Launching the Telstar satellite; Phillies-Cubs as broadcast across the ocean in 1962. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive; YouTube)

Sixty-one years ago, a routine fly ball hit by Phillies second baseman Tony Taylor made telecommunications history.

Today, global audiences can watch live sports events beamed from just about anywhere on Earth. FIFA recently said its 2022 Men’s World Cup final reached 1.5 billion people.

But in 1962, merely broadcasting one show across the ocean represented a breakthrough.

That summer, NASA launched the Telstar 1 satellite from Cape Canaveral. The satellite, built by AT&T, was part of a public-private partnership.

(In some ways, we can trace the history of companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX back to this launch.)

Thor-Delta 11 launching with first Telstar satellite, 1962. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Once it got into orbit, Telstar 1 made more history.

On July 23, Walter Cronkite hosted the first live, transatlantic broadcast.

The program was called simply: “America: July 23, 1962.”

The content was less important than the concept. A signal was beamed from Maine, up to Telstar 1, and back down to receivers in Britain and France, allowing millions of Europeans to watch.

Put more simply, people could actually watch live TV from an ocean away.

Horn antenna at the AT&T Andover satellite ground station, Maine. (NASA via Wikipedia Commons)

The maiden program included images from around America, such as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing at Mount Rushmore and President John F. Kennedy conducting a press conference.

In fact, Kennedy was supposed to lead the show. But he wasn’t ready when the program went live.

Instead, engineers cut to something else distinctly American: a baseball game.

This game happened to feature the Phillies playing the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

“Well, we realize that all of this doesn’t make much sense to you folks in Europe,” said Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse. “But if we hadn’t shown you a bit of our national game on this first transatlantic show we’d never have heard the end of it.”

The image of that routine fly ball in a July baseball game marked the first time Europeans glimpsed live sports coverage from the United States.

YouTube video

Telstar 1 itself didn’t last long.

Radiation from a nuclear test ultimately rendered it useless. But for a moment, the satellite gave us a glimpse of our future.

People in Europe watched Tony Taylor — born in Cuba and employed by a club in Philadelphia — play a baseball game in Chicago

Just like that, our big planet moved a little closer together.

Originally tweeted by Avi Wolfman-Arent (@Avi_WA) on July 13, 2023.

Avi Wolfman-Arent is co-host of Studio 2 and a broadcast anchor on 90.9 FM. He was previously an education reporter with WHYY, where he's worked since 2014. Prior to that he covered nonprofits for the...