The first television station began broadcasting in 1929. By 1960, nine out of 10 U.S. households had a black and white TV set, and by 1972 half the country was watching television in color. From its infancy, when audiences became captivated by television’s many firsts in broadcasting through to today the airing of iconic images have become a integral part of our lives. From assassinations to royal weddings; from natural disasters to acts of terrorism all of it has been covered live on television.
The power of the medium to educate remains as strong today as at its beginnings. Watching historical events unfold before us in the form of breaking news or telecasts of events as they happen live on that screen has been for many the way we learned firsthand of them. We sit glued to that set waiting to see what will transpire next. There is no question that television is a part of that which shapes our culture. Even if you were not around to see some of these when they occurred, all are major memorable historical happenings which are well known. Here are ten which unfolded live on television screens around the world.
10. . President Richard M. Nixon Resigns -1974
History was once again recorded live on television, when the only U.S. President ever to do so, Richard M. Nixon resigned office. This was watched by millions of people around the world. The cover-up following a break-in at the Democratic campaign headquarters in the Watergate hotel in Washington, DC was such a small story that it didn’t even jeopardize Nixon’s re-election in November of 1972. But by the following year, the Watergate hearings — broadcast daily on by the networks — made it clear that the conspiracy extended all the way to the Oval Office.
Advisers were dismissed, prosecutors were fired, and Congress prepared for impeachment. Rather than face that humiliation, Nixon went on television on August 8, 1974 and gave a 16-minute speech in which he resigned the presidency. The following afternoon, he bid farewell to his staff and departed via the presidential helicopter, posing one more time for photographers and TV cameras, a smile on his face, his arms raised with his hands in a V-for-victory pose. It was an appropriately surreal farewell, and an apt conclusion to a political soap opera that riveted the nation for over a year.
9. OJ Simpson Car Chase to Verdict — 1994-1996
Los Angeles is best known for creating some of television’s most memorable moments in their many studios also brought television viewers some rather surreal, yet very real drama in June of 1994, when former football player turned actor O.J. Simpson suspected of brutally murdering his ex-wife and her friend. Armed with a warrant for Simpson’s arrest, police went to his home but he had fled with a friend in his now infamous white Ford Bronco. A nearly two-hour, slow and rolling car chase ensued all over the Los Angeles area freeways until Simpson returned to his home and was taken into custody.
The entire event was captured by more than a dozen news helicopters and was broadcast live on television. It was seen by an estimated 95 million people. As if the car chase was not bizarre enough, the trial of O.J. Simpson for the vicious murders was equally as strange. From the bloody glove and his oddly disheveled houseguest, Kato Kaelin to the high-powered defense attorneys and obviously overmatched prosecution, viewers were glued to their screen for weeks as they watched the latest “Trial of the Century.” If the car chase was bizarre, the trial of Simpson for the vicious murders was equally strange. From the bloody glove and the disheveled houseguest to the high-powered defense and overmatched prosecution, viewers were glued to their TV sets for weeks as they watched the latest “Trial of the Century.”
8. The Fall of the Berlin Wall – 1989
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” commanded then U.S. President Ronald Reagan in June of 1987. Two years later the job was done. Gorbachev’s radical notions changed the thinking in the Eastern Bloc, and in 1989, after months of protests, the East German government unexpectedly opened up the lines of free travel between East and West Germany.
Citizens flooded, creating such a rampage that police stopped bothering to check their documents. On the night of November 10, 1989, the first concrete slab was removed; while the official removal took place, people all along the wall chipped away at the concrete which stood as a symbol of separation and tyranny. And television cameras captured it all. This even attracted an audience of two million
7. Royal Weddings: Charles and Diana -1981/William and Kate – 2011
The wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer attracted an estimated global live television audience of 750 million viewers, the most popular live program ever broadcast. On July 29, 1981, when Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles at St. Paul’s Cathedral in an opulent spectacle of a ceremony, nearly three-quarters of a billion people watched it on television, many getting up in the middle of the night just to do so. It was a lavish introduction for “the People’s Princess”; 16 years later, people around the world would again turn to their televisions, this time to mourn her untimely death in an automobile accident.
The wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton took place April 29,2011 at Westminster Abbey in London. The groom, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, is the eldest son of Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales. The ceremony was viewed live by tens of millions around the world, including 72 million on the YouTube Royal Channel In the United Kingdom, television audiences peaked at 26.3 million viewers, with a total of 36.7 million watching part of the coverage.
6. Apollo 11 Moon Landing – 1969
On July 20 1969, millions of people around the globe sat glued to their TV sets in anticipation of the Apollo 11 moon landing. In fact it is estimated that 500 million people worldwide watched this event. This was a first and anything could happen, even perhaps go awry. As the lunar module detached from the spaceship, they sighed with relief when it touched down and were captivated by the images of the astronauts emerging from the capsule and planting a flag on the surface of the moon. People listened as they heard Neil Armstrong say from a distance of hundreds of thousands of miles, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
While no one truly knew what the outcome of the mission would be, it was clear that landing on the moon would establish the United States as the front-runner in the space race, and that television could effectively send that message to the world. The event was called, “the greatest show in the history of television” and the astronauts followed a precise script calling for Armstrong to descend the ladder, stop on the third rung from the bottom, open a storage bay containing a television camera and continue down to the moon’s surface. Buzz Aldrin followed behind with another camera to film the landscape. The breathtaking images captured by those cameras were shared with the world. To the wonder and amazement of people across the universe, television allowed them to witness humanity’s greatest achievement of the time.
5. Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed – 1963
On November 24th in the basement of the Dallas police station, Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, is shot to death by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner. Oswald was brought to the basement of the station on his way to a more secure country jail. A crowd of police and press with live television cameras had gathered to witness and broadcast his departure. As Oswald came into the room, Jack Ruby emerged from the crowd and fatally wounded him with a single shot from a concealed revolver as television cameras and thus the world witnessed the murder live.
Ruby claimed that rage at Kennedy’s murder was the motive for his action. Some called him a hero, but he was nonetheless charged with first-degree murder. It was seen live by 180,000,000 viewers who watched from JFK’s assassination to his funeral.
4. Princess Diana and Michael Jackson – funerals
Princess Diana Funeral – September 6 1997
The public funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales started at 9:08 am in London, when the funeral cortege left from Kensington Palace. The coffin was carried from the palace on a gun carriage, along Hyde Park to St. James’ Palace, where Diana’s body had remained for five days before being taken to Kensington Palace. The Union Flag on top of the palace was lowered to half mast. The official ceremony was held at Westminster Abbey in London and finished at the resting place in Althorp.
Two thousand people attended the ceremony in Westminster Abbey. An estimated 2.5 billion people around the globe tuned in to live television broadcasts of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, who died at the age of 36 in a car crash in Paris.
Michael Jackson – September 3, 2009
Services for Michael Jackson were to begin at 7pm but were delayed. The pop star’s brothers carried the King Of Pop’s coffin from the hearse to the marble crypt at the Forest Lawn Great Mausoleum. The Jackson brothers paid tribute to their brother wearing silver gloves and black arm bands. Nearly 200 of Jackson’s closest friends and family members tried their best to say goodbye to the entertainer at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, CA. Reclusive screen star Elizabeth Taylor might have been speaking on behalf of all of Michael Jackson’s fans when she emotionally lamented the loss of her longtime friend. “We shouldn’t have to be here,” Taylor told fellow mourners which included Lisa Marie Presley, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Macaulay Culkin, Corey Feldman, Mila Kunis and Barry Bonds among others. Some 31.1 million people watched the Michael Jackson memorial and funeral on television, with millions more catching video streams on their computers.
3. President Barak Obama first inauguration – January 20, 2009
The first inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States set a record attendance for any event held in Washington, D.C., marked the start of the first four-year term of Barack Obama as President and Joe Biden as Vice President. It was among the most-observed events ever by a global audience–37.8 million people watched the nation’s first black president take office in 2009.
“A New Birth of Freedom”, a phrase from the Gettysburg Address, served as the inaugural theme to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth year of Abraham Lincoln. In his speeches to the crowds, Obama referred to ideals expressed by Lincoln about renewal, continuity and national unity. Obama mentioned these ideals in his speech to stress the need for shared sacrifice and a new sense of responsibility to answer America’s challenges at home and abroad.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee increased its outreach to ordinary citizens to encourage greater participation in inaugural events compared with participation in recent past inaugurations. For the first time, the committee opened the entire length of the National Mall as the public viewing area for the swearing-in ceremony, breaking with the tradition of past inaugurations. Selected American citizens participated in the train tour and other inaugural events, and a philanthropist organized a People’s Inaugural Ball for disadvantaged people who otherwise would be unable to afford to attend the inaugural festivities.
2. Hurricane Katrina – 2005
Breaking news dominated the airwaves in August of 2005, when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. For days, meteorologists tracked the storm, which formed in the Atlantic and seemed headed to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. This time people were prepared — or so they thought. Hundreds of reporters were on hand, covering the storm and its damage. They braved the wind and rain as they reported on the strength of the hurricane, and when it passed they prepared to leave. In New Orleans, however, they soon discovered their job was just beginning; the levees built to protect the city broke and there were new, unexpected stories to tell. As days passed and conditions worsened, television continued to send images of death and destruction to the world.
Millions of viewers worldwide watched helplessly as cameras captured images of people clinging to the roofs of their houses trying to escape the rising water, and bodies on the ground were covered as respectfully as possible.
Many otherwise stoic reporters could not hide their emotion and pleaded with the government for help on behalf of the people of Mississippi and Louisiana. They showed the horrific images, which eventually prompted greater action on the part of local, state and national leaders. But sadly for many people it was too late.
1. September 11 Terrorist Attacks – 2001
Who does not remember where they were and exactly what they were doing when new of the September 11 terrorist attacks unfolded live on television? It was a perfect September morning, and television networks were wrapping up their final hour of morning programming. NBC’s “Today Show” planned to air a piece on Howard Hughes and “Good Morning America” had an interview with Princess Sarah Ferguson about weight loss.
Suddenly, news anchors received word and live feeds of New York City’s World Trade Center having been hit by an airplane. At first everyone watching thought, it was a terrible accident. Immediately, morning television personalities and news reporters were thrust into the role of reporting an unfolding news event with no idea what had happened or what would happen next. Then a second plane hit the second tower and anchors and viewers alike knew it was no accident, but instead an insidious act of terrorism. People across the nation and the world rushed to their televisions and watched for hours as reporters and anchors in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania reported tragic news that seemed to get worse by the minute. For days, millions of viewers worldwide were both riveted and emotionally drained by the developing news and stories of the victims and the heroes.