TV really wasn't essential, that is until the evening of April 8, 1949. What viewers saw the following day changed what watching meant.
In the last year of World War II, Army Navy Screen Magazine (produced by the Signal Corps) gave GIs a look at what their postwar world was supposed to be like. The first of these reports explained that the future would be televised.
Television had been promised "a couple of years away" since the 1920s, and it was even possible to watch experimental broadcasts before the war began. Now that men were being demobilized into an uncertain economy, TV was just around the corner again. In "Tomorrow Television," the Signal Corps made two points for an audience of anxious men with memories of the Depression: there would be jobs for those trained in electronics, and TV would be a transformative consumer product for everyone.
For once – and finally, after so many years – the prognosticators were right.
On January 22, 1947, commercial TV came to Los Angeles via Paramount Pictures and station KTLA. Bob Hope hosted the first -- necessarily live -- program. Hope's audience was small. By one estimate, there were less than 1,000 television sets in KTLA's broadcast area.
By 1949, Los Angeles had seven channels of television: KTSL-2, KNBH-4, KTLA-5, KECA- 7, KFI-9, and KLAC-13.
The broadcast day in L.A. was still short, generally beginning around noon. Programming was a mix of B-picture westerns, variety showcases, puppets and cartoons, wrestling, and talk shows. Nearly all of it was live. Korla Pandit (who never spoke on camera) played the electric organ. Betty White was co-host with Al Jarvis of a daily musical review. In the evenings, Spade Cooley fiddled western swing in front of his band.
TV in 1949 didn't have much to compel viewers to watch, beyond the novelty of having entertainment beamed into their living rooms. TV screens were mostly small, the definition of the image a bit rough, and the sets were expensive. A 12.5-inch Philco TV cost $319 in mid-1949, the equivalent of $3,100 today.
Television, although fitfully amusing, really wasn't essential – that is until the evening of April 8, 1949. What viewers saw changed what watching meant. More