TELEVISIONS COME TO COKATO


In the last issue of In The Midst Of, we wrote about the arrival of radios in Cokato and people’s reaction to that event. In that same spirit, we now examine what happened when the next technological wonder arrived—television.

Derived from the Greek word meaning far and a Latin word meaning to see (literal translation: to see far), television operates on the simple principle of converting electromagnetic signals into visible pictures and audible sounds. While television as we know it developed in the late 1920s, it would not be until after World War II that televisions arrived in Cokato.

“Television History Made In Cokato” declared a headline of the May 13, 1948 Cokato Enterprise. Dennis Breitholtz, owner of Breitholtz Electric Company, located on South Broadway Avenue, brought the wonder of television to the community. Curtis Servin, a business partner of Breitholtz, erected a forty-five foot aerial antenna from street level to garner a signal.

The two men attached a General Electric (G.E.) brand receiver unit to the antenna. They were able to pull in the KSTP broadcasts of the Minneapolis Millers baseball team from Nicollet Park, an impressive feat with the station’s tower located sixty miles away in St. Paul. The screen on the t.v. was six by eight inches—smaller than the size of this page of the newsletter.

Both men received a letter of congratulations from G.E.’s supply company in Minneapolis for their efforts.

Following that introduction, it did not take long for another t.v. to arrive. Less than one week later, Cokato Hardware and Implement Company set up at their store a Philco-brand set. And what did they watch on this receiver? The Minneapolis Millers baseball game from Nicollet Park on KSTP.

Within a few short years, other brands like Motorola, RCA and Zenith joined the television craze. Many popular radio shows made the jump to t.v., like the Lone Ranger. Milton Berle (aka “Uncle Miltie”), also a radio star, ran his variety show, “The Texaco Star Theater,” from 1948 to 1956. Weekly serials—just like radio—became popular. And for the daytime audiences, games shows like The $64,000 Question, and soap operas, became standard fare.

For those who are curious, the longest running show on t.v. is still on the air. It is the Sunday morning public affairs show, Meet the Press, first nationally broadcast on November 20, 1947, becoming a weekly program in September 1948. The popular western Gunsmoke (another cross-over from radio) holds the distinction as the longest-running prime-time show, running from 1955—1975.

Local stores such as Leroy Kivi and Dick Kallstrom’s K & K Appliance, Max Kusserow’s Marshell Wells Store, and Curtis Rost and Wayne McKay’s Rost-McKay T.V. & Appliance, provided residents of the Cokato area with a wide selection of television sets and repair services. Some repairmen even came right to your home to fix the ailing t.v. What a novel concept.

The socio-economic impact of television is a subject not lacking in examination, and there is no denying its tremendous impact. In 1963, Federal Communications Commission chairman, Newton Minnow, decried television as a “vast wasteland.” (Imagine if Mr. Minnow was alive now?)

In response, Sherwood Schwartz, creator of the series, Gilligan’s Island, subtly skewered the chairman by naming the ship on the show after him: the S. S. Minnow.

Later advances in television viewing, including cable, satellite, and TiVo, continue the evolution of how this medium shapes our culture. The long-term effects of these advances are best left for future historians to ponder.

This article first appeared in the January 2005 (V. 25 No. 1) edition of In The Midst Of.   © 2005, Cokato Historical Society