Boomers Watched Live Shows Decades Before the Internet

The proliferation of all types of live broadcasting through social media these days, specifically Facebook and Instagram, got Mister Boomer wondering about live broadcasts in the boomer years. Surely, he recalls, there were many TV shows that broadcast live. As it turns out, Mister B remembered correctly. TV was a technological marvel of the boomer era, when the majority of households were finally able to afford TV sets, and broadcasting technology had produced a degree of quality that made people want to watch. Boomers grew up with a burgeoning television industry, but today’s kids don’t know a world where there was no internet.

Prior to the appearance of the first practical videotape, it was common practice for TV shows — from sitcoms to news — to be broadcast live. Like radio before it, television began with live broadcasts. A good portion of scheduled programming was locally-based, so live broadcasts did not have to worry about time scheduling conflicts. The alternative was to use film, like movies. A few famous shows, like I Love Lucy (1951) and Gunsmoke (1955), did employ this method.

A key year in the movement away from live TV broadcasting was 1958. Experiments with forms of videotape had been around in various forms even before the War, but the first practical use of it did not evolve until 1951. At that point, it was far too expensive to purchase equipment and tape itself to be a practical replacement for live or filmed broadcasting. By 1958, the television industry began the shift to videotape, signaling the slow retreat from live broadcasting to arrive at where we are today. Boomers recall 1960s sitcoms opening or closing with a voiceover stating that the show was “taped before a live studio audience.” As shows began using videotape, some were accused of using laugh tracks. The voiceover disclaimer was an effort to dispel that notion to give the TV audience more of the feel of the early days of live broadcasting.

Boomers may not realize it, but they bore witness to many historical events when they were broadcast live on their family TV. Here are a few:

• September 4, 1951: The country’s first national, coast-to-coast live TV broadcast featured President Harry Truman’s opening speech at the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in San Francisco.

• January 14, 1952: The Today Show debuted, live, to East Coast and Central time zone customers. The show continued live until 1958.

• September-October 1960: The Kennedy-Nixon Debates were the first presidential debates that were televised, and were broadcast live. These debates were instrumental in setting John Kennedy on the path to the White House.

• July 23, 1962: Thirteen days after the launch of the Telstar satellite, the first transatlantic live television broadcast was relayed to a receiving station in England. President Kennedy was to give a short speech for the transmission, but due to its orbit around the Earth, there was only a 20-minute period of time the satellite could be used as a relay. That time window appeared earlier than scheduled, so the first transatlantic broadcast was of a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago White Sox, live from Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

• November 24, 1963: Following the assassination of President Kennedy the day before, a live broadcast of suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald as he was being moved to a county jail caught the shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby. Oswald was killed, and Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, subdued and arrested, on live television.

• November 25, 1963: JFK’s funeral was broadcast live to the country.

• December 24, 1968: As the Apollo 8 spacecraft circled the moon for the ninth time, astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders gave the Earth its first look at an Earthrise view appearing above the lunar surface, live on TV. To mark the occasion on Christmas Eve, the astronauts, in turn, read passages of the biblical creation story from the Book of Genesis in the King James Bible.

• July 21, 1969: The world watched — live — as astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

Mister Boomer clearly remembers most of these live historical broadcasts, including the Nixon-Kennedy Debates, the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK’s funeral and the first moon walk. Mister B was at a family Christmas party when the broadcast images of the Earth rising over the moon from Apollo 8 flickered on his uncle’s black and white television.

The next time a grandchild asks what you, as a boomer, watched before the advent of live social media, you know what to tell them.

How about you, boomers? Any live television memories stand out for you?

Boomers Watched Shepard Go Into Space

In case you somehow missed it, Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world and former CEO of Amazon, rocketed into space in his own Blue Origin spacecraft this past week. As a nod to the beginning of American spaceflight, Bezos named his rocket and capsule New Shepard after Alan Shepard, the first U.S. astronaut to fly into space on May 5, 1961. (The first was Soviet Union cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin 23 days earlier.)

Obviously a lot has changed in space travel in the past 60 years, but since we boomers were around for the first launch and this first commercial launch with human passengers, it’s interesting to compare the two.

How the two flights compare:
Government agency mission control: National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA)
Project Name: Mercury 7
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Florida
Flight Date: May 5, 1961
Rocket Base: Redstone booster
Capsule Name: Freedom 7
Pilot and Crew: Alan Shepard; capsule built for one occupant only
Duration of Flight: 15 1/2 minutes
Height Flown: 116 miles
Landing: Splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, 190 nautical miles from Cape Canaveral
Estimated cost of project: Congress allocated $277 million to start the program of putting a man into space

Private company mission control: Blue Origin (Amazon)
Project Name: New Shepard
Launch Site: Company owned facility in the West Texas desert, near Van Horn, Texas
Flight Date: July 20, 2021 (the 52-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission landing man on the moon)
Rocket Base: New Shepard reusable booster and capsule (the booster rocket lands safely back on earth after being disengaged from the capsule.)
Capsule Name: New Shepard (same as booster)
Pilot and Crew: Automated pilot, trajectory controlled from ground computers. Four passengers, including Wally Funk, now the oldest person to fly into space; Jeff Bezos and his brother, Mark; and Oliver Daemon, an 18-year old student from Amsterdam, the youngest person to fly into space
Duration of Flight: 11 minutes
Height Flown: 62 miles
Landing: Parachute landing near the company’s West Texas desert launch site
Estimated cost of project: Bezos isn’t saying, but has revealed that his upcoming project for orbital travel, the New Glenn, is clocking in at $2.5 billion.

Other fun facts:
• The number “seven” placed after each capsule name in the Project Mercury missions was a nod to the original seven men named as astronauts: Alan Shepard, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton. All seven made it into space, most more than once. Virgil “Gus” Grissom was scheduled to fly in the Apollo 1 mission to land on the moon, when he was killed in a fire in the command module along with Edward White and Roger Chaffee, during a test on the launchpad on January 27, 1967.

• Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark are now the first siblings to fly into space together.

• Blue Origin’s next project, New Glenn, is named after original Mercury astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn.

• John Glenn had been the oldest person to fly into space when he returned on a Space Shuttle mission on January 16, 1998. He was 77 at the time. Wally Funk, now the oldest person to fly into space, is 82.

• Wally Funk was a 22-year old pilot when she was chosen as one of 13 women (the Mercury 13) to be tested alongside the original seven male astronauts in February of 1961, in a privately-funded effort called the Lovelace Project. The 13 women ultimately chosen from a pool of 25 had all passed the same tests as the men; Wally Funk even had higher scores on some tests than John Glenn. NASA chose to cancel the program before the final test could be given, using the excuse that their astronauts had to be military test pilots. Consequently, the first woman in space was Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, on June 16, 1963. The first American woman in space was Astronaut Sally Ride, on January 16, 1978.

• On February 6, 1971, Alan Shepard not only walked on the moon, he hit two golf balls with a 6-iron he sneaked onboard.

• The first Space Race was between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. This Billionaire’s Space Race (as it has been termed) pits Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin against Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Virgin Galactic successful ushered two pilots, three mission specialists and Richard Branson into space on July 11, 2021. Blue Origin flew approximately 12 miles higher than the Virgin Galactic flight. SpaceX has yet to launch humans into space.

Mister Boomer saw the first Shepard launch on a TV wheeled into his classroom at school in 1961. He watched this past week’s Blue Origin launch as highlights on the internet. How about it, boomers? Did you watch both launches? Did it stir memories of those early days of space travel?