Sunday, April 22, 2012

Personal Entertainment - The 1970's Way

I found myself on a bus to New Jersey the other day.  The walk through the Port Authority Bus Terminal reminded me of the first times I found myself there.

My family had moved to suburban New Jersey when I was five years old.  Every now and then, we would return to New York to visit family.  Usually, my Dad drove in one of the large tank-like sedans that everyone drove in the very early 1970's, but on occasion, we would take the Lakeland Bus to Manhattan. My paternal grandmother, who worked for Macy's for an incredibly long time, would meet us and I would get to enjoy a quick trip to the Playland arcade for some Skee-Ball, before we continued on to the World's Largest Department Store to indulge in Nana's employee discount for my back-to-school clothes.

I don't remember much about the Port Authority back then - aside from the fact that I used to call it the Port of Authority, but I do recall the cutting-edge entertainment available to travelers awaiting their busses.  Three words: Coin Operated Television.  It was so exciting to me back then, but as I walked through the terminal in 2012 with a messenger bag containing several devices with more computing power than Apollo spacecraft, it seems incredibly quaint.  Imagine a row of waiting room chairs, with small black and white televisions mounted in front of each seat.  A quarter would buy about 15 minutes of television viewing...  Black and white television viewing...  Black and white broadcast television viewing… Static-laden, black and white, broadcast television viewing, which at that time meant, WABC, WCBS, WNBC, WNEW, WOR, WPIX and WNET (Public Television).  That's right, youngsters, there were seven glorious channels to choose from.  It seems incredibly quaint by today's personal entertainment standards, but to a seven or eight year-old child, there was nothing more cool than watching television anywhere outside your home.  I LOVED watching those Port Authority TV sets, so when we had to wait for a bus, my parents (or grandparent) would indulge me with a quarter to feed the TV - that was a lot of money back in the time when you didn't pay for television.

I don't remember what I watched, but it was probably Batman or Star Trek, or WPIX's Vice President and General Manager Richard Hughes delivering his editorial (New Yorkers will remember the solemn fellow speaking with the channel 11 logo over his shoulder; "What's your opinion?  We'd like to know.")  Whatever it was, and however much static there was, and even if I wouldn't watch it at home, watching it in the Port Authority made it cooler.

So, the next time you watch a TV show on your iPad at the airport, train station or bus depot, remember us previous century pioneers of personal entertainment.  


  1. I remember these from the airport in Lincoln, Nebraska. You were lucky, we only had 5 channels and 2 were CBS affiliates.

  2. "Port of Authority" was (and may still be) common usage, because the bus terminal was operated by The Port of New York Authority, as it used to be called before it was changed to the current name, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.