The First Telecast of a UCLA Football Game


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The story begins in 1942 when an experimental station, W6XYZ, began broadcasting one hour a week on channel 4 and something like 11 people were able to receive the signal. By 1944, when they figured how to get their equipment out of the studio, sports were natural events to cover. The first sport to be seen on a regular basis was wrestling from the Olympic Auditorium. Roller derby, motor and horse racing were also shown. The first remote broadcast from the Coliseum was in September of 1946, the Sheriff's Rodeo.

Telecasts of an ice hockey game from the Pan Pacific Auditorium and the first football telecast, an L.A. Dons professional football game from the Coliseum followed in October. Here's a review of the first football telecast:

The next game the following week showed some improvement:

Not enough "football" in the first telecast? Who was the color guy, Bill Walton??? Player interviews after the game? That will never happen. Giving away a car? Well, maybe t-shirts or posters. Whoever wrote this review was way ahead of his time.

In December, the first college basketball telecast took place from the Pan Pacific:

Although the teams playing in this game were not identified, neither was UCLA which began playing a few games a year at the Pan Pacific in 1949, when they needed a bigger venue than the Men's Gym, until 1959 when the L.A. Sports Arena opened. More likely it was Loyola or Pepperdine.

At that time there were 350-600 TV sets in Los Angeles.

Plans were then put in place to televise both the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game between UCLA and Illinois on January 1, 1947. A 2014 story in the Pasadena Star News described the telecast with some interesting factoids:

* The W6XYZ crew, consisted mainly of college kids from USC and UCLA.
* Equipment consisted of three TV cameras, a dozen mics and about 5 miles of coaxial cable. (There are about 15 cameras for a college football game now and 70 for the Super Bowl.)
* Los Angeles TV legends Bill Welsh and Dick Lane handled the on-mic duties for the parade.
* The crew was refused admission to the game by the gate usher, who had no idea what they were going to do, despite carrying large cameras and holding a microphone. They had to buy tickets from a scalper.
* Once the game started, an unusual problem developed. The director had never seen a football game and didn't realize the action could move in any direction, north, south, east or west, on any given play.
* One of the three cameras, on the runway along the top of the Rose Bowl, malfunctioned and they could only use it for close-ups of play-by-play man Welsh.
* Welsh didn't have a monitor so the only way he had of knowing what they were showing was to communicate via earphones with the director in the control truck.
* About two minutes into the game, a wind came up and blew Welsh's program and notes all over the Arroyo Seco.
* About everything that could go wrong did, not only for the telecast, but for UCLA, who lost 45-14. So Welsh, who was very optimistic about the future of television started to doubt the possibilities.
* Welsh left KTLA in 1950, moving to KTTV where he had a long and successful career as a sportscaster. Dick Lane stayed on and eventually became famous for his play-by-play of wrestling, roller derby and auto racing.

A few weeks later, W6XYZ became KTLA, the first commercially licensed TV station west of the Mississippi and moved to channel 5. In March, televisions became widely available to the general public. At that time, another local TV legend, Stan Chambers, was taking radio broadcasting classes at USC when he heard that KTLA was about to come on the air. He called the program director and pitched a broadcast version of a magazine he helped publish on campus and one of the ideas was to interview UCLA basketball star Don Barksdale, who became the first Bruin athlete to be featured on local TV. It aired in April of 1947. The number of television sets in the area quickly grew to an estimated 3000.

KTLA then signed up Loyola for the first college football games commercially shown on the west coast. Their telecast of the 1948 Rose Bowl was the first local commercial telecast of a college football bowl game. (The few Bruin fans with TV's must have enjoyed that game immensely - final score: Michigan 49, USC 0).

KLAC-TV (channel 13) began operating in September of 1948 as an independent and needed something to make a big splash in order to compete with the three existing stations in the market, KTLA-TV (owned by the Mutual Broadcasting System) and KTSL (channel 2) and KFI-TV (channel 9) which had just begun broadcasting in May and August. So they paid $75,000 for the rights to the UCLA and USC football games and those schools' games were the first programs they televised. (Compare that with the University of Alabama's earning $10,000 for telecasts on a 60-station network that year. In 1946, the Chicago Bears had to pay a local station to air their games and made only $900 a game by 1948 .)

So the first local telecast of a UCLA football game on commercial TV appears to have been on September 18, 1948. The Bruins beat Washington St 48-26 at the Coliseum. (The USC-Utah game was telecast the previous night). Union Oil was the sponsor but the announcer remains unknown. At that point, there were approximately 16,000 TV sets in the L.A. area. (In October of that year, the CBS network began a "Football Roundup", broadcasting six games at the same time and switching to wherever the action was, a concept some 60 years ahead of its time but doomed to failure then.)

Here is a TV log for the week of Oct 17-23, 1948:

The Bruin season went downhill from there with the team losing seven of the last nine games, never scoring more than 14 points in the losses. Just two years removed from an undefeated regular season and a Rose Bowl berth, Coach Bert LaBrucherier resigned under pressure after the season and ended up at Cal Tech the next year. A little known coach from Vanderbilt, Henry "Red" Sanders, was hired to replace him. Did the increased exposure by televising the games lead to his downfall? Probably not, but it's worth pondering.

In order to top that, KTTV-TV (channel 11) paid $100,000 for the rights to the 1949 Rose Bowl game which was their first telecast ever. Since these were money losing deals, none of the existing stations bid anything near $75,000 for the 1949 rights to the Bruin and Trojan games. The colleges had to relent to let sponsorships be sold to cigarette and liquor companies. A clause was also considered (but dropped) to have the stations reimburse the schools if attendance dropped below a designated figure. The rights were finally obtained by another new station looking for attention, KECA-TV (channel 7) for $77,000 and got sponsorships from Hoffman Radio and Dodge automobiles. In order to generate interest, they had the local newspapers poll their readers to choose the announcers for the games.

So three television stations in Los Angeles debuted with college football telecasts. But by 1950, with the explosion of households with television sets, schools were so concerned about television hurting attendance, the Big Ten tried to ban live local telecasts as the NFL had done in 1949. (One exception was for the Los Angeles Rams in 1950 when the sponsors agreed to make up for any losses caused by declining attendance. That experiment failed when attendance dropped by 50% and they had to pay more than $200,000.) The NCAA severely restricted broadcasts of college football from the 1950's until a judge ruled that the action was a violation of antitrust rules in 1982, which allowed for a much greater expansion of college football broadcasting.

Broadcasts of UCLA football games have come a long way in the nearly 70 years since that first telecast of the 1947 Rose Bowl . . . or have they? Criticism of announcers and camera angles and limited access for many fans hasn't changed and maybe never will.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.

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