|Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, by Naim June Paik (Smithsonian American Art Museum)|
This book was so bottomlessly fascinating I just had to share. Among the facts I hadn't room to include: Thomas Hart Benton did courtroom drawings at a kidnapping trial for NBC. At the 1952 Republican convention in Chicago, Robert Taft hired "all available models" to dress in cheerleader outfits as "Belles for Bob" and hold signs in front of any live TV camera they could find. Television cameras took 15 minutes to warm up, and after NBC's PR department tried to dub the first entirely mobile camera a "walkie-lookie," a newspaper writer offered up a more popular moniker, the "creepie-peepie."
We can't come close to agreeing about what's happening in this country. Illegal presidency of a pathologically narcissistic would-be tyrant? Or Golden Age of proud true Americanism reclaiming our stolen birthright? You decide!
Given the gulf in perspectives of what's happening right now, what are the chances we'd agree about the few crumbs of history we carry around on our shirtfronts? Nil.
The next few days mark the 50th anniversary of Chicago's 1968 Democratic National Convention, from Aug. 26 to 30 of 1968. To get myself in the mood, I've been devouring a fascinating 1991 memoir, "Out of Thin Air," by Reuven Frank, then president of NBC News.
TV affected the 1968 convention. Then again, TV always does. The four networks began on May 1, 1948; ABC, NBC, CBS and the short-lived Dumont. Those new networks, thanks to the miracle of coaxial cable, could only reach 17 stations in seven cities on the East Coast, from Boston to Richmond, but that was enough to sway the choice of where the 1948 Democratic National Convention would be located.
"When the manager of WFIL-TV, Philadelphia ... pointed out that a third of America ... would be 'within reach' of a television set, San Francisco, which had more hotel rooms, withdrew its bid," Frank writes.
Anyone who thinks that the dawn of television was all Edward R. Murrow speaking truth to power should read this book. I couldn't tell if my favorite moment was R.J. Reynolds, sponsor of NBC's Camel News Caravan, forbidding shots of "No Smoking" signs, real living camels (nasty) and anyone smoking a cigar, requiring Frank to get special permission to air an interview with Winston Churchill. Or Texaco writing a news report that Chet Huntley read word for word.
Then comes the 1968 convention.
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