NBC Broadcasts the Baseball World Series

Television coverage of the 1947 World Series helped create a boom in the sale of television sets and establish a lasting link between television and professional sports.

Summary of Event

In the early fall of 1947, the hectic pace of life slowed in New York City, as baseball became the chief preoccupation of its usually bustling citizenry. The upstart Dodgers of Brooklyn won the championship of the National League, and the powerful Yankees returned to their pre-World War II mastery of the American League. The two were to clash in a rematch of the 1941 World Series (won by the Yankees) in a city where only a fraction of the eight million residents could attend the best-of-seven-games series. Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field held only thirty-four thousand seats, and even massive Yankee Stadium could accommodate only seventy-four thousand fans. [kw]NBC Broadcasts the Baseball World Series (Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 1947)
[kw]Baseball World Series, NBC Broadcasts the (Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 1947)
[kw]World Series, NBC Broadcasts the Baseball (Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 1947)
Baseball;television broadcasting
Baseball;World Series
Television;sports broadcasts
World Series (baseball)
Brooklyn Dodgers
New York Yankees
Baseball;television broadcasting
Baseball;World Series
Television;sports broadcasts
World Series (baseball)
Brooklyn Dodgers
New York Yankees
[g]North America;Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 1947: NBC Broadcasts the Baseball World Series[02130]
[g]United States;Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 1947: NBC Broadcasts the Baseball World Series[02130]
[c]Sports;Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 1947: NBC Broadcasts the Baseball World Series[02130]
[c]Radio and television;Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 1947: NBC Broadcasts the Baseball World Series[02130]
[c]Popular culture;Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 1947: NBC Broadcasts the Baseball World Series[02130]
Sarnoff, David
Folsom, Frank
DiMaggio, Joe
Gionfriddo, Al
Dean, Dizzy

Sensing the presence of an avid potential audience, David Sarnoff, the president of the Radio Corporation of America Radio Corporation of America (RCA), decided to expand RCA’s rudimentary television system to cover the 1947 World Series. This decision brought together for the first time two of the giants in the entertainment industry: big league baseball—for several decades the nation’s most popular professional sport—and television, which would soon leap from the electronic laboratory to dominate mass communications.

Sarnoff and RCA faced a basic problem in their plans to promote a profit-making television broadcasting system: There were only eight thousand television sets in the possession of consumers in 1947. Potential viewers would purchase a television receiver (which was a very expensive item in 1947) only if they were convinced that it could present to them programs of compelling interest. However, RCA’s television operation, a new division of the National Broadcasting Company National Broadcasting Company;early television programming (or NBC), did not have the experience to produce television programs with mass-audience appeal. Without a large audience, NBC could not sell advertising time to sponsors—the essential factor in generating income.

One solution to this dilemma was the coverage of athletic events, which NBC had already begun as early as 1944 with the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. Gillette Cavalcade of Sports (television program) The Gillette Safety Razor Company was satisfied with its sponsorship of the earlier program and agreed to purchase advertising time on the broadcast of the 1947 World Series. NBC’s coverage of the 1947 World Series became an experiment that pulled together for the first time crucial ingredients for success in commercial broadcasting: a program with innate mass appeal, a limited but potentially huge viewing audience, and a corporation willing to pay for air time to advertise a product.

NBC’s decision to cover the 1947 World Series was not simply the product of postwar economics but also the outgrowth of RCA’s work with television technology, which had begun in the late 1920’s. David Sarnoff had spent considerable money to support technical experiments and to purchase patents. He had also weathered rugged competition from inventors such as Philo Farnsworth and corporate challengers such as Philco. Sarnoff’s 1939 decision to push for the expansion of commercial broadcasting led to a flurry of activity that included television coverage of a college baseball game between Princeton University and Columbia University on May 17, 1939. World War II soon intervened, however, and commercial television temporarily lost its impetus.

Sarnoff had an imperial presence in the boardrooms of RCA and NBC, but one of his able associates, Frank Folsom, played an important part in the decision to emphasize popular sports in the early days of television. Sarnoff was a Russian émigré with aristocratic tastes and an obsessive interest in technology; Folsom was a pragmatic marketing expert who had earned his corporate reputation at Montgomery Ward. The two seemed to bring together a vigorous combination of technical innovation and inventive marketing that contributed to NBC’s success with the 1947 World Series.

Most of the nation’s television sets were concentrated in the New York area, where the 1947 World Series had a special appeal, but these seven games offered an unusual display of player virtuosity and fan excitement. In the fourth game, the Yankees’ Bill Bevens Bevens, Bill needed only one more out to complete the first no-hit game in World Series history when Cookie Lavagetto Lavagetto, Cookie , the Dodgers’ second-string third baseman, slammed a double off the Ebbets Field outfield wall that not only broke up the no-hitter but also gave Brooklyn a victory. The legendary Joe DiMaggio hit two home runs in the series, but he was deprived of a third home run in the sixth game by a seemingly impossible running catch made some 415 feet from home plate by the fast-footed Al Gionfriddo. Had Gionfriddo not made the catch, DiMaggio’s drive would have put the Yankees ahead in the sixth game and could have decided the outcome of the series. Gionfriddo’s feat astonished the seventy-four thousand spectators, twenty-five Yankees, and the television audience. In spite of the remarkable efforts of Gionfriddo and Lavagetto, the Dodgers fell to the Yankees, whose relief pitcher, Joe Page Page, Joe , turned in a stellar performance in the seventh and decisive game.

The excitement of television coverage of a dramatic World Series created widespread public interest, but there were problems for the broadcast medium. The New York Times commented that the television camera in Yankee Stadium could not handle the sharp contrast between sections of the field bathed in bright sunlight and the shadows cast on the infield by the stands behind home plate. The cameras also had difficulty in following the rapid movement of a batted ball and in covering the simultaneous actions of runners and fielders. Nevertheless, NBC’s broadcast of the World Series achieved its purpose of stimulating public interest in television and stimulating the sale of television sets. Many sports fans’ initial experience with television came in viewing the 1947 World Series in the confines of a neighborhood bar, where the cost was limited to the price of a beer.


The broadcast of the 1947 World Series spread out through a primitive network that reached four cities: New York, Philadelphia, Schenectady (New York), and Washington, D.C. Although there were other factors involved in promoting the sale of television sets, the broadcast must be considered a major contribution to the cultivation of public fascination with the medium. In particular, the adult male sports fan was, in a still male-dominated society, generally the primary wage earner in a family. His response to television coverage of the World Series and to peer pressure within America’s sports-oriented culture was a crucial factor in his decision to purchase a television set. After the fall of 1947, the consumer demand for television sets grew rapidly. Households with television rose from 8,000 in 1946 to 300,000 in 1948 to 4 million by 1950. Sarnoff and Folsom presided over the growth of NBC television into a nationwide network with huge advertising revenues.

Baseball and television became inextricably, if at times unhappily, linked after 1947. The problems in telecasting day games declined with improvements in camera capability in the 1950’s, but the complexity and rapidity of crucial plays continued to defy even the most skilled director. These brief moments of intense excitement were spread out over a two-to-three-hour period in which ruminative pitchers and dawdling hitters could slow the pace of the game to a veritable standstill. Announcers searched for interesting commentary, and television viewers left for the kitchen. Former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean provided a solution on the Columbia Broadcasting System’s Columbia Broadcasting System;sports programming (CBS) Game of the Week
Game of the Week (television program) in the mid-1950’s with his never-ending stream of anecdotes, corn-pone humor, and—when all else failed—a full-voiced rendition of the folk-pop song “The Wabash Cannonball.” In his disarming, folksy style, Dean pioneered color commentary and linked it to a sanitized version of sports humor that later broadcasters could only mimic or praise.

Baseball soon found a formidable competitor in the television sports arena—professional football. Encouraged by the commercial success of baseball on television, the networks moved cautiously into the fall season’s Sunday afternoon games in the 1950’s. Professional football was at the time a marginal operation that occasionally grabbed the headlines with the presence of a few former college all-Americans. The game itself, however, was better suited than baseball for the technology of television. The center of action was the line of scrimmage, which moved across a measured and carefully lined one-hundred-yard field. The sideline camera could follow most of the action with ease.

The relationship between television and sports intensified as broadcasts drew larger audiences and, therefore, larger advertising revenue. For both baseball and football, television came to mean a substantial increase in team owners’ profits and players’ salaries. By the 1970’s, football commissioner Pete Rozelle Rozelle, Pete and baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn Kuhn, Bowie worked more as heads of multimillion-dollar corporate entities than as coordinators of sports associations. Both Kuhn and Rozelle saw large television contracts as crucial to the health of their respective organizations.

