History of Television in Brazil
By Rodrigo Ricardo
I am a vintage TV set collector from Brazil, and I am sending to you some information about the early days of TV in Brazil, which was the first country to have TV in the Southern Hemisphere, and, I believe was also the first country in the Southern Hemisphere to manufacture TV sets. Attached are pictures of the early days of Brazilian television as well as pictures of the early TV sets made here and the factory that made them.
In the second half of the 1940's, many wealthy, (and others not so wealthy, but technically skilled), people made some kind of effort to bring television to Brazil. The honor finally went to one of the most controversial figures in Brazilian history, Mr. Assis Chateaubriand, a very powerful media tycoon in Brazil from the mid 20's to the late 60's. In the late 40's his empire had 34 newspapers in different cities, 36 radio stations and the most important Brazilian national magazine. He decided that he wanted to own a TV station in 1944, when he visited the US for the first time. He visited the RCA facilities in New York, a special guest of David Sarnoff himself, since he was spending large amounts of money on buying radio broadcast equipment for his stations. He was absolutely thrilled by the television experiments he saw at RCA, and immediately decided that, as soon as the war was over, he wanted to buy a TV station. The reaction of David Sarnoff was very curious. He was not at all enthusiastic to Mr. Chateaubriand plans. Sarnoff said that it was very early to think of bringing TV to Brazil, and that Mr. Chateaubriand would do better by strengthening his radio network. It seems that Mr. Sarnoff was very eager to sell radio broadcasting gear and helping on the formation of a large radio network to cover the whole of South America. But he didn't knew Mr. Chateaubriand, who was a very headstrong man, that would never stop until things were done his way. So, Sarnoff was finally convinced to sell not only one, but two TV stations, one for the city of Sao Paulo ( the economic heart of Brazil ), and other for the city of Rio de Janeiro, which was the capital of Brazil at that time.
In 1947, after spending three years raising money from various sources (for the 5 million dollar investment of buying two television stations was huge even for him), Mr. Chateaubriand placed the order for the equipment. Them, something interesting happened. The people of RCA asked Mr. Chateaubriand to pay, but to wait some time more for the delivery of the equipment, to wait until they thought it was the best time to build it. It cost a three year delay, but it also meant a significant improvement in the broadcasting power of the station. By Mr. Chateaubriand's own words "in 1947 the range of television signal was of twenty miles. Today  a 5 kilowatt transmitter like the one we have here reaches 80 miles". So, TV in Brazil should have started in 1947, but thanks to the foresight of the RCA Victor engineers it began three years later with greater broadcast power.
Assis Chateaubriand, founder of the first Brazilian TV station, reading the innaugural speech
The RCA Victor equipment was bought for the Sao Paulo TV station, while for Rio de Janeiro the equipment was built by General Electric. For reasons unknown to me, the Rio station operated on the European standard (625 lines, 25 frames, 7-mc channel, FM sound), while the other station operated on the American 525 lines, 30 frames, 6-mc channel, FM sound, standard. At that time other entrepreneurs were seeking licenses for TV operation, but Mr. Chateaubriand's powerful influence on the Brazilian government blocked them getting the license before his TV went on the air - he wanted the honor to be the pioneer not only in Brazil, but on the whole of Latin America. Here is a video of the inagural broacast.
Unfortunately for him, Mexican TV actually began operating 18 days before his station. He was now the second in Latin America, but still the first in the Southern Hemisphere. On September 18, 1950, his Sao Paulo TV station, PRF3 TV Tupi channel 3 was officially inaugurated, with the blessings of the city's catholic bishop and the transmission of a variety show at 9:00 pm. It was a one hour show, and when it was over the station signed off, to resume transmissions only on the following night. All TV sets in use in the city were imported from the USA and a few from Phillips in Holland. TV sets were strategically placed on some key locations, so the largest number of people could witness the miracle of television. To this day, it is still reported that only 200 families in the city had TV sets on that opening night, but this claim is very difficult to prove. Interesting to note is that a major event like that was widely boycotted by the press, with the newspapers not mentioning it. Only Mr. Chateaubriand newspapers and his magazine promoted the advent of television in Brazil.
