Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.
Those curious metal arrays being installed with great ceremony on the city’s rooftops are antennas, for this is the year of the one-eyed wonder: Television.
In 1947, merely watching TV was newsworthy, as when the convalescing Babe Ruth tuned in for a double-header between the Giants and the Dodgers, and Pius XII made history as the first pope to have a television.
While people aren’t always aware that they are living in momentous times, there was nothing left to chance when TV sets went on sale in Los Angeles. There was a magnificent launch during “T-Week” which began with “T-Day” (March 10, 1947), when “the miracle of television” was put on display at a luncheon for 1,000 executives, civic leaders and engineers at the Biltmore. To accompany the dawn of the TV era, The Times, owner of KTLA Channel 5, began running program listings.
In fact, TV had existed in Los Angeles since the early 1930s with W6XAO broadcasting from KHJ’s studios at 7th Street and Bixel, and The Times ran program listings as early as 1933. But those efforts were strictly experimental since the signal was limited to “line of sight” reception and there were so few sets that industry pioneer Harry Lubcke is said to have provided plans so enthusiasts could build their own receivers. By 1940, W6XAO moved to a better transmitting location on Mt. Lee, named for station owner Don Lee.
Once the Office of Price Administration lifted the cap on TV sets in 1946, the industry quickly increased production. In January 1947, Lee Shippey wrote of a special showing: “At present there are only about 300 television sets in Southern California, but there will be thousands here as soon as they are available. During the war it was impossible to get them. The audience I saw was so utterly fascinated one can hardly doubt television will be popular.”
T-Week was a huge success, with orders far exceeding expectations. Instead of 15,000-18,000 sets, 30,000 to 36,000 sets would be brought to Southern California, one industry official said. By June, production had risen to 11,481 sets a month. By October, the industry had produced 101,388 TV sets for the year, with 4,000 sets in Southern California as of September.
And this was despite the significant costs. RCA offered a model with “23 square inches of brilliance” for $264.30 ($2,501.30 USD 2005) and another with a 52-square-inch screen for $395.60 ($3,762.96 USD 2005). Both sets required fees of $45 and $55 respectively, with RCA technicians installing and adjusting the antennas. Prices ran as high as $1,795 ($16,988.21 USD 2005) for a Dumont console that included a radio and record player.
But if costly sets were scarce, the support industry was not. The papers were full of ads for schools offering instruction on how to repair TVs, write for TV and on acting for television.
Of course, there were unanticipated problems. Cities like Beverly Hills and Compton that were on 50-cycle (the term Hertz hadn’t been introduced yet) electricity needed special receivers. And there a fight between rival technologies: color vs. black-and-white (it was reported that sending a color TV signal coast to coast would consume the nation’s entire phone network).
But overall there was optimism, with talk of a “transcontinental coaxial cable” as if the nation was once again driving the golden spike at Promontory Point, Utah, and the expectations were high: “…the future of television is one of adult education as well as of entertainment, with probably 50 percent of its programs ultimately devoted to information and drama,” The Times reported.
The advances came quickly. By September, Philco developed a new set with a mirror in a raised lid allowing a screen image of 15 inches by 20 inches. The same month, the transmission center on Mt. Wilson was completed.
Most of all, television was brilliantly marketed. In addition to T-Day and T-Week, manufacturers advertised heavily and creatively at Christmas. General Electric, for example, offered to provide a free TV set for the evening to anyone who hosted a party. Another ad said: Rose Bowl + RCA Victor Television = 50 yard line seat in your home.
Broadcast of the Tournament of Roses and Rose Bowl was expected to be so popular that one promoter set up a projection TV at Shrine Auditorium in a fund-raiser for veterans, and the IRS sent a crew to make sure the government collected its 20 percent tax from bars and cafes charging admission to watch the game on TV.
The guest of honor at the T-Day luncheon, Harry Lubcke, who coined the name “the Emmy” from the type of image tube used in TV cameras, received a lifetime technical achievement award at the 1991 ceremonies. However, his death in December of that year went virtually unnoticed.
As for that televised game, the Seattle Rainiers beat the Hollywood Stars 6-1 at Gilmore Field.
inflation calculator at www.westegg.com/inflation
A snippet of time, found while looking for something else
LOOKING AT HOLLYWOOD
….Raymond Chandler, who wrote “The Big Sleep,” now doing his first screen original, “The Blue Dahlia.” Tells me 25 years ago he lived at top of Angels’ Flight here, wrote of far-off places he’d never seen–hasn’t yet. He was lonely. Now he writes of friends and neighbors. He’s been happily married for 21 years, has no children. Said he, “I’d pity anyone with a disposition like mine. When I’m in a mood, I chew scenery or carpets.” You wouldn’t believe–he’s so mild mannered. We had a grand time.
Source: Los Angeles Times, March 27, 1945