Monday, July 5, 2021

The Origin of Sports Broadcasting


From Axios Sports:

100 years ago today, American superstar Jack Dempsey knocked out Frenchman Georges Carpentier in Jersey City, New Jersey, en route to his third heavyweight title defense in as many years. 

Why it matters: This was not only boxing's first million-dollar match — it was also the first sporting event broadcast via radio, reaching 200,000 listeners across 125,000 square miles.

The backdrop: Radios were rare in the early 1900s, and during WWI the government rescinded civilian licenses. But post-war, amateur interest was piqued.

  • At first, they were only viable for point-to-point communication. But in 1919, an engineer at Westinghouse Electric had the idea to play music for anyone with a receiver to hear.
  • A year later, Westinghouse launched Pittsburgh's KDKA, which was granted the country's first commercial broadcasting license so it could air the results of the presidential election (Harding vs. Cox).
  • RCA, a Westinghouse competitor, wanted to give people a good reason to buy their radios, so they got to work on figuring out how to broadcast the highly-anticipated heavyweight bout.

How it worked: The stadium didn't have structures high enough to attach the antenna, so an RCA employee transmitted remotely from a nearby train station, which had recently erected a clock tower.

  • During the fight, one person relayed the action via phone to a clerk at the station, who then typed up the play-by-play for the announcer to read out over the airwaves.
  • Listening parties formed across the northeast, from small get-togethers in private homes to thousand-person gatherings in public venues.
  • (Not-so) fun fact: The tubes on this proto-radio transmitter were so bright that the announcer was partially blinded for days after sitting so close to them.

What came next: KDKA broadcast the first baseball game a month later — an 8-5 Pirates win over the Phillies.

🎥 Watch: Full Dempsey-Carpentier fight (YouTube)

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