World Television Day: The ‘Idiot Box’ commemorates 95 years of existence

Having a television at home about 50 years back was a matter of immense pride since very few possessed this ‘Idiot Box’ in the vicinity. Neither there were prominent television manufacturing companies in India nor Indian manufacturers had the technology to being professional production. But who knew, the next 50 years are going to be crucial in the world television history and the exposure to this so called ‘Idiot Box’ was set to enter into the most revolutionary period, reaching almost every citizen of the world.

Before the advent of television, people were glued to radio – the only medium that could entertain people that made them carry with their daily work, without being disturbed. Radio was proving to be a game changer and still remains to some extent. But the inquisitive mind needed more than just an audio and thus compelling equally inquisitive minds to find a solution.

Going by the history, in May 1914, Archibald Low gave the first demonstration of his television system at the Institute of Automobile Engineers in London and he called his system as – ‘Televista’. Though, the electronic television was first successfully demonstrated in San Francisco on September 7, 1927. The system was designed by Philo Taylor Farnsworth, a 21-year-old inventor, who had lived in a house without electricity until he was 14 and his original idea for a TV-like device was to create moving images using radio waves.

Farnsworth idea was based on this ‘image dissector’. Farnsworth was a technical prodigy from an early age, but he soon found himself embroiled in a long legal battle with RCA, which claimed Zworykin’s 1923 patent took priority over Farnsworth’s inventions.

It took almost 30 years for India to introduce television in the country. Television began in India on September 15, 1959 as an experiment with the formation of government body – Doordarshan. There were only two one-hour programmes a week, each of one-hour duration.

In India, the first television was demonstrated by a student of electrical engineering – B. Sivakumaran, at an exhibition in Chennai (then Madras). Doordarshan, one of two divisions of Prasar Bharati still remains the India’s largest broadcasting organisations in terms of studio and transmitter infrastructure.

The trademark Doordarshan tune was composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar with Ustad Ali Ahmed Hussain Khan and telecast on April 1, 1976, for the first time. The ‘DD Eye’ logo was designed by NID alumnus Devashis Bhattacharyya in the early 1970s. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi picked his design from NID submissions. The channel which was available only in seven Indian cities up till 1975, opened up for a wider audience.

And then came the game changer when India became host to Asian Games – Asiad-1982. It was April 25, 1982 when the colour television came into India and history was written and was also set to be re-re-written.

I have been one of the many lucky people who have seen the incarnation of television in India. I am from the era where half of my TV serial, that I was acting, was in black & white and then in colour. I have been associated with Doordarshan since 1971 when ‘Upgrah Doordarshan Kendra’ was another establishment. I also happen to be part of change of reigns to Prasar Bharti, when I was working with M/o Information and Broadcasting. I have seen India becoming a hub of private TV channels- both in news and entertainment. I have also seen television medium being utilised by NCERT’s division CIET, for educating rural masses through structured programmes, which were shown by carrying a large television in a mobile-van in the deep rural villages.

Today, there are about 900+ TV channels in India in different languages, that operate through dish-antenna and about 34,000+ in the world. There were times when India operated through LPTs (Low Power Transmitters) and HPTs (High Power Transmitters). Today, the equations are different. The internet has enabled television that capture channels without the requirement of any dish-antenna. The technology in television has also taken a big leap like CRT, LCD, LED and OLEDs.

This ‘Idiot Box’ is a ‘Genius Box’ that has proved to be one of the most dynamic source of information with a treat of audio, visual, music and technology.

(Pavan Kaushik is an author, column writer and storyteller)

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