TV Broadcasting History - Various Articles

Early Commercial TV (McLeod)

Date: Wed, 05 Jul 2006 15:31:13 +0000
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Early Commercial TV

Russ Butler asks about programming on NBC on the first day of commercial broadcasting, 7/1/41. Every source I see says a version of TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES was telecast. I believe this was a specially made for TV version, not a simulcast of the radio show, but perhaps someone will correct me. Does anyone know what else (if anything) was broadcast that day?

The NBC schedule for the first night of paid commercial programming was

1. Lowell Thomas News (Sun Oil)
2. Uncle Jim's Question Bee (Lever Bros -- Spry)
3. Truth or Consequences (Lever Bros -- Ivory Soap)

The evening began with a spot announcement for Bulova watches -- a tight shot of a watch face with no voiceover. Other spot ads that evening were for Botany ties (a series of art cards featuring the cartoon lambs then featured in Botany's print ads) and Adam hats (a slow camera pan of a simulated window display of the sponsor's product.)

Audio recordings of the evening's programming exist at the Library of Congress, but no visual recordings exist.

Of course, that was the beginning of COMMERCIAL television. NBC started TV as a regular service on 4/30/39 with the opening ceremonies for the 1939-40 World's Fair. Just think, if you were one of the few people lucky enough to have a TV set then you could have watched for 26 months before you saw your first commercial.

There had been experimental, non-paid advertising on television as far back as 1930. NBC's earliest non-paid commercials may have been those seen in the first major league baseball game ever telecast, a game between Brooklyn and Cincinnati, on 8/26/39. In order to secure the rights to show the game, NBC allowed each of the Dodgers' regular radio sponsors at the time to have one commercial during the telecast, and these were done by Dodger announcer Red Barber. For Ivory Soap, he held up a bar of the product, for Mobilgas he put on a filling-station-attendant's cap while giving his spiel, and for Wheaties he poured a bowl of the product, added milk and bananas, and took a big spoonful.


First Night Difficulties Beset WOR-TV's Premiere

This article appeared in the New York Times on Oct. 16, 1949.


The gremlins of wartime fame apparently returned last Tuesday evening to play their tricks and raise havoc with WOR-TV's formal debut. After functioning perfectly through weeks of experimental transmissions and rehearsals for the big day, the line carrying the sound portion of the opening night program "cut out" at 6:55 P. M., the exact moment when the station was schedule to go on the air. For the next few minutes the video audience could see John Gambling speaking but there was no accompanying sound. By one of those inexplicable coincidences, the sound channel was reactivated for exactly the one minute during which a bread commercial message was scheduled.

The station's switchboard was flooded with calls and 367 of them "got through" during the trouble period.

First night jitters also resulted in clearly audible applause during the "Handy Man" program which originates in a small, side studio - and which does not have an audience.

The station explains that the handclapping came from the main auditorium where Barry Gray was warming up an audience for his interview program to follow. Until its new studio space at 20 West Sixty-seventh Street is ready for use, all WOR-TV programs are originating from the New Amsterdam Roof Theatre, which has been leased and altered and refurbished for television.

WOR-TV, Seventh Station in Metropolitan Area, Makes Debut on Channel 9

This article appeared in the New York Times on Oct. 12, 1949.

WOR-TV, the seventh and final commercial video station authorized for the metropolitan area, made its official debut last night on Channel 9. The first personality to be seen over the station was John Gambling, a WOR radio veteran of twenty-five years. However, because of a break in the line carrying the sound from studio to transmitter, his message of welcome could not be heard. Also affected by the break was the first minute of the Joan Roberts show, which followed. In all, the sound accompaniment for the pictures was wiped out for six minutes, from 6:55 to 7:01 P.M. The station repeated Mr. Gambling's message at 9 P.M. Neither fanfare nor elaborate ceremonies marked the premiere. Other features were "Apartment 3C" with Barbara and John Gay; "The John Reed King Show", "The Handy Man" with Jack Creamer, and "The Barry Gray Show." Just before sign-off time, Theodore C. Streibert, station president, came on to acquaint the audience with WOR-TV's aims and future programs. The station has arranged a regular program schedule from 7 to 11 P.M., Tuesdays through Saturdays, but tonight and tomorrow evening it will sign off at 9 o'clock.

WLS-TV Transmitter Site Change

Dear Jeff,

I enjoyed your site of TV Broadcasting history. Would you like a couple tidbits?

