Wednesday, 26 March 2008

1989 - The Year Of The Satellite Television Revolution...

Whilst the golden era of British TV in the 1980s will always be remembered for the anarchic alternative humour of the Young Ones and The Comic Strip Presents, the brilliance of dramas like the Beiderbecke Trilogy and Inspector Morse, and children's programming like Dangermouse and No. 73, in 1989 it was "time for something completely different" (as the saying goes).

The first rumblings of the satellite TV revolution had been felt by a fortunate few earlier in the decade, but February 1989 saw the launch of Rupert Murdoch's Sky TV, with the promise of the launch of competitor British Satellite Broadcasting in the near future.

Whilst the launch of Channel Four in 1982, and breakfast TV in 1983, had been seen as huge events, Sky beckoned us towards a multi-channel future, sports, films, documentaries, soaps, comedies, quiz shows - all on tap, twenty four hours a day. For many of us, undreamt of choice.

The start was a little shaky, but within a few years the nation's viewing habits had changed for ever. No longer could you assume that the chap next to you at the bus stop had seen the same big drama you'd watched on TV the night before and use it as a conversation-opener.

So, how was Cambridge gearing up for the revolution in 1989?

From the Cambridge Evening News, 6/1/1989

Satellite TV fans are making sure they are tuned into the right wavelength when the viewing revolution hits the screens next month, say city centre stores in Cambridge.

Scores of people have been popping into shops to find out more - and be first in their street to have a dish on their roof.

The first satellite station, Sky, owned by newspaper tycoon Mr Rupert Murdoch, will start broadcasting on February 5.

And most of Cambridge's stores expect to get their first stocks of dishes within the next few weeks to cash in on the revolution.

The manageress of Rumbelows in Petty Cury, Christine Nickson, said: "We have had a lot of inquiries and requests for brochures, but relatively few firm orders so far."

A spokesman for Dixon's in Lion Yard painted a similar picture. He said: "We are taking a few deposits at the moment, but we hope to install a working dish on the roof in two weeks and expect orders to really take off then."

The manageress of Radio Rentals in Lion Yard, Mrs Debbie Jamieson, also reported strong customer interest. She said: "A lot of people have been quite surprised at how small the dishes are."

The first of the new satellite stations comes onstream next month, when Rupert Murdoch launches his four-channel Sky TV. Sky programmes will be relayed from the European Astra satellite.

Three of Sky's channels will be specialist services, one each for news, films and sport. A fourth channel will offer a mixed bill of drama, quiz shows and comedy. Sky will be paid for by advertising and will be entirely free to the viewer.

Sky's main competitor is likely to be British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB), a consortium including Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Anglia TV, which will launch a rival service in the autumn.

Another group, headed by publisher Robert Maxwell, plans to launch six channels later in the year.

Experts predict four million British homes will be tuning into up to 50 satellite channels within five years.

Sky TV listings, 1/5/1989.

Some mocked (comedian Alexei Sayle wondered if a dustbin lid and a couple of jump leads might work just as well as a satellite dish!), but by the end of 1989 the dishes were popping up everywhere.

And "the telly" has never been the same since.

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