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The DuMont Television Network

The ID was straightforward. "This is the DuMont Television Network" was stated with minimal inflection while a camera focused on an art card on which the DuMont logo was drafted. White print, black background. This ID was the only thing most viewers knew about the network that would only a half a century later be noted for inaugurating one of media industry's most revered "sitcoms" and it's stars and, with scifi aimed at the kiddie set, provide a street cop named Gene Roddenberry inspiration to "boldly go where no man has gone before."

Television, as we know it, began in the late 1930's not with NBC, CBS or ABC, but with the Blue and Red networks, in major cities, which broadcast on alternate nights; never was there more than one network on at the same time until the four (yes, four) networks blossomed thereafter. The CBS, NBC and later ABC broadcast television networks that we yet still have amidst all the cable/satellite narrowcast come lately networks today.

And there also was a pioneer network DuMont, named after a television innovator, Allen B. DuMont. The DuMont Network premiered Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners along with a Catholic Bishop, Fulton J. Sheen, who eventually often beat out the venerable Milton Berle in the Nielson ratings on Tuesday nights.

photo of Alan B. Du Mont The DuMont Television Network went on the air with experimental broadcasts in 1938 on New York City assigned channel 5, WABD-TV channel 5 pushing two million watts of radiated signal power. In 1946, the DuMont Television Network expanding to other markets thereafter. The parent company, of course was the Allen B. DuMont Laboratories, manufacturers of industrial broadcasting equipment and consumer television sets.

The DuMont Television Network is a now largely-forgotten broadcast television network that fought against budget troubles for its entire lifetime. It managed to limp along for almost a decade, but dropped off the air at midnight one summer in the 1950s because it didn't have enough money to pay the electric bill. Its attempted comeback on the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards was largely considered a failure.

The DuMont Network grew to numerous affiliates nationally, but received little show of support from most who were originally fledgling independents. It could be argued that the DuMont Network pioneered the idea of cable television, as it transmitted its signals through a wire that was attached to a network-operated throughpoint.

Author David Weinstein states, During the late 1940s and early 1950s, the name DuMont was synonymous with the new medium of television. Many people first watched TV on DuMont-brand sets, the best receivers money could buy. More viewers enjoyed their first programs on the DuMont network, which was established in 1946. Network founder Allen B. Du Mont became a folk hero for his entrepreneurial spirit in bringing television to the American people. Yet, by 1955, the DuMont network was out of business and its founder and namesake was forced to relinquish control of the company he had spent a quarter century building.

Despite several innovations in broadcasting and the creation of one of television's biggest stars of the 1950s, the network never found itself on solid financial ground. Forced to expand on UHF channels during an era when UHF was not profitable, DuMont ceased broadcasting in 1956.

DuMont's latter-day obscurity has prompted at least one notable TV historian to refer to it as the "Forgotten Network".[2] A few popular DuMont programs, such as Cavalcade of Stars and Emmy-award winner Life is Worth Living, appear in TV retrospectives or are mentioned briefly in books about U.S. television history, but almost all the network's programming was destroyed in the 1970s.

(From Wilkepedia): DuMont Laboratories was founded in 1931 by Dr. Allen B. DuMont. He and his staff were responsible for many early technical innovations, including the first consumer all-electronic television set in 1938. The company's television sets soon became the gold standard of the industry.[3]

A few months after selling his first television set, DuMont opened an experimental television station in New York City, W2XWV. Unlike CBS and NBC, he continued experimental broadcasts throughout World War II. In 1944, W2XWV became WABD (after DuMont's initials), the third commercial television station in New York. On May 19, 1945, DuMont opened experimental W3XWT in Washington, D.C. A minority shareholder in DuMont Laboratories was Paramount Pictures, which had advanced $400,000 in 1939 for a 40% share in the company.[4][5] Paramount had television interests of its own, having launched experimental stations in Los Angeles in 1939 and Chicago in 1940, but DuMont's association with Paramount ultimately proved to be a mistake.[6][7]

Soon after his experimental Washington station signed on, DuMont began experimental coaxial cable hookups between his laboratories in Passaic, New Jersey, and his two stations. One of those hookups carried the announcement that the U.S. had dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. This was later considered to be the official beginning of the DuMont Network by both Thomas T. Goldsmith, the network's chief engineer and DuMont's best friend and Dr. DuMont himself. Regular network service began on August 15, 1946, on WABD and W3XWT. In 1947, W3XWT became WTTG, named after Goldsmith. The pair were joined in 1949 by WDTV in Pittsburgh.

