The Pliers Years
May 13, 2008 11:10 PM   Subscribe

How common were broken-off knobs on old TVs?

When I was a child back in the 1970s, our TVs main rotary channel switching knob broke off, forcing us to use a pair of needle-nose pliers to change the channel. This went on for what seemed like many years until we got a new TV that used buttons.

So was our family's experience exceptional, or were broken-off TV knobs common?
posted by Tube to Technology (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've had this happen to me twice. I've had something in the region of seven rotary knob sets.
posted by tellurian at 11:16 PM on May 13, 2008

I recall this happening at least once with the old, 13 inch black and white TV that my mother made us use to play nintendo on. Luckily, it was the UHF knob and we rarely used it.
posted by phredgreen at 11:29 PM on May 13, 2008

One of our old TVs had buttons to change the channel, and a remote that would go lost for months at a time, so often the only solution was the buttons on set itself.

Well one Saturday morning, the Channel Up button somehow came loose and was pushed into the set, and the remote was lost, so the only option was to press the Channel Down button for extended periods of time until we got to the right channel.

Once I got really mad at it, so I stuck a paper clip on the opposite side of the broken button inside the TV. Then I pressed it against the case to change the channel. This was very tedious, and eventually we just bought a VCR for the set so we could finally go Up and Down at will.
posted by hellojed at 11:33 PM on May 13, 2008

We had a little 13-inch black and white TV in our kitchen in the late 80s that had to have its channels changed (rotary knob) with a pair of pliers.
posted by amyms at 11:38 PM on May 13, 2008

Rotary knobs just break off. (I hope; either that, or I come from a family of turn-happy klutzes.) My house is full of aging appliances, many of which at one point had rotary knobs. They don't anymore (oven/stove, television, washing machine, and radios come to mind). We had needle-nosed pliers in just about every room of the house. How fondly I remember...
posted by phunniemee at 11:40 PM on May 13, 2008

We had two 1970s era TVs that had broken VHF channel knobs. We clamped forceps on the channel knob stub and just got used to it. IMHO, in both cases it was a design flaw. You had a weak, plastic knob that went on top of a metal knob stub plus a relatively high torque was required to change channels on the mechanical tuner. Combine this with a teenager with a short attention span that channel flipped like crazy and eventually a plastic piece around the area which went over the knob stub broke off.
posted by jaimev at 11:46 PM on May 13, 2008

I can't remember a TV we had from about 1960 through maybe 1974 that had all its knobs- all old black and white tube sets. One I particularly remember was a Zenith that had a pair of Vise-Grips permantly clamped to the channel selector.
posted by pjern at 11:47 PM on May 13, 2008

If epoxy didn't fix it, needle-nosed pliers did. (and a folded envelope unlocked all of the cable channels on the box).
posted by zengargoyle at 11:56 PM on May 13, 2008

Oh yeah, happened all the time. Before remote controls, that's how you changed the channel. So you were endlessly spinning the thing, more often faster than you really should have, and over time it would just wear out and break.
posted by Naberius at 1:40 AM on May 14, 2008

I spent much of my younger years with a TV exactly like this, with its own pair of pliers stored on top.

posted by mmoncur at 2:32 AM on May 14, 2008

1/3 from a sample set of 3.
posted by plinth at 3:32 AM on May 14, 2008

We used pliers on our old Heathkit tv back in the 60's.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 4:27 AM on May 14, 2008

Absolutely, we ended up tying a pair of tweezers on a string to the top of the television. I've also had the same problem with an old oven in a house I was renting - it had it's own set of on top the fridge.
posted by sleep_walker at 4:46 AM on May 14, 2008

(I can't type)

it had its own set of pliers
posted by sleep_walker at 4:47 AM on May 14, 2008

In New Zealand we only had one channel until about 1974. Until then of course we never touched the channel knob except when the TV was installed. My Dad was a TV repair technician. He think he used a lot of CRC (like WD-40) unfreezing channel knobs that had been stuck in the same place for years.

Life was simple before then. If you told someone about a TV program, they never had to ask what channel. :-)
posted by tetranz at 5:02 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ours never broke, but my sister & I discovered how to remove the knob entirely -- which added a whole new dimension to our fights over who got to pick the TV show.

...naturally, this produced occasions where the TV was knobless, and nobody knew where the knob was. Not exactly a broken knob, but similar enough I think.
posted by aramaic at 6:24 AM on May 14, 2008

3 pliers.
3 sets.
(I felt like a hillbilly growing up...)
posted by Dizzy at 6:24 AM on May 14, 2008

Back in the day, most of those knobs were made of Melmac (tm), which was a special kind of plastic that would eventually dry out and become brittle, then crack into 2 halves and fall off.
Melmac was also used for the heat resistant handles on pans that went on the stove, and the heat would make it dry out faster, so they always cracked at the base, closest to the heat source, and then fall off.
Melmac was the first kind of "plastic" to be widely used commercially, and it's practically the symbol of the 50's. Any kitchen or TV pics of that era will show Melmac knobs and handles on everything. It only came in one shade of brown, so it's easy to identify in the images.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 6:42 AM on May 14, 2008

Naberius's experience is mine too. The constant spinning of the knob over time resulted in the inside of it becoming smooth, and no longer catching on the metal rod, thus the pliers on top of the set, and also many temper tantrums as someone's show was starting in 10 seconds and the damn pliers were missing again. I specifically remember throwing a fit about living with such cheap-ass parents who couldn't be bothered to go out and buy a new TV like normal people when I couldn't find the pliers in time for "Charlie's Angels" - my heroes, who drove cool cars and beat people up!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:02 AM on May 14, 2008

I remember the knob on our 13" Zenith would slip right off. And the numbers got worn off of the dials.
posted by adamrice at 7:09 AM on May 14, 2008

our mid 1970s Philco had this problem and we were never able to glue the knob back together or to find a replacement that worked (they broke as well). we used the pliers for so long that the stem actually wore down and the grooves in it matched the grooves on the pliers themselves! Then in 1980 bought an RCA with a digital numeric touchpad system. it felt so futuristic!
posted by kuppajava at 7:29 AM on May 14, 2008

Yep, needle nose pliers on the TV stand. You should have seen how we had the Atari rigged to the back.
posted by peep at 8:16 AM on May 14, 2008

Our channel switcher was a very sturdy dial, but my sister and I would torment each other by pulling off the on/volume knob. Somehow, we never actually lost it.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:24 AM on May 14, 2008

Melmac came in many, many colors, including Glow Copper, Mist Grey, Spray Lime and Glade Green.
(I just looked in my cupboard.)
posted by Dizzy at 10:55 AM on May 14, 2008

Bakelite is the brown/black stuff.
posted by aramaic at 10:55 AM on May 14, 2008

Reading this thread I'm rather shocked at how many people resorted to the pliers solution... Yes, it was an essential part of my early childhood (early eighties), with the added bonus for the parents of it acting as a makeshift censorship device, being that at that age I didn't have the strength to grip the pliers to the remains of the on-off-volume knob.
posted by iivix at 4:15 PM on May 14, 2008

aramaic is perfectly correct; the brown stuff was Bakelite, and that's what I get for trying to remember the 50's without enough caffeine. It wa a while back. Sorry.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:46 PM on May 14, 2008

Response by poster: Wow! I thought two or three people might chime in with a story similar to mine, but I'm truly amazed here! Seriously, I had no idea that the "pliers solution" was this common. Perhaps one day we will see the pliers solution incorporated into a "period" TV or movie scene for comedy gold...
posted by Tube at 6:02 PM on May 14, 2008

My boyfriend and I both had televisions with broken-off knobs and pliers when we were growing up. Also, I have to wear rubber gloves to use my DVD player without getting shocked, and he has a friend who had a boombox with a CD player whose lid only stayed shut if you wedged a cassette tape between the lid and the handle.

We're from Circumstances.
posted by heffalump at 9:18 PM on May 15, 2008

I remember the power/volume knob on at least two TV's being broken off, and nothing beat the needle-nose pliers for that. No memories of the UHF or VHF knobs being broken.
posted by not_on_display at 7:21 PM on July 2, 2008

« Older Help me get back on track..   |   Aussie looking for a DVR that uses EPG Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.