This Week in Queen Anne History

November 25, 1948 was a typically cold, wet and windy Thanksgiving Day in Seattle; but an event in Queen Anne that afternoon was anything but typical.  At 1:45 pm, the first television broadcast in Seattle history brought the Wenatchee-West Seattle high school football championship game from Memorial Stadium to an estimated 1,500 television sets in the area.

KRSC-TV was Seattle’s only television outlet at the time, and one of just 15 television stations in the United States.  In preparation for television broadcasting, KRCS, which had provided AM radio since 1927, launched Seattle’s first frequency-modulation (FM) radio station in 1947.  The station operated out of a former corner grocery store at 301 Galer on Queen Anne Hill.  The station’s new $25,000, 140-foot transmitter tower could reach television sets within a 25- to 30-mile radius.

Two cameras situated in the stands above the 50-yard line captured the entire game and half-time entertainment.  One of the cameras was equipped with a telephoto lens for close-up shots, and the other had a wide-angle lens.  A microwave relay transmitter mounted on the roof of the stadium carried the images to the transmitter tower.  The live presentation was among the nation’s first triple-casts, with the game being called on-air on AM, FM, and television.

The few hundred Seattle residents who owned television sets invited neighbors to gather around their small black-and-white screens to take in the game from the dry comfort of their homes.  Bars and appliance stores with sets on display were crowded with curious spectators to the grainy action.  One appliance store reported that 2,000 people had passed through its doors during the broadcast.

The game itself was an anticlimactic mud slog that ended in a 6-6 tie.  Heavy rain by half-time contributed to broadcasting challenges, including a hum created by wet microphone cords and the outage of a transmission line that caused the game to go briefly off air.  KRSC-TV co-founder and general manager Robert Priebe told The Seattle Times, “We picked one of the hardest television assignments to begin with but, in spite of adverse conditions, such as sunlight reflecting on the wet field, we have enthusiastic comments.”

The game as it appeared to television viewers. image courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Despite being the first to bring television to Seattle, KRSC-TV struggled with the high broadcasting costs and low sponsorship revenue that plagued many early providers before regular and full programming schedules were established.  Dorothy Stimson Bullitt (1892-1989) purchased the station for $375,000 in May 1949, marking the first sale of a television station in US history.  Bullitt relaunched the station as KING-TV.