Mixed Signals

TV and The SFO International Airport: A Rare New Exhibit

9/27/2011 6:10 PM

In my TV consulting business, I travel a lot, I suppose, and that travel opens a lot of new things to me, for which I am grateful.

Yet, on the other hand, I’ll always recall how my father used to lament the volume of his travel, noting “one hotel gets to looking just like another one.” The late Jim Croce could probably do something with the irony of this comparison.

Recently, I think I found the more positive side of the travel argument above, when I transitioned through San Francisco’s “United Airlines” terminal 3. Between street side and the core set of gates numbered in the high 70s, 80s and 90s; and between the opposite-direction-moving walkways, United and the SFO Airport Authority have joined together to present a “TV Museum,” of sorts, in the form of an exhibit and display of TVs and TV history. The exhibit is titled “Television: TV In The Antenna Age.” (Click here for more info.)

The exhibit starts of with one of my favorite anonymous quotes from The New York Times, which reads: “TV will never be a serious competitor for radio, because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on the screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it.”

From there, the exhibit offers dozens of cases, each with a variety of old TVs, old magazines, lunch boxes, toys and a ton of other early TV memorabilia. Each case also has a rather lengthy and detailed write-up that explains the content. In addition, many of the finest and/or most memorable of the old TV shows are highlighted.

A local tie to my northern California was fun, inasmuch as apparently one of TV’s early developers, Philo Farnsworth, did a lot of his early work in San Francisco. His Green Street laboratory in the 1920s and 1930s is made semi-famous.

I also found a focus on the former television directory, TV Guide, quite interesting, in that today that directory has almost been entirely (or is it totally?) replaced by in-system electronic programming guides. Plus, all of that will change even further in the future as services such as MediaNavi by Technicolor, VideoScape by Cisco, and Rovi create more search and guide features.

Unfortunately, the price of entry is pretty high: you have to buy a rather expensive airline ticket that takes you through SFO; you have to weather a security check; and you have to decide to go there or be headed there for your flight (and have some time between your flights to see it). That said, for TV aficionados like myself, the history just adds that much more to the wonder of what video and TV are today.

In short, I strongly recommend seeing it. A good and thorough walk-through and review of items and write-ups takes about 20 minutes. The SFO TV exhibit runs through February 2012.

If only my dad could have seen it (and my mom, too, for she sure loved her TV news.)

Jimmy Schaeffler is chairman and CSO of Carmel-by-the-Sea-based consultancy The Carmel Group (www.carmelgroup.com).