Everything you need to know about the origins of the medium we so love to hate, brought to us by TVWriter™’s masterful television lover, Herbie J Pilato his very self.
July 1, 1941: The Day Commercial Television Was Born
by Herbie J Pilato
Some reports claim television began in 1925.
That’s when John Logie Baird and Charles Francis Jenkins worked independently of one another on both sides of the Atlantic and produced weak and blurry images on a screen no larger than one inch wide. Other documentation said it was 1928, when WGY, Schenectady, began broadcasting three days a week.
After that, things progressed quickly:
In 1930, NBC opened an experimental TV transmitter in New York. Twelve months later, WICR, operated by Gimbel Bros., went on the air in New York.
In 1932, CBS reported on the Presidential election broadcast over an estimated 7,500 television sets. Within just five years, 17 experimental stations began operation.
In 1938, NBC telecast Susan and God, starring Gertrude Lawrence. The following year, Allen B. DuMont placed the first fully electronic TV sets on the market. The New York World’s Fair was televised, and a Princeton-Columbia baseball game became TV’s first sportscast. In 1939, Pagliacci was telecast from the Met, the Republican Convention aired live, and CBS marked the first colorcast.
Around that same time, Ray Forrest became TV’s first news anchor, announcer, personality, and political commentator.
As he recalled in a 1997 video interview with the Television Academy Foundation, “When radio was king in the early days of television, the announcers sounded stuffy and very elegant and unapproachable. When I got into television, which is the norm today, everybody was sort of relaxed and easygoing…I found that was the simplest way to do it.”
In May 1941, the Federal Communications Commission issued commercial licenses to 10 American TV stations including NBC’s WBNT in New York. With the arrival of July 1, 1941, and in an on-screen advertisement for the Bulova Watch Co., Forrest then went on to make history:
His inviting voice was heard in broadcast TV’s very first commercial. The original ad was the onset of an industry that has generated billions of dollars in revenue over the last 80 years.
It all transpired when WNBT took to the airwaves with a favorite American pastime: baseball. Up to bat: the Brooklyn Dodgers vs. the Philadelphia Phillies at Ebbets Field in New York. During the broadcast of pop-flies, audience cheers, and woes, Forrest’s voice was heard over the clear-view image of a Bulova clock that was transposed across a stark map of the United States.
Bulova was billed $9.00 for the ad, as Forrest uttered the now-famous words, “America runs on Bulova time.” According to a report published by Ad Age in 1995, there were approximately 4000 televisions in New York in 1941…..
Herbie J Pilato, host of Then Again, a classic TV talk show streaming on Amazon Prime, is the author of several books about television. For more information, visit HerbieJPilato.com.