Professional football’s golden era in the 1970’s and 1980’s glittered all the more because of improvements in television technology, especially the magnetic-tape video recorder, which made the slow-motion replay possible. Baseball also eventually benefited from this and other changes. The videotape replay, along with new camera lenses and higher-quality pictures, made baseball a much more photogenic subject. The outfield camera, usually located just behind and above the left-center-field fence, provided a close study of the micro-war over home plate involving the pitcher and the catcher pitted against the hitter. Slow-motion replay and multiple camera angles made it possible to review the details of quick double plays and stolen bases and the trajectories of towering home runs, deceptive curveballs, and floating knuckleballs.

The symbiotic relationship between television and professional sports created a bonanza in income for both, but in the process also created a new, and not entirely admirable, dimension in the culture of sports in the United States. In its first two decades, television conveyed feats of prowess and courage that helped build the heroic personas of baseball’s Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Willie Mays and football’s Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown. By the 1970’s, though, television’s contribution to mythic image-making diminished. The flood of advertising income made sports stars into millionaires at the same time that journalism exposed some wealthy stars in all of their lust for money and media attention. The improvements in video technology and corresponding adjustments by directors, announcers, and analysts, however, presented in unprecedented detail the continuation of the decades-old drama of confrontation and the humorous mixture of playful exaltation and sly sarcasm that carries professional sports beyond its darker side of meanness and greed. Baseball;television broadcasting
Baseball;World Series
Television;sports broadcasts
World Series (baseball)
Brooklyn Dodgers
New York Yankees

Further Reading

  • Abramson, Albert. The History of Television, 1880 to 1941. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1987. A detailed account of the scientific experiments and engineering innovations that resulted in workable television broadcast systems before World War II.
  • Barnouw, Erik. Tube of Plenty: The Evolution of American Television. 1975. 2d rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Broad survey of the history of television, with emphasis on entertainment and news programs. Little attention to televised sports, but a thorough examination of general trends in the industry.
  • Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism. 1978. Reprint. New York: Norton, 1991. A wide-ranging critique of American culture. Chapter 5, “The Degradation of Sport,” is an indictment of the impact of television on athletics, especially football. A widely accessible book.
  • Lyons, Eugene. David Sarnoff: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1966. A sympathetic biography of the founder of RCA. Lyons stresses Sarnoff’s insights into technological advancement and his organizational skills.
  • Morgan, Edward P. “Fifty-Mile Bleachers.” Collier’s, September 27, 1947, 128-132. Interesting description of the arrival of televised sports to bars in the weeks before the 1947 World Series. Includes discussions of the growth of television and the use of different types of television sets.
  • Rader, Benjamin. American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2004. A wide-ranging history of sports and athletics in the United States, from early America to the early twenty-first century. Includes discussion of professional sports in the television age.
  • _______. In Its Own Image: How Television Has Transformed Sports. New York: Free Press, 1984. Provocative study of the impact of television on sports, emphasizing the 1950’s and 1960’s, when sports became a major part of television broadcasting. Also contrasts the attitudes and actions of players in the age of big-budget television with the heroic images of players from earlier decades, laments the triumph of high salaries and selfishness over discipline and teamwork, and connects the transformation to larger changes in politics and culture.
  • Smith, Curt. America’s Dizzy Dean. St. Louis, Mo.: Bethany, 1978. A thoughtful biography of the hard-throwing pitcher. Smith traces Dean’s career from his days as a big-league star to his comeback as a popular baseball broadcaster.
  • Sobel, Robert. RCA. New York: Stein & Day, 1986. A critical history of the corporation from the 1920’s to the early 1980’s, with Sarnoff as the central character. Discusses many of RCA’s internal struggles as well as its bitter competition with other communications companies. Chapters 6-8 set the context of the decision to broadcast the 1947 World Series.
  • Stein, Fred. A History of the Baseball Fan. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2005. Major-league baseball agreed to have the World Series televised because of baseball’s large audience—its fans. This work explores the history of how baseball fans have shaped, and been shaped by, professional baseball.
  • Voigt, David Quentin. From Postwar Expansion to the Electronic Age. Vol. 3 in American Baseball. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1983. History of baseball that combines interesting detail with measured generalizations and provides solid background on the emergence of televised baseball.

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