Presidential Debates: History From The Technical Side of 1960: Nixon / Kennedy


I attended a great presentation on ALL Presidential Debates (current and on TV but not Lincoln-Douglas et all).
Presentation was given by Democrats Abroad. Decided I should commit my knowledge on Presidential Debates to paper.

Realized not seen ANY ! Always too busy. EXCEPT third debate in 1960 (October 13, 1960). Which I watched on KINESCOPE later.

(Kinescope /kɪnᵻskoʊp /, shortened to kine /ˈkɪniː/, is a recording of a television program on motion picture film, directly through a lens focused on the screen of a video monitor.)

The whole 1960 Presidential Debate was really a big deal for the industry.

In 1950, only 11 percent of American homes had television; by 1960, the number had jumped to 88 percent. An estimated seventy million Americans, about two-thirds of the electorate, watched the first debate on September 26th.

Though color television had been around since 1953, few Americans owned color sets. The debate was broadcast in black and white, using a sharper technology for the event.

So who were the « players » in this event ?

The Communications Act of 1934. Lasted until 1996 and regulated EVERYBODY . It’s policeman was the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).

Radio and Television « networks » were a creation of the FCC.

ABC (American Broadcasting Company) was created in 1943 from the « Blue Network » of NBC.

NBC (National Broadcasting Company). Founded in 1926 by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), NBC is the oldest major broadcast network in the United States.

One of the largest and most influential electronics companies during the 20th century was the Radio Corporation of America, or RCA. At one time, the breadth of its operations included everything from making vinyl records to building and manufacturing communications satellites.

RCA began life as a joint venture between several different manufacturers of electric equipment. In the early 1900s many companies began manufacturing and selling a new technology called radio. By about 1915 there were several radio stations operating in the U.S, but several of them were foreign owned and nearly all were used exclusively for transmitting Morse Code. When the U.S entered World War I, the federal government seized the foreign stations, and later gave them to the U.S companies General Electric (G.E.), Westinghouse, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) and United Fruit (an international shipping company). These companies set up a new organization in 1919 to run the stations, and called it the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). In 1932 these companies were forced out of RCA by Federal courts (violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act). RCA became a separate company (it was bought, in entirety, in 1986, by G.E.)

For a time, RCA operated radio stations (still almost entirely used for transmitting Morse Code) and sold radio equipment manufactured by its parent companies. However, many amateur operators were now on the air, and the resulting popularity of radio listening encouraged the parent companies to move in this direction. Westinghouse obtained a license from the U.S government to launch a commercial broadcasting station in 1920 and launched KDKA, the first commercial radio station. By 1926, the success of KDKA (and WGY in Schenectady) led RCA, Westinghouse, and General Electric to create a chain or “network” of radio stations spread across a wide geographic area, all broadcasting content created in central studios in New York. The name of this network was the National Broadcasting Corporation—NBC.

In 1929, RCA purchased phonograph manufacturer Victor Talking Machine Company, and renamed its new division RCA-Victor. With Victor’s expertise and facilities, RCA-Victor was able to begin making its own radio receivers (as well as records and phonographs), and quickly became one of the largest consumer electronics manufacturers. While the Great Depression of the 1930s crippled businesses worldwide, RCA-Victor and NBC thrived. NBC became such a big money maker that David Sarnoff, the leader of RCA, moved the headquarters to a huge new skyscraper in New York and created Radio City Music Hall, a large and technologically innovative performance space.

RCA’s major technical accomplishment in the 1930s was the development of the electronic television system that is still used in many parts of the world today (although it may soon be replaced by High Definition Television). Following a ten-year, millions-of-dollars research effort, led by Vladimir Zworykin, TV was demonstrated at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York and briefly sold to the public before it was put aside during World War II.