Although NBC was known to have station-to-station links as early as 1941, DuMont received its station licenses before NBC resumed in the postwar era their previous, sporadic network broadcasts.[8] ABC had just come into existence as a radio network in 1943 and would not enter network television until 1948, when it acquired a station in New York City. CBS would also wait until 1948 to begin network operations because it was waiting for the Federal Communications Commission to approve its color television system. Other companies including Mutual, the Yankee Network, and Paramount itself were interested in starting television networks, but would be prevented from doing so by restrictive FCC regulations.

Despite no history of radio programming to draw on and perennial cash shortages, DuMont was an innovative and creative network.[9] Without the radio revenues that supported mighty NBC and CBS, DuMont programmers had to rely on their wits and on connections in Broadway to provide original programs still remembered fifty-plus years later.

The network also largely ignored the standard business model of 1950s television, in which one advertiser sponsored an entire show, enabling it to have complete control over its content. Instead, DuMont sold commercials to many different advertisers, freeing producers of its shows from the veto power held by sole sponsors. This eventually became the standard model for U.S. television.

DuMont also holds another important place in American television history. WDTV's sign-on made it possible for stations in the Midwest to receive live network programming from stations on the East Coast, and vice versa.[10] Before then, the networks relied on separate regional networks in the two time zones for live programming, and the West Coast received network programming from kinescopes (films shot directly from live television screens) originating from the East Coast. On January 11, 1949, the coaxial cable linking East and Midwest (known in television circles as "the Golden Spike") was activated. The ceremony, hosted by DuMont and WDTV, was carried on all four networks.[11] WGN in Chicago and WABD in New York were able to share programs though a live coaxial cable feed when WDTV in Pittsburgh signed on, because the station completed the East Coast-to-Midwest chain, allowing stations in both regions to air the same program at the same time, which is still the standard for U.S. television. It would be another two years before the West Coast could get live programming, but this was the beginning of the modern era of network television.[12]

The first broadcasts came from DuMont's Madison Avenue headquarters, but it soon found additional space, including a fully functioning theater, in the New York branch of Wanamaker's department store at Ninth Street and Broadway.[6] Still later, a lease on the Adelphi Theater on 54th Street gave the network a site for variety shows, and in 1954, the lavish DuMont Tele-Center opened in the former Jacob Ruppert's Central Opera House at 205 East 67th Street.

NEXT ARTICLES: DuMont revolutionizes TV with the sitcom (gets no credit), the final frontier and the boss' biography.

