by pat howard

THE FRIDAY FIVE | Broadcast television milestones

In The Friday Five on June 12, 2009 at 3:16 pm

It’s a red-letter day for the small percentage of American households that receive television broadcasts the old-fashioned way, through a set-top antenna. The government-mandated switch to digital television finally took place today after delays going back at least a decade.

When I was first getting interested in television news, around 1997 at the age of 12, I remember reading about the wonders DTV would bring, and that it would be coming soon. Now, twelve years later, it has finally arrived, with much less fanfare than promised. Nevertheless, it’s still an important day in broadcast history, as are these other broadcasting milestones. Reflect on how little progress we’ve made (or, to put it another way, how things have come full circle).

Beginnings – 1945
As World War II concluded, broadcasters were ready to make the leap from radio to the unknown new world of television. Being broadcasters, their best ideas were to repurpose radio programs for television. Such lazy strategies prevail in the industry to this day.

Color broadcasting hits the U.S. – 1953
After some tinkering with the technology, the FCC approved a model for color television broadcasting. It would be at least another decade before many programs were broadcast “in living color,” and a few more years before color sets became the norm in what was once a spendthrift America.

Popularization of cable TV – 1981
As MTV and Cinemax jumped into the fray, joining CNN, BET, WTBS, and Showtime, cable television was well on its way to becoming a household institution. At the time, the idea of channels that featured only news or music videos was novel. Now that even Cartoon Network has sold out to live-action programming, it seems novel again.

Self-imposed ratings system – 1997
At the prompting of Congress, the television industry developed a content rating system to designate which programs young children’s parents would be most offended to have them exposed to. By and large, parents failed to master V-chip technology designed to filter out objectionable content, in a possible foreshadowing of the perils of DTV. Their kids, however, had no trouble cracking the code.

The DTV transition – 2009
It’s not quite as interactive as we were promised. In fact, it pales in comparison to web technology. But digital television, with its capacity for multicasting, has finally arrived. So far, the world appears to keep on turning, but if you need help setting up your converter box, you can apparently contact the St. Louis Fire Department.

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