For a time, RCA operated radio stations (still almost entirely used for transmitting Morse Code) and sold radio equipment manufactured by its parent companies. However, many amateur operators were now on the air, and the resulting popularity of radio listening encouraged the parent companies to move in this direction. Westinghouse obtained a license from the U.S government to launch a commercial broadcasting station in 1920 and launched KDKA, the first commercial radio station. By 1926, the success of KDKA (and WGY in Schenectady) led RCA, Westinghouse, and General Electric to create a chain or “network” of radio stations spread across a wide geographic area, all broadcasting content created in central studios in New York. The name of this network was the National Broadcasting Corporation—NBC.

In 1929, RCA purchased phonograph manufacturer Victor Talking Machine Company, and renamed its new division RCA-Victor. With Victor’s expertise and facilities, RCA-Victor was able to begin making its own radio receivers (as well as records and phonographs), and quickly became one of the largest consumer electronics manufacturers. While the Great Depression of the 1930s crippled businesses worldwide, RCA-Victor and NBC thrived. NBC became such a big money maker that David Sarnoff, the leader of RCA, moved the headquarters to a huge new skyscraper in New York and created Radio City Music Hall, a large and technologically innovative performance space.

RCA’s major technical accomplishment in the 1930s was the development of the electronic television system that is still used in many parts of the world today (although it may soon be replaced by High Definition Television). Following a ten-year, millions-of-dollars research effort, led by Vladimir Zworykin, TV was demonstrated at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York and briefly sold to the public before it was put aside during World War II.

The huge research effort necessary for television encouraged the company to create a permanent research facility. When World War II came, RCA had a perfect opportunity to do so and opened its new RCA Research Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey and produced many crucial innovations for the war effort. After the war RCA returned its attention to television, designing inexpensive receivers and sponsoring the creation of a new NBC television network to provide programming. RCA’s original television system, as well as the color television system it announced in the 1950s, would eventually prove to be the company’s most profitable line of products.The huge research effort necessary for television encouraged the company to create a permanent research facility. When World War II came, RCA had a perfect opportunity to do so and opened its new RCA Research Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey and produced many crucial innovations for the war effort. After the war RCA returned its attention to television, designing inexpensive receivers and sponsoring the creation of a new NBC television network to provide programming. RCA’s original television system, as well as the color television system it announced in the 1950s, would eventually prove to be the company’s most profitable line of products.

The period from the 1950s and 1970s saw both high and low points in RCA’s history. Its research laboratories produced innovative technologies in these years and helped advance computers, integrated circuits, lasers, and other devices. It introduced innovative products like the 45-rpm record and the solid-state television camera. Even some of the company’s minor innovations were very successful, such as the “RCA connector jack” found on many types of audio equipment.

Alongside RCA and NBC, many of the developments that made broadcasting stable by 1960 came out of the General Electric (G.E.) Main Plant in Schenectady, NY. First with radio, G.E. established WGY radio as a « Clear Channel » station of 50,000 watts in 1922. Television station WRGB-TV signed on as W2XB in 1928) and FM radio (W2XOY, later  WGFM, then  WGY-FM signed on 1940). WRGB-TV in 1940 began sharing programs with  W 2XBS (forerunner of  WNBC) in New York City receiving the New York station directly off the air from a mountaintop and rebroadcasting the signal, becoming NBC’s first television affiliate. Later, the New York connection was achieved via coaxial cable and eventually by satellite.

CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System ) began in 1927 when talent agent Arthur Judson, unable to obtain work for any of his clients on the radio programs carried by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), established his own network, United Independent Broadcasters. The little company needed investors in order to keep it afloat so the Columbia Phonograph Company (Columbia Records) rescued the company and renamed it CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System). The radio company began its first broadcast on September 18, 1927 with the Howard Barlow Orchestra.
the New York connection was achieved via coaxial cable and eventually by satellite.

CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System ) began in 1927 when talent agent Arthur Judson, unable to obtain work for any of his clients on the radio programs carried by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), established his own network, United Independent Broadcasters. The little company needed investors in order to keep it afloat so the Columbia Phonograph Company (Columbia Records) rescued the company and renamed it CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System). The radio company began its first broadcast on September 18, 1927 with the Howard Barlow Orchestra.

