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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 31, 1931

Welcome to the final day of July 2012!

Seven months of 2012 gone already! I can't believe this year is going by so fast! Before you know it, we'll be opening up Christmas presents.

(Well, provided that the world doesn't end that is. Which it won't. Mark my words.)

So, because it's Tuesday, we're going to take a look at some of the happenings all around the world for July 31st.

I think that we'll start off our look back on July 31 by talking about the famous people who happen to have a birthday today. Blowing out the candles on their cakes today are Don Murray, Geoffrey Lewis, Susan Flannery, Lobo, Geraldine Chapman, Gary Lewis, Lane Davies, Barry Van Dyke, Chris Ahrens, Alan Autry, Derek Smith, Michael Biehn, Dirk Blocker, Bill Berry (R.E.M.), Wally Kurth, Stanley Jordan, Wesley Snipes, Jim Corr (The Corrs), J.K. Rowling, Dean Cain, Mark Cuban, Ben Chaplin, Amanda Stepto, Gabe Kapler, Mike Lincoln, Ruben Patterson, Will Champion (Coldplay), Nick Sorenson, J.J. Furmaniak, B.J. Novak, Eric Lively, and Rico Rodriguez II.

Now let's take a look at some of the events that took place on this day in history. On the 31st of July, the following happened...

781 – The oldest recorded eruption of Mt. Fuji

1009 – Pope Sergius IV becomes the 142nd pope, succeeding Pope John XVIII

1492 – The Jews are expelled from Spain after the Alhambra Decree takes effect

1498 – Christopher Columbus becomes the third explorer to discover the island nation of Trinidad

1588 – The Spanish Armada is spotted off the coast of England

1715 – Spanish treasure fleet of ten ships departs Havana, Cuba for Spain, only to have nine of them sink due to a Florida storm, treasure is salvaged from wrecks centuries later

1790 – The first American patent is granted to Samuel Hopkins, who invented a new potash process

1856 – Christchurch, New Zealand is chartered as a city

1913 – The Balkan States sign an armistace at Bucharest

1930 – The radio mystery program, “The Shadow” airs for the first time

1938 – Archaeologists discover gold and silver plates from King Darius the Great in Persepolis

1940 – A doodlebug train in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio collides with a multi-car freight train heading in the opposite direction, 43 are pronounced dead

1941 – Adolf Hitler gives instructions to Nazi official Hermann Goring to come up with a plan devised as a “desired final solution of the Jewish question”.

1945 – Pierre Laval, former leader of Vichy, France, surrenders to Allied soldiers in Austria

1948 – New York International Airport (later renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport) is officially dedicated

1954 – The first ascent of K2 occurs, led by Ardito Desio

1964 – Ranger 7 sends back first close-up photographs of the moon, with a resolution over 1,000 times clearer than anything seen from earth-bound telescopes

1972 – The British Army re-takes urban no-go areas of Northern Ireland, leading to several car bombs detonating in the area, killing nine.

1987 – A class F4 tornado strikes down in Edmonton, Alberta, killing 27, and causing $330 million in damage

1992 - On a day in which two deadly air crashes take place in China and Nepal, the country of Georgia joins the United Nations

2007 – Operation Banner in Northern Ireland comes to an end

That's quite a lot of history for July 31st. Some of it was wonderful, some of it was tragic, and in reference to 1941, some of it was scary.

So, what date will we spotlight this week?

Well, we're going back 81 years in time to July 31, 1931.

Eighty-one years ago, in New York City, there was a lot of buzz surrounding a brand new form of media. Prior to 1931, many people got their news and entertainment through newspapers and the radio.

July 31, 1931 marked the first day of operation for the station W2XAB using a new mechanical television system that people tested, and almost perfected by the late 1920s. The first broadcast of the station featured then New York City mayor Jimmy Walker, singer Kate Smith, and composer George Gershwin.

Unbeknownst to everybody at the time, this particular station was a pioneer in the world of television. W2XAB became the very first television station to broadcast a 7-day a week broadcasting schedule, airing programming 28 hours per week. Back in those days, this was a lot, especially considering that it would be another two decades before households would end up having television sets in their homes.

The station also made history a year and a half after the station's debut on November 8, 1932 when it became the station to broadcast the first television coverage of a presidential election.

But just when things were going great, W2XAB ended up hitting a snag during the winter of 1933. In February of that year, the station was forced off the air due to the fact that monochrome television transmission standards were in flux, and the decision was then made to change the mode of operation from mechanical to electronic.

It would be another seven years before W2XAB returned, on September 3, 1940. That date was also a historic one, as the station aired its first colour broadcast in the United States.

A few months later, on June 24, 1941, a little less than ten years since the station first went to air, W2XAB received a commercial construction permit and program authorization as WCBW. A week later, on July 1, WCBW went on the air at 2:30pm. It began airing one hour after rival WNBT began airing, making WCBW the second authorized fully commercial television station in the United States. WCBW's first broadcast happened to be the first local news broadcast ever aired on an American commercial station. Initially, the program schedules jumped all over the place the first few months of wouldn't be until late October that regular daily operations would begin. The initial assigned frequency of the station was 60-66 MHz, taking position on the Channel 2 dial. After the Second World War ended in 1945, the FCC re-allocated television and FM bands, and WCBW moved to a new frequency beginning in 1946.

By the end of 1946, the station changed its name once again after the FCC began allowing television stations that were owned by radio stations in the same city to use the same call letters as the radio station with the suffix-TV.

Beginning on November 1, 1946, the station became known as WCBS-TV.

Yes, that's correct. On July 31, 1931, the flagship CBS television station first went on the air. How's that for an interesting piece of trivia?

Over the 81-year history of the television station, WCBS-TV had had many historical firsts. It was the first television station to broadcast the first baseball game on colour television between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Braves (Boston beat Brooklyn 8-1). It was one of the final stations to end analog transmissions in 2009. 

And during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC, WCBS was one of only two New York based television stations to stay on the air (the other one was VH1). Although its main transmitter had been located in the North Tower of the World Trade Center since 1975 (which also served as the location of almost all New York City television stations at that time), it also had a back-up transmitter at the Empire State Building, which kept the station on the air. Ironically enough, the back-up transmitter was used once before in February 1993, when a bomb detonated at the World Trade Center.

The television station also boasted a huge list of celebrities that had some affiliation with WCBS-TV over the years. Among some of the most notable alumni of WCBS are; Julie Chen, Diane Dimond, Ira Joe Fisher, Leeza Gibbons, Frank Gifford, Jim Jensen, Lynda Lopez (Jennifer Lopez's sister), Bill O'Reilly, Dave Price, John Roberts, Joel Siegel, John Stossel, John Tesh, Jane Velez-Mitchell, Meredith Vieira, Bree Walker, Robb Weller, and Brian Williams.

Of course, the station hasn't been without its share of controversy. In 1994, anchor Jim Jensen found himself demoted to hosting a morning public-affairs show that aired on Sundays only. At that time, Jensen was the longest serving anchor in New York City, and his treatment was highly criticized by New Yorkers.

Another controversy also surrounded Jensen after his co-anchor Bree Walker revealed on air that she had a condition known as ectrodactyly (which causes the fingers and toes to fuse together), and shortly after her report, Jensen actually asked her if she believed that her parents would have aborted her if they knew she would be born that way. The question shocked Walker, and although she maintained her composure, she quit the station not too long after that. And there was also the “1996 massacre”, which saw seven key people fired from WCBS-TV in October 1996 with no advance warning whatsoever. It was seen as a move to shake up the news operation in order to boost ratings, but the seven people who were let go (John Johnson, Michele Marsh, Tony Guida, Reggie Harris, Magee Hickey, Roseanne Colletti, and Bernie Smilovitz) must have been shocked, and likely a little angry over the situation. I know I would be if I were them.

However, despite this controversy, the television station still continues strong. And to think that it all began eighty-one years ago, on July 31, 1931.

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