TV Bingo game
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TV Game Shows / Bingo and Racing Shows of the 1960s
by Billy Ingram

TV Bingo game1950s TV broadcasters had a problem. They needed live, visually exciting content and had no clue as to what viewers might want to watch. Horse Racing, one would think, would be a natural.

But in the days of live TV what the camera saw went right out over the airwaves so broadcasters pretty much needed to be in a fixed location, a television station, in order to beam those images out to waiting sets.

Larger stations in New York and Chicago were already broadcasting Major League Baseball games before 1950 however. The first game televised was in 1939, a college matchup. By 1948 every major league city but Pittsburgh had televised baseball for those few lucky enough to own a TV set. Those programs were enormously popular.

Another obstacle to successfully broadcast the Thoroughbred Races was the tiny screen on the television sets themselves. The Thoroughbreds would of course have to be shot from a distance making the race look little better than dots moving around the screen.

As popular as the baseball games were broadcasters started to branch out - football, soccer, tennis all were relatively easy to film as they were in fixed locations. Tennis especially allowed the cameras to get close while Football proved more tricky. Thick coaxial cables attached to the few TV cameras available was a big problem when it came to getting up close and personal.

As the TV screens got bigger in the 1950s and the audience expanded rapidly broadcasters knew that Horse Racing could be key to their sports broadcasting expansion.

By the mid-1960s racing was a regular feature on ABC's Wide World of Sports, a weekend omnibus sports program. Yearly broadcasts of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing and The Preakness began shortly after that period.

Also in the mid-sixties was a popular Saturday afternoon series called Off To The Races and It's Racing Time where at home viewers got a chance to 'bet' on the races.

It worked like this, if you visited your local grocer - in our case the Big Bear stores in North Carolina - you got with your purchase a racing ticket with three winners picked. If your horse won a race you got the weekly prize of $100 while second and third place winners received smaller amounts of money and S&H Green Stamps. This program and others like it lasted in the 1970s.

Of course, the horse racing odds were set long before the races were televised so that they could control exactly how many winners there would be, this was done by televising competitions that were months or even years old. Clever, huh?



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