Sixty years ago today (June 3, 1953), The New York Times declared the “birth of international television.” From Broadcast Engineering:
Satellite coverage of the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer enabled the largest audience ever, an estimated 750 million people worldwide, to watch the fairytale spectacle playout in real time. The challenge of that broadcast was a far cry from the one faced by CBS and NBC news departments when some years earlier, during those Byzantine-era presatellite days, the networks struggled to provide same-day coverage of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London.
In order to provide the first same-day coverage of an event on another continent, the networks undertook a planning and logistics nightmare. The year was 1953, the introduction of videotape was still several years away, and film and kinescope capture ruled. The networks sent production teams to London, chartered aircraft with seats removed to make room for film processing and editing equipment, and the race was on between CBS and NBC to see who could air the first coronation footage. One of the more comical episodes, although I am sure not comical to those involved, occurred at the conclusion of the coronation when the taxi rushing the CBS film and crew to London’s Heathrow Airport ran out of gas!
Interestingly, although it was NBC who edged out CBS by just minutes to be first on-air with coronation footage, it was the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that had actually trumped both of the U.S. television networks.
The CBC aired film that had been flown from London to Goose Bay, Canada; Goose Bay to Labrador, Canada, by jet aircraft; on to Montreal by Canadian fighter jets and then helicoptered to the CBC network facility. Determining in the final minutes that CBS was about to beat them, after several frantic phone calls, NBC secured the lines and the OK to pick up and air the CBC’s coverage. A hollow NBC victory at best, it was CBS that aired its own shot and edited film report of the coronation during its evening broadcast and earned plaudits in the following day’s “New York Times.” The June 3 edition of the “Times” reported that CBS’ coverage of the coronation was the “birth of international television.”