Further Reading

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DuMont aired the first television situation comedy, Mary Kay and Johnny, as well as the first network-televised soap opera - Faraway Hill. Cavalcade of Stars, a variety show hosted by Jackie Gleason, was the birthplace of The Honeymooners (Gleason left for CBS in 1952). Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's devotional program Life Is Worth Living went up against Milton Berle in many cities, and was the first show to successfully compete in the ratings against "Mr. Television". In 1952, Sheen won an Emmy for "Most Outstanding Personality".[13] The network's other notable programs include: Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour, which began on radio in the 1930s under original host Major Bowes (segment here on Oldiestelevision.com. The Morey Amsterdam Show, a comedy/variety show hosted by Morey Amsterdam, which started on CBS before moving to DuMont in 1949 Captain Video and His Video Rangers, a hugely popular kids' science fiction series (segment here on Oldiestelevision.com) The Arthur Murray Party, a dance program, With This Ring, a panel show on marriage Rocky King, Inside Detective, a private eye series starring Roscoe Karns, The Plainclothesman, a camera's-eye-view detective series. Live coverage of boxing and professional wrestling, the latter featuring matches staged by the Capitol Wrestling Corporation, the predecessor to World Wrestling Entertainment. Cash and Carry, the first network-televised television game show. The Main Event, hosted by Rocky Graciano (show with Jackie Gleason here on Oldiestelevision.com. The Honeymooners, starring Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows (replacing McCarthyized Pert Kelton in the role of Alice) Joyce Randolph (segments here at Oldiestelevision.com Although DuMont's programming pre-dated videotape, many DuMont offerings were caught on kinescopes. These kinescopes were said to be stored in a warehouse until the 1970s. Actress Edie Adams, the wife of comedian Ernie Kovacs (both regular performers on early television) testified in 1996 before a panel of the Library of Congress on the preservation of television and video. Adams claimed that so little value was given to these films that the stored kinescopes were loaded into three trucks and dumped into Upper New York Bay.[16] Nevertheless, a number of DuMont programs survive at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City, the UCLA Film and Television Archive in Los Angeles, in the Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, and the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago Life Is Worth Living with Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

Although nearly the entire DuMont film archive was destroyed, several surviving DuMont shows have been released on DVD. Several companies which distribute DVDs over the Internet have released a small number of episodes of Cavalcade of Stars and The Morey Amsterdam Show. Two DuMont programs, Captain Video and His Video Rangers and Rocky King, Inside Detective, have had a small amount of surviving episodes released commercially by at least one major distributer of public domain programming.

DuMont programs were by necessity low-budget affairs, and the network received relatively few awards from the television industry. Most awards during the 1950s went to NBC and CBS, who were able to out-spend other companies and draw on their extensive history of radio broadcasting in the relatively new television medium. DuMont, however, won a number of awards during its years of operation.

During the 1952-1953 television season, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, host of Life is Worth Living, won an Emmy Award for Most Outstanding Personality. Sheen beat out CBS's Arthur Godfrey, Edward R. Murrow, and Lucille Ball who were also nominated for the same award. Sheen was also nominated for but did not win consecutive Public Service Emmys in 1952, 1953, and 1954.[18]

DuMont received an Emmy nomination for Down You Go, a popular game show during the 1952-1953 television season (in the category Best Audience Participation, Quiz, or Panel Program). The network was nominated twice for its coverage of professional football during the 1953 1954 and 1954 1955 television seasons.[19]

The Johns Hopkins Science Review, a DuMont public affairs program, was awarded a Peabody Award in 1952 in the Education category. Sheen's Emmy and the Science Review Peabody were the only national awards the DuMont Network received.[20] Though DuMont series and performers would continue to win local television awards, by the mid-1950s the DuMont Network no longer had a national presence.

The earliest measurements of television audiences were performed by the C. E. Hooper company of New York. DuMont performed well in the Hooper ratings; DuMont's The Original Amateur Hour was the most popular series of the 1947-1948 television season.[21] Variety ranked DuMont's Cavalcade of Stars as the tenth most popular television series during the 1949-1950 season.[22]

In February 1950, Hooper's competitor A.C. Nielsen bought out the Hooperatings system. Few DuMont series ever performed well in the Nielsen Ratings; no DuMont series ever appeared in Nielsen's annual lists of the top 20 most popular series.[22] One of the DuMont Network's most popular series during the 1950s, Life is Worth Living, received Nielsen ratings of up to 11.1, attracting more than 10 million viewers. Sheen's devotional program was the most widely viewed religious series in the history of television. 169 local television stations aired Life, and for three years the program was able to successfully compete against NBC's popular The Milton Berle Show. (Berle, whose show was sponsored by Texaco, joked that he and the bishop "have the same boss: Sky Chief!") The ABC and CBS programs which aired in the same timeslot were cancelled.[18] In 1952, Time magazine reported that popular game show Down You Go attracted an audience estimated at 16 million.[23]

DuMont began with one basic disadvantage: unlike NBC and CBS, it did not have a radio network from which to draw revenue and big names.[9] Also, most early television licenses were granted to established radio broadcasters, and many long-time relationships with radio networks carried over to the new medium. As CBS and NBC gained their footing, they began to offer programming that drew on their radio backgrounds, bringing over the most popular radio stars. Early television stations, when asked to choose between an affiliation with CBS offering Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, and Ed Sullivan, or DuMont with a then-unknown Jackie Gleason and Bishop Sheen, chose the well-travelled route.[21] In smaller markets, with a limited number of stations, DuMont and ABC were often relegated to secondary status, so their programs got clearance only if the primary network was off the air or on a delayed basis via a kinescope recording (or "teletranscriptions" as they were referred to by DuMont).

DuMont aspired to grow beyond its three stations, applying for licenses in Boston (or Cincinnati, depending on the source) and Cleveland.[24] This would have given the network five stations, the maximum allowed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at the time. However, DuMont was hampered by minority owner Paramount's two stations, KTLA in Los Angeles and WBKB-TV (now WBBM-TV) in Chicago. Although these stations never carried DuMont programming (with the exception of one year on KTLA in 1947-48), and in fact competed with the DuMont affiliates in those cities, the FCC ruled that Paramount's two licenses were in theory DuMont owned and operated stations, which effectively placed DuMont at the five-station cap.[25]

Adding to DuMont's troubles was the FCC's 1948 "freeze" on television-license applications. This was done to sort out the thousands of applications that had come streaming in, but also to rethink the allocation and technical standards laid down prior to World War II. It became clear soon after the war that 12 channels ("channel 1" had been removed from television broadcasting use) were not nearly enough for national television service. What was to be a six-month freeze lasted until 1952, when the FCC opened the UHF spectrum. The FCC, however, did not require television manufacturers to include UHF capability.[7] In order to see UHF stations, most people had to buy an expensive converter. Even then, the picture quality was marginal at best. Tied to this was a decision to restrict VHF allocations in medium- and smaller-sized markets. Television sets were not required to have all-channel tuning until 1964. >br>
Forced to rely on UHF to expand, DuMont saw one station after another go dark due to dismal ratings.[21] DuMont bought a small, distressed UHF station in Kansas City in 1954, but ran it for just three months before shutting it down at a considerable loss, after attempting to compete with three established VHF stations.[26]

The FCC's Dr. Hyman Goldin said in 1960, "If there had been four VHF outlets in the top markets, there's no question DuMont would have lived and would have eventually turned the corner in terms of profitability. I have no doubt in my mind of that at all."[27] "Thank You and Good Night"...Forever

DuMont survived the early 1950s only because of WDTV in Pittsburgh, the lone commercial VHF station in what was then the sixth-largest market. WDTV's only competition came from UHF stations and distant stations from Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; and Wheeling, West Virginia.[28] No other commercial VHF station signed on in Pittsburgh until 1957, giving WDTV a de facto monopoly on television in the city.[29] Since WDTV carried secondary affiliations with the other three networks, DuMont used this as a bargaining chip to get its programs cleared in other large markets.[28][4]

Despite its severe financial straits, by 1953 DuMont appeared to be on its way to establishing itself as the third national network.[30][31] DuMont programs aired live on 16 stations, but it could only count on six primary stations (its three owned-and-operated stations ["O&Os"] plus WGN-TV in Chicago, KTTV in Los Angeles and WTVN-TV [now WSYX] in Columbus, Ohio). In contrast, ABC had a full complement of five O&Os augmented by nine primary affiliates.[32] ABC also had a radio network (it was descended from NBC's Blue Network) on which to draw revenue and affiliate loyalty.[21]

However, by this time DuMont had begun to differentiate itself from NBC and CBS. DuMont allowed its advertisers to pick and choose the locations where their advertising ran, potentially saving them millions of dollars.[33] In contrast, ABC operated in a similar manner to CBS and NBC, forcing advertisers to purchase a large "must-buy" list of stations. However, ABC had only 14 primary stations, compared to CBS and NBC, which had over 40 primary stations each. By 1953, ABC was badly overextended and on the verge of bankruptcy.

