The History of NBC
News Channel 4 signed on the air as WNBT on July 1,1941, at 1:29 p.m. This historic event was the beginning of commercial television in the United States. At 2:30 p.m. the same day, WNBT again made history when 4,000 television sets were tuned to the station's first telecast, a game at Ebbets Field between Brooklyn and Philadelphia, followed by the P&G sponsored "Truth or Consequences" and "Uncle Jim's Questions Bee." The telecast also brought the first sponsor to the air. The Bulova clock filled the lower right hand quadrant of the test pattern and an announcer read the time. Bulova paid $4 for the first commercial and $5 for the use of facilities. And, America saw its first pair of televised dishpan handsthose of Irene Hubbard, the original star of the Ivory soap commercials. Operating out of Studio 3H, the first simulcast of a news program featured Lowell Thomas, in a Sunoco sponsored 15-minute report at 6:45 p.m.WNBT actually evolved from W2XBS, a pioneer RCA television lab and experimental station. W2XBS began in 1928, when RCA started operating from a transmitter in Van Cortlandt Park. On January 16,1930, a television program originating from NBC's Fifth Avenue studios was transmitted onto a six-foot screen for an audience at the Proctor Theater on Third Avenue and 58th Streets. NBC assumed control of the operation of W2XBS from RCA on July 30,1930. A year later, NBC began experimental telecasts from a transmitter located on the Empire State Building. W2XBS began the industry's first regular schedule of television service on April 30,1939, when President Roosevelt opened the 1939 New York World's Fair. In 1940, about one year prior to WNBT signing on the air, W2XBS offered television's first coverage of a political conventionthe Republic Convention, which was transmitted via coaxial cable to New York from Philadelphia. When the Democrats convened in Chicago, their meetings were filmed and shown on WNBT. In its infancy, television programming consisted mainly of sporting events including the Eastern Clay Court Tennis Championship Matches from Jackson Heights. Feature films were also popular. The first week of programming was commercial free and offered such attractions as a term of jugglers called "The Three Swifts," a Walt Disney cartoon tilted "Donald's Cousin Gus," and the whistling Novello Brothers. For the first six months, WNBT remained the country's only commercial television station featured personalities were Nick Kenny with his "Stars of Tomorrow" program. The station's mobile unit provided coverage of events ranging from water circuses at the Astoria Pool to air shows from the airport. In `41, Botany Mills became the first sponsor of a weather show on television, with an animated "Botany Lamb" which cavorted on film to report the weather. NBC4's long-tradition of special news coverage began the week of December 1just five months after WNBT-TV signed on the air. The program schedule called for feature films, amateur boxing, wrestling and a hockey game between the NY Rangers and Boston Bruins. At 8:30 p.m. the game was canceled for a special news bulletinon the attack on Pearl Harbor. The station quickly adjusted to war as the regular 19 hour programming schedule was curtailed to four hours a week. NBC installed television sets in 80 New York City Police Department Precincts and conducted televised instruction programs for 148,000 air raid and fire wardens. On a jubilant V-E Day on May 8,1945, the station presented an unprecedented 15 hours of programming to bring viewers live, filmed coverage of the end of the war in Europe. The effort was repeated on V-J Day, August 14 that same year when the programming was broadcast in Schenectady, NY, and Philadelphia on the country's first television network. On December 10,1945, WNBT began operating six days per week, programming everyday except Tuesday, over its frequency of Channel 1. Time signals were broadcast at various...
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