Dig this neat little vintage piece of electronic gadgetry I found just yesterday: it’s the AMF Paragon Nite Owl TV Timer, hailing from, near as I can tell, somewhere in the 1970s. I know not the exact year or years this was manufactured, but it certainly looks like a definitive product of the 70s. Maybe I should I wear my leisure suit whilst handling it? (Seriously, I have one; I could do it if I were so inclined. Which I’m not – that thing’s itchy.)
Now at first glance, this may not look like a terribly ‘big’ find; I mean, it’s a woodgrain-and-plastic box, with a knob on the front. If I had a hard time drumming up interest in my Wonder Wizard and Magnavox ’85 TV posts (and I did; I really thought people would care more), I don’t expect this article to instantly have numbers that bump the figurative ceiling.
But then, just like I figured when I wrote about that Spartus talkin’ clock, this will be there when/if the right person comes along looking for it. And if, also like the Spartus, it eventually attains a level of viewership high enough to put a pointless smile on mah face somewhere down the road, well, more’s the better.
No kidding, I love old TV-related gadgets and gizmos like this, and I’d like to think that some of my readers do, too. Sure, they may not have much practical use nowadays, but as artifacts of a bygone era in television and electronics manufacturing, I think they’re still indispensable, even it’s if only for what they represent. The shape, the design, the intended function, it all points so clearly to a specific era. I love stuff like this.
If I’m being totally honest with you though, it really all comes down to that name for me: “Nite Owl TV Timer.” Man is that cool! Indeed, that’s what caught my eye at the thrift store yesterday, and precisely why I pretty much had to come home with the thing. (By the way, handling this, two mugs, several CDs and a vinyl record is unwieldy to say the least. Luckily I had someone with me to help shoulder the load, because this particular store doesn’t have carts, and there’s not really enough room to safely maneuver around in even if they did. But, I digress.)
That name alone evokes an era of late night television broadcasting that I find irresistible. The late late movie and/or local horror movie host programs – which obviously brings to mind legendary Columbus TV icon Fritz the Nite Owl (remember that time I met him?) – the room preferably illuminated only by the glow of the cathode ray tubes bringing it all to you. And, I like to imagine, viewed while sitting on a really ugly plaid chair or couch of some sort. Oh, am I putting too much thought into all this? Look, I like the name a whole lot, okay? (Hey, I am, and have been for many years, quite the “nite owl” myself!)
So anyway, what exactly does the Nite Owl do, you ask? Obviously it’s some sort of a timer intended for use with television sets; hasn’t that already been made abundantly clear by now? Pay attention, sporto! Oh alright, let the back of the unit explain things in more detail…
I went searching for instructions online, full-fledged paper manual-type instructions I mean, but the only hit I came up with wanted me to register in order to view it. Man, don’t hand me that jive! So the (nicely detailed) description on the back of the unit here is going to have to do.
Basically, the thing would automatically turn your TV off for you. Whether to regulate your television-viewing habits, help save on the electricity bill should you fall asleep during whatever
crummy old movies the local channel foisted upon you regularly, or even to help with those who may have mobility issues (I’m assuming this was released before remote controls were quite as commonplace as they’d become), the bottom line is that with the Nite Owl TV Timer in place, the only heavy lifting you had to do was with your eyelids HAW HAW HAW!
That knob on the front, as per the instructions on the back of the timer, it worked in hour-long increments, up to six of ’em for those of you who like to watch up through the wee wee hours of the morning. (Hey, I can and do relate!) At the end of the allotted time, the timer would then turn your TV off for you, lest you awake in your ugly easy chair to the abrasive sights and sounds of snowy, off-air static. (Stations used to regularly sign-off, after all!)
(I’m going to guess that the timer was exact enough so that placing the knob in between, say, the 5 and the 6 would give you five hours and thirty minutes of safe TV-watchin’, but I really have no idea – maybe an actual instruction manual detailed further? I assume that you could also increase or decrease the time during viewing as well, should you plan to go to sleep later or earlier than initially anticipated, but that’s also strictly guesswork on my part. Anyone know for sure?)
“Hey, does the name mean you could only use it at night? HAW HAW HAW!” Drop the silly goose routine, jack.
I tend to think of ‘extra’ electronic components from that era to be relatively complicated installation/operating processes, at least when viewed from a modern standpoint. Inputs and outputs and wires and RFs and screws and buttons and knobs and so on and so forth. I mean, you ever see an early generation VCR? Why, just looking at the process involved with setting the recording timer is enough to make ya head swim!
Of course I’m (mostly) just joshin’ you here. Obviously things became progressively more simplified as technology advanced, and there’s generally a learning curve with any new piece of equipment you bring into your home.
So what am I even blathering about? Meh, that’s just my long-winded way of saying the Nite Owl was really, really easy to use. All you did was plug your TV into the, as per the Nite Owl itself, “piggyback plug” here (is that an official name for these?), then plug that into an outlet, and then you were pretty much good to go. Set the knob, and prepare for a night of mind-at-ease late Bela Lugosi movie-viewing. It’s so easy, a corndog could do it!
During my online research of the Nite Owl, it quickly became apparent that AMF Paragon was a big manufacturer of timers in general. I *think* they still make timers nowadays, but nevertheless, it doesn’t take much searching to see all the different varieties they released back then. So now I’m wondering: obviously this Nite Owl was made for television use, but would plugging any electric appliance into it produce the same timed result, or is there circuitry inside specifically and exclusively designed for use with TVs?
That’s what I’m wondering, but what you may be wondering is why I’ve posited all these questions throughout the article that could easily be answered by merely plugging the thing in and taking it for a spin. The answer to that is this: it’s really more of a display piece to me. Oh sure, I could fire it up, but aside from a few words one way or the other on my part, I can’t really take any pictures of the thing operating that would be helpful. So what’s the point? It’s not like I’m selling it. It was obviously sturdily constructed, so despite some expected wear from presumable years of usage, I imagine the thing still works.
But whether it does or doesn’t is sorta immaterial to yours truly; it’s all about the feelings of a bygone era this thing evokes. A time of woodgrain and shag carpets and big lapels, a time of knob-based TVs, before VCRs were widely available to the consumer (if they were even available at all), when staying up late to catch a movie on TV really meant something.
And even if it doesn’t hail from that era exactly, it still looks like it does.
Plus, that name, that name! If I ever have the opportunity to meet Fritz the Nite Owl again, I’m considering asking him to autograph it despite the tenuous connection between the two entities. That’s not a joke, either; I can think of no higher honor to bestow on the Nite Owl. (The timer, I mean.) It would sure make me feel like the proverbial big man on campus, at any rate.