October 22, 1939…The First Ever Pro Football Telecast
75 years ago today, the relationship between professional football and television began when The National Broadcasting Company earned a spot in history by televising a pro football game. Only 22 days before, NBC had televised the first ever college game on September 30th.
A crowd of 13,050 were on hand at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field on that now-historic day when the Philadelphia Eagles fell to Brooklyn’s Dodgers 23-14. Yes, there was a Brooklyn Dodgers football team, from 1930 to 1943.
The game included play by three future Hall of Famers…quarterback Ace Parker and tackle Bruiser Kinard for the Dodgers and end Bill Hewitt for the Eagles.
Five hundred-or-so fortunate New Yorkers who owned television sets witnessed the game in the comfort of their own homes, over NBC’s experimental station W2XBS. Many others saw the telecast on monitors while visiting the RCA Pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York where it was scheduled as a special event.
According to Allen “Skip” Walz, the NBC play-by-play announcer, only eight people were needed for the telecast. Walz had none of the visual aids…monitors, screens or spotters used today, and there were just two iconoscope cameras. One was located in the box seats on the 40-yard line and the other was in the stadium’s mezzanine section. (The photo of Waltz below was taken a few years later with an RCA Orthicon camera behind him).
“I’d sit with my chin on the rail in the mezzanine, and the camera was over my shoulder,” remembered Walz. “I did my own spotting, and when the play moved up and down the field, on punts or kickoffs, I’d point to tell the cameraman what I’d be talking about.”
The television log records of that day say that the game began at 2:30 p.m. and ran for exactly two hours, thirty-three minutes. By comparison today’s games run almost three full hours. Of course there were no commercial interruptions during the 1939 game. There were, however, interruptions of another sort.
“It was a cloudy day, when the sun crept behind the stadium there wasn’t always enough light for the cameras,” according to Walz. “The picture would get darker and darker, and eventually it would go completely blank, and I would begin to call the game in the style I used for radio broadcasts.”
Enjoy and Share! -Bobby Ellerbee