What every family wants to know about Television (Jan, 1949)

Interesting and fairly comprehensive article about the state of television in 1948. A time when there were less than 60 stations covering about a million viewers.

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What every family wants to know about Television

by Miles Ginsberg

The frontier days are back in one. sector of the American economy. The television industry, only a shadowy outline a year ago, is galloping toward giantism with much of the driving, mercurial spirit of an earlier time in this country. All a television executive needs to be completely in character is a six-shooter and a pair of spurs.

In the wild and wooly television industry, every company releasing information has an axe to grind and a hatchet to throw at the next company’s facts. Nevertheless, by balancing claim against claim, a reporter can compile an amazingly optimistic set of fairly solid facts about television. For example:

1. During 1948, the industry poured out over 800,000 sets; this means the country now has about a million TV sets;

2. There are between 50 and 60 TV stations;

3. Networks, absolutely essential to big-time broadcasting, are sprouting both regionally and across the country; this month a coaxial cable is scheduled to open, linking Philadelphia to Cleveland and connecting the East Coast network with the Middle West; now people as far west as St. Louis will be able to see programs telecast in New York;

4. Set production will hit 1,500,000 in 1949, bringing total number of sets in the country to 2,500,000;

5. Within two years, as many as 400 stations may be on the air.

In this 11-page report you will find answers to some fundamental questions about television.

How good is today’s TV reception?

The most important single question about television a prospective set buyer can ask is: “How good is the picture you see?” For this the picture at the right, taken off a television screen, presents a photographic answer. It gives you an approximate idea of what a good television set in proper adjustment can do. It has all the detail of a 16mm movie.

Much of the time, television reception is satisfying and clear. But sometimes a set owner runs into annoyances comparable to static on a radio, but a good deal more disturbing. Take the following incident as an example.

Burton Walder, a young engineer who lives in New York State’s Putnam-County, was seated before his television set one night recently when he noticed the picture growing dim and bright by turns. “There’s a plane overhead,” said Walder to three guests who had come to see some television. “How do you know?” asked one of the visitors.

Walder explained that the plane passing overhead had intercepted the waves coming from the television station. Waves reflected off the plane had neutralized and then re-enforced the incoming signal.

“Why, television is like radar,” said a guest. “Yes,” replied Walder ruefully, “and my set never misses a plane.”

Burton Walder’s trouble with passing airplanes is only one of the occasional irritations in store for set owners. The ignition systems of cars on a road within 50 feet or so of a set’s antenna radiate signals that are likely to be picked up. These signals trace a disconcerting pattern of blank white stripes across the screen, or they trip up the steady succession of different pictures (30 a second). This loss of synchronization puts the bottom half of a picture where the top should be, and vice versa.

There are other intermittent nuisances; any adjacent electrical discharge reveals its presence on a television screen. Thus oil burners and vacuum cleaners will vex television viewers. A television set is not even safe from itself; a nearby set can radiate disturbing waves. FM also plagues viewers.

But that’s enough gloom.

The television picture is actually very bright; and almost all the troubles outlined above have solutions. Take the annoyance due to interference from automobiles. This is being eliminated slowly through redesign of auto ignition systems. In addition, television engineers are making sets less susceptible to interference. A new RCA Victor model appearing on the market now has increased resistance to FM, amateur and diathermy interference. This set also is less susceptible to airplane reflections.

The RCA set is cited only as an example. Other manufacturers including Philco and Zenith are coming out with new sets which have similar improvements. Broadcasters in two or three years will probably do their share toward improving reception by increasing station power. This would help neutralize interference and make indoor antennae more practical.

Hearing about such improvements, a citizen might well ask: “Will present models be obsolete within a few years?” To this the answer is no. Television sets made in these first years of the industry’s history are not on the same performance level as the early radios.

A citizen who has been reading the papers recently might ask further: “What about this Federal Communications Commission hearing over assigning new and higher frequencies to television? Will present sets be able to take such frequencies?”

Here again there are definite answers. Set owners have the word of Wayne Coy, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, that the 12 channels on which TV now broadcasts will not be abandoned. Nor need a set owner be very concerned about the opening of the ultra-high frequency band. This probably will take place within the next year, but it is not a step toward obsolescence of your set. If new UHF stations are opened in your city, you will be able to buy a converter enabling your set to receive UHF (at about $50).

