Happy 70 Birthday TV, July 1, 1941 to 2011

Welcome to TV Fact #1: the Paley Center's look at the day TV was commercially born! Thank you to everyone who counted down the 70 TV Facts with us in honor of TV's birthday. If you missed any you can see them all starting here.

Experimental TV had been "in the air" since the 1939 World's Fair, but it was on July 1, 1941, when the FCC licenses went into effect, that stations could broadcast programming and try to sell you something, just like on radio. To say the rest is history is the understatement of the century (the last one and this one).

You can get some quick, interesting Fun Facts about the day from Ron Simon here. Ron has also blogged about his research to discover what was actually broadcast on Day 1.  And below you can see see how print media covered TV's first days as a medium.

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The New York Times, July 1, 1941

Television transmission begins in New York today on three channels. WNBT, on Channel 1, will be operated by the National Broadcasting Company from about 1:20 to 10:30 p.m., except for an interval from about 5 to 8 p.m. WCBW, on Channel 2, operated by the Columbia System, will be on from 2:30 to 3:30 and 7:30 to 9:30. Station W2XWV of the DuMont Labratories, on Channel 4, will be on the air from about 12 noon to 6 p.m.

Throughout the nation at least twenty-two stations are scheduled to begin commercial operation today, in accordance with the ruling of the Federal Communications Commission.



Original print program from WNBT


The New York Times, July 6, 1941 Excerpts

Television entered the entertainment field for profit last week when the Federal Communications Commission's new rules permitting commercial use of the medium went into effect.

Yet the only television station in the country prepared to accommodate advertisers was WNBT, operated here by the National Broadcasting Company. However, twenty-one other television interests scattered from coast to coast signified their intention of assuming commercial status as soon as possible, some within thirty days.

In the metropolitan area, which holds the greatest potential market in the country, the Columbia Broadcasting System and the Allan B. Du Mont Labratories are speeding transmitter tests preparatory to offering commercial service, which they expect to be able to do by Aug. 1.

Other cities in which television soon will be available to commercial sponsors are Albany, Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington. These locations bear out early predictions by television showmen that the first stations would be put into operationin the more thickly populated centers, capable of supporting the facility when it attained commercialization.

A Television Chain Seen

With stations spotted across the country, network television is not too remote a possibility. This existing coaxial cable, or television "pipe," between New York and Philadelphia already has been used on various occasions for the exchange of programs between the cities, and a similar cable is being laid between Baltimore and Washington. When this link is completed, all three cities will constitute outlets for television programs originating in any of them.

Attracting the Customers

The first attempt to attract prospective customers was made under the sponsorship of a watch manufacturing concern, which paid $4 for the privilege of having a test pattern resembling a clock face flashed on the screen. The pattern remained on the air for a minute while the second hand traced its way around the dial.

The inception of television's commercial status here was highlighted by the presentation of a program in behalf of the United Service Organizations, marking the first use of television in a fundraising campaign. The WNBT program reached its high spot when Mrs. Winthrop W. Aldrich, chairman of the women's division, presented District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey, chairman of the drive, with a check of $706,471, representing the funds collected thus far by her section.

Art Becomes a Feature

In fulfillment of plans in cooperation with the Metropolitan Museum of Art to televise the museum's priceless collection of paintings, prints and other art objects, CBS last Tuesday night offered the first of this series as part of its test schedule through WCBW, its staion atop the Chrysler Building. An explanatory commentary accompanied the telecast, which will be a weekly feature. The programs are repeated in part on Thursday afternoons at 2:45 for the benefit of junior members of the television audience.

During the program, Francis Henry Taylor, director of the Metropolitan, delivered a short message, which follows in part:

"We are living in a visual age where the complexities of modern civilization have demanded a minimum of words and a maximum of images. Television will be the instrument which will create as complete a revolution in the education of the future as the discovery of movable type and the invention of the printing press 400 years ago.

"We hope the day may not be far off when we can telecast our great treasures into every home and classroom of the nation. When that day is reached the visual senses of the American people will rival the 'musical era,' which radio has done so much to develop."

Other television activity here concerns plans of the Du Mont organization which is developing several new program ideas, according to a representative. He would not divulge their nature, explaining that he preferred to have them introduced to the public as part of the program schedule after the commercial license had been received.


Clippings courtesy TV historian David Schwartz



Memories from the Paley Center Online Community


“[I] once knew of a longtime family friend who, at the age of 18, worked as an apprentice at the facility that later became WENR-TV in Chicago. In 1939, the station was performing experimental broadcasts on a limited basis. His job was to set a camera pointing out a window facing the Wrigley Building. The monitor to view the pictures was small (6"), and there was no sound. So he was "watching" TV that year. He knew about "television" through articles that appeared in Popular Science and Mechanix Illustrated. He did recall stating that he knew that television would one day feature live plays and operas!

This person later worked for WNBQ-TV in Chicago with the stations color TV system from 1955-61. He later became a freelance TV repair man, who serviced many of the TV sets that existed in my home.

The last set he fixed for us before he retired in 1985 was a c.1964 Zenith 16' "portable" monochrome set with a 'Space Command' branded remote.

Sadly, this person passed away in 1996. The Zenith was later recovered and sold as prop dressing for the Lionsgate/AMC TV series Mad Men."

Rich Borowy
Los Angeles, CA



“In  1939, my father took our family to CBS studios and we saw TV. I was only 3. The TV was very small and round. They asked me my name and I was just 3, so I mispronounced my name. Then they played it back for me & I realized I couldn't properly pronounce my last name. I don't remember the picture we saw. My sister was 10 and my brother was 5 and they can verify it.

It was really exciting, I remember my dad saying  something about when the war is over, we will have more TV. (We had relatives and friends in Europe who were already taken to the camps by the Nazis.)"

Jeanette Benveniste

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