in the Texas Hill
Country had been listening to radio for a quarter century before
Elbert Hahne's television set turned invisible signals into squiggly
images on a 10 inch screen.
The ability to send live images through the air had been around
since the early 20th century, but in the beginning the technology
had no practical purpose. Then the business establishment realized
television's value as entertainment, paid for by advertising, and
slowly built a network of TV stations.
By the spring of 1949 there were 2 television stations in Texas:
WBAP-TV in Fort Worth
and KLEE-TV in Houston.
Neither station reached the Hill
TV transmission signals traveled in straight lines and only carried
about 60 miles. Beyond that distance the curvature of the earth
blocked the signals.
Retailers were not even selling TV sets in San
Antonio because there was no market. There were no TV stations
Elbert Hahne, who sold and repaired radios at his shop on the Llano
Highway in Fredericksburg,
had his own ideas about television. He believed he could bring television
to the Hill Country.
All he needed was a TV set and really tall antenna.
On March 28, 1949, at just before 10 in the evening, Hahne, surrounded
by family and friends, turned on the power to his brand new 10 inch
Air King TV set fed by a 57 foot tower. As Hahne slowly turned the
dial a wavy test pattern appeared on the screen followed by what
looked like 2 tiny men in underwear fighting in a snow storm.
That live boxing match, broadcast by station KLEE-TV in Houston,
was probably the first television program seen in Gillespie
By November 1949, Elbert Hahne and at least 3 other retailers in
sold TV sets. Business really picked up when WOAI-TV in San Antonio
went on the air in December 1949.
The smart TV salesman let the television sell itself. Elbert Hahne
placed a TV set in the window of his shop so customers could see
it in operation. He put a sign on his TV tower that lit up when
the television was on.
People came from all over the Hill Country to see Hahne's TV. Some
left with TV sets of their own.
TV sets were expensive, but a buyer could purchase one on the easy
Some old timers tell me that the early television shows were Howdy-Doody,
Milton Berle, the CBS News with Douglas Edwards and the Friday Night
Fights sponsored by Gillette.
Soon television was a part of popular culture. Students at Fredericksburg
High School named the 1950 edition of their yearbook, the "Television
The images seen on a TV screen had amazing power first recognized
by advertisers. Camel Cigarettes, sponsor of John Cameron Swayze's
news program, required Swayze to have a burning cigarette always
visible when he was on camera.
Television affected lives in ways never before imagined. The Fredericksburg
Standard carried a story about a young woman married to an airman
stationed at Bergstrom AFB in Austin who went to Chicago to see
a friend. Her husband filed for divorce after seeing her on TV sitting
between 2 sailors at a wrestling match.
While television was entertaining, it unleashed fears we didn't
know we had. Firemen worried that heat produced by glowing vacuum
tubes would start house fires.
Theater owners worried that people would stay home in the evenings
and watch television rather than buy a ticket to see a movie.
Television took the blame for every problem that came along. Doctors
blasted television for turning Americans into fat and lazy couch
Educators believed SAT scores tanked because students watched "the
idiot box" instead of doing homework.
Worst of all sociologists and psychologists warned that the hypnotic
power of television competed with family, church and school in the
formation of children's values. Society was becoming more violent
as children imitated the brutality on the television screen.
Seems to me those fears are overstated.
While watching television at my house does include a certain amount
of violence and foul language, that's just to see who gets the remote.
February 1, 2020 Column
"Around The Square," Fredericksburg Standard, October
"Television For Fredericksburg? Radio Men Report Receiving Pictures
Here," Fredericksburg Standard, March 30, 1949.
"You Are Invited To See Television," Fredericksburg Standard,
May 18, 1949.
"Television Results in a Divorce Suit," Fredericksburg Standard,
May 10, 1950.