TV Broadcasting History - Various Articles

The World Comes Together in Your Living Room:
The Olympics on TV

This article was contributed to this website by Joseph Gallant (

On February 18th, 1960, the 8th Olympic Winter Games opened in Squaw Valley, California, the first Olympics to be held in North America since 1932. In addition to some 1,000 athletes and several thousands spectators, the opening ceremonies were watched by several CBS television cameras, marking the beginning of television coverage of the Olympic Games on American Television.

The anchorman for these first televised Olympics was Walter Cronkite, and several CBS sports reporters did play-by-play of various events and a handful of CBS newsmen were dispatched to Squaw Valley to interview medal-winners and dignitaries.

Considering how extensive television coverage of the Olympics has become, and how much broadcast rights fees nowadays go for, it may surprise many that CBS paid just $50,000 for broadcast rights to Squaw Valley (and spent another $450,000 for production) and that the network broadcast just fifteen hours of coverage.

Despite the favorable time difference, not much of the coverage was live. For one thing, on most weeknights, CBS had just a half-hour in prime-time (sometimes an hour) and another 15 minutes at 11:15 P.M. (Eastern and Pacific times). Thus, most of what was seen were edited highlights, making use of the then-newly-developed art of videotape editing.

CBS, however, did air live a handful of events, most notably some figure skating, and the final two games of the ice hockey tournament--the U.S. against the Soviet Union, and the U.S. against Czechoslovakia. The U.S. hockey team, who had lost the gold-medal game to the Russians four years earlier at Cortina, Italy, were not expected to medal at Squaw Valley. But after winning two games against weak opposition, Team U.S.A. stunned Canada, and then, on the second-to-last day of the Olympics, upset the Russians. The next morning, the final day of the Squaw Valley Games, the U.S. came back from a 4-3 deficit after two periods to score six straight goals in the final period to cement a 9-4 win and the gold medal--America's FIRST "Miracle On Ice."

CBS also had the Summer Games from Rome. As there were no communications satellites yet, tape was shot, edited, and quickly flown across the Atlantic to what was then Idlewild Airport in New York where they would be put on a videotape deck in a mobile unit connected to the CBS network, allowing most events to be broadcast the same day they occurred.

A youthful Jim McKay, who divided his time between the sports department and narrating a daytime court-drama called The Verdict Is Yours hosted the Rome telecasts--but from the New York studio. McKay did a superb job with the Summer Games, but his contract with CBS would lapse in early 1961.

One of the viewers watching McKay on CBS' 1960 Summer Olympic coverage was a young ABC producer named Roone Arledge, who in the spring of 1961 would produce a sports anthology series titled Wide World Of Sports. McKay agreed to jump networks, and became the principal commentator for Wide World.

Because Wide World covered a lot of Olympic sports, both summer, and winter (often in 1961 and 1962, Olympic sports broadcast on Wide World were being seen on American television for the first time outside of the 1960 Squaw Valley and Rome telecasts), the network quickly became familiar with how to cover them, and as a result, ABC aggressively bid for the domestic television rights to the 1964 Winter (Innsbruck) and Summer (Tokyo) Games.

ABC won Innsbruck, but lost Tokyo to NBC. On January 29th, 1964, ABC began its first Olympics, the opening day of the Innsbruck games. Although there was a satellite by this time, it was not in a stationary orbit, so very little of ABC's Innsbruck coverage would be sent by satellite. Instead, as CBS did in Rome four years earlier, tape was shot, edited, and flown across the Atlantic to New York. Still, with most Winter Olympic events occurring during the morning hours, nearly everything was broadcast the same day it occurred. Critics noted that ABC's coverage in Innsbruck was vastly superior to what CBS had done just four years before.

By the time the 1964 Summer Olympics began, there was a stationary-orbit satellite over the Pacific, allowing NBC to--between 1 and 3 A.M. Eastern Time--carry the opening ceremonies live and in color. However, very little of the remaining coverage was either live or in color, but the satellite made it possible for NBC to feed its average of 45 minutes a day to the U.S. as it was being shown in the Eastern Time Zone.

