Saturday, October 31, 2009

An Exceedingly Rare Television Magazine. Local Televisor.

This magazine appeared on ebay last week with a starting bid of $50. Until the last few seconds it stayed under $100 and, at the last moment someone bid over $2000. To both my chagrin and elation, my $2300 snipe was indeed enough to snag it! I doubt I will ever again have an opportunity to obtain another one. While the price hurts a little, the collecting satisfaction is worth it!

This was essentially the last piece of the puzzle for my collection of TV programming guides. Over the years I'd seen a few later issues but never anything close to the first. A collector from Colorado, Bob Reed, had sent me a photostat of the first issue a number of years ago. Reed has an amazing devotion to early TV magazines and I would consider him the leading authority in the subject. Shortly after my win, I received a detailed email from Bob, with documentation of just how rare the magazine is. I also promised him that I would correct an error I had made, in attributing the inception of this magazine to Walter Annenberg. Bob's note to me is worth reprinting in its entirety (with a little copy editing).

"The extreme rarity of the first Local Televiser is beyond question. I will demonstrate by quoting from a couple of sources:

Page 238 of "The Annenbergs" by John Cooney (1982 by Simon & Shuster)
“In Philadelphia, the magazine Annenberg wanted belonged to two brothers, Irvin and Art Borowsky. In 1948, they were in the printing business when they dreamed up the idea of putting up a little TV program guide that could be used as a promotion piece to increase television sales. They received a commitment from local Philco television distributors to pay half the publishing costs as well as provide them with television ownership lists, which were prized, because owners were still such a novelty.

Philadelphia TV Digest November 4-10. 1949. Excerpted from an editorial celebrating magazine’s first anniversary.

“A year ago a lusty little infant now named T. V. Digest was born. TV was a little bewildered at first. He couldn’t understand why everybody thought so much of him right from the beginning .. Especially since he was born at a time when the thing called television hadn’t quite reached general audiences. Before long, induced by the confidence of his parents - your editors - TV’s bewilderment disappeared. Nurtured by an appreciative public, TV put on heft and grew. Yes, there was a bit of normal groping about while TV was still in the dydee stage. First christened the Local Televiser, his name was changed because because it seemed more apropos that he follow the call letters of his world. His appearance changed too. Like any other infant he outgrew his adornment as successive styles and formats were tried on him. Nonetheless, TV kept on growing. When TV was about a week old there were only 80,000 television sets in Philadelphia, the city where he was born. One-week-old TV could be found lying about on only 90 of these sets. But he was working and pleasing . . Giving solid service. TV grew in size too. First 8 pages of material loved by television owners; then 12, and upped again on March 20, 1949 to 16 pages . . . double his original size! TV reached adulthood at the age of six months when his circulation passed the 10,000 figure. As a full fledged, man-sized publication his name was now Mr. T. V. Digest - although his ever-growing list of followers fondly dropped the Mister and call him TV.”

Bottom line: one can easily picture the brothers Borowsky cooling their heels in the waiting room lobby outside of an office, nervously awaiting the call of Philco representatives, all the while clutching a ‘hand made’ first issue prototype to show them. Though by May 1, 1949, publication date of the first one called TV Digest, circulation totaled five figures - - i. e. over ten thousand distributed per week, the proverbial ’number’ six months earlier, (according to this account ) was just two figures: a mere ninety (emphasis added) copies. The total print run of that Vol 1 # 1 in question was probably just 100 copies."

To reiterate from my TV and Radio ebook (downloadable from this site), modern weekly TV programming guides began in 1946 with this magazine:

which evolved into this one:

The first digest sized guide was Television Forecast, later TV Forecast, published in Chicago. Here's the first issue:

Shortly afterwards, Television Guide later TV Guide, published in New York, began with this issue:

This issue is a reproduction, made by Jeff Kadet of TV Guide Specialists of Macomb Illinois He tells me that it was made from the only original copy he has ever seen and that, furthermore, the original issue may have been destroyed. Jeff and Bob have seen more TV programming guide than anyone else so, if there is one, it's a phenomenal rarity (I will post here a standing offer of $2000 to obtain one).

Enter Local Televisor in Philadelphia in November 1948. Here's a later issue and the first of its new title (maintaining the previous numbering) TV Digest (every time I see Paul Whitman can't help but think of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue", that Whiteman pioneered and introduced in 1924):
TV Guide, TV Forecast and TV Digest (and all pre-1953 TV programming guides) are so called "pre-national" magazines (according to Bob, who should know, a term coined by Jeff), which were amalgamated into one title by Walter Annenberg in 1953 as national TV Guide, the highest circulation magazine of the twentieth century (today's is, believe it or not, Modern Maturity, the standard bearer of the AARP).

This issue, as all national TV Guides, are readily obtainable. The first one usually brings about $300 on ebay. Pre-national issues are scarce to unobtainable, show up randomly and are priced according to the cover image. As you go back in time to 1946 they get harder to find. Thanks again to Bob Reed for his incredible scholarship.

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