Campus History

What’s On?

In February 1955, televisions were new amenities in the UW’s dormitories. Here, students await a chance to watch a show in one of the men’s halls. UW Archives S11742

Ah, the warm glare of a television set — more than matched by the glares on the faces of students as they impatiently wait to be entertained.

TV-watching has evolved on campus, much as it has for people around the country. The first communal sets arrived at the UW in fall 1953, when they were installed in lounges at Memorial Union.

The same year, the UW launched the University Television Laboratory, where students had the opportunity to learn about the medium by producing and appearing on programs called Campus Newsreel and Education on Parade, which were then transmitted over closed circuit.

In 1955, University Housing installed the first residence-hall TVs (pictured here), though clearly, the initial TV lounges were not the comfortable dens that more recent students remember. For much of the second half of the 20th century, TV lounges were gathering spots where students forged common experience around watching shows together: M*A*S*H or Dallas or Days of Our Lives. Even as TV sets became more available, individual rooms lacked cable hookups, so the lounges retained popularity as the place to escape the limitations of rabbit ears.

But between 1994 and 1996, residence halls installed cable in individual rooms, and the allure of the TV lounge began to fade. Today, many students simply stream programming onto their own digital devices.

According to Brendon Dybdahl ’98, MBA’04 at University Housing, staff members are surprised to find that today’s TV lounges — which still exist, all equipped with flat-screen, high-definition televisions — have become rather sedate. “The spaces we thought would be louder and more social with TV viewing have turned out to be mostly used for quiet study,” he says.


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