At that point the station of Rio de Janeiro was still doing test broadcasts.
It is reported that, by the end of 1950 there were 1000 to 2000 TV sets in Brazil, all of them in these two cities. On January 20, 1951, the Rio station, PRG3 TV Tupi channel 6 was officially inaugurated.
In 1955, six stations were on the air in Brazil: three in Sao Paulo, two in Rio, and one in the state of Minas Gerais, but only in 1956 a precarious TV link was established between the states of Rio and Sao Paulo. This was hailed by the press as a great achievement, for now peoples in the two cities could see the same programs, but the fact is that until the late 1960's this link was only used on special occasions. In 1956 200,000 TV sets were in use in the country. Brazil had almost 70 million inhabitants. Estimated TV audience was one million people. 90% of the programs were live staged, very little was filmed, and that's why almost no recording of the first decade of Brazilian TV exists. One of the highlights of TV at the end of that decade (when TV stations were now operating on 10 of the 23 states of the nation ) was the transmission to Rio, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais of the inaugural ceremonies of the new capital city of Brazil, Brasilia, on April 21, 1960.
The new capital was located on the heart of the country, and this three states on the southeast. A very complicated arrangement was made for the live transmission: three DC3 planes equipped with TV relay gear flew in circles, at different locations, one beaming the signal to the other, and the last one beaming to the ground, and then the ground station beaming to the local TV stations. It didn't work very well, what people saw were very fuzzy images, if any. Better coverage of the inauguration was shown hours later, when the video tapes arrived.
Real network TV in Brazil was only made possible in 1969, after the government made a huge investment in satellite receiving equipment and in microwave systems. The peculiar geography of the country acted as an obstacle to network TV in the 50's and 60's.
Screen shots taken in the 1950's of live advertising on Brazilian TV
A lucky family watching the inaugural broadcast on September 18, 1950 on a GE set.
TV manufacturing in Brazil began in 1952. The first factory was Invictus, which really started the electronic industry in Brazil in 1943. Prior to 1943, all radio sets in use in Brazil were imported. A few attempts of creating an electronic industry were made in the 1930's but they all failed due to strategic errors and lack of maturity of the market and the economy in general. In 1943 the industry and the nation's economy were stronger, and that, combined with the difficult of importing radio sets due to the war, and the Brazilian government's need of a local industry to supply communication gear to the armed forces, led to the rise and boom of a local electronics industry. Located in the industrial state of Sao Paulo, Invictus was the first, and during the 40's other industries appeared, and also some American and European manufactures began producing in Brazil. The Invictus factory was located in a small building, but in 1945 they were already producing 15.000 radios a month. As soon as television was introduced in Brazil, they began to develop prototypes of TV sets. In early 1952 they released their first TV set on the market, a 17 inch screen model, which had 50% of parts and components made in Brazil. By 1953 the level of "nationalization" of their TV sets was 75% .
After they begun production many other brands began the production of TV sets in Brazil. It is estimated that 80 different manufacturers of television sets were operating in Brazil in the 50's and 60's.
Unfortunately, most of this factories were small businesses, with limited resources and small production. Almost all of them (including the pioneer Invictus) were crushed after 1972, when color TV began in Brazil. They simply were not ready for color TV. The government favored the Japanese and European transnationals, who had the know how to build color sets and the vast resources to build huge factories for mass production of TVs. So, to this day, almost all of the electronic industry here is in the hands of foreigners.
One final note: the first Brazilian TV stations that went on the air in 1950 and 1951 are no longer on the air. They (and all other TV stations from Mr. Chateaubriand's empire, 18 stations in total), faced a tremendous financial crisis in the 70's due to decades of mismanagement, and were declared bankrupt in 1980. Some of the radio stations, many of the newspapers and the national magazine were also declared bankrupt on that same occasion. The assets of the TV stations were sold to other groups, and they are now part of other networks. Mr. Chateaubriand didn't lived to see the downfall of his media empire: he died in 1968, at the age of 75.
Benno Hirschfeld and Bernardo Kocubej, founders of the Invictus factory.