“This is now WNBT, the first commercial television station on the air.”
With those words, Ray Forrest entered the history books as television’s first announcer and news anchor. Also on this day: the first TV commercial.
Both NBC and CBS switched their stations “from experimental to commercial licenses” that Tuesday. NBC’s station W2XBS became WNBT; the CBS station, W2XAB, became, WCBW.
The ad featured a Bulova clock transposed over map of the United States with Forrest intoning: “America runs on Bulova time.” It cost the company $9.00 (~$151 in 2022 dollars).
In reflecting on that momentous day, Francis Henry Taylor, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said:
We are living in a visual age where the complexities of modern civilization have demanded a minimum of words and a maximum of images…Television will be the instrument which will create as complete a revolution in the education of the future as the discovery of movable type and the invention of the printing press 400 years ago.
Television history highlights
In May 1941 the Federal Communications Commission had issued the first commercial licenses to TV stations. According to NBC/Universal, the FCC granted WNBT (then channel 1, now WNBC) in New York City its “first commercial TV license.”
Although 01 July 1941 marked the start of commercial television, that was not the first day that events had been broadcast. For example, NBC had broadcast the opening ceremonies of the New York World’s Fair on 30 April 1939. On display at the World’s Fair: closed-circuit television pictures.
And in 1940, NBC and Philco broadcast the Republican National Convention held in Philadelphia using a coaxial cable connection there from New York City.
Though viewers were scarce—only several thousand sets had been sold—the network coverage proved the viability of TV for major events. The convention turned out to be an exciting affair with dark horse candidate Wendell Willkie emerging as the nominee. He appeared live on TV for a five-minute acceptance speech to deafening cheers from the crowd. It was riveting.
Also broadcast: President Franklin D. Roosevelt accepting the Democratic Presidential nomination on 19 July 1940.
- 1875, G.R. Carey invented a way to project an image using lights
- 1897, Karl Ferdinand Braun invented the cathode ray tube
- 1926, John Logie Baird “gave the world’s first public demonstration of a television system” in London.
- 1934, the Communications Act of of 1934 requires that commercial television stations “operate in the public interest, convenience, and necessity.”
- 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th; it was the first major news story broken on television.
- 1947, television broadcast its first World Series game, the New York Yankees v. the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 30th. Meet the Press “begins its reign as television’s longest running program.”
- 1948, Americans owned ~190,000 television sets
- 1950, 1-in-11 American homes had a television set
- 1954, ABC carried the April Army-McCarthy hearings “live and in their entirety“
- 1955, half of American homes had a television set