Early television debuted in New York City in 1928 but the following year the Stock Market Crash on Wall Street heralded in the Great Depression which lasted until the start of World War II in 1941. Ten years after its initial debut, it was debuted again at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City, but economic issues caused by the Great Depression and then World War II, made it unavailable to the public.

As World War II was ending, in late 1944 and early 1945, public interest in television was spurred by newspaper articles touting the wonders of television which would revolutionize home entertainment and the world.

Television in 1946 was still unavailable to rural America as there were only a few broadcasters and they only existed in big cities like Chicago and New York. At that time a television set costed half as much as a new automobile ... so, if you were wealthy enough to own one, you had to live within 20 miles of the broadcaster. Any distance further than that required a very tall antenna tower. And, on top of all that ... there wasn't much content to watch anyway.

Television in Sumter was out of the question since there were no broadcasters anywhere near South Carolina.

It wasn't until July 2, 1949, when a new broadcaster signed on the air, WBTV Channel 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, that television became a viable thing in Sumter. For the next two weeks WBTV only broadcasted a test pattern from 12 noon until 7 at night. On July 15, 1949, their regular broadcast schedule started.

The news spread that reception from WBTV Channel 3 in Charlotte would be possible with a tall antenna tower. Sumter went from 0 to 3 televisions during that two weeks of the test pattern. Then 2 more sets the following week.

The very first television in Sumter belonged to Item Staff Photographer, Mr. Heyward McLaughlin Crowson Jr.
It was an Admiral with a 7-inch screen that he brought back from China where he traded his camera for it during the war. He had it installed at his home at 62 Highland avenue.

The second belonged to Mr. Albert Tucker. He purchased a Motorola with a 10-inch screen and installed it at his business, The Sumter Radio Shop on Main Street. His television antenna tower was 75 feet high located on top of his radio shop.

The third belonged to Dr. Fred Esker Renfrow Jr. He purchased a Crosley with a 12-inch screen and had it installed at his business, The Renfrow's Drug Store on Liberty Street.

The fourth belonged to Dick Wilson. He purchased a Philco with a 10-inch screen and had it installed at his business, Dick Wilson's Drive-In and Supper Club on Manning Avenue.

The fifth belonged to the founder and owner of Sumter WFIG radio, Thomas Douglas Youngblood Sr. It was a National with a 10-inch screen placed in the window of the Capital Department store on Main Street where it could be viewed nightly by passers-by. It was eventually moved to his home on Cherokee Road after he constructed a tall rooftop antenna.

But, still very few people in Sumter owned a television set between 1949 and 1953 because the closest broadcaster was in Charlotte, about 100 miles away, and it required a 75 to 125 foot tall antenna in order to receive a good signal.

However, in 1953, things started to change in a big way ...

The first television broadcaster in South Carolina, WCOS-TV in Columbia, began broadcasting on April 23, 1953 but were left in the dust when, six months later, on November 7, 1953, when a new station, WIS Channel 10 in Columbia, an NBC affiliate, began broadcasting at double the transmission power - 106,500 watts.

Now Sumter had good reception from a local station. A moderate rooftop antenna or even rabbit-ears were all that was needed. And by now, there was great local and national television content available.

Well ... television sales went wild in Sumter. Businesses of all kinds were selling televisions, even tire service stores.

In 1954 two more broadcaster signed on the air in South Carolina. In September, ABC affiliate WUSN Channel 2 in Charleston and in October, CBS affiliate WBTW Channel 8 in Florance.

By the end of 1954, every home in South Carolina with a television set had an antenna on the roof and could receive NBC, CBS and ABC programming. Some even had electric rotors installed on their antennas so they could be pointed in the direction of the broadcaster for better reception.

In 1955, my parents purchased our family's first television set, a Sylvania 21 inch model. It had surround the picturetube lighting called HaloLight and a record player in the bottom. I was 3 years old at the time so I can't remember ever not having television.

WIS Channel 10, the NBC station in Columbia, was the closest, so it had the best reception and was the channel we mostly watched. Our favorite shows were; The Virginian, Dr. Kildare, Hazel, I Dream of Jeannie, and Saturday Night at the Movies. Mr. Wizard would come on at lunchtime every Saturday. The only News we ever watched was on this channel, Huntley-Brinkley and the Seven O'Clock Report.

WBTW Channel 8 (which became Channel 13 in 1962), the CBS station in Florance, was next best but still fuzzy sometimes. Our favorite shows were; Mr. Ed, The Munsters, The Beverly Hillbillies, Hogan's Heroes, Here's Lucy, Leave It To Beaver, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, and Marshall Dillon.

WUSN Channel 2, the ABC station in Charleston, was the least clear since it was 100 miles away but it had the best westerns. Our favorite shows were; The Rifleman, Have Gun Will Travel, Wagon Train, Maverick, Cheyenne, Sea Hunt, My Three Sons, Combat, and 77 Sunset Strip.

Color programming started showing up in the 1960's. Most shows were still Black&White but the ones in color opened with the "Color Peacock" and announcement "The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC". Oh how we all wanted a color set but Daddy held off buying one since our Black&White one "Worked Just Fine!", so I would walk over to James Foreman's house, my best friend at the time, to watch the baseball games in color.
Daddy finally broke down and purchaed a color television set in 1970 when I was a Junior at Edmunds High.

As a young child, Saturday morning television was the best, all kid stuff, wall-to-wall cartoons, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quickdraw McGraw, Woody Woodpecker, The Jetsons, and The Flintstones, to name just a few.

Sundays, after supper, our favorite shows were The Littlest Hobo, Daniel Boone, Walt Disney and Bonanza.

During the week, our favorite "after-school" show were Catus Quave with J.P. Sidewinder, later replaced by Jolly Jim and Mr. Knozit in 1963. All three of those after school programs aired the "Little Rascals" episodes. Oh how we loved the Little Rascals with Spanky, Alfalfa, Stymie, Buckwheat, Farina, Cotton, Porky, Scotty, Weezer, Mary, Darla, Dicky, Wally, Butch, Jackie, Chubby, Miss Crabtree and Petey the pup.

Click here to watch 24 of the most memorable episodes of the Little Rascals.

Below are 1949/1953 newspaper clippings from the Sumter Daily Item about the first televisions in Sumter.