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This xkcd "What If?" reminded me of a short story I read, maybe in a compilation of Golden Age SF stories by the likes of Henry Kuttner and Fritz Leiber. It was just a few pages long. A group of rich old geezers are passengers on one of the first faster-than-light ships to leave Earth. The last few sentences of the story describe them gathering around a TV set to watch TV signals that left Earth in the '50s, which the ship has caught up with---it's an episode of "The Howdy Doody Show" that the old guys remember from childhood but thought they would never see again (since it was from the era of live broadcasting before videotape).

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2 Answers 2

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And, of course, after I post a bounty, I find some references. It seems this is likely "What Time is It?" by Jack Haldeman II.

This Straight Dope message board post:

There’s a science fiction story that postulates that the first use of faster than light travel is to carry aging baby boomers far enough out into space to see “Howdy Doody” and other shows that were broadcast live and not preserved: “What Time is It?” by Jack Haldeman II (Joe’s brother).

This blog comment:

There's a story called "What Time Is It?" by Jack Haldeman http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?53469 - FTL is used to go far enough away from Earth so that aging Baby Boomers can see episodes of Howdy Doody again.

And user14111 found a link to an archive.org copy of Vertex Volume 2 Number 6 where the story appears:

The men were crowded around a large wooden box. It had a three inch screen with a magnifying glass in front of it. They were watching the fuzzy television images that had left the Earth years and years ago— long before video tape had been around to preserve the signals. Some of the men clutched old television schedules; some wore hats with ears on them. A freckled-faced puppet was dancing on the screen while a clown squirted seltzer water.
All together now.
Hey kids! What time is it?

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    If anyone can get the book text, I'll happily let you copy over what I have and give you the bounty.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Oct 13, 2021 at 16:13
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  • @user14111: I did not see that. :) Do you want to post an answer? Or should we just improve PMar's anwer?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Oct 13, 2021 at 18:48
  • Do that or improve your own answer. My work is done here.
    – user14111
    Oct 13, 2021 at 19:00
  • “FTL is used to go far enough away from Earth so that aging Baby Boomers” Ok, boomers. Oct 13, 2021 at 20:19
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+100

The title of the story is "What Time Is It?". Sorry, don't recall the author.

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    There is a story of that title by Jack Haldeman which is collected in an anthology called TV 2000 so that sounds like a good candidate. isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?53469 May 30, 2017 at 18:13
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    Can you describe why you think this would be a good match.
    – Valorum
    May 30, 2017 at 18:15
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    It's a story about TV and it's in an anthology about TV. May 30, 2017 at 18:16
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    @Gallifreyan Definitely not the Elam story, described in this unaccepted answer. Not the Asimov, that's a Black Widowers story. If it's one of those four, it's probably the Haldeman.
    – user14111
    May 30, 2017 at 20:24
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    Haldeman's "What Time Is It?" seems to fit the "very short" part of the description, apparently it's all on p. 12 of Vertex, February 1975. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of that.
    – user14111
    May 30, 2017 at 20:27

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