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History of Cable TV

Dating back to the 1940s, cable television was a significant milestone in technological history. It brought television to viewers who were outside of the TV signal’s range. Cable TV was used to combat terrain, which resulted in a poor broadcast signal.

It was originally called community antenna television, or CATV, because at the center of all the televisions connected to the cables would be one or many antennas within the broadcast stations’ signals.

Mahanoy City, Penn. is known for its rolling hills and beautiful scenery, which caused a problem for broadcast signals. John Walson had an appliance store in Mahanoy City where he sold televisions. He got complaints frequently that his customers could not get the local television signal very clearly because of where they lived. Walson wanted to help.

He put an antenna on a utility pole located on a nearby hill and attached a cable to it. He connected that cable to his store’s TV and to some of his customers’ sets. Cable TV was born. Rates started at $2 per month (about $20 in 2013 dollars) with a $100 (about $970 in 2013) hookup fee.

It wasn’t a perfect technology, by any means, but it was the start of something that would bring communities together for generations.

A couple years later, in 1950, cable TV served 70 communities in the United States, or about 14,000 homes. Today, cable TV serves about 60 million people.

One of the first commercial cable television system was built by Robert Tarlton. He collaborated with a group of television set retailers and sold the service to residents of Lansford, Penn. They brought viewers the broadcast stations of Philadelphia, a mere 90 miles away. The news started spreading about cable TV in other media (newspaper and magazine articles) and soon the entire country was building cable TV systems.

At the same time that Walson and Tarlton were connecting their towns in Pennsylvania, more cable TV systems were forming in other parts of the country.

In Astoria, Ore., a radio station owner by the name of Leroy E. “Ed” Parsons created a system using coaxial cable, amplifiers, and a community antenna. He heard that a radio station in Seattle, Wa., 180 miles away, was launching a television station. When they did, he realized he could get their signal from the roof of the hotel across the street from his house. He attached the coaxial cable, ran it to his house and enjoyed some television.

Others in the town wanted to watch the Seattle broadcast too. Parsons charged for his time and materials, about $125, but no monthly service fee was attached.

In 1966, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took control over the cable TV industry and started imposing rules. In a 1968 Supreme Court decision, they gave the FCC regulatory jurisdiction over cable TV (CATV at the time).

Since its infant years, cable TV has evolved into what it is today. Channel capacity has increased dramatically and content varies widely.

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