DuMont Television Network

From Academic Kids

The DuMont Television Network was the first licensed American television network, beginning operation in 1946 and predating CBS, NBC, and ABC as networks. It was owned by television set manufacturer Allen B. DuMont and the Paramount Pictures movie studio, which had previously had its fingers in the young CBS and would later come to be combined with CBS through Viacom. It owned and operated three television stations, WABD (named for Allen B. DuMont) in New York City (now WNYW), WDTV in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (now KDKA-TV), and WTTG(named for Dr. Thomas T. Goldsmith, DuMont's Vice President of Research, and his best friend) in Washington, DC.


Earliest station-to-station hookup

Prior to licensing as a network, DuMont's first "network" hookup, implemented by coaxial cable, was a simultaneous broadcast by the New York and Washington stations on August 9, 1945 of the announcement of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. DuMont was not the first to accomplish this, however; its hookup followed an earlier similar station-to-station hookup by NBC in 1943.


DuMont is perhaps most famous for introducing the skits that resulted in the show, The Honeymooners, starring Jackie Gleason, and for filming the first season of The Honeymooners, eventually on CBS. It also pioneered several forms of television programming. Its programming included Mary Kay and Johnny, the first television situation comedy, Faraway Hill, the first network-televised soap opera, The Cavalcade of Stars, a variety program hosted initially by Gleason, Life is Worth Living, Fulton J. Sheen's devotional program, Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour, Broadway Open House, a variety and talk show hosted by Morey Amsterdam, The Arthur Murray Party, a dance program, With This Ring, a panel show on marriage, professional wrestling programs, and reruns of the melodrama Big Town. Among its most successful shows were the initially hugely popular children's science fiction series Captain Video, Rocky Jones, Detective, and the camera's-eye-view detective series, The Plainclothesman. Towards the end of its life span, DuMont's schedule relied heavily on professional wrestling broadcasts.

Although the DuMont Network predated videotape, many of the DuMont programs were captured on kinescopes, which were films shot directly from live television screens. These kinescopes were reportedly stored in an ABC network warehouse until the 1970s. Actress Edie Adams, wife of comedian Ernie Kovacs who had done shows for DuMont, testified in 1996 before a panel of the Library of Congress on the preservation of television and video that as a clandestine aside to a business deal in the early 1970s to sell a successor network, it was arranged for all these kinescopes to be removed from the warehouse and dumped into the water of the Upper New York Bay in the dead of night.

Inability to grow

DuMont was already at a disadvantage to NBC and CBS because it did not have a radio network to use as a bulwark of revenue and affiliate loyalty. It aspired to grow beyond its three stations, seeking to acquire two more for a total of five VHF stations, the maximum allowed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at that time. Minority owner Paramount also owned two stations of its own--KTLA-TV in Los Angeles and WBKB-TV in Chicago (now WBBM-TV) but didn't broadcast any of DuMont's programming on them. The FCC ruled, however, that the two Paramount stations were the equivalent of DuMont-owned stations, and since no owner could have more than five stations, DuMont could not acquire any additional ones. DuMont did not have many primary station affiliates for carrying all of its programming live, but mostly only secondary ones who could pick and choose which programs to carry, and so its growth was severely handicapped by the ruling.

DuMont was further hobbled by an FCC decision to freeze applications for new stations when it realized that it had allocated several stations too close together. It was clear that the 12 VHF channels were inadequate for national television service. However, what was intended to be a six-month freeze lasted until 1952. That year, the FCC opened the UHF spectrum. At the same time, it restricted the number of VHF stations to two or three in most cities and reserved several VHF and UHF channels for educational television. However, the FCC didn't require television sets to have the ability to tune into UHF stations without buying a converter. Even with a converter, the reception was never very clear. DuMont was forced to use UHF stations to expand its network, but had many of its UHF affiliates go under simply because nobody was watching. For example, DuMont bought a distressed UHF station in Kansas City at the start of 1954 and ran it for just two months before shutting it down due to lack of viewership, incurring a tremendous fiscal loss.

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."


DuMont was kept afloat in the early 1950s by the de facto monopoly WDTV enjoyed on television in Pittsburgh, then the nation's sixth largest market. Owning the only VHF station in such a big market gave DuMont a huge advantage in obtaining clearances in other markets.

However, by 1953 DuMont was in severe financial straits. That year, ABC merged with United Paramount Theaters (recently divorced from DuMont's partner, Paramount). DuMont worked out a deal to merge with ABC, and the merged network would have been called "ABC-DuMont" until at least 1958. However, Paramount vetoed the deal. With no other way to readily obtain cash, DuMont was forced to sell WDTV to Westinghouse for $6.75 million. While this gave DuMont a short-term cash infusion, it eliminated the leverage DuMont needed to obtain clearances in other markets. By February 1955, DuMont realized it could not continue in the network television race. It decided to shut down network operations and operate WABD and WTTG as independents. On April 1, 1955; most regularly-scheduled network programming was cancelled, with only sports and inexpensive entertainment shows sustaining the network through the summer.

A few months later, Paramount staged a boardroom coup and seized full control of DuMont. The last non-sports program on DuMont aired on September 23, 1955. After that, DuMont used its network feed for occasional sporting events. DuMont's last broadcast event, a boxing match, occurred on August 8 (also reported as August 6), 1956.

DuMont spun off WABD and WTTG as the DuMont Broadcasting Corporation, which later changed its name to Metropolitan Broadcasting to distance itself from what was seen as a total all-around failure. John Kluge bought Paramount's shares in 1958 and changed the company's name to Metromedia two years later.

What happened to the DuMont-owned stations?

All three are still on the air, and are now owned and operated stations for existing TV networks. Of the three, only Washington's WTTG still has its original call signs.

New York's WABD (which became WNEW-TV and is now WNYW) and D.C.'s WTTG, both on Channel 5, survived as independents in the Metromedia Group before being purchased by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp for his then-fledgling Fox Broadcasting Company, making them Fox owned and operated stations. Some have suggested that Fox is simply a revival of DuMont.

Westinghouse changed WDTV's calls to KDKA-TV, after Westinghouse's pioneering radio station. The station also took the CBS affiliation immediately after the sale. Westinghouse's acquisition of CBS in 1995 made KDKA-TV a CBS owned and operated station.

See also

External references and link


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