Viewers watch Puget Sound's first wide-audience TV broadcast on November 25, 1948.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 1982
On November 25, 1948, the first "wide-audience" television broadcast is shown on nearly 1,000 TV sets around Puget Sound. Viewers marvel at the telecast of a high school football championship game between West Seattle and Wenatchee, despite technical problems and the grainy quality of the image.

Seattle's first television broadcast actually occurred almost 20 years earlier on June 3, 1929, , when KOMO radio engineer Francis J. Brott televised images of a heart, a diamond, a question mark, letters, and numbers over electrical lines to small sets with one-inch screens. A handful of viewers were captivated by the broadcast. TV might have caught on earlier, had not a nationwide depression and a world war intervened.

TV technology was available during the 1930s, and by the 1940s a few Eastern stations were broadcasting two to three hours a day. After World War II started, receivers were no longer built, which hindered TV's popularity. After the war, the FCC was busy defining new technical rules, but by the end of the decade the field was open for the "new" medium.

KRSC-FM, the region's first frequency-modulation radio station, brought in television technology at about the same time it was fine-tuning its FM transmitters. KRSC-TV became the 15th television station in the United States, and began training cameramen and engineers in preparation for the opening broadcast on Thanksgiving Day, 1948.

Two cameras were placed in the stands above the 50-yard line at Civic Field (now Memorial Stadium at the Seattle Center). One camera had a wide-angle lens, and the other had a telephoto lens for close-ups. A microwave relay transmitter was mounted on the roof.

As on many Seattle Thanksgivings, the weather that day was miserable -- cold, dark, and wet. The game began at 1:45 p.m., and by halftime the rain was pouring down. Wet microphone cords started to hum. A transmission line went out, which caused the game to go off the air for a short time. Engineers attempting to sharpen the image ended up turning it negative so that white appeared as black and black appeared as white.

They Were Not Bothered

Did this bother the thousands of viewers who had gathered at places like radio and hardware stores to watch this event? No. The telecast was discernable, and best of all it was new and exciting. Even though the game ended in a mud-splattered 6-6 tie, the thrill of seeing it on an 8-inch screen was enough for most people.

After the game, KRSC ran the puppet show "Lucky Pup," an old serial film called "Devil Horse," followed by a film of the Broadway play, "Street Scene." Such captivating fare kept hundreds glued to their tiny screens.

Enter Dorothy Bullitt

Unfortunately, KRSC soon proved the old Andrew Carnegie adage that "Pioneering don't pay." Broadcast costs were high and sponsorship was low. Within two years, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt (1892-1989), having recently bought KEVR radio and renamed it KING, bought out KRSC for more than $300,000. It was the first sale of a television station in the United States.

Soon after the sale, and fortunately for Bullitt and the transformed KING-TV, the FCC placed a temporary freeze on station applications while they worked out frequency allocations for the burgeoning medium. For almost five years, KING had a monopoly as the only show in town, setting the stage for the other TV stations to come.

Sources: David Richardson Puget Sounds (Seattle: Superior Publishers, 1981), 89-96.

Related Topics:   Firsts | Media | Sports

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