When 82 TV Channels Was More Than Enough

How the rollout of UHF television in 1951 led to “the shot heard ’round the world”

2 min read

Photo: Peter Stackpole/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Hear, Hear: After the United States added UHF TV channels in 1951, television set owners needed ultrahigh-frequency antennas like these from RCA to pick up the new signals.
Photo: Peter Stackpole/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

BobbyThompsonHey, Ho! The new UHF channels and the microwave-relay network to support them meant that millions of viewers across the country were watching when the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson hit a remarkable three-run homer against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Thomson’s feat became known as “the shot heard ’round the world.”Photo: AP Photo

A Promising New Era Begins for Television,” proclaimed Life magazine in September 1951. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission announced a new allocation plan that would open up UHF bands for television broadcasts in addition to existing VHF bands, increasing the number of available channels from 12 to 82 and making coast-to-coast transmission practical.

Getting UHF signals from New York City to San Francisco required a chain of 107 microwave towers that stretched across the United States. Called the microwave radio-relay skyway, it took the American Telephone and Telegraph Company three years to build at a cost of US $40 million.

To take advantage of UHF, television sets needed a small converter, which cost $40 (the equivalent of over $350 today), and a new antenna (like the RCA designs shown here). The Life article promised that for the first time, baseball fans on the West Coast would be able to watch the World Series live on TV. And millions of people were watching on 3 October 1951, when the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Brooklyn Dodgers, thereby clinching the National League pennant.

Part of a continuing series looking at old photographs that embrace the boundless potential of technology, with unintentionally hilarious effect.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions