First Day of (USA Commercial) TV ....
Tuesday July 1st, 1941 -- A famous television history date. On that day, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) activated new non-experimental call letters for two stations (WNBT, later renamed WNBC & WCBW) in the United States, and permitted commercial advertising. It officially marks "DAY ONE" of American television. Any broadcasting before that date was considered "experimental".
Not all stations switched from experimental to commercial at once. It was a slow process which took years to complete. By way of a side note, the official start to public "experimental" USA television is April 30, 1939, with the televised opening of the New York World's Fair. That would make the Fair the first TV show, if you want to talk about the experimental period.
The WNBT Program card shows what the first day of television was like. We can use this program card as a guide to several "First" events, as they relate to "Commercial" television's start. Some examples are:
Caution: In the pre-history years before commercial television's start, there was a lot of programming experimentation. Few written or visual records were kept, and that is why it is difficult to give precise and guaranteed accurate answers to these "first" questions, in the early prewar years. To be sure, many program events were written into the history books, but not all.
One good example of a "first" confusion:
It is generally accepted knowledge that NBC president Pat Weaver created the first talk-show in 1952, with the premier of the "Tonight Show". However, few people know the truth. In TV's prehistory "experimental years", ten years earlier (1942), a California station W6XYZ had a lanky young writer named Franklin Lacey, who became television's first talk show host, on his own show! There were only 40 TV sets being watched at that time (in the Los Angeles area). You can see how difficult it can be to claim the 'first' of this or that. Most everything was tried in one form or another in the late 20's to late 30's period, but in many areas there were only a handful of TV set owners, and few memories remain today.
An outstanding, easy to read reference book on the programming during the experimental era of television is: Please Stand By -- A Prehistory of Television by Michael Ritchie. It is a must read for early TV trivia and program buffs. Soft cover is $15.95, 248 pages, Size: 9" x 7", ISBN 0-87951-615-1, published in 1995 by "The Overlook Press", New York. Loaded with great photographs, too!
To quote some of America's pre-history 'firsts' from this book: