The Rapid Growth of Cable TV in the 1980s
Let’s set the stage by starting with the difference between network TV and Cable. That may seem arbitrary but those differences are very important for this story and we tend to intertwine the term cable with all TV.
Network TV is the traditional form of television broadcasting that uses over-the-air signals to transmit programming to homes with TV antennas. The long-running North American major broadcast networks include the American Broadcasting Company or ABC, The Columbia Broadcasting System or CBS, the National Broadcasting Company, or NBC.
Here in Canada, we have channels like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation or CBC. These networks have specific channels and schedules for their programming, and they are available to all homes with a TV antenna. It’s easy to forget that network TV really is free.
Cable TV is a type of television broadcasting that uses a cable or satellite connection to transmit programming to homes with cable or satellite subscriptions.
Networks like NBC, ABC, and CBS all began as radio networks and radio was so popular and powerful so quickly that there was concern that they not be abused. And that includes advertising. Advertising over the airwaves was new and The networks had concerns that the advertisers might offend listeners who would turn the radio off. NBC was proactive and created a continuity acceptance department.
This department combed through the ad scripts to make sure they were ok for broadcast. Anything deemed offensive was censored. So since advertisers were sponsoring the radio programming, and the programming was now so widely accessible, the FCC decided everything broadcast needed to be appropriate for all listeners. Basically, they had to keep it clean and that meant no adult content or anything that looked like propaganda.
Little Jimmy or sally could walk into the parlor and turn on the radio and shouldn’t be exposed to anything too adult. But didn’t this violate first amendment rights? Shouldn’t they be able to broadcast whatever they wanted? Since radio beamed everywhere, it was an uncontrolled medium. Because of this, radio was deemed to not have full first amendment…