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Yes, It's Our Country's Anniversary -- But Remember Some Summertime TV Anniversaries as Well
July 2, 2011  | By David Bianculli

The adoption, on July 4, 1776, of the Declaration of Independence will be remembered widely and enthusiastically this weekend. Two TV-related anniversaries this summer, though, are likely to receive almost no attention -- the 30th anniversary of MTV, and the 70th anniversary of commercial television itself...


The 70th anniversary of commercial television has been documented and celebrated brilliantly by curator Ron Simon of the Paley Center for Media Museum, and by almost no one else. It's traced to July 1, 1941, the day nearly two dozen stations across the country were approved by the Federal Communications Commission to begin local operations.

Three of them were in New York City: NBC's flagship station WNBT (Channel 1), CBS's WCBW (Channel 2), and DuMont's W2XWV (Channel 4). TV transmission ranged from a few hours to about 10, with lots of breaks and signal tests in between. The first day's listings, in the New York Times, included lots of mentions of "Test Pattern."


(When I began as a TV critic at the Gainesville Sun in the 1970s, by the way, the name of my column was Test Patterns -- and a test pattern is included in part of the masthead of TV WORTH WATCHING. Some traditions bear remembering, and repeating...)

So what was offered on the very first day of commercial TV in the United States? In New York, NBC viewers, for example, could watch these commercial TV firsts, anchored by on-camera announcer Ray Forrest, live from Rockefeller Center:

-- The first televised baseball game: the Brooklyn Dodgers vs. the Philadelphia Phillies, live from Ebbets Field.

-- The first newscast: News with Lowell Thomas, which includes mention of Nazi expansionism and Joe DiMaggio's ongoing hitting streak, then at 44 games.

-- The first game show: Truth or Consequences. A radio staple since 1940, it was simulcast on TV for the first time on this date, with host Ed Herlihy, at the end, encouraging fans to "be watching and listening again tomorrow."

The Paley Center, and Simon, presented a month-long countdown to the July 1 anniversary, as well as Simon's personal, very entertaining blog and notes. Start HERE, at the wonderful website entry devoted to the 70-year-old event, and follow the wandering paths and wonderful links from there.

Great job, Ron.


Among the next noteworthy TV anniversaries is one that I suspect the subject will be avoiding much more than celebrating.


August 1 is the 30th anniversary of the cable launch of MTV. On Aug. 1, 1981, it began service by presenting a 1979 video by the Buggles, that still seemed perfectly futuristic two years later: "Video Killed the Radio Star."

Lyrics included such classic and prescient couplets as:

"In my mind and in my car
"We can't rewind, we've gone too far

"Pictures came and broke your heart
"Look, I'll play my VCR."

Three decades later, VCRs are rare, but YouTube videos are plentiful. Here's the Buggles, with the video that first put the V in MTV:

Three decades later, the biggest hit in all of MTV's history is Jersey Shore, which is a horrid but an understandable reason for the further decline of actual music on MTV. (Can "Snooki Killed the Musical Star" be far behind?)

MTV seems even less inclined to point out its 30th birthday than it did its 25th. MTV is desperately dependent upon attracting youth, and part of appealing to the young is rejecting the old -- which includes the old history of MTV.

Even on sister station VH1 Classic, which embraces the music of the Eighties on a daily basis, there's been nary a peep, with one month to go, about the MTV mother ship's upcoming anniversary. No mentions of veejays, of "I want my MTV," of lunar-landing logos, or of the days when MTV actually played videos, and nothing but.

On MTV, for example, you'll never find this -- a recent music video by The Limousines, called -- I love this -- "Internet Killed the Video Star."

Its lyrics, too, complain of the new forsaking the old:

"The kids are disco dancing / They're tired of rock 'n' roll
"Don't bother telling them that drum machine ain't got no soul"

That video, of course, can be found on the infernal Internet. Here it is:

Things to watch. Things to hear. Things to think about.

Take your time. It's a holiday weekend...




Mitsubishi 3d Starter Pack said:

The worst thing that happened to VH1 was being taken over by MTV. Thanks for the Buggles video enjoyed watching it.

Comment posted on July 2, 2011 1:59 PM

Eileen said:

"If you buy it, they will come"...and they did, to my grandparent's house.

My grandfather had the first tv set in the neighborhood, and from the stories I hear, every night was party night for the first few months. My grandmother referred to herself as "a glorified waitress" as she toted trays of drinks and chips to the neighborhood guys.

And what were they watching? Mostly "snow" or "interference" when my grandfather and his best friend Ed (shades of Kramden & Norton, respectively) weren't arguing over what to watch & whose turn it was to adjust the "rabbit ears".

I came along later, but apparently the highlights of their viewing included wrestling, Uncle Miltie and Archbishop Fulton Sheen. My first memories were the Jackie Gleason (variety) Show, the Mickey Mouse Club, and the Today Show with J. Fred Muggs. Oh, and Liberace! (For my mother & grandmother, of course.)

And remember when the tv wasn't just a tv, but a very large, integral piece of decor? Our first tv had doors, shelves, and a record player. I can't even imagine what they cost was back then, but it was the "must have" item.

Ah, David, you've send me on a mini-vacation down Memory Lane. The Good Old Days were pretty good...

Comment posted on July 2, 2011 6:20 PM

Neil said:

Video may not have killed the radio star, but it was the first nail in the coffin of commercial music radio. Some of the other nails included the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a flaccid and cowed regulatory agency (the FCC), ownership consolidation in both broadcasting and the music business (record labels, concert promoters, etc.), Wall Street/hedge fund big money, and satellite-delivered programming that has decimated the small/medium market "farm system" that used to exist for talent and management.

The Buggles may have been a bit premature, but 30 years later they seem to have been remarkably prescient.

Comment posted on July 3, 2011 2:34 PM
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