On July 1, 1941, the commercial television that we have come to love was born. It started on New York stations, WNBT and WCBW.
At that point in history, television has been airing randomly, but this was the first time that stations were licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to have commercials and make money.The first commercial was for Bulova watches and a commercial spot only cost $9.
The first day of commercial TV started around 1:30 pm with a telecast leading into the Philadelphia Phillies vs Brooklyn Dodgers game. This was followed at 6:45 with a brief newscast and parts of the game show “Truth or Consequences.”
Television sets at the time were set to 441 lines, but the new commercial TV broadcasts were set to 525 lines, meaning the images weren’t sharp and not anywhere near the hi-def images we see today. Also, during the first few months of commercial TV, there was only about 15 hours of programming a week, unlike the 24/7 transmission today.
The onset of World War II did not allow for much time to tweak the quality of the TV because the war basically put an end to commercial telecasts. It wasn’t until 1948 when the sale of television sets really picked up and it was mostly because of Milton Berle’s “Texaco Star Theater.”
At the time there were only an estimated 2,000 TV sets in existence, a pale comparison to today. One thing that hasn’t changed much in the past 70 years is the cost. Television sets ranged from several hundred dollars to over a thousand, about the same for a quality TV today.