The Boomer Generation is synonymous with the TV Generation. Television came into its own after the war, and boomers had a front row seat to its evolution. Throughout the boomer era and into the early 2000s, the sales of television sets continued to climb higher every year. A good part of those sales in the past three decades can be attributed to the purchase of additional TV sets for a single home. However, since the early 2010s, the reverse is true; less TVs are being sold compared to each previous year. The reason is obvious as streaming on other devices grabs a younger generation. Many younger people look at TV in the same way they might a cassette tape.
Let’s recap our shared TV history and see how we got here. Television has been around in practical terms since the mid-1930s, but the number of homes owning a TV was relatively small. In fact, by 1945, only 10,000 TV sets were purchased for home use in the United States. Yet, at the dawn of the Boomer Generation, things were about to change.
Development on TV technology was delayed during the war years as materials and factories were dedicated to the war effort. Now, after the war, it was full steam ahead for innovation and especially, manufacturing capabilities. These advancements helped greatly in selling TVs in a number of ways, perhaps the most important being a dramatic drop in price. A TV could cost upward of $500 before 1949, which was equivalent to a month or more salary for the average worker. In one year alone — between 1949 and 1950 — the price of a TV was cut by half or more. As a result, by 1950, nine percent of U.S. households owned a television. Ten years later, in 1960, that number jumped to 90 percent.
Westinghouse TV commercial, 1956:
Still, Mister Boomer wondered about the phenomena of families owning more than one TV. Mister B did not know anyone who had more than one. As such, TV watching was a family affair, much as radio listening was in the previous decades. In Mister B’s research, he discovered that some households did begin to own more than one TV as far back as the 1950s. From Mister Boomer’s point of view, these households probably had not only a higher income level, but houses that could accommodate an extra TV.
In Mister B’s estimation, there would be only two practical places for a second TV: a family room or a basement rec room. Mister Boomer only knew one person who had both a living room and a family room, and in that family’s case, their one TV was in the family room. Mister B did know several people who had finished basements, but in that era, most were described as rec rooms. They were intended for recreation, so they might have a ping pong table or all-purpose folding table where jigsaw puzzles could be assembled, card or board games played, and the like. No one Mister B knew had a TV in their basement. Boomers will recall that TV reception in a lower level was also a challenge. An extra antenna wire would be necessary to run outside the house to the antenna on the roof, and even then, rabbit ears on top of the TV set with molded wads of aluminum foil attached would certainly be a possibility.
What about the bedroom, you say? The idea that a bedroom is a sanctuary, a place to relax and unwind, is a relatively new one. In the boomer era, bedrooms were for sleeping. Boomers themselves often had desks to do homework in their rooms, however, Mister Boomer knew no one who had a second TV in their bedroom.
There is another consideration about bedrooms and second TVs that relates entirely to the evolution of TV and the Boomer Generation, and that is, late night TV. The Tonight Show first aired in 1952, initially with Steve Allen, then with Jack Paar as hosts. This may have contributed to the eight percent of U.S. households owning a second TV by 1959. Johnny Carson took over hosting duties in 1962, and by the mid-60s, color TVs began replacing black-and-white models. Johnny Carson joked about being in people’s bedrooms, so there was probably a correlation to late night TV that may have influenced buying habits.
In Mister Boomer’s experience, it was the early 1970s before he heard of anyone having more than one TV. Today it is reported that the average American household has four TVs. That number continues to drop as younger people, unaccustomed to TV viewing in the same manner boomers did, start families of their own.
How about you, boomers? When did your family first get a second TV? Did you ever have a TV in your own room before attending college?