WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - A half-century ago, WWNY's news director and evening news anchor Bob Tompkins filmed a message to future generations. You can watch him deliver his message above and read the text of it below:
“From the 20th to the 21st Century, greetings to whomever opens this cornerstone in the WWNY radio and television broadcast center. I’m Bob Tompkins, news director for WWNY, with a few notes about what you’ve discovered in this cornerstone and some observations on why they are included. Assuming the contents were properly protected and thus preserved for posterity, you should find copies of our program logs for both radio and television, for August 19, 1969, the day the cornerstone was placed into position. These documents should give you an indication of the changes that have been wrought within broadcasting in the ensuing years. We would be inclined to wonder whether there are still programs about the Old West such as Gunsmoke and Lancer and Bonanza, and what replaced the variety shows, such as the Ed Sullivan Show and the Lawrence Welk Show. And in 1969 we can’t help but think that television will have gone three dimensional, with stereophonic sound and full wall screens in homes by the time this cornerstone is opened. We’ve included a packet of photographs taken recently of downtown Watertown’s section as a way of measuring progress over the years. There’s much new building going on this year in Watertown besides our own and by the time you rummage through the contents of this box we assume much more will have been done. We do presume that Watertown’s first Urban Renewal project will have been completed between Arsenal and Court streets and that still other modernization programs have changed the entire appearance of the business section near our broadcast center. In the year 1969 we know how many changes have taken place since 1900. It staggers the imagination when we contemplate what will have transpired by the time this box is opened. Whenever it is opened, we wish you well, good luck, whoever you are.”
In his message, Tompkins wondered about the future of television and offered some predictions about the future. So, how well did he do? Let’s break it down:
Tompkins said, "We would be inclined to wonder whether there are still programs about the Old West such as Gunsmoke and Lancer and Bonanza."
The answer, mostly no.
"I think Westerns were like the number 2 and 3 drama shows of that era. Now it's been replaced by crime shows. It started on CBS with CSI, we now have NCIS, FBI, so I think those types of crime shows replaced the Western," said WWNY Program Director Jim Corbin.
Tompkins also wondered, "What replaced the variety shows such as the Ed Sullivan Show and the Lawrence Welk Show?"
"There were probably 6 or 8 variety shows and I would say the thing that has replaced the variety show is the reality show. You've got shows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing With the Stars, The Voice," said Corbin.
"And in 1969, we can't help but think that television will have gone three dimensional with stereophonic sound and full wall screens in homes by the time this cornerstone is opened," Tompkins said in his message to the future.
"Bob nailed it," said WWNY Chief Engineer Jim Felton. "He predicted flat screen TVs, he predicted stereophonic, which we deliver every day, or quadraphonic. He really nailed it. He was looking into the future."
Tompkins also said, "We do presume that Watertown's first Urban Renewal project will have been completed between Arsenal and Court streets and that still other modernization programs have changed the entire appearance of the business section near our broadcast center."
Urban Renewal was all the rage in the 1960s. It led to the demolition of 100 or more downtown Watertown buildings. Some of it was needed, but Watertown City Planner Mike Lumbis says much of it was not.
"I'm sure there were some that were in pretty rough condition and had to come down, but there were certainly others that were in good condition that didn't. I know the old city hall on Court Street for instance was a beautiful building and was torn down in the sake of progress and modernization," he said.
And while Bob Tompkins seemed to hint at the likelihood of more Urban Renewal phases, that didn't happen.
"I think the idea was that this Urban Renewal idea would carry on and continue throughout the downtown. So I think fortunately, it sort of stopped in the area where it started. So he would probably be surprised by that, that it didn't continue further, but I think that's a good thing," said Lumbis.
Could we be as daring as Bob Tompkins and look another 50 years into the future? Felton says TV may change more dramatically than most of us could imagine.
“We’ll probably have contact lens, or something tied in directly to your eyes, and with electrodes tied into your brain. You’ll pick what you want to watch and you won’t need the TV on the wall, it’ll be in your head,” he said.