A Brief History of Cable Television for CATV Technicians

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During the 1939 New York World’s Fair, curious viewers lined up to catch their first glimpses of an unbelievably futuristic invention: the television. It was described as “Radio’s newest contribution to home entertainment,” and was made with a glass case, so that skeptics could see the mechanisms inside and know that what they were seeing was the real deal.

The theme of the fair was “The World of Tomorrow,” and they were right. As the Radio Corporation of America played the first-ever television broadcasts to a few hundred experimental TVs in the city, they might have known that they had hit on something big. But even they probably wouldn’t have guessed at the vast cable networks, satellites, and TV programs that would spring up in just a few decades and how it would become an integral part of our daily lives.

Here’s a quick look at the history of cable TV, from the very first broadcasts all the way to the intricate networks we enjoy today.

The First Cable Televisions

After 1939, it didn’t take long for households all over the US and Canada to snap up the early TVs on sale. By 1948, TVs were a household staple and most cities had at least one or two stations to offer. But there was one problem with broadcast television: signals were a little hard to capture outside of big cities.

In order to catch television broadcasts, TVs had to have a direct line of sight with the antenna sending out those radio frequencies. In the hilly rural communities of 1948, capturing those frequencies was especially tricky.

In Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, a lineman by the name of John Walson – who also sold TVs – decided to run a wire from a local antenna to the television sets in his shop. His goal was to demo the TVs and hopefully sell a few extra models. Not only did his idea work, but customers came back asking if he could connect their TVs to his network – and thus cable TV was born.

The Cable Boom of the 60s and 70s

For a few years, cable TV was a service that helped rural viewers connect to regular broadcast stations. But in the 1960s and 70s, skyscrapers started to crop up in major cities across the world, and they blocked the frequencies used to transmit television broadcasts. As a result, cable came to the cities.

The 70s also saw the birth of the first cable programming networks, which we still know and love today:

  • HBO
  • ESPN
  • C-Span
  • Nickelodeon

The Rise of the TV Network

The 80s and 90s saw an explosion in the number of networks, and brought us cable TV staples like MTV and CNN.

Along with that rise in networks, the number of cable subscribers in Canada and the US also jumped. By 1998, roughly 60% of Canadian homes had cable television.

In the late 80s, researchers also began experimenting with digital television signals. These digital signals provided a clearer picture compared to analogue signals that were prone to reception problems like snow, “ghosting,” and fading. Digital signals lead to the ability to transmit HDTV and give viewers a clearer picture and sound than ever before.

Today, professionals with network cabling career training continue to install impressive cable networks, as this massive industry continues to develop and grow.

Are you thinking about enrolling in network cabling courses? Check out our website and see if our network cabling pre-apprenticeship program is right for you. 

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