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How Queen Elizabeth II's coronation created a television broadcasting battleground

How the queen's coronation created a TV battle
How Queen Elizabeth's coronation created a TV broadcasting battle in the U.S. 03:07

London — Seven decades ago, the coronation of a queen in the U.K. served as a battleground for broadcasters in the U.S.

With television in its infancy, CBS and NBC fought their first all-out war for supremacy in 1953 to screen the pageantry to a post-war America still marveling at moving pictures synchronized to sound.

At the time, CBS News' Ron Cochrane reported from Boston's Logan International Airport. With transmission satellites a decade away, and Atlantic underwater cable too expensive, U.S. networks flew reels in from the U.K. Both CBS and NBC built new broadcast facilities and waited at Logan, because it was one hour closer to London than New York.

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
The scene inside Westminster Abbey during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, on June 2, 1953. Matt Green / Getty Images

While Americans waited to see the splendor and spectacle for themselves, CBS News' Bill Downs relayed news from the control tower as staff scanned the flight scope.  

CBS' plane landed at 4:12 p.m. Eastern time on June 2, 1953, to celebration, with NBC's plane some 45 minutes behind.

However, it was not a clear victory. NBC, realizing it would lose the flight race to CBS, made a last-minute deal with ABC. Younger and smaller at the time, ABC piggybacked off Canada's coverage on the CBC.

By the time CBS engineers fed their own reel to go to air, it was too late. NBC, thanks to ABC and the Canadians, had beaten CBS by 13 minutes.

However, years later, Walter Cronkite shared a secret story of a mix-up. The first reel CBS chose turned out to be the wrong one. But, it let CBS say that it had showed America the actual coronation first because NBC had started its own broadcast from the very beginning of the ceremony.

And, as Cronkite would say, "that's the way it is."

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