Before there was vision, there was sound. It may sound strange, but the birth of TV didn’t start with an actual television. To understand how those shiny, thin screens transformed from the massive sets they used to be way back when we’ll look into a little over a hundred years ago in 1874. The young German, K.F. Braun, invented the crystal rectifier. The device was to aid in radio transmissions, making the transmitting process easier by allowing currents to flow in one, smooth direction. This increased the range of Guglielmo Marconi’s one-way transmitter, and both scientists continued studying the physics behind electric transmission.
This led to Braun inventing what is known as the first cathode-ray tube. I know, based on the technical wording of it, this tube doesn’t sound all that thrilling, but Braun’s invention produced visible patterns that were graphical representations of electrical signals. This was essentially the world’s first scanning device!
New Radio, Who Dis?
It was Christmas Eve in 1906, and radio operators on ships in the Atlantic were shocked to hear a human voice come from the equipment they used to receive Morse code. Contrary to Marconi’s transmitter, Reginald Fessenden’s rotary-spark transmitters made the first successful two-way transatlantic transmission, exchanging Morse code messages between the station at Brant Rock and an identical one built at Machrihanish in Scotland.
You can imagine Fessenden’s excitement with these voices, especially due to the fact that hardly anyone was on board. Even Thomas Edison doubted it, saying, “Fezzie, what do you say are man’s chances of jumping over the moon? I think one is as likely as the other.”
For the next 15 years or so, other inventors and scientists continued to build off of Fessenden’s radio tube. The biggest issue radio was facing was the equipment. Not only was it a particular technology, but it also required a good amount of knowledge and up-keep. Due to the mass production of appliances for the home after World War I, more of the population became technology savvy. Radio companies formed and were able to build and sell ready-made machines. In 1920, Westinghouse, one of the leading radio manufacturers, decided they would give their company an edge by offering programming. Here, KDKA was born, the nation’s first commercial broadcast. KDKA was such a huge hit that they inspired other companies to broadcast as well. Come four years, and there were over 500 commercial stations around the United States. In order to keep up with the cost of building on equipment and paying for performers and guest stars, stations had to find their own investors, thus the beginning of broadcasted advertisements.
“Video Killed the Radio Star”
The moment had arrived– Philo Taylor Farnsworth, a 21-year-old inventor, created a system capable of capturing moving images into a codable format to send through radio waves and then transform them back into a picture on a screen. Electronic television was born and demonstrated in San Francisco in 1927. The first image Farnsworth transmitted was a simple line which led to a dollar sign, because an investor had asked, “When are we going to see some dollars in this thing, Farnsworth?” I think they received a return on their investments.
This all led to the first $75 television sets in 1928 and the creation of CBS in 1929, all the way to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) offering the world’s first television service with 3 hours of programming per day in 1936. Like most things in the U.S., one thing led to another and the television industry was booming, offering more opportunities for work and entertainment. Who knew Game of Thrones and DirecTV could have stemmed from single-way radio transmissions.