Video Age: What was your first position in the industry?
Paul Talbot: I worked for CBS in 1939, in Grand Central Station in New York. Back then, the entire CBS organization consisted of 15 people. I worked on [radio dramas] and on the soap operas (The Aldrich Family) occasionally.
At that time, the networks had the idea that if they allowed anything to be recorded, it would destroy the mystique of the network and subsequently individual stations, the affiliates, would leave. Why would they need a network if they could get stuff on what they called "electrical transcriptions" (which were the big 16 inch disks that contained the information)? So the networks didn't allow anything to be recorded. That meant a wonderful thing called "repeats" for the West Coast, and you got paid again.
VA: What were your responsibilities at CBS Television?
P.T.: We would be there to put a body in front of the camera when the technicians needed it. In the morning, we would meet and decide what we were going to do to fill the time. For instance, Monday night would be "square-dance night." We gave the American Square Dance Association a venue for their weekly meetings -- which cost us nothing -- and they'd come in and do the square dances. I would announce and then I would join in, and they would teach me steps -- which I always misstepped -- and this was, in those days, considered amusing.
There were only 5,000 TV sets in New York, most of them owned by people either in advertising agencies, working for the network, or radio people. During World War II, television stopped because the technicians were involved with the war effort. It was totally suspended for about four years. After World War II, I got into the business side. My first efforts in broadcasting were to represent radio stations outside the United States.
At that time, agencies would do their campaigns right from New York. I was their American sales agent. There were only two or three of us who represented foreign stations. My first one was Radio Andorra, a powerful 60,000 watt station high in the Pyrenees that covered, more or less, Europe and was the only commercial station right after the war. They broadcast in French, Spanish and some English. I had a few other stations: RAI Radio in Turin, Italy, a station in Colombia and a radio network in Brazil. There was a little bit of business, but not a lot.
So, what did I do to pay the rent? I wrote comics. For many years I did Superman, Batman and Aquaman and that got me again in the broadcasting business because Superman was a radio show, and I got to know these people well. I got the rights for radio scripts for overseas and sold them in Australia. It ran for years in Australia with a local cast.
VA: Were international sales done the same then as it is today?
P.T.: Radio transcriptions and recordings were sold overseas to some degree. They were sold primarily to South Africa and some to Radio Luxembourg. In Australia, they bought the scripts and produced them again. They wouldn't buy it in Britain because Britain was primarily the BBC and they did all their own programming. Latin American programming was Spanish, so I would write the scripts for Superman and go to Mexico where I produced a daily Superman for J. Walter Thompson. Since the Azcarraga's owned most of radio, I got to know Don Emilio.
Once when I was back in the states, I got a letter from Rene Anselmo saying, "I am a prisoner in a Mexican advertising agency, can you get me out?" So he became the head of our office. We started a little office in Mexico City and then we started doing television shows, because while the radio rep business was not very successful, many clients started getting television licenses, and they wanted to know what to do because they didn't have local talent. So we started to get product. The first series -- and I believe the first filmed series in the history of television -- we distributed outside the United States was Hopalong Cassidy. It was on film because for seven years it was produced for theaters. Each story was complete in itself, about 60 minutes. But every story had the same lead character playing Hopalong Cassidy, Bill Boyd. According to the way he told it, he went out and got the television rights to all of his movies. He bought the television rights for practically nothing.
When we distributed them, there were about 40 one-hours edited to 52 minutes apiece...