Chapter six

Broadcast History: The Birth of Television

Getting young students interested in history can sometimes be a daunting task, especially when they discover that the teacher is attempting to teach academics in a course that was supposed to be fun. Yet, becoming literate in media and broadcasting requires background knowledge in at least some of the situations and major events that lead up to current circumstances. The ultimate goal of these history lessons is to lend cognitive support for an "arts-based approach to media education" as proposed by Kathleen Tyner in her book, Literacy in a Digital World.
In these sessions, students learn about RCA’s attempts to monopolize the radio industry. Were it not for several coincidences and twists of fate, radio may never have evolved into the entertainment device, as they now know it. Students also learn that, while it is very difficult to monopolize an entire industry, it can happen. (It’s interesting to note that most high school students do not even know what a monopoly is, let alone, understand why they should be concerned). All the publicity surrounding Microsoft’s attempts to control the communications industry is both a bane and a blessing. Most students (or adults, for that matter) don’t understand why, and if we should be concerned.

The history and circumstances surrounding the growth of radio also plays a significant role in how the television genre grew up. There has not been any time during this century that public interest in current events has not been directly influenced somehow by audience infatuation with an electronic communication medium. Even today, the influence of televised news events on our daily life is sometimes incalculable. A student of television doesn’t stand a chance of understanding the traditions in this industry without getting at least some cursory overview of its history.

If, indeed, the futures of the telephone, television, and the computer are all somehow intertwined, then knowledge of their independent histories is crucial to foreseeing their potential combined prospects. It is important to understand the reasons for the many delays and to know why some of the regulatory controls that were once so very necessary are now being shredded as fast as all the mega-mergers of large corporations are taking place. History will provide the basis to understanding this new digital combine. It is certainly fomenting cultural changes in this country that will original far surpass those that came about during and after the industrial revolution.

The scope of the historical topics covered in this module is aimed at the media and visual literacy goals set forth from the very first training session. The timeframe is limited to the bulk of the 20th century, beginning with Guglielmo Marconi coming to America to cover the yacht races.

The lesson breakdown is:

Digging Deeper

The lessons in this book are based on material taken from the following books. (Click on the publisher and you will be taken to a web page on which you may order the book):

An introduction to the most influential individuals in these lessons can also be found on this web site on the Hall of Fame page. Each has been honored by a summary introduction and link to sites where additional information about them can be found.

Additional sources of historical information may be found on the page supporting the Decades Project.