1948: Fifty Years Ago
The Cable Guy
By FREDERIC D. SCHWARZ
On November 25 the small fishing town of Astoria, Oregon, was the scene of a milestone in telecommunications technology: the birth of cable television. The inventor was Ed Parsons, a mechanical whiz who sold electronics equipment and ran a radio station in Astoria. His wife had seen a demonstration of television and wanted to watch at home. Unfortunately, the nearest station was in Chicago. In the summer of 1948, however, Parsons learned that radio station KRSC (later KING) of Seattle would start broadcasting television that fall.
Although Seattle was 125 miles away, Parsons was determined to pull in the station, so he crisscrossed Clatsop County by car and airplane with a field-strength meter. Despite the distance and intervening mountains, he found that KRSC came through clearly enough in a few scattered places where terrain features focused the transmission. In fact, he could pick up a usable signal on the roof of the John Jacob Astor Hotel, where he lived in the penthouse apartment. He set up an antenna there and strung a cable from it to his living room. On Thanksgiving Day the Parsonses watched KRSC’s inaugural broadcast.
Soon friends, acquaintances, and even strangers from hundreds of miles away were ringing their doorbell to take a look at the new wonder. When Parsons installed a set in the hotel lobby, it attracted so many gawkers that guests could not reach the registration desk. Then he put a set in a store window across the street and brought the signal to it with coaxial cable—the first recorded use of coaxial to carry television. The display drew such big crowds in the street that the police chief ordered Parsons to remove it. Parsons began to wire local bars and homes, devising retransmitters and amplifiers to boost the signal when necessary. At first he charged nothing more than an installation fee, making his money by selling sets, but by 1951 he was collecting three dollars per month from two hundred customers.
To other related sites
To Return to previous page