Published Date

August 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 27: What Is the Future of Television? (1945)

You can reasonably expect some changes in your family life when a television receiver becomes a household appliance. A member of the old Federal Radio Commission predicts that when television receivers become as generally used as radios and telephones are now, family cars will stand idle, saving gasoline and tires. Movies, best-selling novels, detective stories, and lengthy telephone chatter will be sacrificed, he says, as the family group gathers to watch news, drama, sports, and travel scenes on the television screen in the living room.

Even home decorations may be affected. Furniture in the future may be chosen with a view to being readily rearranged to form a family audience group facing the television screen. Living room curtains may be selected with an eye to blocking out daylight during the telecast of afternoon football games.

Family buying methods may be affected when the household can see articles demonstrated over the air. What will happen when little Johnny looks at the television screen and sees a pretty little blonde girl taking a dose of chocolate-flavored cod-liver oil? “Yum-yum,” she smiles and says, “It tastes better’n a choc’lat soder, and it does me lots of good too!” Will mom or dad have to rush right down to the drugstore and buy a quart of the stuff?


No advertising?

Some people believe that there should be no advertising on television—that it should be government operated just as radio and television are now in England. Generally speaking, these are the same people who want all commercial advertising eliminated from the radio. There may be some noncommercial television stations supplying educational pro-grams to the television audience, but it is quite likely that the commercial advertiser is going to paythe bills in this new entertainment medium just as he now foots them for the radio.

It should be remembered that there is no hard and fast rule that commercial sponsors must pay the bill of television. An attempt may be made to have the government subsidize television. Under such a system, set owners would pay a part of the bill through a nominal yearly tax on their sets, just as they pay a tax on their automobiles. Given the present close alliance between radio and television, with advertisers paying the way of radio, it is probable that advertisers will pay the way of television too. Set manufacturers, like General Electric and Philco, are already wooing advertisers by giving practical demonstrations of television commercials.

Broadcasters point out that there would be no Bob Hope, Philharmonic Symphony, Information Please, or William L. Shirer on the air if it were not for the commercial advertiser. Radio stations or networks could not afford to pay the fees of these top-flight artists without the income from sponsored programs.

Subscription television, like subscription radio, has been suggested. In this system the listener pays the bill so that he can enjoy good programs without advertising plugs. A private commercial company would lease a “de-jammer” for a nominal sum. With one of these de-jammers attached to your television set you would be able to pick up special television programs broadcast at special frequencies. On the ordinary set, without the de-jammer, the picture would be picked up only as a distorted blur and the sound as a pig-squeal.

Since there are only a limited number of frequencies in the radio spectrum for the use of all radio services, including television, it seems unlikely that FCC will allocate frequencies for subscription television or radio. Neither makes a contribution to the safety of life and property nor serves a substantial public need. Most authorities, therefore, do not consider them as being in the public interest.

Powerful interests are behind the subscription radio plan, however. A leader in the field is the Muzak Corporation, which at present provides music for restaurants and public gathering places on a leased-wire basis. Interests just as powerful may one day back subscription television.

What you’ll be seeing

Television entertainment will include three basic types of programs. One is the studio presentation, that is, anything which is enacted in the studio. Second, is the outdoor event, including baseball games, rodeos, ice shows, boxing and wrestling matches, which will be picked up by remote-control equipment. The third type of program will be made up of sound motion pictures. Due to their low cost, many of the television programs being sent out today rely on sound movies for entertainment. Live talent costs money.

Many advertisers believe the old Chinese proverb that “one picture is worth ten thousand words” and are already taking an active interest in television as a possible sales promoter. A cosmetics manufacturer sponsors a program showing women how to apply liquid stockings to their legs (even the men look at this advertising plug). A soft-drink bottler presents a hillbilly show. A plastics manufacturer uses television to give potential customers a peek at his postwar offerings. And a maker of sporting ammunition presents a wildlife forecast of interest to hunters.

Several schools and colleges, planning extension courses, hope to use television to bring the classroom into the home. Television may at some future date make it possible for people to see and hear Congress in action or have a ring-side seat at important criminal trials, big government conferences, and other public events. Medical students will be able to watch surgical operations that are being performed several hundred miles away.

Charlie McCarthy or the Chicago Roundtable?

Like radio, however, television will probably serve primarily as an entertainment rattier than an educational medium. A comprehensive survey of radio program types made in 1942 by Broadcasting magazine shows that over 70 per cent of the nighttime radio programs were of a noneducational nature (humorous, audience participation, variety, popular music, comedy drama, and the like). Probably only a small percentage of the remaining programs (commentators, news, talks, classical and semiclassical music, straight drama, melodrama) could be called “educational” in any strict sense.

The “educational uplift” value of television may prove much more limited than many people, including some educators, believe. There is little reason to suppose that Joe and Josephine Doaks will watch a laboratory demonstration of the manufacture of synthetic rubber in preference to a performance by Robert Taylor and Hedy LaMarr. After all, they don’t now listen to the University of Chicago, Roundtable in preference to Charlie McCarthy or Dinah Shore.

Much has been done in recent years to make education entertaining—in radio through such programs as Cavalcade of 4merica, and in motion pictures with such epics of history as Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Wilson, and the This Is America short subjects. Walt Disney has learned to teach by cartoons, and his animated cartoon Reason vs. Emotion is a good example of bringing science within the range of the man in the street. These same techniques, plus a wise selection of subject material, may bring to television more educational programs than radio now enjoys.

Some believe that television will be utopia by the fireside. They feel that it is destined to provide knowledge to large numbers of people, truer perception of the meaning of current events, more accurate appraisal of men in public life, and a broader understanding of our fellow human beings. This may be a lot of hot air. On the other hand, when television receivers become as popular as radio sets, television will probably have a definite influence on our way of living and will become a valuable new tool for mass education.

Do you agree that television will have a revolutionary effect on family life? If television advertising makes people want to buy more products, would this have a good or bad effect on our economy immediately after the war? Should advertisers be prohibited from using television to sell their wares? Would you study some academic subject in a television classroom? In the light of the limited number of frequencies that exist, should FCC allocate space in the spectrum to subscription television? Is it desirable for FCC to put into the hands of a commercial company the privilege of using such radio space when that group plans to shut out potential listeners?

Next section: What Kind of Television?