Judy Wagner in Spring Gap cried for joy, Guy Evans on Warrior Mountain bought an $800 console model and Bill Rice over by Twiggtown said he wouldn't care if he neer again saw a fuzzy Channel 6 out of Johnstown, Pa. -- the only station he could get until a few months ago.
That's when the television age finally dawned in this tiny town and its nearby mountains and hollows about 125 miles northwest of Washington.A clear signal, beamed by satellite and delivered by cable, has replaced the snowy channels -- and brought to rural life the familiar images of modern America: mornings with the "$50,000 Pyramid," afternoons with "Days of Our Lives," evenings with "Championship Wrestling" and late nights with the "Best of Carson."
But besides entertainment, television has changed the daily schedules of the housewives, farmers and blue-collar workers who live in the area. With the cable also came the controversial urban morality distant from these mountains -- uncut R-rated movies such as "Death Race 2000" and Bobby Jo and the Outlaw."
And as if to announce that the outside world had truly impinged on Oldtown, television brought a local scandal when the minister who organized the cable system, an outsider with John Denver-wholesome looks, was fired and charged with stealing money from the cable cooperative.
"We wonder sometimes if it's really worth all the personal injury and hurt feelings," sighed Shirley Youngblood of the scandal cable television brought. "It set friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor. This was a very close-knit, trusting community. It did so much damage, we wonder if we can ever put that trusting, loving community back together again."
For better or worse, Oldtown has lost its innocence. And life here has yielded to the rhythms of the television dial.
"I'll tell you, pal," explained Donald Ranker as he proudly paid his $18.50 cable fee two months in advance, "I got two brand new tractors, and every time a baseball game goes on, they stop."
Just the other week, he recalled, he visited suburban Washington and compared its selection of channels to Oldtown's. "I wouldn't trade a quart of ours for 10 gallons of theirs," he concluded.
The 276 households hooked up to the cable (more than 500 are scheduled for service eventually) are, in fact, receiving home entertainment far more varied than that available to most metropolitan viewers, including those in nearby Cumberland whose profit-making cable company shunned the Oldtown area.
Oldtown's 10 -- soon to be 12 -- channels include "superstations" from Atlanta, Chicago and New York, four other stations devoted exclusively to news, sports, religion and movies, a children's channel, public television and a NBC-affiliate out of Hagerstown. %tThere is a satisfaction in being, if not the first on the block, then the first in the hollow to hook up to this wonder of wonders.
"I was the first one got 'er in," beamed Ranker.
"No, you weren't," said Shirley Youngblood, the secretary bookkeeper for Oldtown Community Systems, Inc., housed in a small weathered building.
"I was the first up the hollow, though," Ranker rejoined. With that she agreed.
For Alan and Judy Wagner, who live in a trailer up another hollow, television has meant later nights and sluggish mornings. "We're getting less sleep," said Alan, a truck mechanic, "but it makes a six-pack taste better in the evening."
Judy's father who lives in a house nearby watches mostly the all-sports station. "He has a heart condition," she said, "and it keeps him in and not outside in the heat."
Of the day cable came to Collier Mountain and their home, she said, "I cried just to see it and to have TV like that in a community like this." She phoned Ray Duckworth, president of the Oldtown system, to thank him.
"We have something to be proud of," Duckworth told her.
"It's the best thing that's happened to Oldtown, I guess," said Guy Evans, who donated half an acre next to his home for the system's dish-shaped satellite receiving station. "We'd always got the short end of everything. But this is fantastic."
Evans' television fare had previously been limited to a single station showing mostly Shakespearean plays from Morgantown, W. Va., he said. Now, he enthusiastically pushes the remote control buttons of his new Quasar console to demonstrate the wider video horizon at hand.
"Is that Chicago or New York?" he said, tuning to Channel 3. "Thaths WOR, New York," he decided.
"It's just beautiful," said Mabel, his wife.
Which isn't to say there haven't been some gripes. Oirginal plans to exlcude cable channels carrying R-rated movies were scrapped because the selection was otherwise too limited. So one woman in her 80s decided life without television was better than the R-rated alternative and signed off the system, Duckworth said.
In other households, families split over the merits of Cinemax, the movie channel subscribers receive. "My husband and I differ," said Grace Crabtree."There's too much vulgarity on that, where you have an 11-year-old daughter in the house." She is also a critic of CBN, short for the Christian Broadcasting Network.
"Too many talk shows and not enough preaching," she said.
But Melvin Nines, the Oldtown systems manager, said another religious channel that is now discontinued, PTL, which stands for Praise the Lord, generated just the opposite complaint -- too much preaching and not enough talk.
The controversy over programming, however, pales compared to the one over the role of the Rev. W. Richard McNally, without whom Oldtown would have no cable, even his critics concede.
McNally, his wife and baby daughter came here in June 1978. He was full of energy and enthusiasm for his third ministry in Maryland. As newcomers to the area that Janice McNally said has "so many roots you can hardly put a shovel down," they were quickly adopted by this Bible Belt community. Ray Duckworth even took the preacher hunting in Colorado.
McNally, 34, preached at three country churches hereabouts and visited the old and the sick. But he also succeeded in obtaining low-interest loans from the U.S. Rural Electrification Administration eventually totalling $1.3 million to bring television to Oldtown.
But then, the preacher lost his flock -- over television. He was charged with mismanagement and worse. Last summer, the cable company's board of directors seized control of the nonprofit system's finances from McNally, who was relegated to the role of adviser.
To keep the dream of cable alive, eight residents posted their homes as collateral and borrowed $15,000 from a Cumberland bank to finish the system, which now had become a matter of civic pride.
Then, an audit last fall allegedly found a $2,000 discrepancy in the books and expenditures for flowers and fruit for local politicians that the directors deemed questionable. McNally, board members alleged, was responsible.
The Allegany County state's attorney's office investigated, and, last month, McNally was charged with stealing money from the system. The prosecutor has agreed to drop the charge if McNally repays the money. From his residence in another state, however, McNally said he knew nothing about such an arrangement.
"If I have to make good the $2,000, we're in big trouble, because I don't have 2,000," he said. "I don't have anything."
McNally denied the allegations and said he was baffled by the whole controversy. "Once the tide turned, it really turned," he said. "It was grotesque. My family got summarily thrown out of the church, harassed on the telephone, accused of everything but killing my mother. It got right rough."
McNally preached his last Oldtown sermons this spring to a dwindling number of true believers as most of his congregation went elsewhere. The Baltimore Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to suspend him indefinitely from the active ministry. A few weeks ago, McNally left the parsonage, taking with him a photocopier and other office equipment whose ownership is also in dispute.
"Here was a young man who had a lot of zeal but got very mixed up in how to apply that zeal to community problems," said the Rev. Wilson Shearer, immediate past dean of the Baltimore bishop's cabinet. "He saw himself more as a corporate executive than a pastor. He has some gifts and graces for the ministry, but other problems negated these."
"The [cable] board is guilty of one thing," said Donald Crabtree, its treasurer. "That's taking the word of a minister. I wouldn't even call him 'Reverend.'"
Among McNally's few local defenders is Myrtle Becker, 74, who emphasized that it was he who brought TV to these mountains.
"God love him, he was a sweet little thing and he was a good preacher," she said. "I don't think he did any of the things they said he did. He just went all out and put Oldtown on the map, that's what he did."