It was the infomercial/paid-advertising boom of the 1990s that paved the way for more broadcasting choices for the networks. Before that, television channels simply did not have enough programming to fill the 24 hour broadcast day. Television networks would sign-off. They actually went off the air! There were no infomercials for "the best spray paint hair in a can!" Instead, networks would show a test pattern accompanied by a single tone, lounge music, or a loop of the local weather report.
At times the test pattern would have the station call letters on it along with the network logo.
Color bars would also be used once a channel ended their broadcast day.
The Indian head test pattern was one of the most famous television broadcast test patterns.
Most networks signed-off around 2am after the midnight movie finished. Before signing-off they played some public service announcements that were required by law, followed by the local news bulletin or happenings (fundraisers, church meetings, county, city fairs, etc.) and then ended with the sign-off film. The film generally consisted of local shots of the broadcast areas or very patriotic images (the flag, eagle, Liberty Bell) Depending on the location of the television station, some had a more religious feel to them with a night time prayer. Most networks returned to the air at 6:00am with the morning news.
Let's take a look at what you may have watched if you were awake while your favorite television channel took a little break. Here are some classic sign-off films from all over the U.S.