Surfin’: Where’s Channel 1?


By Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU
Contributing Editor

This week, Surfin’ uncovers what really happened to broadcast television Channel 1.

When debunking radio urban legends was the topic of discussion here two weeks ago, various readers wrote back about the deflation of the legend “Why isn’t there a television Channel 1?”

Legend has it that there was no Channel 1 because the frequencies that Channel 1 occupied were reserved for military use. SNOPES debunked the legend. In a nutshell, television and radio shared some frequencies in the late 1940s. To avoid interference problems, the FCC ruled that the two services could not share.

To achieve an interference free utopia, the TV industry had to sacrifice one of the 13 TV channel assignments. They gave up Channel 1 because it had the least commercial value -- the FCC had set aside Channel 1 for community use with 1kW maximum power. The FCC deleted Channel 1 in 1948, but never renumbered the remaining channels. Thus, Channel 2 became the first channel on the TV dial.

Wikipedia has a good handle on the issue. Meanwhile, the Discovery Channel Web site offers a similar, but less technical explanation.

Former ARRL and IARU President Larry Price, W4RA, wrote about the old TV set his family inherited: “It was an RCA set and it had Channel 1. Of course there was no TV station to receive there. It worked reasonably well on the other channels and we eventually junked it. To the best of my memory, I recall Chanel 1 was ‘6 meters,’ which is still used sometimes by the military. I live close to Fort Stewart, Georgia. During the intensive training of helicopter crews for the war in Vietnam, I often listened to their exercises on MHz FM. So I guess I would agree that SNOPES is good, but not perfect.”

For Tri-State TV history buffs, Pete Kemp, KZ1Z, passed along this bit of information: “In New York City, W2XBS received the Channel 1 assignment. W2XBS later became WNBT. Their initial license authorized transmission beginning June 24, 1941. In the spring of 1946, WNBT moved to Channel 4, became WRCA in 1954 and finally WNBC in 1960. Interesting to note, the WNBT call letters were also used on a TV station in New Britain, Connecticut, an NBC affiliate -- now WVIT -- Channel 30.”

For a more detailed history of W2XBS, see Wikipedia’s take on the matter.

Bob Mudra, AK9RM, added this on TV channel allocations: “There’s a couple of other interesting anomalies in the TV allocation scheme. All the TV channels are on 6 megahertz increments -- except Channels 4 and 5 where there is a 10 megahertz jump. That one was to protect the aircraft marker beacon frequency at 75 MHz. The marker beacons are now pretty much defunct and replaced with inertial navigation intersections, but they sure were still there when the TV channels were assigned.

“The other is that, although specified in the table of channel frequencies, Channel 37 (608-614 MHz) is not assigned to an actual broadcast station, but reserved for radio astronomy (at least by FCC and IC). Of course, Channels 70 to 83 were farmed out to the cellular industry and more recently, Channels 52 to 69 were reallocated to miscellaneous mobile services. Also, Channels 14 to 20 are allocated to public safety radio on a select geographical basis.”

Until next time, Merry Christmas and keep on surfin’!

Editor note: Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU, recalls his encounter with a dusty old Dumont TV set in a dark corner of a Waterbury duckpin bowling alley that had Channel 1 on its dial. That set was inoperable, so he was unable to see what was playing on Channel 1 circa 1968. To contact Stan, send e-mail or add comments to the WA1LOU blog.