clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

After 50 years, perspectives on television have changed

Fifty years ago today, KSL-TV signed on the air.

Fifty years ago yesterday, the Deseret News commemorated the event with a special 18-page section -- and looking back at that is funny and fascinating.There's a bit of history of KSL, back to the days when the radio station was started on the roof of the Deseret News building by newspaper staffers in 1922. There's plenty of technical talk about the wonder that television was.

There's a great deal of forecasting for the future, including stories headlined "Television will aid many farm families" and "LDS meets may be on video" and "Sees color TV few years away."

Future advances in television technology ranged all the way from "Co-axial cable completion will hook East, West Coasts" to "TV to Nephi Seen Soon."

And there's a story that assures consumers that "Your TV set won't become obsolete." (Oddly enough, the story is right on the money. If you could find a 1949 set in working order, it would still pick up TV signals today. It won't become obsolete until a few years from now, when analog broadcasting ends and stations operate with digital technology only.)

There were full-page ads from both RCA Victor and Dumont congratulating KSL-TV on its launch -- oh, and trying to sell the public TV sets at the same time.

There's a then-relatively new newspaper innovation -- TV listings. The KSL listings were brief, with programming scheduled from 7:30 or 7:45 p.m. until 10 p.m. each night. The programs included regularly scheduled test patterns (really!), Arthur Godfrey, Fred Waring, "Lucky Pup" (a puppet show), "Ukele Ike," the family sitcom "Growing Paynes," boxing and brief news and weather reports.

And there's an amazing little story under the headline "Television impact felt on family life." Seen through present-day experience, when TV programming and its content are the subject of much debate for its negative effects on young viewers, the story is all but stunning.

"Television, the modern miracle of sight and sound, is doing more toward revolutionizing life in America today than anything since the advent of the automobile," the story reads.

"Offering the most free entertainment the American public has ever seen, the video medium is the reason American families are staying at home more and more.

"The after-dinner custom of leaving the house has changed drastically. Father's briefcase lies unopened in the hall; Junior and his sister no longer bolt their dinners and then dash off; they want to stay home and watch television. With almost every type of entertainment and education that the human mind can devise available, literally at fingertip control, small wonder that the living habits of a nation are being altered."

And the story concludes by stating that sociologists "have long been looking -- unsuccessfully -- for the solution to the problem of the disintegration of the American home life. Now, a partial solution appears to have been developed, but the credit must go to television manufacturers -- not the sociologists."

Ah, yes. Television, the great cure to a nation's social ills.

WHO'S ON FIRST? You may have noticed that, on its 50th anniversary, KSL-Ch. 5 is billing itself as Utah's first commercial television station.

And you may recall that, last year on its 50th birthday, KTVX-Ch. 4 was calling itself Utah's first television station. So who's right?

As it turns out, both of them.

Ch. 4 was definitely on the air first. But it signed on as an experimental station and operated under that license from 1948-49. (TV was, after all, a big experiment at the time.)

Ch. 5 went on the air with the first commercial television license in Utah, making KSL's claim true -- if a bit of a technicality.

And Ch. 4 converted to a commercial license shortly thereafter.

Does any of this really matter? Not much.

Half a century of broadcasting is a long time for any TV station.