearing or for whom English was a second language. The old women in particular would get a bang out of them . . . they would just sit there and giggle and giggle. Evidently it was fun to watch the ladies watch the burlesque shows.
 
I am compelled to report that my father undertook the entire KORT adventure because he liked to build and create things . . . and because he could. He did it entirely at his own cost and never charged anyone for the service. Technically KORT probably should have been licensed.  But as I mentioned, this was the 1970’s and it was Bush Alaska. Assuming anyone at the FCC could even find us on a map I’m sure they had much bigger fish to fry. In my father’s words, “We never bothered with a license but we had a lot of satisfied customers.”
 
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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. grannyPie
    Jul 29, 2010 @ 04:19:07

    Who was the uncle? Uncle B? And what did “KORT” stand for?

    Reply

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