Nearly every household in America today has a television. Most of us grew up huddled around the television after dinner watching sports, news, game shows, and maybe even Jersey Shore. That’s why it’s so hard to believe this has only been the case for 70 years.
Live television broadcasts changed the way we live and how we experience the world around us. Instead of waiting days for news from around the world, we could watch Neil Armstrong step on the moon, Janet Jackson have the Super Bowl performance of her life, and one too many people be assassinated in primetime. Read on to see if you’ve experienced these crazy and iconic moments in live television history.
Elvis Twists Those Hips On The Ed Sullivan Show
Many people believe that September 9, 1956, was the day that rock’n’roll took over America. That was the day Elvis made his live appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and 82% of America tuned in.
Those who watched the broadcast live were either screaming from excitement as he gyrated his hips, or screaming from shock.
The U.S. Hockey Team Performs The Miracle On Ice
On February 22, 1980, the American and Soviet ice hockey teams faced each other in Lake Placid, New York to see who would go on to the gold-medal game.
The American victory was seen as a Cold War win, as the Soviet Union ice hockey team had won four gold medals in a row up until then.
Germany Reunites With The Fall Of The Berlin Wall
Speaking of Cold War moments caught on live television, nothing was as iconic than when Germans reunified in November 1989. Only two years earlier, President Regan said to “tear down this wall!”
Television networks like NBC and CNN broadcasted the scene live around the world despite it being “utter chaos.”
Kanye West Calls Out George W. Bush
Kanye West has done a lot of outrageous moments on live television, but nothing like the time he told a live audience during a Hurricane Katrina relief broadcast that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
Co-host Mike Meyer’s deer-in-the-headlights reaction was everyone across America’s reaction.
Man Walks On The Moon For All Of Mankind To See
One of the most-watched live television broadcasts in history still belongs to the lunar landing on July 20, 1969. An estimated 600 million people tuned into to watch Neil Armstrong step on the moon.
In less than 20 years, America went from barely being able to broadcast recorded television, to broadcasting in real time from the moon.
The Challenger Space Shuttle Explodes In Real Time
After the Apollo 11 landing, Americans tuned in to nearly every space shuttle launch. Sadly, on January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded mid-air only 73 seconds after take-off.
The live broadcast was particularly harrowing to watch because one of the astronauts on board was school teacher Christa McAuliffe.
O.J. Simpson Brings Us Along On A Low-Speed Car Chase
It’s been 25 years and we’re all still obsessed with the iconic image of O.J. Simpson’s white Ford Bronco driving down the interstate.
The low-speed chase on June 17, 1994, was such an intense phenomenon that networks actually cut away from the 1994 NBA finals to broadcast it live.
The Waco Standoff Finishes After 51 Days
When the standoff between the Bureau of Tobacco and Firearms and The Branch Davidians began in March 1993, no one expected 51 days of constant live-media coverage of it. Television and journalists got up close and personal with the Waco compound and the FBI.
The media coverage and the government’s action is even cited as helping to inspire the 1996 Oklahoma City bombing.
Charles And Diana Start The Phenomenon Of Iconic Royal Weddings
Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, Kate Middleton, and Prince William’s weddings have nothing on the original Royal Wedding. The wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer in 1981 is the first live “must-see event” of its time.
Roughly 750 million people tuned in around the world to watch the wedding.
The Assassination Of JFK
One of the most jarring live broadcasts was when viewers across America witnessed the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Television cameras were already covering JFK’s tour, and every major news network cut to cover the news.
Americans all remember watching legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite tear up on air while relaying the news.
The Assassination Of JFK’s Assassin
Just as news outlets covered JFK’s assassination, they also covered the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald was being transferred from a Dallas police station to the county jail when Jack Ruby shot him.
The live coverage relayed the mood in the streets as camera operators stumbled over each other to get a clear shot of the action.
The Max Headroom Pirate Broadcast
In one of the weirdest live television moments, Chicago residents watching the evening news experienced a TV takeover. In 1987, an unknown group hacked Chicago’s WGN and WTTV television feeds.
They broadcasted a live video that featured someone wearing a Max Headroom mask saying odd phrases and getting spanked with a flyswatter. It sounds weird, but it seriously freaked viewers out.
Janet Jackson Has Her Memorable Super Bowl Slip
You can’t talk about live television’s craziest moments without the biggest slip-up of all time. Who could forget Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction in the middle of the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show?
The live moment was so iconic that it eventually led to the creation of YouTube. The three YouTube founders wanted to make it easier to find clips like this online.
Baby Jessica Is Saved From The Well
On October 14, 1987, the 18-month-old baby Jessica McClure fell into a well and set off a two-day “media circus” in Midland, Texas. Americans were glued to their screens watching and waiting for the search and rescue operators to save Jessica.
Her story was even adapted into a television movie by ABC.
Dale Earnhardt Dies Mid-Race
On the final lap of the 2001 Daytona NASCAR race, driver Dale Earnhardt crashed his famous No. 3 car into the wall at 161 MPH.
The crowd and fans watching live around the world didn’t know it at the time, but they had just witnessed Earnhardt’s death, as the crash killed him instantly.
The Nixon/Kennedy Debates Changed Presidental Campaigns
The first presidential debate to be broadcast live on television was between Nixon and Kennedy in 1960. Going into the debate, Nixon led the polls, but unfortunately, he had no idea how to succeed on TV.
Nixon didn’t sleep well the night before, refused to wear makeup, continued to wipe his face, didn’t know where to look when talking, and even his posture wasn’t presidential. The debate swung the polls in Kennedy’s favor.
Nixon Resigns After The Iconic Watergate Scandal
In 1974 it was almost certain that President Nixon would be impeached, so he chose instead to resign. Despite all the criticism from the Watergate scandal, Nixon’s resignation speech ended up with a lot of favorable reviews. He came a long way from that first presidential debate.
It was the first of its kind and still stands today as the only time a U.S. President has resigned from office.
Masked Terrorist Attack The Munich Olympic Games
The live television coverage of the 1972 terrorist attack at the Munich Olympic Games caused much controversy. The terrorists were actually able to watch the live footage of police getting ready to ambush them.
Viewers saw the masked terrorists and even watched one Olympic coach get clubbed by an AK-47 in real time.
U.S. “Operation: Shock And Awe” Leaves The World In Shock And Awe
While TV was around to cover the Vietnam and Gulf Wars, neither of those broadcasts were live. When the U.S. entered the Iraq War in 2003, they live-streamed the bombings over the internet and television.
“Operation: Shock and Awe” showed bombs exploding live that most Americans were only used to seeing in Hollywood blockbusters.
9/11 Happens Right Before Our Eyes
Minutes after the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, every major news network cut to live coverage. The people across America never expected to tune in and see another plane crash into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.
The live media coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks changed America as we know it.