Television burst onto the scene after the Second
World War and soon became the most important mass medium. But it
had a long
history before that:
Low Definition Television:
- in 1925 C. Francis Jenkins in the U.S. and
L. Baird in Great Britain sucessfully demonstrated workable television
techniques. See The
Mechanical TV Era
- these were electromechanical and quite
- early research on the transmission of
included both still pictures and the possibility of moving pictures,
it was understood that if you scanned fast enough the eye would see a
continuous image (persistence of vision). Facimile was
successfully demonstrated in 1921 by Francis Jenkins
- Francis Jenkins was a tinkerer--inventor of
picture projector and some automobile innovations. He used two
of prisms to scan an image horizontally and vertically for radio
transmission. He demonstrated this publicly in 1925 with great
hoopla about the potential of what he called radio vision. But he
could produce only 48-line silhouettes.
John Baird in England achieved 8 line pictures in 1925, and by Jan.
he was producing half-tones.
- by 1927 AT&T was demonstrating a system
decent half-tones, and while the company said this was to supplement
telephone the demonstration emphasized bringing movie theater content
home (newsreels, etc.). They even demonstrated a mechanism for
color television in 1929
- consumers were excited by the prospect of
just around the corner
- regularly scheduled broadcasts were
1928--18 stations scattered around the country, broadcasting in the
band, and consumers could buy kits or commercially produced sets.
- but the low-definition pictures--60
far inferior to motion pictures, and this limited the audience.
FCC decided not to license commercial stations, feeling that the
was not yet satisfactory and to license it would encourage public
in technology that would quickly become obsolescent
- by 1933 the engineering limitations caused
first boom to collapse.
- the entertainment value wasn't high
the needs of programming first and foremost that drove the development
- under financial pressures of the
stations stopped broadcasting.
Television as we know it:
- by the eve of the first World War several
researchers had become convinced that cathode ray tubes were the key to
Philo T. Farnsworth (independent inventor with only a high school
Vladimir K. Zworykin (Russian immigrant with a Ph.D. working for
RCA) developed an all-electronic,
higher definition form of television.
- In Dec. 1923 Zworykin filed a patent
an all-electronic television, but the results were disappointing
of the failings of the cathode ray tube technology of the time.
refused to invest in development until 1930, when Zworykin got more
by becoming head of the RCA industrial research lab and the
system was clearly on the way out.
- the significance was realized--the patent
issued for 15 years because of disputes.
- In May 1935 RCA committed $1 million to
and development of the new technology. They followed a careful
step by step program with extensive field demonstrations in New York
By Jan 1937 picture definition had been increased to 441 lines--for the
first time you could see a
baseball or football
- the picture tube of the camera, however, was
efficient enough, and Philo
Farnsworth didn't want to sell his patent
on a better one. He wanted to license it, so his earnings would
reflect its long-term success, and RCA had a policy to not license
patents (they did
offer to buy it). Finally they signed a non-exclusive
cross-licensing agreement, as each had technology the other needed.
- despite earlier disappointments, the public
eager. But it was necessary to make sure it would pay--industry
invested something like $13 million by 1939 and earned nothing.
advertising industry took a wait-and-see attitude.
But they still needed FCC approval for commercial
noncommercial broadcasts were allowed).
- FM radio was coming in at the same time
same part of the spectrum, adding to the complications. FCC
to see a mature technology, which was pretty good at this point, and
also agreement over standards, which was not. RCA had major
competitors, such as Philco, promoting rival systems.
- RCA went ahead anyway with public
in 1939, and a number of firms started to sell television sets (with
disappointing results), but the quick FCC approval they expected did
not come. People
were reluctant to buy sets without standardization--in some markets
could receive only one of two rival stations.
- There was a political uproar over FCC
license, but meanwhile the industry could not agree on standards.
Finally a government National Television System Committee created in
1940 forced a
- commercial service was finally authorized in
the spring of 1941: 525 lines, 30 frames per second.
- the interest was there--by the end of 1941
32 stations were licensed and experimenting with programming. The
first thing they
learned was that sports were popular, and increased sports
broadcasting. Dramas and news were the other main
components. Variety shows were not
as popular as radio experience would have suggested. Political
was quite popular during the presidential election
- but sets could not be produced until the war
over--in fact all radio and TV production was banned in April
By the time the war was over the technology was there for a
in 1947 the television boom
- in 1950 only 9 percent of American homes had
four years later the figure was 55 percent. By 1967 95% of
homes had TVs and watched an average of 5 hours of television per day.
- programming was copied from radio--even
now with easier potential for prerecording. The first prerecorded
serial was "I Love Lucy" in
I Love Lucy (1951)
- Became a part of the culture--the
TV dinner was introduced in 1954.
- commentators quickly worried about people
home instead of going out to movies. In 1961 the head of the FCC
declared television a "vast
- but that was what people liked about the
medium--what Raymond Williams called mobile privatization.
- What difference did television make?
- Created a bias towards immediacy.
viewers towards suffering and violence?
television was first introduced in 1955 and became universal by
- satellite transmission 1963
- PBS 1967
- VCR (betamax)
's global news service 1979
- cable started
in the late 1940s but didn't become predominant until the 1980s-- the
promise was that many more stations would reduce the lowest common
TV and High
Definition TV have been slow in coming
- broadband and
interactive TV are expected to revolutionize the medium
- analog TV is scheduled to cease
broadcasting in Dec. 2006, though an extension until 2009 is
this page written and copyright ©
Pamela E. Mack
last updated 10/31/05