Origins of Cable Television

I was curious to know if anyone knows the origins of Cable TV. What year it came out? Who invented it? What channels were first offered? I first got cable in 1981 and I recall an old episode of “Sanford and Son” where Fred wanted cable tv and that had to have been 74’ or 75’, so I know it’s been around for over 30 years. Any info would be appreciated.

The very earliest cable systems just provided access to local TV stations in areas of very bad reception. As in a valley where the only way for the people to see TV was put antennas up the mountain and bring the signal to the valley folks. Dedicated cable stations were later.

Originally “Community Antenna” television, it’s been around for over 50 years. At the outset, it was mainly a way for people in fringe areas to get decent reception. Somebody built a big antenna tower with distribution equiptment and charged for the service of connecting up via cable to them. Over time, the cable tv operators realized there were a lot of empty channels on their pipe, and they started stuffing extra programming in them to make their service more attractive, initially just independent programming from stations that could not be received by a normal household antenna. Eventually, programming exclusive to cable arose:

Some births of popular cable networks:

HBO- 1972
CNN- 1980
MTV- 1981

I know that in Montreal, we, and many, many other people, had cable as early as 1972 – and probably before that. It was necessary if you wanted to receive the US television networks, which pretty much everybody (who understood English) did want.


Levittown, PA was an early adopter. Despite close proximity to Philly, reception was lousy, likely owing to low elevation-very close to the Delaware River. Their original system had two cable channels, A and B, and you had an A/B switch on top of your TV because neither cable could handle the bandwidth by itself. That system had been abandoned in favor of a single cable system by the time I moved there in the early 80’s, but the original owners had stories to tell.

We had cable out on eastern Long Island in the early 60s (I know we had it during the Great Northeast Blackout of 1964 – we were the only place on the east coast with power, and could see all the NYC stations were blacked out).

Prior to CATV, we got three stations from Connecticut – channels 8, 3, and 20, and not many got 20, since it was UHF (older TVs at the time didn’t have UHF tuners, though by the early 60s, they were required for new sets). My father sold TVs, so we actually had a UHF tuner. I remember being a big fan of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and being unable to discusss it with friends in school, since it was on UHF.

After, we got channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13 (and they moved 20 to channel 10). There were no adapters; the channels were all on the VHF dial and could be tuned in by the TV set’s tuner.

When they tried selling cable in places like NYC, everyone though it was crazy. They did actually have some success (NYC’s building could play havoc with reception) until the cable networks developed and they had something to sell. By 1974, cable had taken off – they had it in Schenectady, where I was moving. You changed channels with a cable box with 30 pushbuttons.

My Uncle Bob in Hawaii had cable back in 1968 when we visited him. There was no way he was going to get the direct broadcasts form either Honolulu or Maui. He just got the regular broadcast stations though.

The 1936 Berlin Olympics were televised closed circuit in Berin and Hamburg, which gives some idea of how long the technology has been around.

Mly dad and I went fishing in Canada in the early 60’s, and wound up at a fishing camp that had cable in one of the buildings. I have often thought that we went up there to get away from city life and commune with nature, and the folks who lived and worked there had cable for the opposite reason. (I wonder if they would have watched the bass fishing tournaments if they had been on then).
xo, C.

Here is an article about early Cable TV in the UK.


So this means we are using a technology from the 1930’s / 40’s for our internet today! = I was just thinking of a faster way to get the internet moving.

When my family lived in West Virginia in 1969 we had cable - it was the only way to get TV in the area due to the mountains surronding us.l

A documentary has been airing off and on lately that I’ve been meaning to catch but haven’t just yet; it’s called Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, and it’s about one of the first pay cable stations in the US.