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The Birth of Commercial TV

WNBT_Program.jpgOn July 1, 1941, NBC’s WNBT (now WNBC) was the first station licensed for commercial television programming. Broadcasting from the top of the Empire State Building in New York City, WNBT aired a Brooklyn Dodgers/Philadelphia Phillies baseball game (Phils won 6-4 in the 10th inning) and two television versions of NBC radio shows, Uncle Jim’s Question Bee and Truth or Consequence. Four companies bought ad time that afternoon: Bulova watches, Ivory soap, Spry shortening, and Sun Oil.

The station also aired a USO drive that, according to The New York Times, featured “privates and noncommissioned officers of the Signal Corps replacement training center at Fort Monmouth, NJ, who came to Radio City to stage a tabloid version of their own revue, ‘Bottlenecks of 1941.’” Still five months away from the bombing at Pearl Harbor, the show dealt with “the lighter side of Army camp life.”

While NBC was the only station broadcasting with commercials, it wasn’t alone on the airwaves. Across town, CBS was toiling atop the Chrysler Building with test signals. On July 1, they aired selections of art from the Metropolitan Museum. During the program, the Met’s director Francis Henry Taylor made a memorable comment:

"We are living in a visual age where the complexities of modern civilization have demanded a minimum of words and a maximum of images... 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 ear,’ which radio has done so much to develop."

So 66 years later, has television improved our visual senses?

Image from TVHistory.TV


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