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Wired, Zapped, and Beamed, 1960's through 1980's

The 1960's through 1980's represented a period of expansion and maturation for television with the addition of a few exciting new technologies like satellite delivery of programming. For example, at the start of this period color television had been introduced but there was little color programming. By 1967, most network programming was in color. And, by 1972 half of U.S. households had a color television.

1962 brought the 1st transatlantic reception of a television signal via the TELSTAR satellite. A 1961 multi-national agreement between AT&T, Bell Labs, NASA, the British Post Office, and the French National Post Office set in motion efforts to develop, launch, and utilize two mobile telecommunications satellites. TELSTAR was the 1st of these satellites. TELSTAR was launched from the Kennedy Space Center on July 10th. The next day the world's 1st satellite transmission of a short television program took place between Andover, MN and Pleumeur-Bodou, France.

photo and poster from 1975 Frazier and Ali heavyweight fight in Manila: click for more information about these images satellite dish and lift-off of television satellite rocket launch vehicle: click for more information about these images

TELSTAR and later communication satellites began to significantly change American's relationship with and understanding of the world. No longer did it take days or weeks to learn about events in distant lands. This was made vividly clear in 1975 when the fledgling Home Box Office company bought the rights to live transmission of the "The Thrilla from Manila," the heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. While the broadcast networks would have to wait a day or so for tapes of the fight to be flown in, subscribing cable viewers saw this historic fight as it was happening.

Most experts agree that this transmission, which clearly demonstrated the ability of satellite communications to show real-time images from around the world, forever changed the cable industry and; thus, the television industry.

Satellite delivery of programming was also a major factor in the growth of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). PBS was established as the video arm of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which Congress created in 1967 by passing the Public Broadcasting Act. Although educational television had been around since 1933 when University of Iowa (W9XK) was the 1st educational institution to produce and broadcast video programming (you heard the audio on radio station WSUI), the establishment of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting signaled a statutory commitment to public and educational television. In 1978 PBS was the 1st network to deliver all its programming via satellite instead of landlines.

1976 betamax VCRs: click for more information about these images But satellites and the explosive growth of the cable industry they engendered were not the only major technologies of this period. Home videotaping was another major technology introduced during this time. In 1972 the Phillips Corporation introduced video cassette recording (VCR) for the home. From this concept Sony introduced the Betamax format of VCR in 1976 at a suggested retail price of $1,295. A year later RCA introduced the 1st VHS format VCR in America. By 1985 the VHS format dominated the U.S. home market.

The introduction of efficient fiber optic cable in 1970 by Corning's Robert Maurer, Donald Keck, and Peter Schultz also improved the delivery of television programming to American homes and businesses. These transparent rods of glass or plastic are stretched so they are long and flexible and transmit information digitally using rapid pulses of light. This breakthrough work allowed cable to be created that could carry 65,000 times more information than conventional copper wire.

Robert Maurer, Donald Keck, and Peter Schultz and fiber optic cable: click for more information about these images

High defintion television (HDTV) was also introduced during this period. In 1981 NHK, the Japanese National Broadcasting company, demonstrated their 1,125 line HDTV system to the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers at their Winter conference in San Francisco. This constituted a major breakthrough in the visual quality of television pictures because the sharpness of a television picture is a function of the number of lines per screen – the more lines the sharper and more vivid the image. Think about the technological breakthrough this signaled:

  • 60 years before (1921) Jenkins and Baird had been broadcasting at between 30 and 60 lines, and

  • 40 years before (1941) the FCC first required that the NTSC standard of 525 lines be used.

Large Screen HDTV TV and DTV Magazine Cover Images: click for more information about these images Finally, this period also saw several significant statutory and regulatory actions. In 1962 Congress passed the All Channel Receiver Act, requiring the inclusion of UHF tuners in all television sets. Also in 1962, as a reflection of the growth and importance of cable television as a means of transmitting television programming, the FCC began regulating cable television. In 1966 these regulations included "must carry" rules requiring cable operators to carry local broadcast programming. In 1972 the FCC issued its "open skies" decision authorizing domestic communications satellites, which significantly expanded the feasibility of using satellites to disseminate television programs. The “open skies” decision led to the 1982 authorization of commercial Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) operations. The 1st such service began in Indianapolis in 1983.


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last reviewed/updated on 11/21/05 


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