It started in the early 1940s and picked up momentum immediately. I was fortunate to be around at the right time to make the switch from radio to sound-and-pictures as TV was beginning its growth spurt.
Now, bear in mind that none of today's bells and whistles were available at the time -- no audiotape, no videotape, no delayed telecasts, nothing but live TV. As a result, some classic boo-boos resulted.
"Your Hit Parade" was a popular network radio show, and its switch to TV was memorable indeed. Because the show was live, the audience saw what amounted to a dress rehearsal, and things got pretty weird.
During its second telecast, a set was knocked over by a moving camera, the presenter forgot his lines and the director brought up camera 3 as an actor was changing his shirt.
TV commercials also were unusual by today's standards. Many used existing radio-commercial lyrics as the sound track. For instance, the most successful TV commercial for a toothpaste was animated to this famous radio track:
"You'll wonder where the yellow went/When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent/Pepsodent."
The visual was a stick-figure face with big teeth that had the word "yellow" written across them. When the word "Pepsodent" came up in the song, that word replaced "yellow."
One of my first assignments in network TV was to produce live commercials for the "Wednesday Night Fights," sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon ("What'll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer"). We would cut away from the feed of the fight to the studio, where the commercials were produced.
The main feature of the commercials was the pouring of the bottled beer into a glass. The client was very specific about the size of the head on the glass of beer -- 1 1/2 inches, no more and no less.
In order to achieve this mandate I would rent a suite at Chicago's Drake Hotel for our practice beer pours. The reason for the suite was that I needed more than one bathroom to flush down all those practice pours. When fight time arrived, we moved to the studio set along with our commercial presenter and three cases of beer at just the right temperature.
Remember, we could pour the beer only once for each commercial -- and it had better be perfect!
Between rounds, master control switched back from the ring to us in the commercial studio -- and we were under way. We all held our breath as the hand model poured the beer. No retakes!
After the fight, the client would call and tell me the head on the beer was either too big or too small. My answer was always the same: "Gee, it looked just right to us in the studio!" And without videotape, there was no way he could check it.
Ah, the joys of live television.
Hooper White is a former VP and executive producer for Leo Burnett Co., Chicago,