Television Comes to Barabo

By Bill Schuette

Filo T. Farnsworth, in 1927, was the inventor of the first fully functional all-electronic image pickup device (video camera tube), as well as the first fully functional and complete all-electronic television receiving system.

The advent of television progressed rapidly thereafter, with others adding to, and improving on, that original concept. In 1942 there were 5,000 television receiving sets in American homes. However, during the war years, the production of new radios, televisions and related devices, was suspended until 1945. By 1947, the number of sets had multiplied to 44,000. And by 1953, that number had swelled to over 20 million. 

Ted Danube left, and his brother, Tom, (sons of Dan and Dorothy), donated the Fada TV set, the first one in Baraboo, to the Sauk County Historical Society.

Ted Danube left, and his brother, Tom, (sons of Dan and Dorothy), donated the Fada TV set, the first one in Baraboo, to the Sauk County Historical Society.

The time after WWII is considered the second birth of television. Families had accumulated money during the war years and were eager to spend it on homes, cars, and entertainment, which they had been denied during the conflict. Television sets were one of the items on their must-have list.

John Danube was an early retailer of radios in Baraboo, and later, when television came along, he sold the first sets in the area. His store was open six days a week. The 1948 Fada TV set that is now in the Sauk County Historical Society’s collection, is purported to have been the first set sold in Baraboo, according to the Danube Family donors.

John initially came to Baraboo to work at the power plant. Later, he worked for Mr. Kieffer in his electronics store. There was a little cubbyhole upstairs in the store where John repaired radios. He got his training in radio repair through a correspondence course from the National Radio Institute.

Dorothy, John’s wife, recalled in a 2010 interview that when the first television set—a 1948 Fada brand—was displayed in the window of their store, people stood outside and were fascinated by the fact that they could finally put faces to the actors who had entertained them for half a century on the radio. Although the picture was often snowy, it did not deter the crowd from coming. She said that when the picture faded away, the crowd would leave, only to return later to see if the reception had cleared up. They were probably watching WTMJ, channel 4, Milwaukee, which came on the air on Dec. 3, 1947. Some early television shows were Howdy Doody, Kraft Television Theater, and Kukla, Fran & Ollie.

A 10-inch screen TV such as the Fada, would have cost about $325 in 1948 (around $3,200 in today’s dollars). Dorothy said that her family did not have a TV set in their own home until years later.

“I remember all our tube shelves, all those tubes we used to have, along with condensers and resisters,” recalled Dorothy. She would help out by checking tubes and doing the bookwork.

John put up a tall antenna on the shop to receive the distant stations which were, at the time, located in Milwaukee and Green Bay. One of his employees was Dan Rosenthal, who helped out repairing radios.

Ted, John’s son, noted, “I used to climb towers. When I was 12 or 13, I went up on the Farm Kitchen’s 100 foot aerial.  I loved climbing.”

Initially, towers in the Sauk County area had to be tall to receive stations from as far away as Milwaukee, La Crosse, and Green Bay. But in 1956, channel 3 in Madison came on the air. Their VHF signal traveled much further than its then competitor, WKOW, channel 27, which came on the air in 1953 as a UHF station. Southern Wisconsin was unique in the fact that there were more UHF channels than VHF, necessitating the requirement for two antenna arrays on a tower.

John Danube retired from the electronics business in 1975.

The 1948 Fada TV may be seen at the Sauk County Historical Society museum, 531 4th Ave., Baraboo, beginning in May, Friday and Saturday, noon until 4 pm.