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Early Days of Television

Television Lecture #2
by

Drew Hamilton

on 27 March 2012

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Transcript of Early Days of Television

Early Days of Television
Developmental Delay
TV made its “official” American debut at the 1939 World’s Fair
But, development of television soon came to a quick and grinding halt for years
What could cause such a quick stop to developing such a revolutionary invention?
World War II (1939-1945)
During this time U.S. industry moved into large-scale production of armaments and related war materials.
Television's Boom! Too much, too fast
- Once the war ended, some 70 stations immediately went on the air.
- Things expanded rapidly until 1948. Where TV ran into the same problems that radio ran into in the early days. Too many stations, not enough airspace
-When television first came into being, the FCC provided space for it on the electromagnetic spectrum in the VHF or Very High Frequency range
-The VHF range only runs from 2-13, so obviously there wasn’t enough space for all the new TV stations.
Not knowing what to do, the FCC instituted a 4 year ban on granting TV broadcasting licenses (1948-1952)
The Solution?
UHF
- The solution the FCC came up with was to authorize the use of a whole new group of channels.
In 1952, they launched UHF television (ultra high frequency, channels 14–83) and lifted the freeze.
- This gave TV stations a lot of options for channels, giving plenty of space on the spectrum
- Their plan provided for 2,053 stations in 1,291 communities in the U.S. and its territories.
Channel assignments in 242 communities were set aside for noncommercial and educational purposes.
A Problem
The invention of UHF freed up space, but it caused another big problem
TVs didn’t have a dial for UHF, obviously because it hadn’t been invented when those TVs were made
The FCC then mandated that all new TV sets manufactured must have the ability to receive both VHF and UHF channels. Owners of existing receivers had to buy a special tuner if they wanted to see UHF stations.
Also, viewers quickly discovered that UHF stations were much harder to tune in than VHF stations, and for most people the new UHF channels required a special antenna.
Also, they took more power operate, and they were considered inferior/lesser stations than VHF stations.
UHF vs VHF
But, there were even more problems for UHF stations; they required far more transmitter power to cover a given area, and, compared to VHF, their signals tend to encounter more reception problems
This meant UHF stations were at an obvious disadvantage.
Many UHF stations in VHF/UHF markets "went dark" (ceased operations).
Because the number of viewers was limited, they simply couldn't generate enough revenue to stay on the air. A commercial UHF station in San Francisco was sold to a public station for one dollar.
Different Today
Years later, many of the UHF problems were solved with new types of TV sets and the wide use of cable. (Cable television/satelitte makes all TV stations equal, regardless of frequency or power.)
Digital broadcasting also eliminates the frequency problems with UHF
Incidentally, when digital/high-definition (HDTV) television was in the planning stage in the 1990s, the FCC decided to take over a large (and mostly unused) chunk of the UHF spectrum for this new technology.
Today, there are more than 1,000 digital/high-definition stations on the air in the United States.
TV Starts in Other Countries
Great Britain
- After World War II, the BBC (British Broadcasting System) launched an ambitious plan for providing television service for 80 percent of Great Britain.
- In 1949 they completed construction on the most powerful TV transmitter in the world. Eight other BBC stations were completed in 1952.
-A little more than 25 years later, in the 1970s, 98 percent of the population in England had a TV set in their homes.
Canada
- In Canada, where experiments in television had started in the 1930s, regular TV broadcasting was launched by CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) station CBFT in Montreal in September, 1952.
- Only three years later, television was available to 66 percent of the Canadian population. Three years after that Canada telecast its first "live," coast-to-coast program on a newly completed television network.
-One of the major problems Canada has is producing a full range of programs in both English and French. This means that when both the CBC and the many independent stations are considered, Canada produces more hours of radio and television programming than most any other country
Compatability Problems with Other Countries
Except for Canada, almost all countries use a different broadcast system than the United States.
Starting later than the United States, these European countries were able to devise systems that, in terms of clarity, were superior to the U.S. system — and totally incompatible with it.
The European system is called PAL, or Phase Alternating Line
The American System was called NTSC, or National Television System Committee
After the "Big Switch," the US uses ATSC, or Advanced Television Systems Committee
This also meant that TV receivers (and later, videotape machines) sold in one country often could not be used in another country.
Incompatible television standards also created major problems for selling U.S. TV programs to European countries. (The export of film and TV entertainment programming is one of the largest exports for the United States.)
Coast to Coast
By 1952, AT&T began to electronically link the east and west coasts of the United States. Having coast-to-coast connections had a major impact on the TV industry — even more than the radio networks had on radio.
Before this time the only way that a TV program could be distributed to stations across the country was to use a movie camera to photograph the program from a TV screen and then send copies of the film to individual stations.
In addition to representing a major delay, the somewhat blurry, black and white kinescope recordings were less than appealing.
Nightly network TV newscasts that originated on the East Coast were sent to West Coast stations by kinescope recordings
After the newscast was filmed, the film was put on a plane, processed as the plane flew across the country, and then delivered several hours later to West Coast stations.
Coast to Coast Changes
When AT&T finished linking the east and west coasts, all this changed.
From then on, programming that was produced on either the east or west coasts (where most TV programming originates) could be sent "live" over network lines to stations throughout the country.
In 1956, a video recording system was invented, which made all this even easier.
Video tape was cheaper than film…didn’t need to be developed like film…and the quality wasn’t a lot worse

Focal Point of the Family
By 1955, the cost of TV sets had come down considerably. Instead of being equal to half the price of a car, they were now just equal to the cost of a new set of tires.
In that year, 67 percent of homes had a black and white TV receiver (color had not hit the scene yet).
Just five years after that the figure had reached 87 percent. Television had now taken the place of radio as the family's evening focal point.
Full transcript