Television antennas atop houses were once a ubiquitous part of the American landscape. Before the widespread adoption of cable television, homes received local stations over the air, just like radio. Decent TV reception depended on an aerial or antenna usually affixed to a home's roof. TV consumers understood the imperfections of the technology. Those in the TV business knew improving the game-changing technology was a way to compete in the growing television market.
While some issues seemed insurmountable, the environment's effect on reception quality would only be solved when television signals went through cables instead of over the air. TV viewers could improve their reception by changing the antenna's orientation. The direction of your antenna affected the stations received. For example, if you lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin, between Chicago and Milwaukee, your antenna needed to point south to pick up local TV from Chicago and north for Milwaukee. How one changed the orientation of an antenna mounted on a roof became a problem with a technological solution soon after TV sets went on the market.
Numerous companies manufactured and sold TV antennas. One company, Alliance Manufacturing Company in Alliance, Ohio, produced a series of TV advertisements with the Cinecraft Productions of Cleveland, Ohio, whose archive Hagley acquired in 2019.
Alliance manufactured and marketed the Tenna-Roter, a TV antenna with its direction controlled from inside the home. In this series of commercials from Tenna-Rotor in 1950 and 1953, we can see how it operated and its marketing. The footage offers insight into the soon-to-be-forgotten (or already forgotten?) challenges and frustrations of watching TV when nearly every home in America captured incoming high-frequency radio waves of pictures and sound sent over the air from local stations nationwide.
The Cinecraft archive at Hagley also has scripts for the Alliance commercials - check them out here!
Kevin Martin is the Cheif Curator at the Hagley Library