Category Archives: Television History

1932 Lens Disk Television

1932MarAprTV85 years ago this month, the televisionist shown on the cover of the March-April 1932 issue of Television News is working on a rather ambitious project.  He’s graduated from the tiny peep-hole sets to a larger set capable of displaying an image of 10-12 inches.

The secret to this ambitious design is the fact that it incorporates 60 matched lenses in the spinning disk itself, rather than merely relying on small holes cut into the disk.

RCA TP-16A Television Projector, 1947


This RCA ad from the April 1947 issue of Televiser shows how film was broadcast in the early days of postwar televsision. The prewar stations generally had no way to broadcast prerecorded programming. The ability to use film meant that the television production business was a bit less frenzied, without the need to have some live action going on every moment the station was on the air. Film was still a lot more expensive than the later alternative, video tape, but the ability to use film meant that news and entertainment could be shown on a delayed basis. And since there was no live distribution between most cities, the ability to use film also mean that programs could be shipped to other stations, albeit on a delayed basis.

The RCA TP-16A Television Projector, shown at the left, was a self-contained unit which converted film to video. The unit at the right was a two-piece unit, with the film projector at left and video camera at right. The advantage of the dual unit was that it could be used with two film projectors, a mirror being used to switch from one to the other on the fly.

16mm film was already an established format, but there was one problem that had to be overcome. The 16mm format used 24 frames per second, while the video was 60 frames per second. Synchronization was accomplished according to the diagram at the lower right corner of the ad.

The film fed normally at 24 frames per second. During the first frame, the film was illuminated twice, at 1/60 second intervals, and the frame was scanned twice. The net effect was that half of the film frames were scanned three times, and the others scanned two times, for an average of 2-1/2 video frames per film frame. This resulted in the 24 frame per second film being scanned 60 times per second.

The 1000 watt incandescent bulb lit only about 1/1200 second. The video camera had enough inherent memory that it could complete the scan even though it was unlighted.

1957 Swiss Spaghetti Harvest

SpagHarvestSixty years ago, spring had come to Switzerland.  The last two weeks of March are traditionally the spaghetti harvest.  The 1957 harvest was notable due to the eradication of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, which had devastating effects on prior crops.

Switzerland’s spaghetti production is, of course, on a much smaller scale than the large Italian plantations.  The harvest of the uniformly sized spaghetti is more of a family affair in Switzerland.

You can see more in this video, which aired sixty years ago today on the BBC on April 1, 1957.

Training Navy Radiomen, 1942

1942Mar8ChiTribNavyRadioOn this day 75 years ago, March 8, 1942, the Chicago Tribune carried this description of the fever pitch at which it was training its radio experts.

It explained how the Navy was cramming a two-year college radio engineering curriculum into three months. Students were housed at the Naval armory where they woke at 5:30, and were in class by 7:00 at the Balaban & Katz television studio at 190 North State Street.  The theater company was the licensee of WBKB-TV, located at 190 North State Street, the present location of WLS-TV.

The men were in class until 11:00, at which time they marched back to the armory to eat, and were back in class at 12:15 until classes ended at 5:00. Lights were out at 9:00, and the Ensign in charge of the program reported that there were no problems with insomnia.

In a few months, the men’s duties would include RADAR, so the UHF expertise of the television engineers running the program were ideal for instruction.

The men’s former occupations were diverse, and included electricians, refrigerator servicemen, farmers, and locomotive firemen. Each was given a preliminary scholastic examination by mail, followed by the regular navy physical examination. Even though the scholastic test was tough, the Navy didn’t care whether the students had any formal education.

Many of the men were married, and many had turned down commissions as officers in the Army , instead opting for the rank of naval radioman, second class. They recognized that the training would be invaluable when they returned to civilian life, especially with the prospect of a future in television.

The men were paid $72 per month, with an additional allowance of $34.50 for dependents. It was noted that the men could live on “nothing a week,” with the exception of cigarettes or extras.

ChicagoRadioSchoolA typical classroom at the school is shown here, courtesy of an article describing this and other Navy radio schools in the November 1942 issue of QST.


1977 Pong-IV Kit


Forty years ago this month, this couple is enjoying a friendly game of Pong, as shown on the cover of the January-February 1977 issue of Elementary Electronics.

As detailed in the accompanying article, they put the game together themselves, thanks to the Interfab Pong-IV video game kit. The unit contained 43 integrated circuits, and came in three forms. For the purist kit builders, the set came with all of the parts, and the builder had to populate the circuit board and solder them. To save a considerable amount of labor, it was also available with the board pre-populated with parts, held in place by a plastic blister pack. The builder then merely had to solder the multitude of small connections and then remove the plastic. Finally, it was available in semi-kit form, with the circuit board already soldered, and only minimal mechanical assembly required.

