Where Television Stands Today (Oct, 1933)

It’s pretty amazing to read about the early days of television. Building a TV without a Cathode Ray Tube is like building a computer without transistors. You CAN do it, but man is it a pain in the ass. The “primitive” models he describes with their “flickering red images” remind me of the Nintendo Virtual Boy.

Where Television Stands Today

In this article the well known owner of station WDGY and the owner-operator of the largest private television station, W9 ICI, gives you a resume of the past year’s progress in this fascinating new development.

by DR. YOUNG – Operator, WDGY

IF YOU were one of the comparatively few men who saw the first few television demonstrations, you no doubt were one of the men who said that television would take some time to perfect.

Doubtless you therefore have an avid curiosity about the progress of television in the last twelve months.

From the first crude, flickering red images—the best that were available at this time last year—we have made the following progress:

We can now give you pictures in white light of near-cinematic quality.

The line caused by the light pencil has been nearly eliminated.

Large screen pictures have become practicable.

There are 30 television stations broadcasting nightly within easy receiving range of every state in the union. Four of these stations are of 1 kilowatt capacity. It has been my pleasure to build and operate one of these first four 1 kilowatt stations, so you see I may be said to be a pioneer in television. I know that I get a great kick out of being the only individual aside from the large corporations who has gone in for television on so ambitious a scale. I have watched eagerly the progress of the new art and science this last year, and I get a great thrill out of realizing that in the city of Chicago there are 2,000 sets in regular operation, over 100,000 receiving sets in New York City and as many more in scattered localities throughout the country.

A new crater-type neon light (red) or nitrogen light (white) has been brought out by the Duo-Vac people of Brooklyn which costs but a dollar and a half and is but the size of the bulb in your car headlight. As a matter of fact, it has the same base as your car bulbs.

This new light is to television as the low-cost vacuum tube was to the old crystal radio set. It gives POWER to the weak signals.

No More Red Images

By its use we can get pictures in white light. We can do away with the bull’s-eye lens that featured machines of last year, because there is enough light emitted by this phenomenal new lamp to project a picture on quite a sizeable ground glass screen.

Now, due to this new type of lamp, which has the amazing ability to light up and “go dark” 100,000 times a second, the old style ten and fifteen dollar lamps that

were as bulky as a young watermelon can be thrown away. These new lamps are worlds more efficient, draw but 2-1/2 volts a. c, and cost but a dollar and a half. Thus the cost of the renewable element of the television set has been reduced 1000%, and power has been stepped up nearly as much. That, I claim, is quite a step in progress for a short twelve months.

You see, just as the first radio broadcasting made no progress until low-cost vacuum tube introduction allowed manufacturers to put out a reliable set requiring no special skill in manipulating, so television could scarcely have made any progress from the greatly over-tooted press blare of its baby days until we could announce milestones like those just enumerated: good pictures, white screens, cheaply renewable and efficient white lights.

Just look back and realize that when station KDKA, run by Westinghouse, first began its programs ten years ago receivers were so far below present day standards that to listen to one of these old sets will make you laugh at yourself for ever having expressed wonder at its performance. The first sets had earphones, and you were satisfied. The first loud speaker, Magna-vox, looked like a mushroomed auto horn. Yet what a wonderful thing it was in those days to be able to listen to a radio without a pair of earphones! Marvelous? Yes, and that was only ten years ago.

In its essence, the problem of radio is fairly simple. It consists in principle of merely propagating the single modulated current produced by the voice, broadcasting it over great distances, and picking it up on an aerial somewhere, and then strengthening this signal through amplifying valves to the point where it can be used to actuate a glorified telephone receiver called a loudspeaker.

Television Principle Is Complex

Television as a problem is infinitely more complex. First the transmitting machine breaks down the picture into an electrical impulse, or set of impulses. These sets of impulses are then broadcast just as sound is broadcast. If there is any sound to accompany the picture it must be broadcast with the picture in the ordinary manner, and synchronized to boot.

This complex signal is sent out and picked up by an aerial at a distant point. Here it is split up again into its component parts, sound and light, to form the talking television image.

The sound problem has never troubled television, for it is a fairly simple single modulated wave. But in order to break down a televised subject into an electrical signal and do it rapidly enough to catch lip movement and eyelash flickers it is necessary to shut the current on and off upwards of 30,000 times a second. This is easily done at the transmitting or pickup end, but the problem has been to catch this signal in the light-emitting half of the television receiver (the part that builds the picture) and at the same time obtain (1) synchronization of image (2) brilliancy (3) absence of pencilling effects and (4) white instead of red images.

With the advent of the crater lamp we can today secure white images of brilliance sufficient to dispense with the bull’s-eye lenses that were on last year’s sets. (They were used to magnify the weak light concentrations of the former small pictures.)

