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Message Cards
Written September 5, 2002



From 1974 to 1980, I worked at Washington Channels, the cable television system in Washington, Pennsylvania.  Specifically, I worked for Cable TV-3, our local origination channel, where we presented programs of local interest for several hours each day.

During the hours when there were no programs, anyone tuning to channel 3 would see the "data channel" service depicted here.  You see both an actual photograph and a cleaned-up reconstruction of how the data channel was laid out.

At the top of each screen:  electronically-generated weather data, obtained automatically from a set of gauges on our roof.

At the bottom:  a crawl with the weather forecast and promos for upcoming shows, typed by our staff.

And in the middle:  the "message cards."  These were 3½" by 5" cards mounted in a sort of Rolodex.  The wheel rotated slowly, so that every ten seconds a new card dropped in front of a black-and-white camera. 

We put advertising messages on as many cards as we could sell.  This was a significant source of revenue for our little "station."  The unsold spaces were used for public-service messages or promos, either for our own channel or for Home Box Office on channel 5.

Cable TV-3 never did make a profit, and we finally had to shut the operation down in 1980.  But I saved some of the message cards.  Here are some examples from that stack.




Many of the cards were hand-drawn, in black ink with pencil shading, by our advertising salesman Bill Wilson.  Bill also made up a card for himself when he ran for Washington City Council.

Sometimes I had to create the cards.  My lettering skills weren't as good as Bill's, so I used a regular typewriter, a large-type typewriter, and press-on transfer lettering in a few basic fonts such as Kabel (a popular bold font in the '70s).




We promoted HBO movies as well as our own programs, such as the evening news-and-talk program Greater Washington Today.


On my first day on the job, the GWT newscast included a Polaroid picture of a Washington & Jefferson College gateway damaged by a runaway car.  On my second day, I recycled the Polaroid for use as a news promo (at left).



Prices were lower then.  The print shop made a big deal out of discounting a catalog by a quarter, and Bill appealed to the electorate's anger over "exorbitant" one-dollar parking tickets.

And here are ten more examples for your enjoyment.  (I cannot tell
 a lie; it was I who put the baton into General Washington's hand.)





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