As we have seen so far in both fiction ("Waves of Change" Grantville Gazette, Volume 9) and non-fiction (articles by Rick Boatright and others), the mass media of radio and television are bringing big changes to seventeenth century Europe. In this essay, I will explore the creative and commercial aspects of radio and television, and why I believe that radio will be king in the world of 1632, at least for the foreseeable future. This essay will not touch on the technical aspects of manufacturing televisions versus radios or expand on the problems of transmission already covered by more knowledgeable writers in previous Grantville Gazette issues. Rather, I hope to cover some non-technical reasons why the manufacture of new televisions may be a ways off in Grantville and the shape mass communication policy debate may take in the USE.
A Question of Standards
The first issue that's going to have to be resolved before television can spread will be the broadcasting standard—how many lines of resolution will new television sets be equipped to display? If you've ever wondered why you can't play a DVD or video tape purchased in Europe on your U.S. or Canadian television set (or vice versa), then you've encountered the problem of competing standards. It would be easy to say that new television sets will copy the standard already used in up-time exemplars, and this may well be the case. But this does not mean there won't be a vigorous debate.
Consider how the broadcast standard used in the United States, known as NTSC, came to be. A standard American analog television has a resolution of 525 lines. This was a compromise reached in 1941. In 1936, the Radio Manufacturer's Association (RMA) recommended the U.S. adopt a standard of 441 lines. Perhaps not coincidentally, David Sarnoff, head of RCA, was a major force in the RMA, and RCA's television sets had a 441-line resolution. The NBC television network, owned (surprise!) by RCA, broadcast using the 441 line standard.
Philco, one of RCA's competitors, actually wanted a standard with a far better resolution, between 600 and 800 lines. The agreed-upon standard split the difference. The USE will also have to agree upon a uniform broadcast standard. When television does achieve the kind of market penetration in the USE that it has in many countries uptime, it would never do for a station in, say, Magdeburg to broadcast in a standard that viewers in, for instance, Stockholm will never be able to view. Given that the single operating television station broadcasts in the 525-line NTSC standard, and the existing television sets receive the same, there will no doubt be a lot of people who will push to keep the NTSC standard as new televisions are produced and new television stations come online. But it's by no means set in stone, and if a wealthy and powerful nobleman (or men, or women) back a manufacturer who wants to use a different standard, expect a lively and contentious debate mirroring the VHS versus Betamax wars of the early 80s in our timeline or (for younger readers), the current battle over the next generation of DVD technology.
Radio doesn't have this problem. Crystal sets either have to be tuned to a single radio station, or have a tuning circuit to receive multiple stations (see Rick Boatright's "Radio, Part 3" and Iver Cooper's "The Sound of Mica" in Grantville Gazette, Volume 9 for a more in-depth exploration of the technical aspects involved in making crystal radio sets). With radio there won't be those pesky format issues that television manufacturers will have to face. Not to mention the fact that crystal radios are cheap enough for even the very poor to make (Goodlett and Huff, "Waves of Change")—not something that will ever be true of television sets.
A Question of Production Values
There's no question as to which medium offers the best bargain for production dollars. It's radio, hands down. Enterprising radio producers able to get anyone with a little woodworking skill will be able to make sound effects equipment, some of which—like the slapstick—will probably already be known to seventeenth century theater-goers.
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- The Grantville Gazette Staff