Why don't US TV Sets have a Channel 1?
    by Bob Cooper


The "history" of channel one would fill several thousand words and mercifully I will be very brief.

Channel 1 simply meant the lowest in frequency channel assignment.  Commercial television launched in July 1941 with channel 1 at the dawn of commercial TV as 50-56 mc. The amateur band was 5 meters and was 56-60 mc at the time. Channel 2 at that time was 60-66 mc and they went as high as 88 mc. In September 1945, the FCC revisited the subject of allocations. FM was then operating in the 44-50 mc region, and as we all know would be moved to the 100 mc region (the exact band as we now know it from 88.1 to 107.9 took several years of trial and error to evolve).


In September 1945, FCC records say that the following stations were licensed to operate in the 50-56 mc band: 

(1) KTSL Don Lee Broadcasting had a CP; also held experimental license W6XAO which dated back to their December 23, 1931 start date.  W6XAO had regularly scheduled programs - published in LA newspapers - through the 30s and early 40s, then reverted to a wartime schedule of "alternate Mondays" between 7.30 and 10.30PM PWT (Pacific War Time!). Their transmitter at 3800 Mt Lee Drive, Hollywood, would be moved to Mt Wilson.  

(2) W9XZV Zenith had a CP for channel 1 (call sign WTZR) which was originally granted in 1941 but station chose to continue to operate as an experimental station. The W9XZV would be used post 1945 for Zenith Phone-Vision pay TV experiments in the to be established 54-60 mc channel 2. 

(3) W9RUI Iowa City, Iowa - no indication it ever built a transmitter here. 

(4) W8XCT (WLW) Cincinnati which would later move with same experimental call letters to what is now channel 4 for which it would then also hold a CP for a commercial station. 

(5) W8XGZ Charleston, W VA which was licensed to a chemical company - no indication it ever got on the air.

At the same point in time we had the following commercial stations using the same 50-56 mc spectrum: (1) WNBT New York City (which began commercial TV operations July 1941); would later be moved to what is now channel 4.  (By the way, WCBW - CBS - was at that time operating on 60-66 mc, what we now call channel 3, and they would end up after the shuffle on what we now call channel 2 or 54-60 mc!)

None of this directly addresses the post 1945 reshuffling of allocations and the creation of TV Channel 1 which was lower in frequency from our present day TV channel 2 (54-60 MHz). In 1946, the TV channels were recreated in a new format, allowing for the moving of FM to the 100 mc region and creation of the first 2-way radio assignments plus the first aircraft assignments above 50 mc. In September 1945, the FCC did NOT assign TV channels to communities. Rather it published a list of "market regions" eligible to have their own TV stations, based upon population. And they created a two-tier approach to TV licenses - "Metropolitan" stations and "Community stations." A community station would operate with less power, they said, from a shorter antenna and all community stations would be licensed subject to their not interfering with coverage of metropolitan stations. There were 42 markets assigned community stations - some markets had both metropolitan and community, some had only community. By September 1947, the FCC had decided TV channel 1 would be 44-50 MHz and it would be ONLY available for community stations. 

The following communities were assigned TV channel 1 for that purpose: Bridgeport, Ct.; Canton, Ohio; Fall River/New Bedford, Mass.; Racine/Kenosha, Wisc.; Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Pa.;
South Bend, Ind.; Springfield/Holyoke, Mass.; Springfield, Ohio; Trenton, NJ; York, Pa.  Note that Riverside, California was not included - strange because Broadcasting Corporation of America was granted a CP to build a 1 kw erp V and A station at 3401 Russell St, Riverside with their transmitter
5,132 feet above average terrain on Cucamonga Peak/Mt Badly, San Bernadino on December 19, 1946. This is the KARO (call sign assigned) that Dr. Bruce mentioned finding in a Whites Radio Log of that era. With the reshuffling of channels, experimental licenses dating in some cases back into the
30s were cancelled or modified. As 44-50 MHz was a new TV channel, in use for the first time, FCC records indicate that in addition to the KARO construction permit, the following 44-50 mc experimental licenses were in effect late in 1947: (1) Iowa City, Iowa W9XUI with 100 watts visual -
also licensed for 210-216 mc (today's channel 13); (2) Manhatten, Kansas W0XBV (that's a zero, not an "o") with 400 watts visual, 200 watts aural. They also had experimental permission to operate on 500-510 and 900-910 mc.

In addition to the channel 1 / 44-50 mc assignment for community stations, the FCC also set aside some higher channels in specific markets for Community stations. In September 1947, this included: Lancaster, Pa - channel 4; New Haven Ct. - ch 6; Reading, Pa. - ch. 5; Wilmington, Del. - ch. 7; Atlantic City, NJ - ch. 8; Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton, Pa. - ch. 8.

On November 17, 1947 the FCC heard testimony about why 44-50 mc should be eliminated from the TV table. Early in 1948 it finally decided in favour of that plan and thus channel one died. Nobody ever got a commercial transmitter on the air on 44-50 MHz, KARO was the only CP granted - they planned to spend $104,500 to build the station, $4,000 a month to operate it (!) - of interest, ABC had an application before the FCC at the time to obtain a CP for ch 7 which said they would spend $184,250 to build and $13,000 a month (!) to operate in Los Angeles. Times have changed!

Regards, Bob Cooper

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