You gotta start somewhere, and here’s what moviegoers were told in the very early 1930s about a technological breakthrough soon to appear in their homes, with a steep, steep learning curve.
The rotary phone:
Twenty years and a World War later, television went national, as the first transcontinental coaxial cable was run, as Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal writes:
In present-tense culture, golden anniversaries tend to get swept away by the whirlwind of current events. Here’s an example: Network television as we know it came into being on Sept. 4, 1951, when AT&T threw the switch on the first transcontinental coaxial cable. Up to that time, TV had been an essentially regional phenomenon. The most important network shows were all performed live in New York, and the only way for West Coast viewers to see them was for fuzzy-looking film copies called “kinescopes” to be shipped to Los Angeles and broadcast a week later. The coaxial cable changed that by making it possible to transmit live video signals from coast to coast–in both directions. Within a matter of months, Hollywood had become a major center of TV production.
Don’t be embarrassed if you didn’t know any of this. So far as I know, no one has taken note of the golden anniversary of the coaxial cable, or celebrated the fiftieth birthdays of three influential series that the cable made possible. But if you owned a TV set in 1951, you might well remember these Truman-era debuts:
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Nov. 18, 1951: “See It Now,” the first TV newsmagazine, whose first episode opened with a shot of two control-room monitors. One showed a live picture of the Statue of Liberty, the other a live picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. Edward R. Murrow, the host, was visibly impressed: “For the first time, man has been able to sit at home and look at two oceans at the same time.” It may sound quaint now, but 60 years ago that image took people’s breaths away.
Today, we take smart phones, video conferencing, and — to coin a phrase — a World Wide Web of information for granted. But it took plenty of experimentation with analog technology to build the knowledge base for today’s technology. Assuming our betters in Washington and academia allow us to keep it.