Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Broadcast Television vs. Cable Systems

In 1907, Russian Boris Rosing and Englishman A.A. Campbell-Swinton combined a cathode ray tube with a mechanical scanning system to create a rudimentary electronic image. It wasn't until 1927 that twenty-one-year-old American inventor Philo Farnsworth invented the first television system with a transmitter that sent electronic coded images over the airwaves to a receiver which decoded the signals into light and dark. Black and white television was born.

Philo Farnsworth--with invention.

Legend has it that when Farnsworth pitched his invention to potential investors, one of them asked him when they might see some dollars out of this thing. Thinking quickly, Fransworth televised the image of a dollar bill. Investment was there, but the Depression and World War II put commercial television production on hold. RADAR, SONAR, and information processing research took precedence over consumer televison until war's end.

The miracle of television was brought to our homes via tall broadcast towers that sent electromagnetic signals over the airwaves carrying TV programming to rooftop antennas connected to our television sets in our living rooms. The first broadcast stations in 1946 had limited broadcast hours. Hollywood Westerns dominated early programming. By 1949, most American urban centers had at least one station; by 1953, half of all American households had a television set; and by 1956, most United States cities were linked to network programming.

Broadcast signals weakened the further away from the transmitter towers. Mountains and weather could interfer with a station's reach. The national broadcasters (NBC, CBS, and ABC) needed to reach the largest number of viewers, so they concentrated on densely populated urban areas leaving people in rural or outlying areas with a weak signal or no signal at all. Cable TV began in 1948 to address the problem of providing outlying areas with an improved signal.

Coaxial cable
Robert J. Tarlton is credited by many as developing the first cable TV operation. He parlayed his Army radio communications training into opening an electronics store in Lansford, Pennsylvania after the war. Nobody in town was interested in buying a TV from him because a mountain blocked the signal from Philadelphia sixty-five miles away. Tarlton convinced some investors to build large antennas on top of the mountain in 1949. These antennas channeled the weak signals from Philadelphia, fed them into coaxial cables, amplified them, and carried the strengthened electronic signals to decoder boxes--all for a one-time $125 installation charge and $3 monthly cable box fee.

Cable Antenna Television (CATV) was an immediate success but its expansion was limited until sufficient infrastructure was in place. In 1950, there were 70 cable systems across rural America, but by the 1960s, there were 640 systems. The growth of cable TV threatened the network broadcasting cartel that believed cable providers were thieves stealing their product and making a profit from it. For the next thirty years, cable TV was restricted by the FCC--at the behest of the national networks--to show only existing network programming thereby eliminating competition.

In 1962, the FCC asserted its authority over cable because of its potential negative impact on broadcast television. Their regulations limited cable TV systems to small local markets inhibiting their growth again to protect the networks from competition. In 1969, the FCC forbade cable systems from showing movies under ten years old or televising sporting events under five years old.

The game changed in 1975 when the FCC allowed orbiting satellites to broadcast television signals. Small start-up media company, Home Box Office (HBO) began distributing its limited programming nationwide via satellite. Then on October 1, 1975, HBO broadcast the first pay-per-view program--The Thrilla from Manila--a world heavyweight boxing title match between Muhammad Ali and Smokin' Joe Frazier broadcast worldwide live from the Phillipines. The global success and financial windfall prompted HBO to file a lawsuit against the FCC. In 1977, the federal court in Washington, DC ruled that the FCC was not justified in restricting cable televison's development.

The nation's cable operators gained the right to air recent movies and live sporting events. More importantly, the cable industry was free to develop specialty channels with original programming targeted at smaller, niche audiences. 

Ted Turner
Entrepreneur Ted Turner transformed his small Atlanta cable operation into a national cable network in 1976. WTBS was dubbed America's First Superstation and in 1978 WGN from Chicago also went national. In 1979, the Entertainment Sports Programming Network (ESPN) quickly grew into a multi-billion-dollar media giant leaving its imprint on American sports culture. A revolution in television news expanded the media universe with Ted Turner's Cable News Network (CNN) in 1980, and Music Television (MTV) exploded onto the scene in 1981 focusing on the new medium of music videos.

The Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 completely deregulated the cable industry. Today, the cable industry has over 900 programming networks available to 93% of American households. The industry supports more than three million, well-paying jobs. In the 2000s, it remains to be seen if cable TV can survive a new era of competition from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Will the American consumer cut the cord? In an industry that thrives on innovation, only time and the marketplace will tell.

Origin of the Limelight. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Zug Island Novel Gets Facelift

July 2017 marked fifty years since the Detroit Riot left its indelible mark on American history. Anyone who experienced this week of bloodshed and arson can never forget it--43 reported deaths, 7,000 arrests, 4,000 injuries, 2,500 buildings looted or burned to the ground, 5,000 residents left homeless, 16,682 fire runs, and a river of fire ten blocks long.

Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel tells the story of two young men, one white and one black, who push the boundaries of race as they explore each others culture. Set in 1967 against a backdrop of industrial blight and urban decay, Jake Malone and Theo Semple get a crash course in race relations as they stumble in and out of rhythm on Detroit's mean streets discovering the face of racism comes in every shade of color.
Kirkus Reviews, a publishing trade magazine, said of Zug Island, "The novel is tightly written with a dramatic plot, well-rounded characters, and clear insights into social history. An engaging, dynamic story that grapples intelligently with the themes of race, class, and morality."

My award-winning, revised 2nd edition has a new cover and includes several enhanced scenes. Since writing Zug Island in 2011, I've learned more about the Detroit communities of Delray, Black Bottom, and Paradise Valley, and this edition reflects that. Also new is a segment on the Algiers Motel murders conspicuous by its absence from my first edition. 

Paperback copies and all five ebook formats are available online from Amazon and B&N. Zug Island Amazon Site