Happy 70th Birthday Commercial TV!

By Alex Weprin Comment

July 1, 2011 is a special day in the history of television. It was 70 years ago today on July 1, 1941 that the first commercial TV station started broadcasting, turning a novelty into a business. 70 years later, and we have hundreds of channels, featuring news, sports, reality shows and dramas, far beyond what anyone could have imagined in 1941.

The first two stations were WNBT (now known as WNBC) and WCBW (now known as WCBS).

Variety looked back on those first broadcasts (subscription required), including the first TV news program on commercial TV, anchored by Lowell Thomas (pictured above):

On July 1, it all started with the now-famous Bulova Watch blurb that WNBT aired at around 1:30 p.m. leading into its 2 p.m. telecast of a Philadelphia Phillies-Brooklyn Dodgers game from Ebbets Field. At 6:45p.m. there was a 15-minute newscast anchored by Lowell Thomas, followed by a hodgepodge of clips including a USO drive and a snippet of the gameshow “Truth or Consequences” hosted by Ralph Edwards. WCBW wasn’t ready and didn’t jump into the commercial fray that day. Ron Simon, curator of TV and radio for the Paley Center, notes that some things about TV never change. Newscaster Thomas cracked a joke at the end of his broadcast, and the critics were rough on “Truth or Consequences.”

World War II temporarily suspended commercial TV, which eventually hit the mainstream in 1948 with “Texaco Star Theater.”

Variety notes that it may have dropped the ball on reviewing those first broadcasts in 1941, calling the new commercial TV networks “pretty corney.” Though In a world of Kardashians, “Jersey Shore” and “The Biggest Loser,” some things never change.

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