Friday, July 07, 2006

The Father of Television

(continued from The Air Raid, see 6/29 below)

I learned about Vladimir Zworykin, known as “The Father of Television”, from my son, Joshua, who wrote an elementary school paper on the man.

Zworykin had two very important inventions that work together to make television possible, the iconoscope and the kinescope (cathode ray tube). One is a transmitter (iconoscope) and the other is a receiver (kinescope). Zworykin invented the iconoscope in 1923 while the kinescope was invented in 1929. It would be a full 10 years later before the television system was introduced to the public at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

TV grew slowly, at first. NBC began regular commercial broadcasts in 1939. Then television was suspended during World War II. In 1948, the FCC refused to license any new stations until problems of signal interference were worked out. But once the freeze was lifted in 1952, television became a cultural phenomenon and rocketed to the top of the advertising world. New television retail stores opened at the rate of 1,000 a month. CBS made its first profit in 1953. A year later, CBS was the largest advertising medium in the world with a monopoly of the top-rated shows.

At its start in the 1950's, television consisted predominantly of live programming, such as variety, talk, quiz, situation comedies, mystery/suspense dramas, and boxing. Whereas the leading primetime radio show had reached one-third of the nation's homes per broadcast, Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theatre was seen by 62% of all tv homes on an average minute basis during the 1950/51 season, and many other shows achieved or exceeded the 35% mark. The average minute rating for all sponsored primetime television entries was 17% - or about twice the norm that radio had established in the late 1940's with comparable Nielsen measurements.

And what did Vladimir Zworykin think of all this? Strangely, it surprised him that television was used for entertainment, while he thought it would be used for science. “I hate what they’ve done to my child…I would never let my own children watch it”, said the Father of Television.

(to be continued…)

Sources and additional reading:

Special thanks to Joshua Miller for his report, Vladimir Kosma Zworykin, The Father of Television, 2005

Stephen Fox, The Mirror Makers, William Morrow and Co., New York, 1984

Ed Papazian, Medium Rare: The Evolution, Workings and Impact of Commercial Television, Media Dynamics, 1989

Eugenii Katz, Vladimir Kosma Zworykin,

Mary Bellis, Vladimir Zworykin,

Steve Restelli, History TV dot Net,

Stephen M.Tomecek, What a Great Idea, 1st Edition. Scholastic, 557 Broadway, NY; 2003.


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