Television in the 1960s saw dramatic changes in sales, in technology and in the way people perceived television. Prior to the 1960s, T.V. was more of an entertainment factor and not a necessity. When the Telstar I satellite was placed into orbit in 1962, T.V. became an important news resource.
"Telstar I was launched on July 10, 1962, and on that same day live television pictures originating in the United States were received in France".
In the blink of an eye, international news events, from all over the globe became accessible to anyone who owned a T.V. CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite led the newscasts.
The first Presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon was telecast, and many people believe that gave Kennedy the distinct advantage over Nixon. No longer did we read what they said in the debates, but we got to see how they performed under pressure.
1960 was a decade of unrest and change in the country.
-In October of 1962, we watched Kennedy confront Kruschev in the Bay of Pigs.
-In November of 1963 we watched in horror as Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas TX.
-In April of 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN.
-Two months later, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles, CA.
-We saw the political riots in Chicago in 1968.
We watched casualty reports on the Viet Nam war and for the first time we saw a different point of view. We saw the reactions from people all over the world, most notably from protesters here in the United States.
Meanwhile the Space Age was upon us:
We saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin take a walk on the moon in 1969.
We saw all of these events on television.
How many people owned televisions? At the beginning of the 1960s, 87% of all households in the United States owned televisions, mostly black and white sets. By the end of the decade, ownership had increased to 95%.
In the mid 1960s, the micro Television came along with a 2" screen display. Regular televisions came in consoles, some having hi-fidelity record playing systems built right into the console.
There were some interesting console designs in the 60s. In the UK, a transparent spherical TV was sold, while in Italy some TVs looked like a work of art setting atop a pedestal base. Germany designed one of the most interesting TVs.
In 1961, Germany offered The KUBA "Komet" a console that resembled a piece of abstract art that included 21-inch TV, short-wave and long-wave radio, stereo phonograph changer, with the option to add a tape recorder and a remote control.
In 1962, Disney introduced the "Wonderful World of Color" TV program, possibly with an incentive to increase the sales of color sets for a better television experience. It wasn't until the early 1970s that color TV began to outsell black and white sets.
Cable TV was in its infancy stages and was present in only about 1.4% of homes. Cable sales didn't see a dramatic increase for more than another decade.
Of course television was still the main source of entertainment for many people and the 60s brought a wealth of new TV shows:
Have Gun, Will Travel
The Big Valley
Sitcoms and Variety Shows were popular with Ed Sullivan leading the way with the biggest and newest stars. The Ed Sullivan Show introduced us to Elvis Presley, the Beatles and many other popular music groups of the day. There was plenty of entertainment to be had with:
Dick Van Dyke Show, where Mary Tyler Moore started.
The Garry Moore Show, where Carol Burnett got her start.
The Red Skelton Show, featured guest stars
The Jackie Gleason Show, with Art Carney and Audrey Meadows.
The Beverly Hillbillies took California and the rest of the nation by storm quickly climbing to a number one rating.
Doctors like Kildare and Ben Casey came into our homes with the best bedside manners we'd even seen.
Captain Kangaroo ran all throughout the sixties (from 1955 to 1984). Bob Keeshan who was a young man when the show began portrayed the beloved Captain. Prior to Captain Kangaroo, he was Carabell on the Howdy Doody Show.
In 1967 Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act. The University of Iowa was the first educational facility to produce and broadcast video programming. PBS ushered in new kinds of children's programs designed to teach and inspire young people.
Mister Rogers Neighborhood aired on PBS in 1967. Fred Rogers, the gentle TV host made children feel at home and captured their imagination.
A young college student began working in a local TV station because he loved the new media called television. Jim Henson would join PBS and become famous in the next decade.
In September of 1968, 60 Minutes, news magazine aired for the first time.
The decade rolled on to 1970. By the early 1970s, most households in the United States had color television sets. The war was still ongoing and the country was still in a state of unrest.
Television and technology continued to evolve.
Jim Henson was asked to help create new characters for a new television program directed at pre-school children. He brought Kermit the frog, along with him and developed more Muppets for a new venture of PBS. . In 1970 "Sesame Street" aired for the first time and was a great success. It soon became "the most important children's program in the history of television."
"In 1978 PBS was the first network to deliver all its programming via satellite instead of landlines." PBS delivered some of the finest television shows available starting in 1970.
Just as Telstar I had revolutionized the international news a little company called Home Box Office had a similar experience in television broadcasting. In 1975, HBO bought the rights to live transmission of the heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Cable viewers were able to watch the fight as it was taking place while networks had to wait until the tapes were flown in to them. All of sudden a lot of sports fans saw the value of cable television.
The cable industry took off and never looked back.
Another new technology arrived on the scene in the early 1970s. It could carry 65,000 times more information than the conventional copper wire. It was the arrival of fiber optic cable, a boon to the television industry.
In 1972, the VCR became available from the Phillips Corporation. Sony introduced the Betamax for video recording, but at a price of $1295.00 it hadn't a chance of competing. By 1977 RCA introduced the first VHS format, and it ruled in video recording until the mid 1980s.
Political unrest continued into the 1970s. Protests and the Viet Nam war played against a backdrop of sitcoms and drama on television. For one hour you might watch tragedy and turmoil on the news and the next half hour you would be entertained by The Beverly Hillbillies. It was a strange mix.
May 4, 1970 brought the Ohio Kent State University massacres as students joined to protest the bombing of Cambodia. National Guardsmen shoot and kill four protesters and wound nine more. It was a tragic event that shut down and brought more protests around the college and University campuses of the U.S.
June 17, 1972, five burglars entered the Democratic National Committee offices inside the Watergate office complex in Washington. The Watergate scandal broke that led to the impeachment of Richard M, Nixon.
The Viet Nam war ends in 1975.
Television brought the news into our homes. We reflected on the tragedies and we grieved over the losses, but through it all we still found time to watch the shows of that era. Perhaps it was escape from the realities of life.
These are some of the shows we watched in the 1970s:
All In The Family
Sanford and Son
Dukes of Hazzard
Welcome Back Kotter
Laverne and Shirley
I Dream of Jeannie
Starskey and Hutch
The Incredible Hulk
Hart to Hart
Six Million Dollar Man
Sonny and Cher
Rowan and Martin Laugh-In
Females become empowered in television: In 1976, Barbara Walters became the first female newscaster to sign with a network in a deal worth 5 million dollars. Other women were already newscasters and program directors in local television stations by then. It became common to see women as news anchors and newscasters soon after.
The 1960s and 1970s were tumultuous years. Everything was exploding, bombs, technology, space exploration, protests and politics.
Through it all, we depended on television to keep us informed. It's amazing to take a walk back in history and remember all these events. Looking at it from afar, I wonder if we kept our sanity during that time partly because we had an ally in the form of television. It kept us informed and it kept us entertained.
Today as we acknowledge the new explosion of computers and Internet TV, we tip our hats to all the people who pioneered television and made today possible.