CBS Television turns 75, could care less

It was on the night of July 21, 1931, that an upstart radio network called the Columbia Broadcasting System put on a program of celebrities and dignitaries who could not only be heard on all eighty-odd affiliated stations, but seen as they paraded before a mechanically operated electric-eye monstrosity known as television.

Opening Night Program

Not only that, but CBS kept messing about with the thing for a good two years before the Depression finally did it in. Radio nuts all over the country were building homebrewed sets, trying to bring in pictures from several experiment stations - and often succeeding.

The advent of CRT-based TV technology made the whole thing look pretty sick, and since the two methods had nothing at all in common, all the money spent experimenting up to then was effectively wasted. Neither CBS nor anyone else was very proud of their pioneering in later years.

1931?? I had no idea it was that early. That was even before the real heyday of radio comedy and drama.

To (maybe) steal a joke from Letterman, CBS is now as old as the average age of its viewers.

bolding mine

What the ? :cool:
Just how rich did you have to be to watch television back then?

The first Andy Rooney segment? '32.

**Beware of Doug **, don’t you mean “could not care less”?

wheelie, what does the ability to watch six television stations have to do with being rich? It was and is free to watch broadcast television stations. And back in the early days of television in the 1930s, the frequencies used were such that broadcasts travelled hundreds of miles, even from coast to coast, depending on atmospheric conditions. By 1930, television was being broadcast from over a dozen stations in the U.S.

Nothing, I’m just suprised that there were that many stations at all, and also wonder how expensive the recievers were. I did not know there was any broadcast television service until the late '30s/early '40s.

Most television viewers in the late 1920s and early 1930s were hobbyists who built their own sets from parts. But manufactured sets were available, such as this 1931 Western model that cost $150, or $1,662 in 2005 dollars (it included a short wave radio). This 1932 Baird model was only $82.50 ($1,002).

Back then you got a 60-line image that was magnified to about five or six inches by a lens. The resolution was just high enough to allow a two-shot. Anything more distant, and you couldn’t distinguish faces. The television camera itself was essentially immobile and studio-bound.

Walloon’s got it nailed. TV at the time was an adventurous whizbang. QSL’ing, or writing to distant radio stations to confirm reception, was a craze then, and the relatively few TV enthusiasts participated as well. Some of the other stations the video rangers of prehistory could hunt for were:

W2XCR, Jenkins Television, New York.
W1XAV, Shortwave & TV Corp., Boston.
W9XAO & '9XAP, Chicago.
W2XBS, NBC-New York, who basically did nothing but reception tests showing Felix the Cat statuettes and the occasional station ID.
W9XK, University of Iowa, even had an educational (not very, but a good try) TV operation at that time.

One clue to the demise of lo-def TV was probably the Federal Radio Commission (now FCC). Then as now sensitive to the big players in the industry, FRC strictly enforced the rule that experimental (“X” call) stations could not broadcast anything resembling advertising. Jenkins and SW&TV, as small scale manufacturers, regularly got busted for telling people on air that they could write in for plans, parts, etc., to build their own TVs.

The rules helped to tilt the field toward RCA, Philco and such – chiefly RCA, who was busy cooking up an electronic TV system they hoped would corner the market one day. When this system began broadcast tests in the late '30s, you did have to be well-to-do to buy a set, and they were next to impossible for the amateur to build.

No such luck, but Bob Hope did appear over '2XAB that year. No details survive.

“Hello all you lovely peep-hole…This is Bob (Guinea Pig) Hope, coming to you through the miracle of radio vision. And if anyone wants to see this mug, it’s a miracle…Say, this studio is so small, the engineer told me to stand sideways or my nose would break the lens.”

Jasper: 200 channels, nothing but cats.

Nothing’s changed.

Since I was a kid, CBS has always been the network that I have watched the least. Although there’s been some unquestionably fine programming, it always seemed that my parents’ favorite shows were on ABC while mine were on NBC, and growing up changed very little of that (except for the emergence of Fox, which I also watch more than CBS). Even now, I try to think of what the CBS programming line-up was for last year, and aside from the obligatory CSI shows (which I don’t care about) and 60 Minutes, I’m at an almost complete loss.


Not only was television being demonstrated in the late 20’s, but John Logie Baird, the Scottish television pioneer, actually invented a primitive form of videodisc recording, presaging the Laser Disc recordings of the 1980’s, although the recorded material fell far short of the quality of the original recordings. Anyone who is curious as to what 30-line mechanical television might have looked like can download a simulated broadcast down-converted from a present-day PAL broadcast.

Simulated mechanical television broadcast

Look for the section called Olympic Gymnast on Beam and click on the Real Player icon. It’s a small file, only 92 kb since 30-line TV didn’t require a large bandwidth.