When color television comes, it, too, will be broadcast on UHF. And color TV may be here sooner than anyone had expected. Columbia Broadcasting System has overcome one of the initial objections to color—the width of the frequency channel needed to carry it. CBS has cut this frequency from 16 megacycles to six megacycles, which is the same width now used in black and white telecasting. It has also developed a converter which would make color sets of present black and white models. This converter might sell for under $100.

A new TV tube coming?

The picture on a television screen is a painting made with electrons sprayed at it from a gun. The screen glows every time an electron strikes it because it is coated with phosphorescent material. And the varied glowing of many spots on the television screen forms a picture. The unit in the television set which contains this electronic painting attachment and screen is called the picture tube.

Although it is easy to understand the general function of picture tubes, manufacturing them is tough. They are shaped roughly like headlights—a hard form to fashion in glass.

When the television industry first got rolling, these tubes were a real bottleneck. They had to be blown individually with much spoilage and waste of time. Now the Corning Glass Company has mechanized blowing of 10-inch bottles or blanks for the tubes (those with a screen face 10 inches in diameter). And the leading tube manufacturers like RCA, Sylvania and General Electric have put tube finishing operations on an assembly-line basis. This, along with establishment of set production lines during 1948, is the main reason that the industry will be able to turn out 1,500,000 sets during 1949 (estimates run as high as 2,000,000 sets).

The pictures on these two pages were taken at the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, tube plant of RCA. Here, one 10-inch tube a minute comes off an intricate and delicate assembly line.

The huge Lancaster plant was the first to mechanize production of 10-inch tubes, the most popular size by far. Now the plant is getting ready to pioneer once more. Its engineers and mechanics are busy setting up a production line for a revolutionary type of tube made of metal with a glass face welded to it.

Everyone in the industry knows the new tube is a 16-incher. But other facts about it are supposed to be secret for some time to come. Anyone with reasonably good hearing and eyesight, however, can discover that RCA engineers are very proud of this new baby and expect big things of it. Some of the reasons:

Its price will be lower than that of the all-glass 15-inch tubes now being turned out. Its cost to manufacturers may, in fact, be close to $50. By the end of 1949, television sets with large 16-inch tubes (10″ by 14″ picture) may be out at about $500. At present, slightly smaller 15-inch tube sets cost about $700 or more.

The metal-glass tube has other advantages, too. It weighs only about six pounds—30 pounds less than the comparable glass tube. And it is sturdier.

Completely characteristic of the wildly sprouting TV industry is the fact that several companies have already beaten RCA to the draw with announcements about metal-glass tubes. The pint-sized Tel-O-Tube Corporation revealed, several months ago, that it was making such a tube. However, set manufacturers say this company’s production is but a drop in a bucket.

More recently, Dumont, biggest producer of large-screen tubes in the country, launched its own metal tube. It comes in 12″ as well as 16″ sizes; and it, too, is in limited production only. RCA, on the other hand, has been producing many tubes for months and stockpiling them. Industry-wide sale of the RCA tubes in small quantities will probably begin within 30 days.

How much does TV cost?

The average price of a television set during 1948 was about $375. But this is a useless statistic undoubtedly compiled by little men who do their figuring on high stools. A consumer wants to know such things as: “How much would a little set to go on the living-room table cost?” In these pictures Science Illustrated helps to answer such questions.

Set prices during 1949 may decline slightly, but will take no steep nosedive; manufacturers say that rising labor costs have just about neutralized savings due to mass production. Nor will some startling technical innovation bring you a standard-size TV set at under $100.

You will find sets with seven screen sizes pictured below. The bigger the picture, the more the set costs.

Will TV really change America’s family habits?

One night just about a year ago, Phil Young came home from his advertising office a tired but not unhappy man. He walked through the living room of his home in Dobbs Ferry, N. Y., looking for his family and then headed toward his den. As he entered this room, he saw a strangely disturbing sight—16 pairs of eyes glowed up at him from the floor. ‘What’s going on here?” he asked. And from among the eyes his two. children answered reproachfully: “Shhhhh, daddy.” Television had come to Phil Young’s home.

His two daughters (Gale, 10, Jeanie, 6) and 14 neighbor children were sitting on the floor in the dark entranced by television’s Howdy Doody show. This is the sensationally successful program starring a puppet which may become the Punch and Judy show of our time.

Today, Phil Young’s children still sit for hours staring fixedly at the television screen. There has been only one change in their viewing habits: they have been taught to keep some room lights on while watching programs. This helps prevent eyestrain.

