Gallery: USA 

14 June 2001

To start, a brief reminder of the system of television in the US. Most notably, TV is dominated by the networks (originally NBC, CBS and ABC but later joined by Fox and recently augmented by the WB and UPN from Warner and Paramount respectively).

The networks, despite competition since the 1970s from cable stations such as HBO and CNN, still have a stranglehold on TV. At the same time, they own few of their own stations (each local station joins a network – or networks – by choice, and can leave if they choose).

They also, until recently, were not allowed to own their own programming (except news), which is why most programmes are independently produced and such strangeness exists as CBS’s ‘Caroline in the City’ airing on NBC.

WJAC 6 for Pennsylvania

It’s 1966, and WJAC is using ‘Sponsor’ magazine to congratulate the network it is affiliated to, NBC, on its 40th birthday. Broadcasting on US VHF channel 6, WJAC covers central Pennsylvania as well as parts of West Virginia.

This being 1966, and color sets now becoming affordable in the US (a year before the first colour broadcast, from BBC2, in the UK) WJAC6 is proud of color and promotes the fact that 50% of local shows and 85% of networked shows are now in color.

It would be into the 1970s before the last local affiliate could boast full color television, and well into the 1980s before FCC surveys showed that more than 90% were watching color on their main sets.

WEAT 12 in Florida

A year later, WEAT in Florida is inviting us to switch to VHF channel 12 (but still not yet in color)…

Dick Bate on WEAT 12 in Florida

…in order to watch Dick Bate bring his new ideas to fruition on this ABC affiliate. ABC at this time trailed badly behind the Tiffany Network (CBS) at number one and NBC at number two.

WLBW 10 has colorvision

The unaffiliated WLBW on VHF 10 in Florida provides a diet of classic movies (for 1967), mostly in monochrome, somewhat making a mockery of WLBW being ‘Colorvision’.

HBO people don't miss out in 1981

The 1980s bring a new threat to network television. Not only is cable – that equalizer of UHF and VHF – bringing a choice of alternative independent stations and PBS into people’s homes, it also brings Home Box Office, The Movie Channel, Cinemax and Showtime, to name a few.

These channels, being subscription based, have two unique selling points. First, no adverts or cuts by network censors. Second, no need to leave that couch to rent a video from the store.

Unlike in the UK, the vast majority would be watching HBO on cable (not the object of derision in the US that it is in the UK) rather than by satellite. US satellite platforms are vastly undeveloped by UK standards; cable is definitely king.

Lassie and the Spirit of Thunder Mountain entertain in 1972.

To counter the threat, the networks (here in the form of WABC7 New York and WTNH8 New Haven) use made-for-TV movies. Originally a method by which the studios used up spare capacity and sold on cheaply, by the 1980s the networks were prepared to pay large sums to defeat the cable movie channels. Nevertheless, a TV movie-length cartoon of Lassie hardly competes with HBO’s Blues Brothers, Airplane, Fame and ‘1941’ for viewers.

WABC is not an affiliate – it is the exception by being owned by ABC themselves. The radio station WABC New York is famous amongst jingle collectors as being the driving force behind PAMS and later JAM jingles.

It’s 1967, and Europe has two things in common – very few colour sets in each country, and each state-owned electricity board is encouraging the population to save energy and economise.

In the United States, however, energy is cheap and plentiful. The natural resources of the country look like they will last forever. So Florida Power & Light Company sees a money-making opportunity – spend more on electricity, use more fossil fuels, buy more electronic goods – don’t get left behind in the rush toward Mammon.

As we watch the ice-caps melt, the sea levels rise and the world suffers from droughts and floods, this advert makes interesting reading 3 decades later.

Still in 1967, and still in Florida, CBS affiliate WTVJ4 is convinced that Hollywood will be moving any minute from one sunny state to another. To prove is, “The Happening” is being filmed in the state, and local personality Larry King is interviewing its star, Anthony “Zorba the Greek” Quinn.

Did WTVJ4 mention it was in color? If not, to correct that oversight is a quick reminder.

Florida PBS station Channel 2 is, as always with American public broadcasting, on the beg for money. Rather than a telethon, or jumble sales, or a sale of promises, 2 gets celebrity auctioneers to sell off donated junk to telephone voters. Ring in and pledge your money for Sesame Street (if you have easy access to 1967, that is).

It’s 1981, and, in some parts of southern Oregon, times are hard. KPIC4 in Roseburg and KCBY11 in Coos Bay, covering very small markets, are affiliated to both NBC and CBS.

But rather than trumpet this achievement (which would beg the question as to exactly what service this provides to viewers having someone else make the choice between networks for them), the two stations advertise their local news service throughout the TV Guide this week.

Southern Oregon must be a small market – it has only one independent station, KPTV12 in Portland, whilst KVAL13 in Eugene, KTVL10 in Medford and KIEM3 in Eureka just over the border in California are all NBC and CBS joint affiliates; KRCR7 in Redding and KVIA6 in Eureka both affiliate to ABC and NBC; whilst KOTI2 in Klamath Falls and KOBI5 in Medford choose ABC and CBS for their partners.

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