The world’s first television series spurred America’s television boom 75 years ago

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(THE TALK) Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk desperately waves his home run to stay in play. Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Kirk Gibson pumps his arms as he hobbles around the second base after beefing up a home run off Dennis Eckersley, Oakland’s closest dominating A. The ball on the ground hit by New York Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson jumping between the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner.

Some of the most dramatic images in World Series history are seared into the minds of baseball fans through television coverage. This year’s World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros is sure to bring another timeless highlight to the estimated 12 million viewers expected.

Yet the first 43 World Series were not televised at all. It wasn’t until the 1947 series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers – 75 years ago – that fans could see their favorite players go head-to-head on screen.

As I detail in my book “Center Field Shot: A History of Baseball on Television,” which I co-wrote with Robert Bellamy, the shows became a sensation. They drew millions of Americans to a new medium at a time when there were no national networks, only a handful of stations, and somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 televisions nationwide.

Negotiations go all the way

In August 1947, the television industry predicted a possible all-New York World Series: the Yankees had a huge lead in the American League, while the Dodgers also held a sizable lead in the National League.

If they met in October, the three New York television networks – led by NBC ABC and now-defunct DuMont – decided they wanted to cover the games.

But the television rights to the games were held by the Mutual Broadcasting System, a radio network that did not have a television division. Thus, Mutual would have to outsource coverage to one or more New York stations.

Although no national television network existed at the time, NBC, DuMont, and CBS had the means to link East Coast stations through a combination of coaxial cable, microwave, and over-the-air transmissions. thus broadening the potential audience for the world. Series. The series would air on eight stations in four markets: New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Schenectady, New York.

While the Yankees-Dodgers series materialized, telecasting of the series almost didn’t happen.

The predictable stumbling block was money. Baseball commissioner Albert B. “Happy” Chandler wanted $100,000 for the television rights to the series. Gillette, the sponsor of radio coverage on the Mutual Broadcasting System, balked at the high price given the limited television penetration—only 50,000 to 60,000 American households had televisions at the time. The radio rights to reach the country’s 29 million homes with radios had cost Mutual just $175,000.

Initial negotiations resulted in an offer of $60,000 from two sponsors: Gillette and the Ford Motor Company. New York’s Liebmann Breweries offered to meet Chandler’s $100,000 request, but the commissioner declined because he didn’t want beer ads when young people would be prominent members of the public .

Even before a coverage deal was finalized, bars, restaurants, TV dealers, department stores, car dealerships and movie theaters began advertising the event, urging customers to come and watch the World Series on television. And in the days and weeks leading up to the Fall Classic, demand for TVs skyrocketed.

The excitement pushed Chandler and the sponsors to find a compromise.

Finally, on September 26, just four days before Game 1 at Yankee Stadium, Chandler, Gillette and Ford agreed to $65,000 for World Series television rights. Production costs added another $35,000 to the sponsors’ bill. Mutual, Gillette and Ford have also agreed to allow the three New York television stations and those connected to them to broadcast the game, providing the widest possible exposure.

A surprisingly strong response

Early industry estimates had the series reaching between 600,000 and 700,000 viewers, many of whom were in the bars and restaurants where a significant number of the nation’s early television receivers were located. But this forecast turned out to be conservative. Although home viewing of the seven games was substantial – 450,000 in a Hooper valuation survey commissioned by Billboard – the away-from-home viewing numbers were extraordinary: an estimated 3.5 million additional people watched the World Series in public places.

Hooper’s survey found that an average of 82 patrons showed up at each of these public venues to watch at least part of the World Series. Variety reported that bar owners saw a 500% increase in patrons over the course of the series, with some offering regulars reservations for a prime spot near the TV.

What viewers in those prime seats saw was primitive by today’s standards. The screen was generally small – 12 inches diagonally or less. The low definition images were black and white and came from only a few cameras. No extreme close-ups were possible. There was no instant replay, so fans had to be careful or the moment was lost.

But for the first time, they saw the World Series live and for free.

The television industry’s world series bump

The public liked what they saw. Billboard, quoting The Newark Evening News, reported that “television audiences latched on to video cameras at every turn and the ‘oohs and aahs’ during a slide or strikeout was something broadcasters would give in their eyes to hear.”

It didn’t hurt that the 1947 World Series ended up being so dramatic. The Yankees won in seven games, but Brooklyn won the two biggest moments.

Late in the ninth inning of Game 4, Dodgers slugger Cookie Lavagetto ended Yankee starter Bill Biven’s no-hitter bid with a two-out hit, leading in two runs and sending the Dodgers to a win 3 -2. Then, in Game 6, Al Gionfriddo’s superb take on Joe DiMaggio’s deep push to left field helped preserve an 8-6 Dodgers win, leading legendary Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber to exclaim: “Oh, doctor!”

Broadcasts from Washington even reached the White House, where President Harry S. Truman, his staff, and the DC press corps watched some of the contests. Trade magazine Televiser reported an enthusiastic response from White House viewers: “If television can do such a good job on perhaps the most difficult of all subjects to televise, then it really has arrived.

Public support for the World Series on television, along with generous press coverage of television shows, provided a significant boost to the fledgling television industry. The Sporting News reported that the world’s first television series boosted sales of new receivers in New York to levels not seen since the early days of radio. Similar reports came from dealerships in Washington and Philadelphia.

David Sarnoff, president of RCA – which owed NBC and was a leading receiver manufacturer – considered television coverage of baseball and its crowning event, the World Series, to be one of the most important factors in triggering growth new media.

TV makers, he concluded, “had to have baseball games and if [baseball owners] had asked millions for the rights, we should have given it to them.

The television industry ended up paying millions and then billions for these rights. Fox’s latest seven-year contract, including World Series rights, is worth $5.1 billion for Major League Baseball.

Happy Chandler’s $100,000 request in 1947 seems like a bargain today.

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