Broadcasting Timeline

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Here are key moments in the evolution and history of broadcasting.

K.F. Braun invents the cathode-ray tube.
Reginald Fessenden invents wireless telephony, a means for radio waves to carry signals a significant distance.
The Radio Act of 1912 assigns three- and four-letter codes to radio stations and limits broadcasting to the 360m wavelength, which jams signals.
KDKA, a Pittsburgh Westinghouse station, transmits the first commercial radio broadcast.
Reacting to problems posed by the Radio Act of 1912, the Commerce Department allows powerful stations to use the 400m wavelength as long as they only broadcast live music.
Russian immigrant Vladimir Kosma Zworykin patents the iconoscope, the first television transmission tube. He patents the first color tube in 1925.
A.C. Nielsen Company is founded and provides measurements of radio audiences for advertisers.
Radio's The Smith Family introduces the soap opera format.
RCA, General Electric and Westinghouse establish NBC, which operates two national radio networks.
Philo Farnsworth transmits the first all-electronic television image.
John Baird beams a television image from England to the United States.
GE introduces a television set with a 3" í— 4" screen.
The first television is sold - a Daven for $75.
CBS is founded by William S. Paley.
Crossley Inc. tabulates the first formal radio ratings system.
There are nearly 40,000 television sets in the United States; 9,000 of them are in New York City alone.
Edwin Armstrong introduces Frequency Modulation (FM), a static-free method of transmission.
The Communications Act of 1934 creates the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates broadcasting.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) debuts the world's first television service with three hours of programming a day.
Edgar Bergen and his puppet Charlie McCarthy make their television debut on NBC.
Orson Welles broadcasts his adaptation of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds on October 30, creating a nationwide panic as listeners believe that aliens have landed in New Jersey.
Information Please quiz show debuts on radio.
Robert Kane introduces the Batman cartoon.
CBS demonstrates color television in New York.
WNBT, the first regularly operating television station, debuts in New York with an estimated 10,000 viewers.
It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman! The radio show debuts.
The first Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Radio classic Amos 'n' Andy is canceled after 15 years and more than 4,000 consecutive shows.
The first instance of network censorship occurs. The sound is cut off on the Eddie Cantor and Nora Martin duet, “We're Having a Baby, My Baby and Me.“
The DuMont network goes on the air. Paramount Pictures backs the start-up enterprise, but its lack of affiliated radio networks leads to its early demise in 1956.
The orthicon tube, developed by RCA, improves light sensitivity a hundredfold.
The FCC creates the commercial broadcasting spectrum of 13 channels, and 130 applications for broadcast licenses follow.
Faraway Hill, what many television historians consider to be the first network soap opera, debuts on the DuMont network.
The Yankees beat the Dodgers in seven games in the first televised World Series.
Meet the Press debuts on NBC. The first news show will become television's longest-running program.
The first Emmy Awards are handed out on January 25, with Pantomime Quiz Time earning top honor as the Most Popular Television Program.
Cable television brings better reception to rural areas where the conventional television signal is weak.
Milton Berle hosts the first telethon, which benefits cancer research.
These Are My Children, a live, 15-minute show, premieres on NBC. It is the first continuing daytime drama.
Saturday morning children's programming begins.
Phonevision, the first pay-per-view service, becomes available.
Color television introduced in the U.S.
For the first time, a nationwide program airs. Edward R. Murrow, in the first broadcast of his See It Now series, tells viewers, as he looks into the split-screen image of the Golden Gate and Brooklyn bridges, that they for the first time are able to see the Atlantic and Pacific oceans simultaneously.
Leonard Nimoy appears in a science fiction series. (No, not that one.) In Zombies of the Stratosphere, Nimoy portrays the Martian Narab.
Television's first magazine-format program, the Today show, debuts on NBC with Dave Garroway hosting.
The Jackie Gleason Show (The Honeymooners) debuts on CBS, beginning a two-decade run.
Loretta Young abandons Hollywood for her stylish debut on the small screen.
Lucille Ball gives birth to Desi Arnaz, Jr. on same day the fictional Little Ricky is born on I Love Lucy.
The revenue for television broadcasters finally surpasses that of radio broadcasters. Gross revenue for television is $593 million.
NBC broadcasts the World Series in color for the first time.
The first watch is tested for durability on camera. And it is a Bulova, not a Timex. The timepiece is attached to a ball and hurled over Niagara Falls.
Gunsmoke debuts on CBS, and will go on to be television's longest-running western.
The Wizard of Oz has its first airing on TV.
Columbia University professor Charles Van Doren becomes a media sensation by winning $129,000 on the quiz show Twenty One.
Leave It to Beaver premieres on CBS, ushering in an era of television shows that depict the ideal American family.
Rumors of cheating on quiz shows erupt into a national scandal.
Seventy million people watch the presidential debate between Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon.
Ninety percent of U.S. homes have a television set.
The first transatlantic television transmission occurs via the Telestar Satellite, making worldwide television and cable networks a reality.