The first Olympics that had extensive color and satellite coverage were the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France, which ABC broadcast. Some daytime coverage was live, the rest was same-day, nearly all of it was in color, and the critics again heaped praise on ABC. By this time, ABC was carrying 22 total hours of coverage over 11 days--an average of 90 minutes to two hours daily.

That October, ABC carried the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, and with 45 hours of coverage, and a favorable time difference, much of what was seen was broadcast live. In Mexico City, ABC got acclaim not just for covering events, but also for covering the "black power" protests which saw two U.S. track medalists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raise their fists in protest on the victory stand during the National Anthem after receiving their medals. This angle of the coverage brought Howard Cosell into the public eye (although he was already well-known among boxing fans for his coverage of professional championship fights, especially those with Muhammad Ali).

By this time, ABC also began running short feature piece which soon gained the nickname "Up Close And Personal," which introduced often-unknown athletes to viewers, allowing them to learn more about them. Little did anyone know that this feature, done by other networks, would three decades later be a bone of contention among Olympic viewers!

NBC broke ABC's stranglehold on the Game in 1972, winning the rights to broadcast that year's Winter Games at Saporro, Japan. Despite a record 37 hours of coverage, much of it live (again, Winter Olympic events are often traditionally held in the morning hours, which meant live prime-time TV for the United States East Coast), critics panned the coverage. Many wondered why Curt Gowdy - perhaps the best play-by-play sportscaster who ever lived - was NBC's studio host and not doing play-by-play of one sport or another.

That August, ABC carried 66 hours of coverage of the Summer Olympics in Munich. While the on-field highlight was Mark Spitz winning a record (for one Olympics) seven gold medals in swimming, each in world record time, the events of September 5th, 1972 overshadowed everything else that had occurred in that fortnight.

Before dawn, several terrorists stormed the Olympic Village, targeting the Israeli quarters. Two Israeli athletes were killed, nine others were taken hostage, and dozens of others escaped. Because ABC was on the scene to cover the Olympics, the network aimed TV cameras on the roof of its broadcast center directly at the building where the remaining nine hostages were being held. ABC newsman Peter Jennings (now the network's evening news anchorman) and sportscaster Howard Cosell had somehow gotten themselves into the village, and by using walkie-talkies, kept Jim McKay in the anchor studio - and an entire world - appraised on what was going on.

A chopper took the hostages and their holders to the Munich airport, and a few hours later, a report suggested that the captors were killed and all nine hostages released. After that report, ABC showed highlights of what little sporting events had been held prior to the Games being suspended late that afternoon (local time in Munich). The network planned to use the final part of their prime-time broadcast to wrap-up the day. They got word that a press conference would be held shortly before 5 A.M. local time (or just before 11 P.M. Eastern time).

There were no TV cameras at the Press Conference, but Jennings and Cosell were on the phone to the anchor studio, where McKay and several other ABC newsmen had sit. Putting the phone down, McKay grimly told the entire world that the earlier report was false, that the nine remaining hostages had also been killed in a gunfight at the airport, and that "They're All Gone". The next day, TV critics compared McKay's work to that of Walter Cronkite the day President Kennedy was assassinated. For Roone Arledge, it was a revelation that besides sports, he could also produce television news coverage - and do it well.

McKay was not the studio host of the rest of the 1972 Games, but his work at Munich was so good that he would be the primetime studio anchor for ABC's six remaining Olympic telecasts, starting with 1976 (Innsbruck for the Winter Games, Montreal for the Summer Games). ABC utilized the latest technical advances to put together broadcasts even better than 1972. As was the case in 1968, the 1976 Summer Games, being in North America, could be a disaster if ABC put the wrong thing on live at the wrong time. But again, ABC showed a knack for having the right thing live at the right time.

The 1980 Winter Olympics returned to the United States, and to Lake Placid, which hosted the 1932 games. ABC's ability to alter their coverage to show the "hot" story as it was happening became apparent when the U.S. hockey team began an unexpected winning streak. Originally, hockey (outside of the championship game) was to air only as edited highlights, but with the U.S. still winning, ABC began to devote more and more airtime to Team U.S.A. games, culminating with the final two games (against Russia and Finland) shown in their entirety. The dramatic U.S. victories in those games brought some of the largest TV audiences of the entire 1979-80 television season, a gold medal for Team U.S.A., and careers in the National Hockey League for many of the Team U.S.A. players. One, Ken Morrow, would enjoy four more championships as he joined the New York Islanders, who would win four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 (joining the team right after the Olympics, just in time for the playoffs) through 1983.

The 1980 Summer games were to be in Moscow, with NBC having the telecast honors. But after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. decided to boycott the Moscow Games, and what had been 150 hours of scheduled coverage was shrunk to a few hours as well as highlights fed to local NBC stations for use on local newscasts. Many affiliates refused to show the Olympic highlights on their local news or to clear airtime for the few hours of coverage NBC did present.

The 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo were again covered by ABC, which after a slow start (much of it caused by some alpine skiing events postponed due to blizzards in the mountain regions of Bosnia), finished in a burst of high ratings and more critical acclaim. But that year's Summer Games in Los Angeles would be the most massive single television production undertaking in the U.S. to that time, and still the single most massive production ABC ever undertook - for in addition to its own record 180 hours of coverage, ABC would also provide the "basic" coverage of every Olympic event to broadcasters all over the world. With nearly all of its own 180 hours of coverage being presented live, the Los Angeles Games could have been a "train wreck waiting to happen" because ABC could have jumped around from event-to-event, and missing lots of key highlights. But under Arledge (who by 1984 was also running ABC News), ABC's coverage from Los Angeles became one of the most spectacular achievements in television to that time, and is still generally considered the best-ever American telecast of an Olympics.

ABC covered the 1988 Winter Olympics from Calgary, Alberta. Nobody working on - or watching at home - the Winter Games-record 85 hours of coverage knew at the time that Calgary would be the "swan song" of ABC's quarter-century of excellence in broadcasting the Olympics.

NBC got the Summer games in Seoul, South Korea. Many morning events were shown live in the U.S., in prime-time, and NBC's 180 hours of coverage were surprisingly well-received by the critics.

After 32 years, CBS got back into the Olympic act at Albertville, France in 1992. For Americans, there was one great and one disappointing memory of the 1992 Winter Games. The great memory was Kristi Yamaguchi winning the gold in ladies' figure skating. The disappointment was that the U.S. hockey team, who had the best record in the "round-robin" phase of the tournament, ran out of steam in the medal round, losing the semifinals to Russia and ending up out of the medals.

By 1992, televising the Olympics had become a costly proposition. NBC won the rights to the Summer Games in Barcelona with a bid of $401 million, thinking ABC and CBS were both going to bid $ 400 million each (in the end, the highest rival bid was closer to $ 300 million). In an attempt to recoup the cost, NBC decided, in addition to its own extensive over-the-air TV coverage, to partner with Cablevision Systems Corporation (who were joint owners of Rainbow Programming Holdings, parent company to several cable networks) and produce round-the-clock (twelve hours live each day, then repeated for the next twelve hours) coverage of other Olympic events on three pay-per-view channels. The venture was a financial disaster, with NBC and Cablevision each losing about $50 million each.

After 1992, the Winter and Summer games would no longer be held the same year. The Winter games would be held every fourth year beginning in 1994 (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, etc.), while the Summer Games retained their traditional scheduling (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, etc.).

CBS aired the 1994 Winter Games from Lillehammer, Norway. Despite a gold medal in downhill skiing by American Tommy Moe and a thrilling gold-medal game in men's hockey between Sweden and Canada (won by Sweden in a shootout after the two teams had skated to a tie after three regulation periods and an overtime session), the 1994 Winter Games will always be remembered for two figure skaters: Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

Kerrigan was whacked in the knee after a practice session just weeks before the Olympics - an act later admitted to by Harding and a friend who actually pulled it off - but made a near-miraculous recovery to be able to compete in Norway. Harding also competed as well. While Harding fell out of contention because of a shoelace problem, Kerrigan skated with near-perfection, finishing second (behind the Ukraine's Oksana Bayul) in the closest skating competition in Olympic history. CBS was rewarded with ratings that were as high as for any sports telecast in television history - even though it aired some seven hours after the fact. Had it been shown live, CBS might have broken the record for the highest rated television program in any category!

In 1996, the Summer Olympics came to Atlanta, and to NBC. Although there were plenty of opportunities for live coverage, much of NBC's coverage was on tape. Critics lambasted NBC for going overboard with the "Up Close And Personal" features, showing too many of them, letting them run for too long, and as a result, showing less Olympic competition. Some comedians had a field day with this fact after the Games ended.

NBC's one shining moment in Atlanta came in the wake of a bomb explosion in Atlanta's Centennial Park (still unsolved nearly four years later). The network was on the air with its usual late-night show of events that were held earlier in the evening but could not be shown live when the blast took place. The network dumped out of the tapes of that day's Olympic events and stayed on the rest of the night to update viewers on the latest news following the explosion.

Two years later, the Winter Games returned to Asia and to CBS. Nagano, Japan made a lovely setting, especially with the snow-capped mountains as a backdrop behind a temple - which could be seen out of the rear window of the anchor studio, behind host Jim Nantz.

But CBS came in for roasting of its own from the critics. The network was criticized for numerous things, ranging from an over-abundance of "Up Close And Personal" features to failing to show live a women's ski race where U.S. skier Piacbo Street won a gold medal, to not showing live the first-ever gold-medal game in Women's hockey, and when the game was finally shown (won by the U.S. over Canada), it was edited down to highlights; to showing a substantial amount of figure-skating practice sessions! The Boston Globe timed one prime-time hour of CBS coverage, and found to its dismay that there were only three minutes of actual Olympic competition! The rest of the time was taken up with commercials, some "Up Close And Personal" features, and coverage of figure-skating practice.

Starting with the 2000 Summer Games and continuing through the 2008 Summer Games, NBC will have exclusive U.S. television rights to all Winter and Summer Olympics. For that privilege, the network paid $3.5 billion - that's $ 700 million for each Olympics! A far cry indeed from $ 50,000 CBS had to pay to get the rights to Squaw Valley in 1960, but the Olympics bring a large television audience, including many who normally don't watch much in the way of sports, but will if national honor is on the line.

Recollections of Early TV in New Haven, Connecticut

This article was written by David Kiernan in response to an inquiry in "Shoptalk." It was supplied to this website by his daughter Kathy Kiernan. David Kiernan died in March 1999.

My name is David Kiernan and my eldest daughter sent me a copy of a West Coast trade publication "shoptalk" which mentioned your quest for info about "the early days" of what was then WNHC-TV.

I guess I'm qualified to supply some background since I was a summer announcer -- or what passed for one at low wages -- in 1949 and 1950 and then became a full time staff announcer in 1951.

From 1952-54 I was in service before returning to New Haven and civilian life. I shifted to the TV news side in 1956, and became News Director in 1958. Shortly before that, the station(s) were sold to Triangle Publications, owners of TV Guide, WFIL in Philadelphia and other smaller stations in Binghamton, Altoona and Fresno.

The station's license was originally granted to Elm City Broadcasting, the principals of which were Aldo DeDominicis and Patrick Goode. Aldo was a salesman by background and Pat was the former Post Master of New Haven, a good political connection. They started out with a 250 watt radio station - same call letters - and a good part of the station's revenues were derived from Italian language programming from 9 am to 1 pm. (Didn't leave much for announcers - and summer relief people - to do during the day.) There was also an FM station, same call letters again and basically a simulcast operation.

