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In the early days of television, engineers and developers
faced a staggering array of technical broadcast problems, not the least of
which was a need for broadcasting bandwidth. Early television broadcast
signals, which featured far lower resolution and image quality than the 1940s’
first commercial versions, required many times the bandwidth of competing radio

This competition is partly to blame for the lack of a VHF
Channel 1 on virtually all post-World War II commercial television sets. The
original FM frequency designations for TV Channel 1 and early FM radio stations
interfered with one another, so the U.S. Federal Communications Commission did
away with Channel 1 in the late 1930s.

This change came too late to shift the remaining channel
specifications, casting Channel 1 into the dustbin of technological obscurity. Channel
1 later found use by land mobile two-way radio traffic, such as that used by
police dispatchers.

Ironically, the first television broadcasts would have been
severely lacking without the help of FM radio; the first TV stations depended
on partner radio stations to carry the sound for their programs. Such was the
case for the first dramatic television program ever broadcast.


What was the first dramatic television program ever
broadcast, and what partner television and radio stations carried the separate
audio and video components of the show?

The program was a live broadcast of the J. Harley Manners
play, “The Queen’s Messenger,” carried by the experimental television
station W2XAD in Schenectady, NY, and the radio station WGY in Albany, NY.

The play debuted as a broadcast on Sept. 11, 1928—more than a
decade before the FCC would authorize commercial television broadcasts.

The broadcast involved the use of three cameras that could
only show close-ups of the actors’ faces or hands due to the restricted
features of the technology. To guide the actors’ performances, the director
viewed their captured images on a tiny three-inch by four-inch screen. While
broadcasting, engineers manually cut between live camera images through the use
of a crude control box.

“The Queen’s Messenger” lasted 40 minutes and was
free of commercial interruption—which offers a glimpse of just how far
television shows have progressed in the last 75 years.

The television station W2XAD was a research station run by
General Electric broadcasting pioneer Ernst F.W. Alexanderson. W2XAD also
experimented with regular news broadcasts to the surrounding television
community of about four households.

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The Trivia Geek, also
known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s
duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic
books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.