Television in the Soviet Union

Television in the Soviet Union

Television in the Soviet Union was owned by the state and was under its tight control and censorship.

The governing body in the former Soviet Union was "USSR State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting", or USSR Gosteleradio (Государственный комитет по телевидению и радиовещанию СССР, Гостелерадио СССР), which was in charge both of Soviet TV and Soviet radio.

Soviet TV production was classified into central (Central Television of USSR Gosteleradio or CT USSR for short, _ru. Центральное телевидение Гостелерадио СССР, ЦТ СССР), republican, and regional broadcasting.


Regular TV broadcasting in the USSR started in 1938, first in Moscow and Leningrad only.

Initially TV was governed by the "All-Union Committee for Radiofication and Radio Broadcasting at the USSR Sovnarkom" ("Всесоюзный комитет по радиофикации и радиовещанию при СНК СССР").


**October, First TV sets were produced, with screen 3x9 cm, with mechanical rasterization in 30 lines, 12.5 frame/s.
**November 15, first TV broadcast with sound in Moscow, concert
**October 15, First sounded TV film
**March 9, first trial studio TV broadcast in Moscow from Shabolovka
**March 25, first full TV movie, "The Great Citizen" (Великий гражданин)
**June 7, first trial TV broadcast in Leningrad
**December 15 Moscow TV center reinstated regular TV broadcasting after World War II
**November 4 Moscow TV center adopted a new 625 lines standard
**June 29 The first off-studio TV translation, of a soccer match from "Dynamo" stadium
**August 24 The first long-range broadcast, from Moscow to Ryazan

Television services

Because of the Soviet Union's size, a few problems had to be overcome. The first was geography. The European area of the Soviet Union was typical East European. Then there were the mountains such as the Urals. There were also the taiga and steppes of the east and the north. Another problem was time. The Soviet Union encompassed 11 different time zones, and thus what would be shown at 6:00 p.m. in Moscow would be different from 6:00 p.m. in Frunze, Kirghiz SSR (now Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan). The population too was unevenly spread out - there were more people in the European areas of the country than there would be in the eastern, Asian areas of the Soviet Union. In addition, the Soviet Union also relayed their programming to other Warsaw Pact states.

As a result, the Soviet television system, while similar to the Soviet radio system, was a combination of ingenuity to overcome the problems mentioned in the prior section as well as transmitting programming to the Communist world.

NB: Most of the information below is from the 1990 edition of the WRTH (World Radio and Television Handbook).

oviet television standard

The Soviet television standard used SECAM D (VHF) and K (UHF). The Soviet Union also used the OIRT VHF band (the "R" channels ranging from chs. R1 to R12) and the pan-European/African UHF band.

oviet television channels

Generally there were four channels (called "programmes" in the typical European fashion then). The first channel (1st Programme) was the main channel. It was also the most adaptable for the republics to utilize (see "Regional television services" below). Other channels were the All Union Programme (the second channel), the Moscow Programme (the third channel aimed mostly at Moscow), and the Fourth Programme (the fourth channel). Not all channels were available everywhere in the Soviet Union. Many regions only had access to the First Programme and the All Union Programme until after perestroika.

Regional television services

In addition to the national television channels, each SSR and ASSR had its own state radio and television company or state broadcasting committees, although other regions were allowed regional state radio and television companies/state broadcasting committees. Taking the Chechen-Ingush ASSR as an example, like other areas of the Soviet Union the four national television channels would be broadcast by either a Television and Radio Company of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic or by a State Committee on Radio and Television Broadcasting. However, there would be a difference in that in the First Programme, the Company/Committee was allowed to broadcast regional programming alongside the official First Programme schedule. Depending on the political status of an administrative division, the Company/Committee would either broadcast the regional programming in either Russian or the local language. In the Chechen-Ingush ASSR's case, this would mean that the regional programmes would either be in Russian, Chechen, or Ingush. The Company/Committee would also broadcast additional channels for their coverage area only.

oviet satellite services

Alongside Canada's ANIK satellite system and the U.S.'s satellite system, the Soviet Union could boast having the largest domestic satellite system in the world. Part of the ingenuity lies in the programming itself. The Soviet Union was a master in time-shifting programmes so that everyone in the Soviet Union could enjoy television programming. This involved several solutions to the Soviet Union's geography and time zone problems:

