We were not the first people on the block to get a television set; however, we may very well have been the first house on the street with children to get one. Every day after school, half the kids in the neighborhood would hurry home from classes to sit on our living room floor and watch Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob. I cannot imagine what we did before the days of TV, because even when no programming was on, we would sit and watch the test pattern.
In 1951, when my dad brought home our first black and white, 13-inch RCA Victor table model TV, there was only one station on the air, WDAF, Channel-4 out of Kansas City. In fact, there was not even enough programming available to fill up the entire day, so the station would sign on for awhile and run a few programs, then the test pattern would come on for a few hours before more programs reappeared. So, if we got home from school early, we would just watch the test pattern with the big Indian Chief in the middle of it until Howdy Doody began.
The idea and concept of coding a picture, breaking it down into tiny dots, and broadcasting it over great distances, had been around since Marconi’s day back at the turn of the century. However, the technical means to achieve the broadcast and receiving of a television signal took many years and many experiments before it became a reality. It wasn’t until 1946 that NBC began serious broadcasting with only a handful of stations in some of the major cities back east.
"Lights Out" (a chiller-thriller), "Kraft Television Theater," "Meet the Press," and the irrepressible Howdy Doody were some of the first programs to hit the air in 1947. The fuzzy tube even offered a scheduled, but unexpectedly spectacular event: The celebrated 1947 down-to-the-last-out, seven-game World Series! Within the next couple of years, cities all across the country signed on and the price of television sets became affordable for the American household.
Be careful now, because if you remember watching some of these early TV shows, it might just date you.
Some of the early kid’s TV shows back in the 1950s were “Hop-a-Long Cassidy” and Yoo-hoo, it’s me, my name is “Pinky Lee.” There was also Miss Virginia, and the “Ding Dong School,” “Kookla, Fran & Ollie,” and “Superman” starring George Reeves. For the evening schedule, there was “The Red Skelton Show,” Eve Arden in “Our Miss Brooks,” “The Voice of Firestone” and Mister Television himself, Milton Berle on the “Texaco Star Theater.” The most popular sit-coms were “Life with Riley,” “Father Knows Best” and “I Love Lucy.” The Colgate Comedy Hour starred Bob Hope one week, and then Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis the next week, Abbott and Costello the next, and Donald O’Connor rounded out each month. The original “Dragnet” with Jack Webb, “The Hit Parade,” and “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour” all became prime-time favorites.
John Cameron Swayze was the first NBC anchorman and Randall Jesse in Kansas City anchored Channel 4 News. The first presidential election coverage broadcast over television saw Harry S Truman slip by a stunning re-election victory over Republican rival, New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey. Seeing – as well as hearing – political figures would have a profound affect upon national politics.
KCMO-TV, Channel 5 and KMBC-TV, Channel 9 both came on the air in 1953. The networks began broadcasting Color TV around 1960 with only a handful of prime-time programs, but it was not until 1965 that all the network programming was broadcast in full living color.
Reference: The Golden Years of Broadcasting, by Robert Campbell
To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.