chapter 5 - Television is the medium from which most of us...

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“Television is the medium from which most of us receive our news, sports, entertainment, cues for civic discourse, and, most of all, our marching orders as consumers.” –Frank Rich, New York Times , 1998 Since replacing radio in the 1950s as our most popular medium, television has sparked repeated arguments about its social and cultural impact. During the 1990s, for example, teachers, clergy, journalists, and others waged a public assault on TV’s negative impact on children. In times of crisis, our fragmented and pluralistic society has turned to television as a touchstone, as common ground. In this age of increasing market specialization, television is still the one mass medium that delivers content millions can share simultaneously—everything from the Super Bowl to a network game show to the coverage of natural disasters.
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In 1948, only 1 percent of America’s households had a television set; by 1953, more than 50 percent had one; and by the early 1960s, more than 90 percent of all homes had a TV set. With television on the rise throughout the 1950s, many feared that radio—as well as books, magazines, and movies—would become irrelevant and unnecessary. What happened, of course, is that both radio and print media adapted to this new technology. In fact, today more radio stations are operating and more books and magazines are published than ever before; only ticket sales for movies have flattened and declined slightly since the 1960s. Early TV Technology “‘There’s nothing on it worthwhile, and we’re not going to watch it in this household, and I don’t want it in your intellectual diet.’” –Kent Farnsworth, recalling the attitude of his father (Philo) toward TV when Kent was growing up On September 7, 1927, at age twenty-one, Farnsworth transmitted the first TV picture electronically by rotating a straight line scratched on a square of painted glass by 90°. Finally, in 1930, he patented the first electronic television. RCA, then the world leader in broadcasting technology, challenged Farnsworth in a major patents battle. He later licensed these patents to RCA and AT&T for use in the commercial development of television. Farnsworth conducted the first public demonstration of television at the Franklin Inst