Eventually operational costs made Columbia Records want to sell the company so CBS got passed about until a man named William S. Paley took in the little radio network: Paley’s first year at CBS made one of the leading radio networks in the entire nation. This was possible because Paley changed the way CBS dealt with its affiliates on programming.

Originally, rivals like NBC would pay the affiliate to run sponsored programming and charge them for any other programming they would put on the air. This led to a bad relationship between networks and affiliates and a lot of non-sponsored (or sustaining programming) not being put on the air.

Paley decided that CBS would give sustaining programming for free if the affiliate put on every sponsored program and accepted CBS’s check to do so. This led the CBS having more affiliates than NBC by the end of the year. 

Over the course of the 1930s, CBS prospered as one of the leading radio networks in both programming and scope. And in 1934, after much fighting with the public and other officials within CBS, Paley founded the radio news division of CBS (the first of its kind) with new director Paul White, who brought the events unravelling in Europe to the American public.

It was also on CBS where the infamous The War of the Worlds broadcast by Orson Welles took place. Despite three disclaimers that it was a work of fiction, people all over the nation began to panic that Martians had invaded Earth. This caused the FCC to ban fake news bulletins during dramatic programming. 

When television began to take hold of the American populace, CBS was the frontrunner in programming when I Love Lucy debuted in 1951 (11 million out of 15 million Television sets were watching Lucy). 

The FCC limited the number of television and radio stations which a network could own . All other TV and Radio stations carrying network programs were termed « Affiliates ». TV and Radio stations Owned and Operated by the network itself were and are still called O&O stations. The « network »O&O stations in NY City (WABC-TV), Los Angeles (KABC-TV), and Chicago (WLS-TV) participated in the 3rd Presidential Debate of 1960,

The last company I will talk about is AT&T (sometimes called the « Bell System »). The history of AT&T dates back to the invention of the telephone itself. The Bell Telephone Company was established in 1879 by Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. Bell also established American Telephone and Telegraph Company  in 1885, which acquired the Bell Telephone Company and became the primary phone company in the United States. This company maintained a monopoly on telephone service in the United States until anti-trust regulators split the company in 1982.

In 1913, after vacuum-tube inventor Lee De Forest began to suffer financial difficulties, AT&T bought De Forest’s vacuum-tube patents for the bargain price of $50,000 ($1.2 million in 2009 dollars). In particular, AT&T acquired ownership of the ‘Audion’, the first triode (three-element) vacuum tube, which greatly amplified telephone signals. The patent increased AT&T’s control over the manufacture and distribution of long-distance telephone services, and allowed the Bell System to build the United States’s first coast-to coast telephone line. Thanks to the pressures of World War 1, AT&T and RCA owned all useful patents on vacuum tubes. RCA staked a position in wireless communication; AT&T pursued the use of tubes in telephone amplifiers.

AT&T’s Long Lines was the device which transmitted TV signals to the individual stations. So they get big credit for enabling TV debates.

Republican candidate, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, and Democratic candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy hold their third debate. The candidates answer, or comment upon answers to questions put by a panel of correspondents.

For this debate John F. Kennedy was in New York and Richard M. Nixon was in Los Angeles, the correspondants were in a third studio in Chicago. The moderator was Bill Shadel of ABC News. Correspondents were Frank McGee, NBC News; Charles Van Fremd, CBS News; Douglass Cater, Reporter magazine; Roscoe Drummond, New York Herald Tribune.

This was the second most importent debate to air on network television, because it was the first time split screen technique was used. Senator John F. Kennedy was in New York; Vice President Richard M. Nixon was in Los Angeles. They were brought together through a major technological achievement for the times.The main topic of this debate was whether military force should be used to prevent Quemoy and Matsu, two island archipelagos off the Chinese coast, from falling under Communist control.

The split screen technique was invented by William C. Benesch in the late 50’s. He submitted under his Professional name Bill Bradshaw. He was director of photography for WKRC TV in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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