February 21, 2014

The 1964 Winter Olympics revisited

On this last weekend of the Olympics, my friend Marc Ryan suggested it might be fun if we compared TV coverage from this year to that of 50 years ago.  The 1964 Winter Olympics were held in Innsbruck, Austria, and telecast on ABC.  As you can see from the closeup below, coverage of the Opening Ceremonies was, shall we say, a little different from how it was this year:

Yes - it was only on for an hour - from 9 to 10pm CT, presumably so it didn't interfere with the night's regular programming.  And, in these days when the Winter games didn't run for quite as long as they do today, the Opening Ceremony was on Wednesday.  Notice also that ABC doesn't even devote the full hour to the Ceremonies; included is a preview of some of the competitors and venues.

Lest you think things changed as the Olympics went on, check out the listings for Thursday and Friday:

Again, you'll note that coverage is only for an hour each night.  I would presume there might have been additional coverage on the weekend - I wish I had the next issue of TV Guide to see what else they did, but I don't.  But you notice that the emphasis tends to be on the medal events - no preliminaries or early heats.

I see that the famous Protopopovs, Oleg and Ljudmila, are competing in the pairs figure skating on Thursday.  One of the greatest of all pairs skaters, they would win the gold in both 1964 and 1968, with a grace and elegance seldom seen today.  And on Friday, the men's downhill - then, as now, one of the most glamorous of all events.  Egon Zimmerman was the defending gold medalist, and he would take gold here as well.  The hockey competition gets underway on Friday; nobody really expected the United States to repeat, and they didn't.  The Soviets won, as expected.  Interesting that Canada was one of the favorites - might this have been the last time they competed before boycotting Olympic hockey in protest over the Soviet use of professional players?

So for the first three days of the games, ABC presents a grand total of three hours, out of a total of 17.5 hours.  With all of NBC's resources, I think that total might have been topped on the first day alone.  And yet, one suspects that viewers might well have gotten everything they wanted from these games, seen all the winners, thrilled to the highlights that would emphasize the most important moments.  Saturation coverage wasn't necessary back then - but the marketplace ultimately decides, doesn't it?


  1. That is great fun and that photo makes you wonder what the late Bud Werner would make of ski wear today.
    As if reading my mind (or maybe it's not a brilliant idea if it is mine) Jimmy Roberts of NBC did a really piece on the 1964 US Men’s ski team, their unexpected success and its legacy.

  2. The Olympics were unproven as a TV draw in 1964, hence, the sparse coverage.

    There was no stationary-orbit broadcast satellite in early 1964, so coverage from Innsbruck was fed to Frankfurt, flown to New York, and then telecast.

    Despite this, most Winter Olympics events back then were held in the morning or early afternoon, and thus, were shown on ABC the same day they occurred.

    Of the three listings, the Opening Ceremonies, Women's Speed Skating, Men's Downhill Skiing, and Cross-Country Skiing were all likely broadcast the same day. If the U.S. hockey team had a morning or early-afternoon game, highlights of that were likely also shown the same day.

  3. According to a 1998 interview, Jim McKay said both the Opening Ceremony and Closing Ceremony was done via satellite.


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