WNBT’s live broadcast of the Louis-Walcott fight at Yankee Stadium on Friday, June 25th, 1948 was an unqualified success. The two boxers had previously met in a December 1947 bout where Joe Louis defeated Jersey Joe Walcott. The rematch was originally planned for June 23rd but postponed twice. According to one June 22nd article in The New York Times, NBC planned to broadcast the fight to six additional cities: Schenectady, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond and Washington, D.C. . A different article, however, put the total at eight cities with Wilmington (Delaware) rounding out the list . The match was heard over the ABC radio network; Gilette was sponsor for both (it was also filmed).
According to television listings in The New York Times, the fight began at 10PM, but I haven’t been able to figure out exactly when it aired or for how long . In any case, Louis again defeated Walcott by knockout in the 11th round. He then announced his retirement from boxing. On June 30th, The New York Times reported that the match drew an 86.6 Hooper rating in New York City, almost eight points above the highest rating ever seen for radio . Furthermore, despite three other television stations on the air at the time, WNBT had a 99.7 share of the audience. It was estimated that 12 people were in front of each television set.
A May 7th article in The New York Times reported that there were 168,750 television sets in New York City (out of an estimated 275,000 in the country) . Rounding that figure to 170,000 means 147,220 sets were tuned to the Louis-Walcott fight. If 12 people were watching each set, a total of 1,766,640 viewers saw the match in New York City alone. That must have done quite a bit to show just how popular television could become.
2 Dawson, James P. “Louis, Walcott Set for Title Contest.” New York Times. 22 Jun. 1948: 32.
3 “On the Radio Today.” New York Times. 25 Jun. 1948: 46.
4 “The News of Radio.” New York Times. 30 Jun. 1948: 50.
5 “Video Forecasts Called Fanciful.” New York Times. 7 May 1948: 39.