But Phil Young and his wife, Natalie, have noted a slow change in their own feelings about television. A year ago there were only a few programs they

found entertaining. Now they are enthusiastic about several. They say, for example, that they rarely miss the. Ed Sullivan and Milton Berle variety shows, or the Kraft Theater and the Theater Guild—both dramatic programs.- Other favorites: Peter Pixie’s Playhouse, Mississippi Showboat, the Bob Howard show, Candid Microphone, the Philco Playhouse.

Phil Young is a man who likes to get a good long night’s rest, but he finds this is difficult with a television set in his home. He, his wife and especially the children now go to bed much later than had been their custom. There are other changes, too. They go to the movies, attend sports events and listen to the radio less frequently now.

Apparently the experience of the Youngs is common among other television families. Surveys taken by advertising agencies, Variety, Television magazine and by researchers from Hofstra College, Long Island, show that attendance at outside recreations declines after most families buy a television set.

The Hofstra College survey found that total participation in entertainment outside the home dropped 24 per cent. And movie attendance dropped 20 per cent. If the nation’s one million television families went to the movies 20 per cent fewer times a week, the loss in revenue to the movie industry annually would be about $11,333,333. No one knows if Hofstra figures hold true consistently for the nation, but you can see that television is no insomnia cure for a movie or a radio magnate. To make matters grimmer for the radio and movie people, the Hofstra interviewers found that the devotion of an owner to his television set was not the result of its novelty. A year after buying a set, the average ‘ owner’s movie attendance was about as low as during the first week.

One heartening thing for everyone, the Hofstra report revealed, is that people found commercials on television more pleasant than those on radio. But Phil Young has spotted another less cheerful trend. “The quiz show on television,” he maintains, “is sometimes annoying, now, becuse it has not been fully perfected for TV.”

Mrs. Young is as articulate and close an observer of television as her husband. She has this advice for new set owners: “If you want peace in your home, don’t put the set in the living room. The children will run it constantly—even when you want to read a book.”

The Youngs have found the best way to control their children’s television enthusiasm is by agreeing roughly every Sunday on which programs they will tune in that week. Some control is necessary because the children love everything on television except news programs. Mrs. Young cannot understand why, but her daughters are spellbound by the old silent movies she remembers seeing as a child. They love the Keystone cops, the pie throwing contests and exciting chases in 1913 automoibles; and they even watch travelogues.

Mrs. Young remarks hopefully that at least the girls may be learning history that way. And from what she’s seen of the interest children take in television, she has come to believe there must be a great deal to the current move toward visual education in schools.

Mr. Young, too, is amazed by the reactions of the children. The dreamy-eyed little boy in the picture at left, for example, loves to watch wrestling on television. But even more than they love to watch muscle-padded wrestlers bat one another around, the children love to see Milton Berle.

Mr. Young says half seriously that he believes “Milton Berle is destined to replace Babe Ruth as the idol of the young in America”

Is inter-continental TV next?

For years, science fiction writers have been describing a telephone of the future which would allow people to see as well as hear each other. For just as many years their readers have speculated about the embarrassment such an invention might cause. For example, you might be in your bathtub when a friend would call you on the videophone. Unthinkingly, you’d rush to answer, lift the receiver and stand exposed before the camera eye.

With television developed to the extent it is nowadays, engineers could design such a phone-video easily. In several cities television programs are now carried for short distances over modified telephone lines. This makes it obvious that a phone-video system is perfectly practical—technologically. But economically, that’s another matter. Probably no such system could pay for itself for another century.

But today television has uses which seem just as fantastic. Right now in several plants scattered through the country, television cameras are aiding in remote control of machinery. At the Hell Gate Power Station of the Consolidated Edison Company in New York, engineers watch a television screen in a control room, see dials on a boiler that is eight floors above them. This suggests that some future factories will be completely automatic with technicians controlling all machinery from a television observation booth.

The Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation, which developed the equipment used at the Hell Gate station, has other novel plans for its TV cameras. Farnsworth thinks they make ideal burglar alarms. The company has been mulling this over for some time, but recently it was scooped by Dick Tracy, the comic-strip detective. Dick Tracy showed how a television camera could be set up in a store as a visual burglar alarm.

The futuristic phone-video system mentioned at the beginning of this page, incidentally, should not be confused with phone vision, a scheme the Zenith Radio Corporation advocates. Zenith believes television as organized today can never provide topnotch entertainment. The company suggests, instead, that owners of television sets pay for some of the programs sent to their homes. The telephone company would handle the billing for this kind of broadcasting.

The television camera responsible for the appearance of these marvels before Buck Roger’s time is an instrument with two jobs. It takes pictures and it breaks the pictures up so they can be broadcast as a series of varying radio waves.