The kit was originally marketed with a built-in UHF transmitter to hook directly to the TV. However, the FCC cracked down and required type acceptance, which wasn’t economically viable. Therefore, the PC board was all ready to go, and the manufacturer provided a parts list and instructions to install the transmitter, using a 2N5770 transistor and a few other parts. Other options were to separately purchase a UHF transmitter, for a cost of about $8.50, or tap right into the TV’s video amplifier (this was before the days of most TV’s having a video input jack).

The kit was offered by the Interfab Corp., of Laguna Niguel, California. The completed kit sold for $89.50, with the less assembled versions being about $10 less.

Products from

1957 TV Network


This map in the January 1957 issue of Radio Electronics, shows the status of the TV networks sixty years ago (in black), ans shows the explosive growth from the network as it had existed just six years earlier in 1950 (in red). By 1956, most American and Canadian cities were on the network, and were capable of receiving live network programming by this network of coaxial cable and microwave links. By 1957, a certain amount of redundancy was developing. For example, in 1950, Minneapolis-St. Paul got its first link, via coaxial cable to Des Moines, which was in turn linked to the nationwide network via microwave relay from Chicago. By 1957, there is a second link shown from Chicago through Wisconsin.

The diagram also shows at least two interconnections between the U.S. and Canadian networks. The U.S. Network was operated by AT&T, which had coast-to-coast service in place by 1951.

1957janradioelec2The issue also carried a listing of all stations then on the air.  The Minnesota listing here reveals that in the Twin Cities, channels 4, 5, 9, and 11 were at their familiar spots on the dial.  In Duluth, channels 3 and 6 were on the air, and Austin and Rochester each had one station.

Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941


USS Shaw at Pearl Harbor. Defense Department Photo.

1941dec15bcToday marks the 75th Anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.  Most Americans learned of the attack by radio, and the story of that coverage featured prominently in the December 15 issue of Broadcasting magazine, the first to go to press after the attack.   The photo at the left shows the news staff of stations WLW and WSAI, Cincinnati, huddled shortly after the first news of the attack broke.

According to the magazine, the first broadcast of the attack came at 2:26 Eastern Time, when WOR New York broke into a Dodger-Giant football game to read the United Press flash. Two minutes later, the news was broadcast nationwide over the NBC Red and Blue Networks.

CBS carried the announcement during its 2:30 station break. The afternoon news program was quickly reorganized. CBS newsman John Daly had spoken by telephone with KGMB Honolulu, and news of the attack on Manila, Philipine Islands, was carried live by a telephone hookup with KGMB, that signal being cut mid-broadcast.

Newsrooms came to life as staff were summoned in on an otherwise slow Sunday afternoon. At 2:45, the NBC network rang four chimes, instead of the customary three, to alert staff to report to work.

One NBC executive phoned KGU Honolulu for an immediate report. The voice from Honolulu reported that he was a station executive and did not have a microphone available. The NBC executive told him to keep talking to keep the line open as he raced to the network control room, and the call was eventually patched through live over the air. He was on the air by 4:06 PM with the live report, until a long distance operator broke in to report that the line was needed by the military. A recording of that broadcast is available at this link.  Another six minute call was aired later that hour.

Starting on Monday, December 8, West Coast stations were on a wartime basis. In compliance with an army order, stations in California, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho went off the air. In Washington, KIRO‘s 50 kilowatt signal remained on the air for Army and Navy use only.

During the blackout, which lasted until the next morning, only five minute news flashes were permitted every half hour. More organization was apparent by Thursday and Friday, when staggered schedules were followed.

The nation’s shortwave stations went on a 24 hour schedule, with broadcasts in multiple languages. CBS carried reports in ten languages to Europe, and three to Latin America. It noted that both networks were following a policy of objectivity in news, following FDR’s pronouncement that more than ever, there was a need for truth in the news.

The East Coast shortwave stations were assigned staff from the Office of Coordinator of Information to review material for any that might give aid or comfort to the enemy. In San Francisco, the Navy served a similar function for GE shortwave station KGEI.

CBS Short Wave Listening Station, Long Island. Wikipedia photo.

CBS Short Wave Listening Station, Long Island. Wikipedia photo.

The CBS and NBC shortwave listening stations were operating on a 24-hour schedule, making material available for the networks, press, and Government.

More information on radio broadcasting in the aftermath of the attack can be found at this post and this post.

Television had newly come on the air commercially in New York, and the magazine reported that the new medium developed a new presentation as the events swiftly unfolded. WCBW came on the air at 8:45 PM until 10:00, the first time the station had been on the air on Sunday. Throughout the week, it presented several news programs daily. It covered President Roosevelt’s Monday speech, with a waving flag transmitted over the visual channel.


