Invention & Technology; The Birth of Cable TV

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Neal McLain

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Sep 30, 1996, 3:00:00 AM9/30/96
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The Fall, 1996 issue of {American Heritage of Invention &
Technology} contains an article titled "THE BIRTH OF CABLE TV" by
George Mannes, a reporter for the New York {Daily News}. The
article relates the history of the world's first commercial cable
television system, located in Astoria, Oregon.

The Astoria system was constructed in the 1940s by Ed Parsons, a
local TV dealer. Like many other TV dealers of the day, Parsons
figured he'd be able to sell more TV sets if his potential
customers could receive TV signals.

I'd like to add a few personal reminiscences about Astoria.
Astoria is located at the mouth of the Columbia River, about 60
miles northwest of Portland (95 miles by public roads, according
to my Oregon State map).

My wife and I visited Astoria a few years ago. We made the
obligatory trip up Coxcomb Hill to visit the Astoria Column, a
125-foot lookout tower offering a spectacular view of the
surroundings, including the Columbia River, the Pacific Ocean,
and Mt. St. Helens.

Thinking this might be the site of Parsons' original headend, I
looked around for some evidence of its presence. If there was
ever a headend there, it's gone now. But I was delighted to
discover a prominent granite monument near the entrance to the
tower. The monument bears the following text:

A bronze plaque on top:

SITE
OF THE FIRST COMMUNITY ANTENNA
TELEVISION INSTALLATION
IN THE UNITED STATES
COMPLETED, FEBRUARY 1949
ASTORIA, OREGON

Engraved into the vertical front face:

CABLE TELEVISION
WAS INVENTED AND
DEVELOPED BY
L. E. `ED' PARSONS
ON THANKSGIVING DAY
1948 THE SYSTEM
CARRIED THE FIRST TV
TRANSMISSION BY
KRSC-TV CHANNEL 5
SEATTLE. THIS MARKED
THE BEGINNING OF
CABLE TV

KRSC-TV is now KING-TV, Seattle's NBC station.

The bronze plaque states pretty clearly that Coxcomb Hill was the site
of the first "installation" -- presumably the headend. But according
to the I&T article, the original headend was on the roof of a building
down in the valley, in Astoria itself. So maybe I was looking in the
wrong place.

Astoria is also home to another important historical site: Fort
Clatsop National Memorial, a reconstruction of the original fort
constructed by Louis and Clark in 1805. Having successfully
discovered the mouth of the Columbia River (and having established
that the legendary "northwest passage" didn't exist), they built Fort
Clatsop as winter quarters, and returned to St. Louis the following
year.

For readers not familiar with {AMERICAN HERITAGE OF INVENTION AND
TECHNOLOGY}, it's a fascinating magazine. Published by Forbes, it is
sponsored by a single advertiser, General Motors. The title says it
all: it covers the history of invention and technology in the United
States. The editors at Forbes are solely responsible for editorial
content: articles about the automobile industry get equal billing with
articles about any other industry.


Neal McLain
2305 Manor Green Drive
Madison, WI 53711
E-mail: 10321...@compuserve.com


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