The process of taking television pictures is just like making snapshots with a Brownie. Light is brought to a focus on a surface with a lens. In this case the surface is made of a special photo-electric substance, not of film. This substance throws off electrons (particles of negative electricity) whenever light strikes it. The more light, the more electrons bouncing off.

Electrons flying off this picture surface strike a glass plate; and each picture electron in turn knocks several other electrons off the glass. This leaves a pattern of positive charges spread over the plate in the shape of the picture.

At this point the television camera performs its picture-breaking function. It shoots a stream of electrons at the glass plate in a peculiar manner. The electrons, moving at the speed of light, sweep across the picture in horizontal lines—525 lines every 1/30 of a second, and one line after another from top to bottom. It is this scanning of the picture in separate lines which makes television possible.

When the scanning electrons strike the glass plate, many are attracted into the glass wherever it is strongly positive, few where it is almost neutral. This creates a current on the glass varying with the picture’s characteristics.

This current is drawn off the glass, amplified, and broadcast. Picked up by a set, this signal controls the strength of the electron beam in the picture tube (see pages 22 and 23) as it shoots electrons at the screen.

Ultrafax is one of the newest uses for the complex TV camera. It is a communications system developed by RCA (with the aid of Eastman Kodak) which allows long-distance transmission of about 1,000,000 written words a minute. A special camera televises pages from books, letters or newspapers, and sends them any distance over microwave relay; as it comes in, the Ultrafax receiver prints this material on photographic film.

More startling perhaps than Ultrafax is a serious suggestion by Brigadier General David Sarnoff, president of RCA, about international television. Sarnoff believes a television airlift of 12 to 14 planes could relay TV broadcasts from plane to plane across the Atlantic Ocean. It is doubtful, however, that such a plane relay system will come soon. But there are other ways of initiating international television. One would require special ocean cables. Engineers might be able to sheath coaxial cables so they could be laid under water. But this, too, is a long way off.

Another theoretically possible way of getting international TV involves use of a space station circling the earth. Such a satellite would receive television waves, reflect them back to earth. Waves aimed from New York would bounce back at an angle to London. Unbelievable? Well, if there are such satellites out around the earth in a few years (SI, November, 1948) wait and see what the electronics engineers will try next.

4 comments
  1. jayessell says: May 26, 200712:21 pm

    Excellent article.

    The last papragraph mentions space stations.
    What year did Arthur C. Clarke publish a description of
    geostationary satelites?

    AT&T wouldn’t pay to cable the east and west coasts together in 1949?
    What year did they do it?

    Oh… that “add color to a black and white set” idea never took off because it couldn’t be economically adapted to 20″ and 25″ sets.
    It would need a huge rotating glass disk over twice the diameter of the screen.

    Was there a reason metal/glass CRTs were unfeasible?
    X-Rays perhaps?

    Hopefully in another 60 years we’ll have goggleless 3D and decent programming.

  2. Blurgle says: May 26, 20071:27 pm

    I think the problem with the creation of a metal-glass tube was how to get a larger welded tube to safely hold a vacuum.

    In a regular vacuum tube that wasn’t too much of a problem: the tube was smaller, shaped to resist a vacuum, and would likely be housed inside a radio or TV so it wouldn’t pose a hazard. But a CRT is of course partly exposed, so any explosion could be dangerous. What’s more, the shape of a CRT (and especially a rectangular one) doesn’t afford any protection.

  3. jayessell says: May 26, 20076:35 pm

    I looked it up.

    Arthur C. Clarkes’ paper was first published in Wireless World, October 1945, pages 305-308

    (see it at http://www.lsi.usp.br/~…)

    Supposedly mad genius Nickoli Tesla mentioned geostationary satelites much earlier.

  4. Stannous says: May 26, 20076:45 pm

    According to a very comprehensice article in Wikipedia,http://en.wikipedia.org…
    TV licenses were frozen from 1948-1952 which led to the creation of community antennae and cable TV. The article discusses at length the various pro and anti CATV factions and the struggle that went into its development.

    The idea of a geosynchronous satellite for communication purposes was first published in 1928 by Herman Potočnik. The geostationary orbit was first popularised by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke in 1945 as a useful orbit for communications satellites. As a result this is sometimes referred to as the Clarke orbit. Similarly, the Clarke Belt is the part of space approximately 35,786 km above mean sea level in the plane of the equator where near-geostationary orbits may be achieved.

    As for 3D- almost definitely in 5-10 years, quality programming on the other hand…

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