Studios for all three operations were initially in the same building at 1110 Chapel Street, which had at one time been an undertaker's premises. (The AM-FM record library was a tiled room in the basement which had once been the embalmer's prep room.) At the end of the alley way which adjoined the building was a garage with a turntable which was used to reposition the hearses and funeral cars by the previous owners. As the station grew, additional space was needed and the brownstone at 161 York Street - around the corner - was purchased radio operations nd the newsroom were moved there.

Television was obviously a novelty in 1948 and there was probably no other station in the nation which operated in the same way. The TV transmitter was located on Mt. Gaylord in Hamden, some miles away and also the location for the projectors. A jeep made the run at least once a day from downtown New Haven to Mt Gaylord with a day full of kinescoped programs or films with local commercials spliced in. (Video tape was to come some years later.) The receipt and shipping of programs, feature films and commercials, plus editing of news film was done by a crew initially headed by Ernie Olivieri whop later went to then-WTIC in Hartford. He was succeeded by Len Sanna aided by Jimmy Esposito and Woody Smith.

That jeep and its successors made the run daily and winter snow storms came very close to causing blank screens in lower New England but like the mail, the jeep and the films came through. (The FM transmitter was located at Mt. Gaylord and the AM transmitter was located at the edge of a marsh in West Haven.)

There were really no networks as such in those very early days and Channel 6, as it was then, was affiliated with DuMont (Channel 5 in New York), but that did not preclude the station from running virtually everyone's programs on kinescope. The Colgate Comedy Hour used to run at 11 PM. Other programs were similarly run at strange hours.

There was little daytime programming in the earliest days and believe it or not, the station sold test pattern time in the late morning/early afternoon. The sponsor was a TV set and antenna distributor (Hatry and Young) and believe it or not, there was a decent audience since sets had to be individually fine tuned, and antennas properly installed and oriented so a dependable test pattern was a boon to vendors and installers.

Live programming from New York was taken off the air at a receiver site in Oxford, Connecticut and then microwave over to Mt. Gaylord for retransmission. Audio was fed in by AT&T land lines with the result that once in a while, video and audio had no relationship to one another.

The original station manager was Jimmy Milne who had been a well known personality on a competing AM Station, WELI. Jimmy died unexpectedly a few years after the TV operation started and was succeeded by Walt Neilson who made it pretty clear that his interest was in the TV side, not radio.

Local daytime programming at that time consisted of a couple of cooking shows. One was Italian cooking with the husband and wife team of Pino and Fedora Bontempi, She being Fedora. He had a not terribly great tenor voice which used to be unleashed at the slightest provocation while she cooked away. (He was accompanied by the station's organist, George Palmer, a music director who couldn't read music - according to the legend - but could fake it well. One of the perks was joining with the crew after that show-or others with Lois Malmgren or Roz Stevenson - and helping to clear away the meals that had been prepared and remember, there were two of everything - one to show how it a dish was put together and the other a final product that had been made well in advance.

There were some other early afternoon shows as well and quote often they were what would be best described as public service. The Anti-Defamation League had a regular program and the host was named Mort Feigenbaum if I recall correctly. The Archdiocese of Hartford had its own program which featured Msgr. John Wodarski.

Vivian Kellems, usually described as an industrialist had her own program which she - that is her company sponsored. Her views were not always conventional but she was an interesting lady.

There were some kid shows on in late afternoon with "Happy the Clown," Joey Russell, a borscht belt comic in putty nose etc. Jean O'Brien Lynch did another kid show or worked with Joey and Lee Hall was involved in kid programming. At the time, Lee was married to Wilson Hall who was then a student at Yale Drama. Both went on to news roles with NBC. (I have been told Lee later married Dick Valeriani).

An older kid show was produced by Sleeping Giant Films, an outfit formed by Dave Harris, a minority stockholder in Elm City Broadcasting who used his sale proceeds as his seed money. He was joined by Tony Guarino, one of the station's engineers. The "talent" on the show was Brace Gilson, earlier known as Chuck, but when he made the switch from staff announcer to weatherman, he changed his name as well. Incidentally, he was the Atlantic weatherman, replete with uniform shirt, visored cap and leather bow tie. (One of my friends was bitter at not getting the job, claiming he was better qualified since his father actually owned a gas station!)

