Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet

By Brian Winston | Go to book overview

17

CABLE TELEVISION

THE RETURN OF THE WIRE: CABLE TELEVISION

As the above account reveals, the wires never really went away. The early radio and television networks were wired and the transoceanic telephone cables have kept pace with the development of the international telecommunications satellite system. Yet, more than that, cables have always been used for the distribution of radio and television signals to the home. Indeed, cable has been, from the outset, a viable alternative to free-air propagation. As Peter Eckersley, the engineer who had built the BBC’s SB wireless net, suggested to Reith, it was nothing less than a complete alternative to wireless transmission (Briggs 1961:358); but almost nowhere did this happen, nor has it developed in this way. Instead careful prevarication and delay has meant that, usually, cable has only been allowed to supplement the efforts of the broadcasters. It has taken decades to achieve even this limited function but it should be noted that at no time had this slow diffusion been occasioned by technological constraints. Cable has stood ready to supplant broadcasting from the very beginning of both radio and television; its failure so to is a further vivid example of the operation of the ‘law’ of the suppression of radical potential.

I have suggested that bandwidth limitations placed upon the telephone circuit were economic in origin and not primarily the result of technological constraints. Thus, higher fidelity wires for the re-transmission of radio signals were immediately developed in the 1920s and were in place almost as soon as radio was itself established. In the Netherlands, the need for signal enhancement and a taste for the importation of distant foreign stations provided the supervening necessities for radio cable systems. By 1939, 50 per cent of Dutch homes, and in some urban areas as many as 80 per cent, were wired. In Britain the ‘rediffusion’ of domestic radio services had begun in 1925 on the south coast where shipping signals caused enough interference to render domestic reception difficult. In the north-east too,

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Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Introduction: A Storm from Paradise 1
  • Part I - Propagating Sound at Considerable Distances 17
  • 1 - The Telegraph 19
  • 2 - Before the Speaking Telephone 30
  • 3 - The Capture of Sound 51
  • Part II - The Vital Spark and Fugitive Pictures 65
  • 4 - Wireless and Radio 67
  • 5 - Mechanically Scanned Television 88
  • 6 - Electronically Scanned Television 100
  • 7 - Television Spin-Offs and Redundancies 126
  • Part III 145
  • 8 - Mechanising Calculation 147
  • 9 - The First Computers 166
  • 10 - Suppressing the Main Frames 189
  • 11 - The Integrated Circuit 206
  • 12 - The Coming of the Microcomputer 227
  • Part IV - The Intricate Web of Trails, This Grand System 241
  • 13 - The Beginnings of Networks 243
  • 14 - Networks and Recording Technologies 261
  • 15 - Communications Satellites 276
  • 16 - The Satellite Era 295
  • 17 - Cable Television 305
  • 18 - The Internet 321
  • Conclusion: the Pile of Debris 337
  • Notes 343
  • References 351
  • Index 361
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