Geek Trivia

The First Station In The U.S. To Broadcast Digital TV Was Located In?

Los Angeles, California
Chicago, Illinois
Raleigh, North Carolina
New York, New York
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Answer: Raleigh, North Carolina

Not only might you be surprised to see where the first digital TV broadcast took place, Raleigh, NC, but when: way back in 1996. Although HDTV and the digital broadcast system it is built on is now a mainstay of broadcast TV today, it was entirely a curiosity back in the 1990s.

In fact, the first broadcast, sent out by WRAL-TV, a CBS affiliate in Raleigh, was so experimental and ahead of the curve that it preceded the sale of HDTV sets in the U.S. by 2 years (sets wouldn’t become available until 1998). The broadcast was a critical demonstration of early digital transmission technology. From the station’s historical account of the event, courtesy of WRAL:

On May 9, 1996, WRAL-TV filed the first application in the nation for a license to operate a high-definition television station. On June 19, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted WRAL-TV the first experimental HDTV license in the country. The new station, WRAL-HD, operated on channel 32 at 100 kilowatts with an antenna 1,750 feet above the ground.

Thirty-four days later, on July 23, 1996, WRAL transmitted the first digital signal. It culminated 20 years of dreaming and planning by broadcasters around the world. It took an army of engineers and equipment experts those 34 days to get to transmission capability.

In order to make the deadline, everyone worked almost around the clock, doing in 34 days what normally should have taken eight to 10 weeks to accomplish: installing a brand new Harris HD transmitter.

Television history was made as WRAL shared the first public demonstrations of the new high-definition technology in the nation. Over 200 members of the media and the television industry watched their first HDTV show at the WRAL studios. The demonstration was a joint exhibit by WRAL and the HD Model Station in Washington, DC.

On July 24, the FCC granted an extension of the experimental license to continue operations and testing of the HDTV signal. For these experiments, WRAL-HD was operating at 100 kilowatts of effective radiated power from an antenna that was placed at 1,736 feet on WRAL-TV’s main tower near Garner, N.C.

Putting aside that early experiment in broadcasting, the first formal broadcast (that, thanks to early HDTV sales, was seen by more than a few people in the Carolinas) was the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-95) and John Glenn’s return to space in October of 1998.