Cable television is arguably the dominant mass media technology in the U.S. today. Blue Skies traces its history in detail, depicting the important events and people that shaped its development, from the precursors of cable TV in the 1920s and '30s to the first community antenna systems in the 1950s, and from the creation of the national satellite-distributed cable networks in the 1970s to the current incarnation of "info-structure" that dominates our lives. Author Patrick Parsons also considers the ways that economics, public perception, public policy, entrepreneurial personalities, the social construction of the possibilities of cable, and simple chance all influenced the development of cable TV.
Since the 1960s, one of the pervasive visions of "cable" has been of a ubiquitous, flexible, interactive communications system capable of providing news, information, entertainment, diverse local programming, and even social services. That set of utopian hopes became known as the "Blue Sky" vision of cable television, from which the book takes its title.
Thoroughly documented and carefully researched, yet lively, occasionally humorous, and consistently insightful, Blue Skies is the genealogy of our media society.
The history of cable television in America is far older than networks like MTV, ESPN, and HBO, which are so familiar to us today. Tracing the origins of cable TV back to the late 1940s, media scholar John McMurria also locates the roots of many current debates about premium television, cultural elitism, minority programming, content restriction, and corporate ownership.
Republic on the Wire takes us back to the pivotal years in which media regulators and members of the viewing public presciently weighed the potential benefits and risks of a two-tiered television system, split between free broadcasts and pay cable service. Digging into rare archives, McMurria reconstructs the arguments of policymakers, whose often sincere advocacy for the public benefits of cable television were fueled by cultural elitism and the priority to maintain order during a period of urban Black rebellions. He also tells the story of the people of color, rural residents, women’s groups, veterans, seniors, and low-income viewers who challenged this reasoning and demanded an equal say over the future of television.
By excavating this early cable history, and placing equality at the center of our understanding of media democracy, Republic on the Wire is a real eye-opener as it develops a new methodology for studying media policy in the past and present.
Ties That Bind
Charles Jacobson University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001 Library of Congress HD2766.J33 2000 | Dewey Decimal 363.60973
In the early days of utility development, municipalities sought to shape the new systems in a variety of ways even as private firms struggled to retain control and fend off competition. In scope and consequence, some of the battles dwarfed the contemporary one between local jurisdictions and cable companies over broadband access to the Internet.
In this comparative historical study, Jacobson draws upon economic theory to shed light on relationships between technology, market forces, and problems of governance that have arisen in connection with different utility networks over the past two hundred years. He focuses on water, electric, and cable television utility networks and on experiences in four major American cities—Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh, arguing that information and transactions costs have played decisive roles in determining how different ownership and regulatory arrangements have functioned in different situations.
Using primary sources and bold conceptualizations, Jacobson begins his study by examining the creation of centralized water systems in the first half of the nineteenth century, moves to the building of electric utilities from the 1880s to the 1980s, and concludes with an analysis of cable television franchising from the 1960s to the 1980s. Ties That Bind addresses highly practical questions of how to make ownership, regulatory, and contracting arrangements work better and also explores broader concerns about private monopoly and the role of government in society.