Even as possibilities with satellites were amazing scientists, the old reliable of mass communication—the wire, sometimes called a landline—was in revival. A radio repair-shop owner in Astoria, Oregon, Ed Parsons, wired the town in 1949 to receive television signals from Seattle, which was too far away for signals to be received unless they were intercepted by a very tall antenna. From an antenna atop a hotel, Parsons was able to send television signals around town through copper wires strung up and down Astoria alleys. In mountainous West Virginia, entrepreneurs also were stringing up local cable systems to distribute television signals that were blocked by terrain. Cable television, as it was called, was a small-town success. On the television industry’s radar, however, cable did not yet really register. Local cable operators only passed on signals from elsewhere, with few cable companies creating any content of their own.
The role of the cable industry changed in 1974 when the Z Channel became the first paid television station in the United States. The Z Channel, which operated out of Santa Monica, California, introduced the concept of letterboxing on television (wide screen). The Z Channel closed down in 1989. HBO (owned by Time, Inc.) debuted in 1975 across the country via a satellite feed to local cable companies. With exclusive programming available to only to subscribers, cable suddenly became very popular, and within a relatively short time, more cable programming services followed. Wall Street investors poured billions of dollars into wiring major cities for cable to meet the demand of millions of people who were eager for HBO, CNN, and other new programming available only through cable operators.
In the 1960s, Corning Glass had developed a cable that was capable of carrying light at incredible speeds—theoretically, 186,000 miles per second. The potential of these
new fiber-optic cables, each strand carrying 60,000 messages simultaneously, was not lost on the telephone industry. So fast was the fiber-optic network that the entire Oxford English Dictionary could be sent in just seconds. Soon hundreds of crews with backhoes were laying fiber-optic cable to replace older copper wires. Coupled with other new technologies, notably digitization of data, the new satellite-based and fiber- optic landline communication systems enabled the introduction of the Internet.
2.5.3 Semiconductor 1. Objective: Explain how digitization led to changes in mass communication
Nobel Winners. The 1956 Nobel Prize went to the inventors of the semiconductor. They had devised tiny, low-cost crystals that could be used as switches to transmit data that had been converted to binary codes of 0s and 1s. Digital communication followed, with innovations that led to today’s global communication networks.
Researchers at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories knew they were on to something important for telephone communication in 1947. Engineers Jack Bardeen, Walter Brittain, and William Shockley had devised glasslike silicon chips—pieces of sand, really—that could be used to respond to a negative or a positive electrical charge. The tiny chips, called semiconductors, functioned very rapidly as on/off switches. With chips, the human voice could be reduced to a stream of digits—1 for on, 0 for off—and then transmitted as rapid-fire pulses and reconstructed so quickly at the other end of the line that the sound was like the real thing. So important was their discovery that Bardeen, Brittain, and Shockley won a Nobel Prize for their work.
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