You can't mute a newspaper ad

May 23, 2012|By TIM ROWLAND |

Back during the Nixon presidency, my grandparents had some technological advances that we didn’t.

One was a color TV. That’s not to say that our black-and-white model didn’t have some interesting features that theirs didn’t.

For example, ours had a knob called the “vertical hold.” When the vertical hold got out of whack, the picture would spin like a slot machine, and had to be adjusted with the vertical hold knob, which was on the back of the set. So, unless you were half giraffe, it took two people to synchronize the picture — one to turn the knob and the other to call out when the picture had stabilized.

But to me, as a small boy, the real technological gem of my grandparents’ set was a black oval switch connected to a wire that ran the length of their considerable living room to the back of the TV, where it was screwed into the set’s audio speaker.


Snapping the switch muted the set, and there was no greater trust than to be the person to whom the honor of silencing commercials had been assigned.

So it was goodbye Marlboro Man, so long Snap Crackle and Pop. We heard none of it. You would see 50 people on a hill mouthing the words to some song, never realizing that all they wanted to do was buy the world a Coke.

And if you forgot your duties and so much as two unmuted words emerged from the beak of Toucan Sam, you were shouted down by the remaining family members and had to surrender the switch to a more responsible party, spending the remainder of the evening in sullen shame.

So my point is that technology has been at war with television commercials for at least four decades.

Therefore, I don’t see what makes this latest assault so different.

This recent salvo comes from a DVR being sold by Dish TV, which eliminates commercials from recorded shows altogether. One push of the button and poof — you no longer have to put up with the person in the black pants suit telling you how benevolent and godlike the nation’s oil companies are.

This, of course, has network TV at a rolling boil because ad revenue is their bread and butter. They have threatened Dish with all manner of retributions, none of which has been effective to date.

There are many storylines and plot twists to the saga, but to me the one that is most revealing is: This explains why we as a nation are obese.

Apparently, entertainment and advertising executives on all sides of the issue are worked up about this technology because it allows people to do what they can already do now — by pushing fewer buttons.

Advertisers are appalled that their fine productions can be avoided at the push of a single button. But they have no issue with the existing ability to flash through the commercials at warp speed.

The conclusion is inescapable. They know that we, as Americans, will willingly push one button. But we will regard pushing two buttons— fast forward AND play — as too much work.

And I fear they might be right.

In my view, it all started going downhill with the garlic press; we have sought ever-easier ways of doing things to the point where pushing more than one button at a time is regarded as an exhausting over-taxation of our physical abilities.

Well advertisers, I would remind you that there’s one thing no button can overcome, and that’s a newspaper ad. That’s right, newspaper advertising, it’s the wave of the future. Although come to think of it, those newspapers are kind of heavy ....

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at

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