The 1930s and the First Televised Game

Ebbets Field Hosts Football History

The now-essential relationship between pro football and television actually began on October 22, 1939. That’s when the National Broadcasting Company earned a spot in pro football history by becoming the first network to televise a pro football game.Walz_Skip_250-175

A meager crowd of 13,050 were on hand at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field on that now-historic day when the Philadelphia Eagles fell to Brooklyn’s Dodgers 23-14. The game included play by three future Hall of Famers - quarterback Ace Parker and tackle Bruiser Kinard for the Dodgers and end Bill Hewitt for the Eagles. 

Five hundred-or-so fortunate New Yorkers who owned television sets witnessed the game in the comfort of their own homes, over NBC’s experimental station W2XBS. Many others saw the telecast on monitors while visiting the RCA Pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York where it was scheduled as a special event.

According to Allen (Skip) Walz, the NBC play-by-play announcer, only eight people were needed for the telecast. Walz had none of the visual aids -monitors, screens or spotters - used today, and there were just two iconoscope cameras. One was located in the box seats on the 40-yard line and the other was in the stadium’s mezzanine section. 

"I’d sit with my chin on the rail in the mezzanine, and the camera was over my shoulder," remembered Walz. "I did my own spotting, and when the play moved up and down the field, on punts or kickoffs, I’d point to tell the cameraman what I’d be talking about."

The television log records of that day say that the game began at 2:30 p.m. and ran for exactly two hours, thirty-three minutes and ten seconds. By comparison today’s games run almost three full hours. Of course there were no commercial interruptions during the 1939 game. There were, however, interruptions of another sort. 

"It was a cloudy day, when the sun crept behind the stadium there wasn’t enough light for the cameras," according to Walz. "The picture would get darker and darker, and eventually it would go completely blank, and we’d revert to a radio broadcast." Such an occurrence would create a furor today, but in 1939 it was simply technology at its best.