Mention of Tony Guarino brings lots of other engineer personnel to mind: Vinny DeLaurentis, first chief engineer, later succeeded by Howie Westerman. Deputies to Vinny were Selig Tanner and Emery "Windy" Schmitgall. Selig, or "sledge" as he was sometimes called usually had a soldering gun in hand to modify the DuMont cameras and a cigar clenched in his teeth. Others on the technical staff included Howie Williams, Walt Ranchinsky who died a much too early death, Joe Mosely, Charlie Vaughan Bruno Puglia who held down a full time job while attending high school and many many others forgotten after five decades.

As mentioned, I was on the news side. Our News Director initially was Rocky Clark who had been the radio-TV editor of the Bridgeport (CT) Post. He was assisted at one time or another by Al Sanford, John Kelly and John Quinn. (Quinn is still in the area and writes or wrote the Elm City Clarion, a column which, incidentally my father started many decades back. Our first newscaster was Joe Burns, rather professorial type who certainly brought an air of seriousness to our efforts. I succeeded him in 1956 and he took advantage of his newfound liberty to marry a lady lawyer who later went on to become chief Justice of the state Supreme Court. Our visuals were from several sources. We had on staff photographers headed by Jack Young and backed up by Frank Hogan and later, Bob Murray. All had started as still photographers but quickly learned 16mm Bell and Howells and later the Auricon sound camera (single system sound). There was also in somewhat later years a staff artist, Bill Colrus who was mostly committed to commercials. We had UP and INS wire services and when they merged in 1958 (?), the news budget was cut in half.

Each afternoon, our jeep would go to the railroad station and pick up a packet from UP which contained 4-7 film clips with scripts and several black and white 35 mm transparencies of people or events in the news. We used them as background as we could.

When revenues failed to grow, cuts were made until the news department to cover the entire state and central and western Massachusetts consisted of me, Jack Young and the use of any enterprising stringers we could use on the cheap. It wasn't fun.

During my latter days at what was then Channel 8 (but still WNHC-TV) a full Triangle team was running things. Howard Maschmeier was GM, John Cundiff Sales Manager, Jim Kovacs program manger, Art Stober production manager and Pete Gallagher promotion manager. I'm sure there are many more I should have remembered but you can't win them all.

When I left in 1960, Jim Burns - no relation to Joe - took over but left soon after to join ABC. He died shortly thereafter and I never learned the cause. George Thompson took on the news chair and held it for many ears thereafter.

Some of the people I do recall were Larry McNamara, our sports guy who really had very little interest in sports, Syd Jaffe who loved sports, Kenny Wynne, one of the directors whose father was a state court judge, Manning Heard whose father was at one time president of the Hartford Insurance Company.

Unfortunately - or fortunately - I have no film, videotape, etc., for your project.

Quickie about video tape. We had one of the first Ampex machines delivered and what no one knew at the time was that those machines generated a tremendous amount of heat so by the end of the day, a tape that was supposed to run 29 minutes would stretch to 30/31 minutes. No one knew why until they realized the temperature in the taper room was well over 100 degrees. The tape operator was the only guy in the building wearing shorts.

As for me, I married Joan Glaser who had worked in AM traffic and we had five children. I was fortunate enough to join the ITT Corporation and spent 23 years there in a variety of assignments inducing Director of Public Relations. I then joined Continental Baking Company for four years as Director - Corporate Affairs and retired in 1988 after spending the two prior years as vice-president - The Wall Street Group. Joan and I have six grandchildren and have enjoyed living in Longboat Key, Florida (and Siesta Key before that).

As a final note, we were on a Rhine River cruise a few years ago and one lady in our group kept looking at me quizzically. We struck up a conversation and she remembered me from Channel 6 days. Now that's one long time back but it sure is nice to be remembered that way.

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