NBC commentator Sam Cuff uses map to show WNBT viewers strategic location of Hawaii.

WNBT moved an AP teletype into the studios, with the camera focused on the incoming wire. In the weeks preceeding the attack, WNBT had devoted much of its programming to civilian defense training, a role which continued during the war.

Sales of battery operated radios were said to have skyrocketed on December 8.

1941 Boy Scout TV Broadcast


Seventy-five years ago this month, the November 1941 issue of Boys’ Life carried this image of a New York television broadcast featuring scouts from Troop 1, Mendham, N.J. While not identified in the magazine, the gentleman in the center appears to be Troop 1’s Scoutmaster, William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt, the prolific writer whose works included three editions of the Scout Handbook.

From the CBS logos on the camera, the broadcast was from WCBW, which later became WCBS-TV. It is the nation’s second oldest commercial station, having gone on the air only an hour after rival WNBT, leter WNBC.

Both stations began commercial broadcasting on July 1, 1941, the first day that the stations then operating under experimental licenses were allowed to operate under commercial licenses.

Troop 1 was founded by the Danish-born Hillcourt in 1935, and chartered by the National Council of the BSA. He was asked to develop scouting in America, and he used Troop 1 to test his ideas. The twelve candles shown in the picture undoubtedly represent the twelve points of the Scout Law.

1946 NPOTA Activation


During the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is conducting its National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event.  Amateur Radio operators are setting up their stations in various units of the National Park Service (NPS) and making contact with other Amateurs around the world. Since the beginning of the year, the event has been extremely popular, with over 11,000 activations from 450 different different units of the NPS (with only 39 not yet activated), with over 640,000 individual two-way contacts.  As I’ve reported in other posts, I’ve made contact with 251 different parks, operated multiple times from six parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and plan to activate additional parks in the Midwest before the end of the year.

Even though this event is recent, operating portable from the National Parks is nothing new, as shown from the photograph above, which appeared seventy years ago this month in the September 1946 issue of Radio News.

Shown here are members of the Washington Radio Club operating Field Day 1946 from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Shown here are Dick Houston, W4QPW (apparently at the mike), along with Major Eric Ilott, G2JK, of the British Army (later VE3XE), and club secretary Barbara Houston. They are operating a 25 watt phone rig on 10 meters, with a Hallicrafters Sky Champion serving as the receiver. Power was supplied by a 300 watt gasoline generator.

Ilott, apparently at the left in the photo, served in the British and Canadian military until his retirement as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1974. He immigrated to Canada in 1947. During the war, he served as a listener for the British War Office, sending reports to Bletchley Park. Among his accomplishments after the war was bringing the first ever television signal to Kingston, Ontario, from an antenna atop a water tower. He died in 2015 at the age of 95.  (For another look at the early days of bringing distant TV signals to town, please see my earlier post on the first TV in Marathon, Ontario.)

1946 was the tenth running of the ARRL Field Day, an event in which hams set up stations at portable locations to make as many contacts as possible.

I previously wrote about the 1941 Field Day, in which the high scoring station had made 1112 contacts. That would be the last Field Day before the war, and the one shown here was the first postwar Field Day. According to the results in the February 1947 issue of QST, the top 1946 scorer made 809 contacts.

But the results article noted that it would be pointless to compare the 1946 results with those of prewar Field Days, since operating conditions as of June 1946 were quite different. In particular, hams had not yet regained access to the 160, 40, and 20 meter bands, which had been the workhorses for the prewar events. The 1946 Field Day was limited to 80 and 10 meters on HF, along with the 50, 144, and 420 MHz bands.

Shenandoah was not the only national park being activated in 1946. In addition, according to the results article, there were operations from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and a battlefield national park in Virginia, as well as numerous other venues.


Photo courtesy of N3KN.

While the Washington Radio Club took the honors of activating Shenandoah National Park in 1946, my own 2016 contact took place on February 8 on 20 meter phone.  Fortunately, the 20 meter band was returned to hams shortly after the war, as the contact on 10 or 80 meters in 1946 would have been considerably more challenging.  My contact was with Kay Craigie, N3KN, shown here.  In addition to being an avid NPOTA chaser, activator, and member of the NPOTA Facebook group, Kay is the immediate past president of the ARRL (a select group which included Herbert Hoover, Jr.).  She was at the helm of the ARRL when the NPOTA event was proposed and adopted.

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Du Mont Tubes, 1956


Sixty years ago, the hapless TV repairman shown here was living the serviceman’s worst nightmare.  He had installed a cheap picture tube, and this consumer wasn’t happy about it.  The child shown here is now getting close to drawing Social Security, but probably still remembers the traumatic incident.

The moral of the story, according to this ad in the September 1956 issue of Radio Electronics, was that he should have used Du Mont tubes.

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