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Visualizing Southern Television

David S. Bennett (PhD Student, History) Related

Between 1942 and 1960s, television networks spread across the United States like wildfire. “By 1954, more than 40 million sets were around.”

 By 1957, George Gallup announced to the American Society of Newspaper Editors that “the number of homes in the United States with television sets had equaled, for the first time, the number of homes receiving a daily newspaper.

By June, the number of homes with television sets, 41 million, exceeded the 39 million getting a daily newspaper.”[2] Another statistic showed that in the same year,  ”eight out of ten homes owned televisions, and the number of [TV] stations had surpassed five hundred.”[3] By the end of the 1950s “just under 90 percent of all American homes had one or more TVs,” [4] and by 1960, “150 million Americans claimed to have television sets.”[5] Such a massive growth in popularity has led several historians to begin scrutinizing exactly what television did to society and the historical events reporters covered. 

Visualizing Southern Television (VST) Version 1.0. [http://vst.matrix.msu.edu] offers a unique view into the television’s development during this era.  Rather than focusing on the national networks that created content in northeast United States, VST instead reframes the narrative around southeastern United States.   VST provides users with a mapping interface that marks all of the local television stations in the southeastern United States between 1942 and 1965.  This map openly challenges previous assumptions that televisions were simple conduits for the major networks to carry their narratives.  By showing just how pervasive television was in the south, VST argues that local television stations were the ultimate gatekeepers in broadcasting content to viewers. Each station marker brings the reader to a television station readout that displays important information regarding the television station’s statistics, and most importantly key archive locations for those television station’s primary source repository.

It is important to understand that local television stations produced a significant amount of content for their local communities.  Just taking WSB-TV out of Atlanta, Georgia as one example, they produced locally and live on air at least three hours of the four hours and forty five minutes of their first day content when they first went online in 1948.  Since WSB was on air all seven days of the week, that was a substantive amount of content. By 1951, WSB generated three to five hours of local content during a normal twelve hour day, and while WSB operated as an NBC affiliate, it often aired content from the other three television networks, Dumont, ABC, and CBS. [6] This is just one of many stories that these local television station archives hold, and VST is the window into those archival locations. 

Visit the Visualizing Southern Television Website »

Citations

[1] Henry J. Perkinson, Getting Better: Television and Morality. (New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1996) 1.

[2] Thomas R. Warring Papers, South Carolina Historical Society, as quoted in Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff, The Race Beat (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), 156.

[3] Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff, The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation, (New York: Vintage Books, 2006) 164.

[4] James L. Baughman, Same Time, Same Station: Creating American Television, 1948-1961 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), 2.

[5] Henry J. Perkinson, Getting Better: Television and Morality. (New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1996) 1.

[6] Joan Zitzelman Programming in the Public Interest: A Perspective of WSB Television, 1948-1963 (University of Georgia, 1963), Appendix A 90-101.