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History of Hollywood Television

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Genesis of Television

The movie industry’s most prosperous and glamorous period spanned the Thirties and Forties, when movies were king.  But by 1948, the industry was staggering from a number of blows – some self inflicted. Theater attendance was down forty-five percent from war-time highs.  What occurred in the late 1940s was something no one in the entertainment industry had anticipated.  There was a newcomer on the block and its name was “television.

From 1946 to 1951, the number of television sets in American homes increased from 10,000 to more than 12 million, hastening the demise of the neighborhood movie houses and eliciting the wrath of movie people for wrecking such havoc on their industry.  But the movie industry had only itself to blame; it didn’t take television seriously, and it had been given ample time to do so.  Television wasn’t really that new.  In fact, the third television station established in Hollywood was owned and operated by the Paramount Picture Company.

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Don Lee

The new medium actually took root in Hollywood during the depression.  It was just two days before Christmas, 1931 when the Don Lee station – then known as W6XAO – went on the air with a daily program of old motion picture films. The station gave its first public demonstration three years later, and thousands flocked to witness the 300-line, twenty-four frame system developed by television pioneer, Harry R. Lubcke.

 

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Hollywoodland Sign

By the early 1940s, the Don Lee group had constructed a modern facility atop Mount Cahuenga, just above the HOLLYWOODLAND sign; The new plant was the first to be designed specifically for television.  In the Fifties, the Don Lee station was purchased by CBS.

Eight years aafter W6XAO went on the air, Earle C. Anthony, a wealthy businessman and successful Packard car dealer, received permission to erect a television broadcasting station, using the letters KCEA.  Anthony operated the station for four years before selling it to ABC. In 1948, ABC bought the 23 acre Warner Brothers lot at Prospect and Talmadge Avenues.  Conversion to television transmission began at once, and on September 16, 1949, the gates were opened to what was then the worlds largest television plant, housing the studios and general administrative headquarters for ABC on the Pacific Coast.

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W6XYZ

In 1939, Klaus Landsberg came to Hollywood and established an experimental television station for Paramount Pictures Corporation, with the call letters W6XYZ.  Since there were only a few television sets in all of California at the time, the station had no rating worries and, for the first seven years, broadcast nothing but civil defense programs, parades, variety shows and World War II bulletins, all the while housed in a small building on the Paramount lot at Melrose and Bronson Avenues.  On January 22, 1947, the station changed its call letters to KTLA and became the first commercial station west of Chicago.  The number of television receivers (sets) was estimated at 350.

Visit hollywoodphotographs.com to see hundreds of early radio and television photos.

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