I worked in engineering at WLS-TV Chicago from 1978-80, when we celebrated the station's 30th anniversary. I was told at the time that WLS (then WBKB) was the first station in Chicago and on its first night of operation, there were eight receivers in the Chicago area. Management was said to have known and contacted every viewer to confirm reception.

In 1974, WLS -TV moved its transmitter from the Marina City towers to the Sears Tower. I ditched my college classes on the morning of the switchover and watched Mayor Richard J. Daley announce "Dis is a great day for da City of Chicawgo, with Channel 7 today beginning transmission from da top of da Sears Tower, da world's tallest building. I will now throw da switch".

Mayor Daley threw a ceremonial switch, and the station went off the air for a moment and came back with a terrible picture that was almost unwatchable at my Evanston apartment. Later, I mentioned that to my boss at WLS, and he said there had been an error in the construction of the new antenna or transmitter plant and the station was deluged with complaints about degraded signal quality. He said they quietly switched back to the Marina City antenna while they corrected the problem, then began using the Sears antenna sometime later.

Thanks for putting together your interesting website.

Mike Wilson
Maintenance Engineer
Los Angeles, CA

WTTG, Washington

This article appeared in Popular Communications in March 1996 and is reproduced here with permission. Thanks to Jim Douglass for providing the back issue.


Television station WTTG, Channel 5, in Washington, D. C., celebrates its 51st birthday in May, which means it's a certified pioneer. According to Patricia Brennan's story about WTTG that appeared in The Washington Post's TV magazine, the station got off to a tenuous start.

During the last days of World War II, the station's transmitter and other components were driven from New Jersey to Washington by engineer Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and three associates. They managed to transfer all of the equipment to a room on the 12th floor of the Harrington Hotel, then employed unused elevator cables to feed power up to the equipment fro the hotel's basement.

On May 19, 1945, the FCC issued the construction permit. Only nine days later, an experimental license was issued because station W3XWT was ready to begin telecasting. This station was being put on the air under the auspices of Allen B. DuMont Laboratories of Passaic, N. J., where Goldsmith was the director of research.

DuMont Labs manufactured expensive upscale TV receivers. Because there were few TV stations in operation, DuMont was anxious to get more stations on the air in order to spur receiver sales. Goldsmith had previously put DuMont's New York station on the air (WABD, Channel 5), and Pittsburgh was scheduled after Washington was up and running.

DuMont's New York station had a few hours per week of local programming. That didn't help W3XWT, which hadn't gotten around to doing more than getting a signal on the air. The station ran a test pattern, and a repeating audio message asking viewers to call the station at the hotel. It took three months before they got any response, and that was in August when the war in the Pacific ended.

That day, crowds of celebrating people were surging through the streets. Goldsmith, therefore, decided to take his pen and write "War Is Over" across a blank video slide. That's when the Navy called the station. They had been monitoring the radio spectrum for clandestine activity, and became curious about the signals. This was the station's first "program," and its first viewer reaction! Certainly this must be the most inauspicious beginning ever to a 50-year career in television broadcasting.

In November 1946, the FCC licensed W3XWT as commercial station WTTG. The call letters incorporated Thomas T. Goldsmith's initials. Washington, New York and Pittsburgh eventually became the nucleus of the DuMont Network. DuMont later sold an interest in the network to Paramount Pictures. This proved counterproductive and resulted in programming cutbacks, forced the sale of the profitable Pittsburgh station, as well as creating FCC inquiries.

DuMont changed its name to Metropolitan Broadcasting in 1958, and by 1959 Paramount was bought out by John Kluge. The company then became known as Metromedia Inc. Fox Television purchased Metromedia in 1986.

This excellent information about W3XWT/WTTG was sent in by Brian Bohall, Leesburg, Va.

New Television Station

FCC Permits Du Mont to Set Up One for Commercial Use

This article appeared in the New York Times on Jan. 7, 1942.

Washington, Jan. 6 (AP) -- The Federal Communications Commission granted permission today to Allen B. Du Mont Laboratories, Inc., of New York to build a new television station, which will operate on 78,000 - 84,000 kilocycles.

A representative of the Du Mont concern explained that the television station, situated at 515 Madison Avenue and heretofore listed on the books of the FCC as experimental, had been transferred to the commercial class and might broadcast commercial television programs when the equipment was ready. It was explained that several months might elapse, however, before this was possible.

