I can easily recall the late summer of 1965 and the events surrounding the first day of school at Ozark High. Paris was our football rival, although I am not sure why, since I can’t recall a single victory over the Eagles in the entire decade of the 1960s. Nonetheless Ozark felt compelled to use Paris as a measuring stick, not only in athletics, but every area of education.
Rumors spread at the Dari-Delite
I am pretty sure I was at the Dari Delite, where all news for teenagers was discussed, when I heard for the first time our arch rival’s innovative academic plan. Paris High School was initiating 1-to-1 television. Now television had been around for quite some time and most of us had a set in our homes. We could get all three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, by simply going outside and turning the antenna from west to east and from Fort Smith to Little Rock. TV was our main source of entertainment and in the last few years we were even able to see the World Series in color, but new technologies were about to change this narrow view of television as only a source of entertainment. Education was coming to TV and Paris was way ahead of the game. Televisions had gotten smaller and lighter in the last few years and Frankie and Annette could even take one to the beach. Portable TV was a reality, and now mobile watching meant blossoming possibilities for education. The Arkansas Legislature had passed a bill creating AETN, the Arkansas Educational Television Network. This new station, located in Conway, would broadcast educational programming all day, every day starting in 1966. Paris had seen the possibilities.
Which device to get?
There were several choices for mobile watching devices. Philco had a small, lightweight portable with a no-frills look and a modest price tag. Most of us had Philcos in our homes. Zenith was the choice for discerning viewers with the means to have one. Zenith’s portable had the added feature of a Z on the back of it’s portable model, which readily identified the owner as a more informed and well-off individual. Folks liked that Z even though Bonanza looked about the same on their device as on our Philco. Paris’s plan was that each student at Paris High would get their own Philco 12 inch portable. They would carry the 20 pound model in a specially designed backpack with cushioned straps and pockets for supplies. Girls and smaller students could use carts designed and maintained by the shop classes. These were painted blue and white with an eagle on the side. There were no bounds to our envy!
Wires would have to be run to each desk and connected to an antenna on the roof, a small price to pay if students could see television at school. Add to this already innovative approach to mobile watching the added perk that kids could actually take the TV home! They could start watching an AETN program at school and finish at home. The school-issued TV would eliminate the need for fine tuning and channel selection since the student was already tuned in at school. How cool! Ozark had only two weeks to catch up! The school board meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd and the packed house cheered when the superintendent announced a plan to “beat Paris in mobile watching.” Every student at Ozark High would get their own take home Zenith! Our carrying backpacks would be much cooler and our carts a beautiful purple and gold.
The day after Labor Day 1965 I started my senior year at Ozark High. The excitement normally associated with the opening of school was heightened exponentially by the anticipated implementation of 1-to-1 TV. Ozark had to let Mrs. Smith go. She was our Spanish teacher and since there was really no need for Spanish in Arkansas, she was expendable to make ends meet. We would miss her. The district hired the superintendent’s nephew to direct the new 1-to-1 TV program. He came highly recommended by the superintendent as a “young man who has probably watched more TV than anyone in Franklin County.” He could recite the plot of every episode of Andy Griffith. We also employed Mr. Homer Bosworth who ran the TV repair shop in town as a technician and Billy Wilson, an athletic young fellow, to run wire. No school could be more ready than Ozark for 1-to-1. We all met in the cafeteria to get our Zenith portables and backpack. The newspaper was there taking pictures and the cheerleaders even did a cheer spelling out Z-E-N-I-T-H and ending with “beat Paris!”
Levels of implementation
I remember Mrs. Willosent in English was not actually sure how to use the mobile watching devices, but she promised to find a way. Biology was a different story altogether and we had an assignment the first week. Our teacher was ready to go with the program. “Watch Mr. Wizard after school and there will be a test tomorrow.” It did seem odd that Mr. Wizard was covering simple machines and we were studying cell structure, but we had to adapt to the new technology. He called it “flipping the class” and we snickered. It was an exciting year. Ozark High was even featured in the Fort Smith paper. Our TVs with the cool Z were the envy of all the neighboring schools and most made plans for 1-to-1 TV for the next school year. Mrs. Willosent never really got it, but she let us turn on our TVs occasionally, especially when we had guests at school. We watched Mr. Wizard a lot and our American History teacher required us to watch the 6 o’clock news, which we eventually abandoned since we never covered the news in class. I also recall that I usually preferred to watch on my own television and I never quite got why I needed to carry one. I remember thinking it might have been a good idea to have a plan for how to use the TVs, but that was secondary to a need to compete with our rivals.
#1 in 1-to-1!
I graduated the next spring and I never really followed Ozark’s 1 to 1 TV program. I did hear that Clarksville was planning a “bring your own television” idea. I don’t know how that turned out. I will never forget the pride Ozark experienced touting an innovative technology program to compete with our rivals. We were number 1 in 1-to-1! I also remember that Paris beat us 36 to 0 in football.