Johnny Carson takes over hosting duties of The Tonight Show.
Viewers tuned into NBC witness Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on camera - the first live telecast of a murder.
The French Chef with Julia Child debuts on educational television.
Peyton Place premieres on ABC and is the first prime-time soap opera.
Color television makes its way into U.S. homes.
ABC pays an unprecedented $32 million for a four-year contract with the NCAA to broadcast football games on Saturday afternoons.
Bill Cosby, starring in I Spy, becomes the first African American to headline a television show.
The first Star Trek episode, “The Man Trap,“ is broadcast on September 8. The plot concerns a creature that sucks salt from human bodies.
CBS backs out of plans to broadcast Psycho, deeming the movie too violent for at-home viewing.
Congress creates PBS.
60 Minutes airs on CBS, beginning its reign as the longest-running prime-time newsmagazine.
Children's Television Workshop introduces Sesame Street.
FCC regulations require separate ownership of television networks and studios.
Monday Night Football debuts on ABC, with Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson, and Don Meredith giving play-by-play.
All in the Family debuts on CBS and introduces a trend in socially conscious programming.
Time Inc. transmits HBO, the first pay cable network.
The National Institute of Mental Health and the surgeon general issue a report that claims exposure to violence on television fosters aggression in children.
M*A*S*H premieres on CBS.
PBS airs the reality series An American Family, about the dysfunctional Loud family.
ABC, CBS and NBC agree to create a “family hour,“ an early evening time slot that is free of violence and sex.
Saturday Night Live premieres on NBC. George Carlin hosts the first show.
NBC broadcasts Gone with the Wind and scores record-breaking ratings.
The TV miniseries Roots draws an audience of 130 million.
Ted Turner launches CNN, the first all-news network.
The Supreme Court rules to allow television cameras in the courtroom.
More than 125 million viewers tune in to the last episode of M*A*S*H.
The Cosby Show debuts on NBC. The sitcom is widely considered the most popular show of the 1980s.
The Supreme Court rules that taping television shows at home on VCRs does not violate copyright law.
Barry Diller, head of News Corp., creates Fox, the fourth television network. Fox offers 10 hours of prime-time programming a week.
The Television Bureau of Advertising announces that the average American household watches television for more than seven hours a day.
The Oprah Winfrey Show hits national television.
thirtysomething debuts on ABC and departs from typical dramas, featuring analytical, self-absorbed baby-boomer characters.
Ninety-eight percent of U.S. households have at least one television set.
Ted Turner starts Turner Network Television (TNT) and buys MGM's film library.
America's beloved comedienne Lucille Ball dies at age 78.
Ninety-nine percent of U.S. households have at least one radio, with the average owning five.
The Simpsons debuts on Fox and becomes an instant hit.
Seinfeld debuts on NBC.
Fox Broadcasting is the first network to permit condom advertising on television.
There are 900 million television sets in use around the world; 201 million are in the United States.
Johnny Carson hosts The Tonight Show for the last time. He had ruled late-night television for 20 years.
ER and Friends debut on NBC, establishing NBC's dominance of the Thursday-night lineup.
President Bill Clinton signs legislation that significantly deregulates telecommunications, creating almost limitless opportunities for broadcasters and cable companies.
Pressured by the Federal Communications Commission, television broadcasters agree to include three hours a week of educational children's programming into their schedule.
Broadcasters and television and PC manufacturers agree on a standard for HDTV (high-definition digital television).
The controversial television ratings system debuts on cable stations and broadcast networks. The ratings, TV-Y, TV-G, TV-Y7, TV-PG, TV-14 and TV-M, appear for 15 seconds in the upper left-hand corner of the screen at the beginning of each show, except news and sports programs, which are not rated.
An estimated 76 million viewers watch the last episode of Seinfeld.
NBC agrees to fork over $13 million an episode for the next three years for broadcast rights to the top-rated series ER. The total dollar figure, $850 million, eclipses any price ever paid for a television show.
ER's Dr. Doug Ross bids a bitter farewell to Chicago's General Memorial Hospital. George Clooney played the maverick pediatrician since the show debuted in 1994.
Reality TV mania hits the U.S. The phenomena begins with British import Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. ABC broadcasts the gameshow, with Regis Philbin hosting. The show runs as many as five times a week, and Philbin's monochrome wardrobe sparks a fad among men. Next to come is Survivor, which boasts out-sized ratings, out-sized egos, out-sized personalities, and out-sized conflicts. A series of knockoffs follow, including 2001's The Mole and Temptation Island.
Reality TV continues to dominate the airwaves. For the first time in eight years, NBC's “Must-See“ Thursday night lineup does not reign in the ratings. Survivor II: The Australian Outback consistently beats Friends.
The Supreme Court decides in a six to three vote that the start-up streaming company Aereo violated copyright laws by capturing and offering broadcast signals to their subscribers for a fee. The Court's ruling in ABC v. Aereo is in favor of the major networks in the television broadcasting industry which argued that Aereo was stealing their programming.

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