The picture was dramatically altered in February 1953, when ABC was bought by United Paramount Theaters (recently spun off from Paramount Pictures). The merger provided ABC with a badly-needed cash infusion, which gave it the resources to provide a national television service on the scale of CBS and NBC.[34] Also, through UPT president Leonard Goldenson, it gained ties with the Hollywood studios that more than matched the ties DuMont's producers had with Broadway.

Realizing that the ABC-UPT deal put the company on life support, the staff at DuMont was receptive to a merger offer from ABC.[28] Goldenson quickly brokered a deal with Ted Bergmann, DuMont's managing director, under which the merged network would have been called "ABC-DuMont" until at least 1958 and would honor all of DuMont's network commitments. In return, DuMont would get $5 million in cash, guaranteed advertising time for DuMont sets, and a secure future for its staff.[28] A merged ABC-DuMont would have had to sell a New York station either DuMont's WABD or ABC's WJZ-TV (now WABC-TV) - as well as two other stations. It still would have been a colossus rivaling CBS and NBC, because it would have owned stations in five of the six largest markets (except Philadelphia). It also would have inherited DuMont's de facto monopoly in Pittsburgh, and would have been one of two networks to wholly own a station in the nation's capital (the other being NBC).

However, Paramount vetoed the plan almost out of hand due to antitrust concerns. A few months earlier, the geniuses at the FCC had ruled that Paramount controlled DuMont, and there were still some questions about whether UPT had really separated from Paramount.

With no other way to readily obtain cash, DuMont sold WDTV to Westinghouse Electric Corporation for $9.75 million in late 1954.[28] While this gave DuMont a short-term cash infusion, it eliminated the leverage DuMont had to get clearances in other markets. Without its de facto monopoly in Pittsburgh, the company's advertising revenue shrank to less than half that of 1953. By February 1955, DuMont executives realized the company could not continue as a television network.[28] It was decided to shut down network operations and operate WABD and WTTG as independents. On April 1, 1955, most of DuMont's entertainment programs were dropped. Bishop Sheen aired his last program on DuMont on April 26 and later moved to ABC.[36] By May, just eight programs were left on the network, with only inexpensive shows and sporting events keeping what was left of the network going through the summer. The network also abandoned the use of the intercity network coaxial cable, on which it had spent $3 million in 1954 to transmit shows that mostly lacked station clearance.[37]

In August, Paramount, with the help of other stockholders, seized full control of DuMont Laboratories (Where in Paramount was Captain Kirk when they needed him?). The last non-sports program on DuMont aired on September 23, 1955.[38] After that, DuMont's network feed was used only for occasional sporting events. DuMont's last broadcast, a boxing match, occurred on August 6, 1956.

DuMont spun off WABD and WTTG as the "DuMont Broadcasting Corporation". The name was later changed to "Metropolitan Broadcasting Company" (then, Metromedia)to distance the company from what was seen as a complete all-around failure.[39] John Kluge bought Paramount's shares for $4 million in 1958,[6] changing the company's name to Metromedia in 1960. WABD became WNEW-TV and later WNYW; WTTG still broadcasts under its original call letters.

For 50 years, DuMont was the only major broadcast television network to go off the air until UPN (where was Captain Picard when they needed him) and the WB networks shut down in 2006 to merge and form the CW network (and The Gossip Girls. Wow).

All three DuMont-owned stations are still operating, though they are now affiliated with other networks. Coincidentally, all three are owned-and-operated stations of their respective networks, just as when they were part of DuMont. Of the three, only Washington's WTTG still has its original call letters. WTTG and New York's WABD (later WNEW-TV, and now WNYW) survived as Metromedia-owned independents until they were purchased by the News Corporation for its Fox Broadcasting Company, in 1986. Clarke Ingram, who maintained a DuMont memorial site, has suggested that Fox is a revival or at least a linear descendant, of DuMont.[40] Indeed, WNYW is still headquartered in the former DuMont Tele-Centre, now known as the Fox Broadcasting Center.

