Walker available for expert comment on significance of 60th TV broadcast of World Series
First World Series telecast in Chicago used retrofitted WWII Bomber to bridge networks
Chicago (Oct. 16, 2008) This year marks the 60th nationally televised World Series, now a technical marvel of graceful camera work, slow motion replay, and stunning graphics telecast in high definition with more than 17 million live viewers in the U.S. and millions more around the world.
It was not always so.
In 1948, radio still dominated the airwaves, and there was no global cable/satellite network connecting television stations across the country. America instead had Eastern and Midwestern television networks with no physical link between them for a live connection.
Faced with a world series between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Braves, technicians retrofitted a World War II-era B-29 bomber with television equipment. The plan: bridge the networks by flying the bomber at 20,000 feet up and down western Pennsylvania, receiving baseball coverage and forwarding the signal another 250 miles. Results of the relay were less than seamless, but many delighted Ohioans and Pennsylvanians received clear signals on their televisions directly from the plane.
“This networking experiment failed to produce a reliable link, but demonstrated just how important televising the World Series was to the fledgling TV industry,” said Saint Xavier University Professor James R. Walker, Ph.D. “By linking the east coast and the Midwest, it began the nationalizing of television that culminated in the first live, coast to coast telecasts in 1951.”
Walker recently co-authored the book “Center Field Shot: A History of Baseball on Television.”
Since few Americans owned a television in 1948, they often gathered with other fans to watch the country’s premier sports event. RCA set up 100 televisions in Boston Commons, allowing an estimated 10,000 people to view the game. In Chicago, WGN positioned five projection televisions for a crowd at the Nathan Hale Court outside the Tribune Tower.
Walker and his co-author, Duquesne Professor Rob Bellamy, examine in their book how baseball helped nurture the new medium of television and how television in turn changed baseball, motivating MLB owners to create more teams, increase the number of post-season games and move the World Series and All-Star Game to prime time.
“In the past, the owners saw television as equal parts threat and savior,” Walk said. “The TV game threatened to keep fans from the park, but when free agency forced salaries dramatically higher, the medium provided more revenue to meet the game’s expanding payroll. In the modern era, Major League Baseball embraced the promotional power of television and aggressively used the Internet to expand its distribution of the televised game.”
To learn more about the exciting path of televised baseball or to interview Walker, please call (773) 298-3937 or (cell) (773) 203-6671. To see more information about his book “Center Field Shot,” please visit www.centerfieldshot.com.
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