In all the hoopla over DIRECTV and Viacom yesterday, we missed a very important anniversary! On July 10, 1962, exactly 50 years ago yesterday, the first TV communications satellite was launched. Telstar 1 was created by communications giant AT&T and launched by NASA back in the days before most people even had color television.
This was the first television satellite and the first launch sponsored by a private company. Telstar 1 had one transponder capable of receiving and transmitting color, standard-definition TV. Prior to this time, live programming used long-distance telephone cables while other programs were sent on film using the US Postal Service or private carriers.
Today, July 11th, marks the anniversary of the first transcontinental television signal. It looked like this:
and reached Pleumeur-Bodou, France from a broadcast facility in the United States. Within months, the first publicly available free-to-air satellite broadcasts had begun. Of course, most people did not have expensive satellite dishes at home; it took another 30 years for direct broadcast satellite providers like DIRECTV and DISH to perfect a low-cost solution for satellite reception.
Still, if it wasn’t for Telstar, none of it would be possible. Here’s a newsreel from 1962 talking about the launch:
Telstar is also the only communications satellite to have a hit song named after it. The Tornados scored a hit in August 1962 with this instrumental ode to the little satellite that could: