Seventy-Five Years of Radio with Pictures

A NBC television crew sets up outside of the RCA Pavillion at the New York City World's Fair, 1939.

A NBC television crew sets up outside of the RCA Pavilion at the New York City World’s Fair, 1939.

Last Tuesday, a bunch of people went to Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, the site of the 1964 World’s Fair to tour the Phillip Johnson–designed New York State Pavilion. The Pavilion was open to the public to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 1964 World’s Fair. As with any free event in New York City, there was an hours-long line, and two people I know that went didn’t even get inside despite waiting over four hours. 

New York State Pavilion 2014

Although it is still standing, the New York State Pavilion is in dire need of attention. Restoring or repairing it could cost as much as $75 million, and demolishing it would still cost around $14 million. These huge sums however have not deterred many groups from trying to restore the structure, a rare example of Googie architecture in New York City.

Some of the efforts to preserve the Pavilion include:

The World of Tomorrow… Tomorrow

Flashing back even further, Flushing Meadows–Corona Park was also home to the 1939’s World Fair, and on April 30, 1939, seventy-five years ago today, the 1939 World’s Fair opened to the public. This date, by the way, was also the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington

A statue representing the Freedom of the Press stands opposite a statue of George Washington, inaugurated 150 years earlier as the first president of the United States. (AP Photo.)

A statue representing the Freedom of the Press stands opposite a statue of George Washington, inaugurated 150 years earlier as the first president of the United States. (AP Photo.)

Speaking of presidents, President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened the Fair, the first such exposition in his home state.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt opens the 1939 World's Fair. (AP Photo/John Lindsay)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt opens the 1939 World’s Fair. (AP Photo/John Lindsay)

The theme of the 1939 World’s Fair was the “World of Tomorrow.” Many of the corporate exhibits, such as General Motor’s Futurama, anticipated the role that consumerism would play in revolutionizing culture. The highways that would reshape the American landscape a decade later, for example, were on display as models at the Futurama exhibit.

Highways of the future. "Futurama" exhibit. New York City World's Fair. (New York Public Library, ID: 1674383.)

Highways of the future. “Futurama” exhibit. New York City World’s Fair. (New York Public Library, Digital ID: 1674383.)

Now We Add Sight to Sound

To media scholars, the 1939’s World Fair is synonymous with the introduction of television. Although they didn’t invent it, RCA introduced television to the American public and, in very simple terms, explained its purpose.

RCA President, David Sarnoff, at the RCA Pavilion, New York City World's Fair, 1939. (New York Public Library, Digital ID: 1681003.)

RCA President, David Sarnoff, at the RCA Pavilion, New York City World’s Fair, 1939. (New York Public Library, Digital ID: 1681003.)

David Sarnoff, the president of RCA, clearly defined how television would work:

Now we add sight to sound.

Regardless of what television could do, RCA’s presentation of television introduced it with a clear purpose. RCA would guide television as an extension of radio. It would offer similar programming to what Americans heard on the radio in the 1930s, but with the addition of pictures. In the next decade, television would in effect supplant radio as the dominant entertainment medium, but it would still offer mostly entertainment programming sponsored by advertisers.

Or, you know, radio with pictures.

A few years ago, the New York Public Library curated an online exhibit of the 1939 World’s Fair, complete with an accompanying iPad app. It’s an informative way to lose a few hours.

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