*"Schedule". The national television channels were only on the air for part of the day. This would make it easy for transmitting the channels throughout the Union. For instance, the Fourth Programme aired from 1300-1740 GMT. This would make it easy for the Fourth Programme to be aired by satellite.
*"Time-shifting". This is the heart of the programming aspect of the Soviet television system. By time-shifting programmes, this allowed the Soviet Union and countries that relayed Soviet television (such as Warsaw Pact states). There were two types of Soviet time-shifting- time-shifting based on a similar radio programme, and "Double" programs, which was composite time-shifting for the different time zones. Only the First Programme was time-shifted based on the pattern of a similar radio programme (in the First Programme's case the pattern was based on the All-Union First Programme from Soviet radio (TV Orbita-1 (UTC +11, +12, and +13 time zones), TV Orbita-2 (UTC +9 and +10 time zones), TV Orbita-3 (UTC +7 and +8 time zones), TV Orbita-4 (UTC +5 and +6 time zones), and the First Programme (UTC +2, +3, and +4 time zones)). All other national television channels (the All-Union, Moscow, and Fourth Programmes) used the "Double program" composite time-shifting format.

The Soviet domestic satellite system was also known as Orbita - in 1990 there were 90 Orbita satellites, supplying programming to 900 main transmitters and over 4,000 relay stations. The most famous Soviet satellites were the Molniya (or "Lightning") satellites; other satellite groups were christened the Gorizont ("Horizon"), Ekran ("Screen"), and Statsionar ("Stationary") satellites. With the right equipment, people outside the Soviet Union who used TVRO satellite television could receive Soviet television programming.


Soviet TV programming was highly diverse and somewhat similar to that of American PBS. It included news programs, various educational programs, documentaries, occasional movies, and children's programs. Major sports events such as soccer and ice hockey matches were often broadcast live. Programming was almost entirely either domestic or made in Warsaw Pact countries. Some TV miniseries were locally produced for TV, but rarely exceeded 5-10 episodes in length. A notable exception is "Seventeen Moments of Spring" -- a twelve-episode series -- which quickly became a cult film, about Stirlitz, a Soviet superspy in Nazi Germany, who inspired many jokes (see Russian humour).

Like all other forms of public media in the Soviet Union, Soviet TV was remarkable for having high levels of self-censorship. In addition to obvious state-mandated restrictions such as prohibition of any form of criticism of Soviet government, the list of taboo topics included all aspects of sex, public nudity, graphic portrayal of violence, and coarse language. (Unlike on many Western TV channels, where these topics are usually regulated during daytime, in Soviet Union they were completely banned regardless of time of the day or target audience.) The subject of drug abuse was generally avoided. Religion was either portrayed critically or avoided.

The face of Soviet TV began to change rapidly in the late 1980s. Soap operas -- Slave Isaura (Brazil) and later The Rich Also Cry (Mexico) -- were purchased in the West and became immensely popular among Soviet citizens. Talk shows and game shows were introduced, often copied from their western counterparts (for example, one of the earliest Soviet game shows, The field of miracles, was copied from American Wheel of Fortune). Free speech regulations were gradually eased.

Until the late 1980s, Soviet TV programming did not include commercials of any kind. The first Western commercial was aired for the first time in May 1988; it was a Pepsi commercial featuring Michael Jackson.


The Soviet Union's television news was provided almost entirely by the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union, commonly known as TASS.

TASS still exists today, transformed into the Information Telegraph Agency of Russia (ITAR-TASS). It occupies a Stalin-era building in Moscow, characterised by a bas-relief sculpture above the main entrance. However, much like its counterparts in cinema and the press, it has suffered since the collapse of Communism.

External links

* [ Library of Congress—The U.S. Naval Academy Collection of Soviet & Russian TV]
* [ Russian Museum of Radio and TV website]
* [ The U.S. Naval Academy Collection of Soviet & Russian TV]
* [ Nu Pogodi] , the Soviet equivalent of Road Runner/Coyote, or Tom and Jerry.

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