If you could hop a time machine to April 22, 1954, here’s a scene you’d see in downtown Jacksonville. These residents are glued to a TV, probably a black & white model, playing in a store window. The Lakers won the basketball title on April 22, but these viewers are more likely fixated on the McCarthy hearings, which began that day. Joseph McCarthy was the Wisconsin senator who led the infamous communist “witch hunts” of the early Fifties. His dangerous antics were finally exposed during the Senate subcommittee hearings.
NETWORK TV FOR JACKSONVILLE! — It must be a big event if the Florida Times-Union celebrates with a special 16-page insert. This is what the newspaper did on September 20, 1950. Just ten days later, on September 30, network programming would first flash into Jacksonville!
As the Times-Union crowed, the area would gain access to shows from New York, Chicago, and other large eastern cities. The local station, WMBR (today’s WJXT), would provide programs from CBS, NBC, ABC, and the now long-gone DuMont Network. These networks would hook up to WMBR through special cables, while First Coast residents could tune in to WMBR through their TV antennas.
At the time, however, this section of the state contained only 17,000 TV sets. Most were boxy, black & white devices that kind of resembled large, old-time radios. Yet their screens might measure only 14 inches across. According to a local ad, though, one floor model offered a 20-inch screen that “gives you pictures so big, so real, your TV become a living stage.” Along with its phonograph and FM/AM radio, this set cost $625, or almost $4,500 in today’s currency. (Well, think how primitive & costly our home computers were just twenty years ago. And how archaic the Internet was!)
In 1950, the Times-Union took pains to cover the basics of TV. In its special network insert, the paper helpfully provided a Q & A section for television set owners. The lead question? — “Will I need a separate set to pick up the sound that accompanies the television receiver?” One article focused on how the choice of a reputable TV set dealer was important, while another concentrated on the avoidance of eyestrain among viewers. And yet another cautioned that the TV industry looked unfavorably on Florida, for a lack of minerals in its soil could lead to poor reception.
YESTERYEAR’S HITS — What did our parents & grandparents enjoy? When one Westside resident first bought a TV, his neighbors constantly visited to watch boxing and the news. At the time, broadcasters favored boxing over most other sports since it proved easy to capture on camera. Early cameras were not so mobile or sophisticated, and, fortunately with boxing, all of the action took place in a limited space. The same went for roller derbies, which were frequently beamed over the airways.
Just before network programs came to Jax in 1950, the Times-Union ballyhooed a number of series that residents would enjoyed. In its ads for TV sets, a huge selling point proved to be the upcoming baseball championship: “See the 1950 World Series As It’s Played!” As the Times-Union indicated, other future treats included the following:
- The game show “Truth or Consequences”
- “Beat the Clock”
- “What’s My Line”
- “Blind Date”
- “You Bet Your Life,” with Groucho Marx
- Arthur Godfrey, “the favorite of millions and the fly in the ointment of others”
- “Comedy Theater” with Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen, Dean Martin, and Jerry Lewis
- “Sing It Again,” with Frank Sinatra
- Perry Como
- Hopalong Cassidy
- “Wild West Theater”
- “Six Gun Playhouse”
- “Toast of the Town”
- “Man Against Crime”
- “Treasury Department Men in Action”
- “The Goldbergs”
- “Kukla, Fran, Ollie”
- “Vanity Fair,” a New York fashion show
- “The Homemaker’s Exchange,” a New York cooking program
- “Coco the Clown,” a local show
- And, of course, “Mr. Television” himself, Milton Berle
~written by Glenn Emery