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Back to the Future with B&C

Television went live to the moon and back last week, in its most improbable feat of actuality coverage….” That’s how this publication summed up the historic TV coverage of the Apollo 11 moon mission 40 years ago.In an article titled “A Remote That Broke All the Records,” from the July 28, 1969, issue (click here to read the reproduced story with original images), Broadcasting magazine pulled the veil back on what it called “the biggest show in broadcast history”-a mammoth technological and journalistic undertaking that cost the Big Three networks some $11 million (in 1969 dollars) in “expenditures and in revenue loss” and required some 1,000 personnel to produce 42 hours of coverage.

An estimated 125 million U.S. viewers tuned in to the moon walk, which fortuitously started in primetime, at 10:52 p.m. ET on July 20. (As my colleague Rob Edelstein pointed out, TV networks today would never leave something like that to chance.)

The report noted the networks’ “quiet pride in broadcasting’s ability to cover the event,” and praised the “mastery of television techniques” demonstrated by astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, who sent six color broadcasts from the command capsule.

In true Broadcasting form, the article offers fascinating technical details about the reception and conversion of the moon transmissions, and the expensive broadcast equipment-like the 14-pound umbrella antenna covered with 38 miles of goldplated wire-the astronauts left among the “litter” on the lunar surface.

And while there’s nary a mention of Armstrong’s enduring words about that small step for mankind, the article captures the momentousness of TV’s own giant leap with an account of CBS anchor Walter Cronkite’s one-word reaction to the landing of the lunar module: “Wow.”