Westinghouse changed WDTV's calls to KDKA-TV after the pioneering radio station of the same name, and switched its primary affiliation to CBS immediately after the sale. Westinghouse's acquisition of CBS in 1995 made KDKA-TV a CBS owned-and-operated station. (Did you hear the joke about the rat sleeping insode a TV who proclaimed "This is a Westinghouse, isn't it? Well, I'm westing")

A DuMont Telecruiser, circa 1953. This mobile TV unit, Model B, Serial Number 101, was built by DuMont Labs for KBTV in Dallas, Texas. It was in use until the early 1970s.

At its peak in 1954, DuMont was affiliated with approximately 200 TV stations. Then (as has resurrected recently), TV stations were free to "cherry-pick" which programs they would air, and many stations affiliated with multiple networks. Many of DuMont's "affiliates" carried very little DuMont programming, choosing to air one or two more popular programs (such as Life is Worth Living) and/or sports programming on the weekends. Few stations carried the full DuMont program line-up. >nt>
In its later years, DuMont was carried mostly on poorly-watched UHF channels (Where was Uncle Floyd when they needed him?) or had only secondary affiliations on VHF stations. DuMont ended most operations on April 1, 1955, but honored network commitments until August 1956.

About Allen B. DuMont
Allen Bacon Dumont born on January 29, 1901, in Brooklyn, NY. His father, William, was secretary and treasurer of the Waterbury Clock Company, maker of the celebrated Ingersoll dollar watch.

When the boy was 11 he was stricken by poliomyelitis during an epidemic in the city and was in bed for almost a year. "Maybe this attack of polio I had was a blessing in disguise," he said years later. His father bought him a crystal radio set and by the time he returned to school he had studied the principles of radio and had built a receiving and transmitting set.

The family moved to Montclair when the young Du Mont was 13. He continued to experiment with radio and received a license as a ship's wireless operator when he was 15. A year later he took a vacation job on a passenger vessel operating between New York and Providence. For the next seven years he shipped out every summer, once being stranded in Copenhagen for several months by a longshoremen's strike.

Du Mont obtained High School Diploma from Montclair High School in 1919 and Bachelor of Science, Electrical Engineer, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. in 1924. He started his career in electronics with the Westinghouse Lamp Company, later a division of the Westinghouse Electric Corp. Westinghouse was making 500 radio tubes a day when he was named engineer in charge of production. His improvements in testing had raised the output to 50,000 tubes a day by the time he left the company four years later to join the De Forest Radio Company as chief engineer. At De Forest Dr. Du Mont first began working with television, using the whirling disk technique. He helped build the first television transmitter with simultaneous broadcast of sight and sound.

Unable to interest his superiors at De Forest in the cathode ray tube as a better approach to television, Dr. Du Mont, by then promoted to vice president in charge of production, resigned to start his own laboratory. In 1931, even though economic conditions were quite inauspicious for innovators, Dr. Du Mont left a $15,000-a-year position with the De Forest Radio Company and founded Allen B. Du Mont Laboratories, Inc., in his garage with $1000-half of it borrowed.

The company achieved its initial success as the primary U.S. manufacturer of cathode-ray tubes, which had become critical to the electronics industry. Working in a garage laboratory at his home, Dr. Du Mont developed a cathode ray tube that could be manufactured relatively inexpensively and lasted for a thousand hours. Until Dr. Du Mont's discoveries, cathode ray tubes, the basis of all electronic television, were imported from Germany at high cost. They burned out after 25 or 30 hours. The tubes developed by Du Mont were much better.

Allen B. DuMont was a brilliant inventor, television manufacturer and broadcaster. He invented first commercial TV by perfecting cathode ray tube; made radar possible by devising the first TV guidance system for missiles; developed method to locate shrapnel in wounds; invented anti-knock gasoline; durable lacquer for cars, etc. He founded the company that became Allen B. Du Mont Labora

Allen B. DuMont died of natural causes in Montclair, New Jersey November 14, 1965

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