The Du Mont station is on Channel No. 3 in the New York City area. Test programs are on the air at least one or two evenings a week. Good reception has been reported as far distant as Bridgeport.

News of Television

This article appeared in the New York Times on Oct. 17, 1943.


Good news for television fanciers was forthcoming here during the past week. The Du Mont teleview outfit in the high building at Fifty-third Street and Madison Avenue, revamped and refurbished during the past summer, is ready to go on the air regularly with three programs weekly. A new "doughnut" video antenna has been installed atop the 130-foot steel mast that sprouts upwards from the building's top. The result is that Du Mont's signals are seen and heard with "exceptional" clarity within a 50 mile radius about the transmitter.

Reports of "good" reception are being received from points as distant as Philadelphia, Camden and Merchantsville, N. J. (suburb of Camden) and Wurtsboro, N.Y. (eighty miles northwest of Manhattan). The engineers are enthusiastic; such results were hardly to be expected considering the moderate height of the aerial - 635 feet - and that the optical horizon projected from the top of it is only about thirty miles from the station.

Height Is Important

Antennas and antenna height have a lot to do with the distribution of teleview signals. A previous system employed had been unsatisfactory over parts of Brooklyn, northeastern Manhattan and northern New Jersey. The new doughnut, however, is said to indicate an even video-sound coverage outward to the fifty-mile radius, with somewhat spotty results beyond. Tests are being carried on to determine maximum distances.

Du Mont programs, beginning tonight, will be on the air regularly Sundays, Tuesdays, and Wednesday from 8:30 to 10 P.M. on channel 4. There will be test patterns to aid in tuning programs, followed by various studio variety presentations and films. Samuel H. Cuff, news commentator, will be in charge. For the time being W2XWV will get along with its present small studio, but a larger one is being planned "somewhere in Manhattan." It is to include the best in convenience, lighting, and general operational facilities.

Operating a modern television station is a big problem anytime, but a far greater one under wartime materials and manpower shortages, according to engineer W. J. Swenson. Consider that to go on the air W2XWV uses 1,028 vacuum tubes of all types, 28 of them cathode ray tubes for monitoring the video signal. They are mounted in twenty or more six foot steel cases that bristle with glowing lights, meters, and knobs. Not a single piece of the equipment - all of it was made in Allen B. Du Mont's Passaic factory - is allowed to operate at less than 100 percent efficiency lest image or sound suffer in quality, or the extent of coverage shrink. When films are used additional equipment must be turned on and brought into electrical synchronization. Although the station normally radiates only about 2,000 watts of aerial power, 50 to 60 kilowatts (50,000 to 60,000 watts) of electrical power are continuously consumed from city power mains.

NBC Plans

The rodeo, sports events, and other spectacles staged in Madison Square Garden will be televised - come October 25 - by station WNBT of the National Broadcasting Company on channel 1. The shows also will be relayed on a non-commercial basis to station WPTZ, Philadelphia and WRGB, Schenectady. Hockey, track meets, basketball - possibly boxing bouts and wrestling matches too - will be programmed.

Television receivers contributed by NBC engineers have been installed in various nearby service hospitals, and other hospitals are to be similarly equipped. Pick-up apparatus for the opening Rodeo show already is in place. In addition, the presentations will be available in the New York area to several thousand home teleview receivers in good operating condition, and eighty-odd receivers now installed in police precinct stations.

Meanwhile, regular WNBT programs will continue on the air Mondays on No. 1 channel. From 4 to 5 o'clock there will be air raid warden lectures, a repeat showing from 7:30 to 8:30, and films and variety until 10:30 P.M. A second OCD series is also being set up.

Columbia Programs

Television programs of the Columbia Broadcasting System go on the air Thursdays over WCBW on channel 2. Test patterns from 7:30 to 8 o'clock are followed by films until 10 P.M. This schedule will be continued indefinitely, according to director Worthington Miner, as long as the available materials and manpower hold out. Technical manpower shortages, he said, are the most pressing need and will determine WCBW's future.

For those who have home television receivers not in operating condition, the service outlook is "something less than bright." Skilled men are not available to "fix" ailing sets; neither are replacement materials. It is therefore estimated that the 1,000 to 2,000 receivers now inoperative in this area are likely to remain so indefinitely. This is the only "bad" news current in television circles.

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