Synchronization is cleared up by the use of the Senabria system of scanning lenses which uses three spirals instead of the old fashioned single helix. See sketch. This new disc “averages” out any aberrations that might be caused by a slight imperfection in one of the old spirals, which because it was the only channel through which the light could pass, would repeat its mistakes with every revolution.

No More “Pencilling”

Thus defects in pencilling, or painting of the image have been done away with, or at least put “under control.”

We have found that a mesh screen placed in front of the photoelectric cells will not affect the light received by them, and will eliminate the mixing of noise with the picture (one of the causes of floating images of last year). The screen softens the music and prevents the mirrors, which pick up sight, from vibrating. As these mirrored cells interpret light only, any disturbance of them would register as a disturbance in light at the receiving end.

The matter of synchronization has been eliminated by a secondary wave which is very low in periodicity, and which adjusts the speed of the motor just as a power surge synchronizes an electric clock to keep it rolling away in accurate time.

We can say, therefore, that television is today right where radio broadcasting was when the vacuum tube was introduced. The outstanding development of the last year placing television in this category is the crater type lamp, and the accompanying elimination of most synchronization problems, and the new knowledge of how to keep sound from interfering with the sight channels, together with the “averaging out” principle of the Senabria 3 spiral disc.

This is enabling manufacturers to build receiving machines which give satisfactory operation and which require little skill in operating. That means, friends, that television is now ready to come to the home!

  1. glindsey says: August 22, 200710:59 am

    At this point, televisions were still using mechanical scanning disks and lamps to project the image on the screen. It wasn’t until cathode-ray tubes became more practical and cheaper that the scanning could be done electronically.

  2. fluffy says: August 22, 200711:16 am

    Not to nitpick or anything, but lots of TVs are built without cathode ray tubes nowadays.

  3. Casandro says: August 22, 200711:16 am

    Well today there are experiments to replace the CRT of modern televisions by even something different. So far the results have been meager. Liquid Crystal Displays still have inferiour contrast compared to CRTs of the same price while Plasma simply doesn’t have enought resolution.
    Most promising seems to be Light Emitting Diodes based displays, but those are currently still very expensive, and the cheaper organic LEDs wear out to quickly.

  4. Charlie says: August 22, 200711:32 am

    I knew someone was going to say something about LCDs! I almost added a caveat too. Yes I was not including LCD’s, Plasmas, DLPs, lasers or what ever else anyone comes up with. Basically if the display requires more computing power than existed in the entire world at the time of the article, it’s wasn’t really a viable alternative.

    Interestingly if you read the wikipedia article about DLPs that I linked to, they explain that single chip DLP’s actually use a spinning color wheel like the old color tv’s did.

  5. jayessell says: August 22, 200712:05 pm

    I see this website uses artificially intelligent ad selection.

    At the top of the page are links to…


    … based on the title of the article.

    I wonder what ads would appear for “Miget Racing” (Small race cars.)

  6. Charlie says: August 22, 200712:13 pm

    Google does pick the ads based on the content of the pages. Since the content varies so widely you get some weird, weird ads. Sometimes they are right on though. The best day we ever had on this site (ad revenue wise) was when I posted this article on how to make nitrous oxide. My first reaction to the ads on the page was: “Wow, you can buy whippets online? I’m going to get me some!” Apparently a lot of people thought the same thing because we had a few hundred ad clicks that day compared to the normal dozen or so.

  7. Paul Lindemeyer says: October 8, 20099:31 pm

    Dr. Young was George Young, who had started his station in 1923. He named it after himself (DGY = Dr. George Young).

    The station is still operating as KFAN sports radio. The Wikipedia entry includes the following:
    “In 1933, Dr. Young was granted a license for W9XAT, an experimental mechanical television station. It is believed that the first transmission of the 120- or 125-line system—probably the first telecast in Minnesota—occurred on August 4 of that year, featuring a handshake between WDGY station personality Clellan Card and Minneapolis mayor William Kunze. The station pushed the technological limits of the day and provided a lot of interesting exercises for WDGY engineers, but Dr. Young never got into regular broadcasts. The license for that station expired in 1938, partly because mechanical television development was heavily discouraged by that point. After 64 years of dormancy, an amateur radio group in the area acquired the W9XAT call sign in 2002 with the intention of using it for mechanical and narrow-bandwidth TV experiments.”

    If Young was indeed using 120 line scanning, he was one of the few experimenters to do so.

    1938 was also the year the FCC tightened the requirements for experimental TV licenses. CRT was going to be the standard and if you didn’t already have CRT research ongoing, your license was pulled.

  8. -DOUG- says: October 9, 200912:28 pm

    I’d be curios to actually see some of the TV screens they had before the CRT. I learned in school about MECHANICAL projectors with spinnning discs and I can’t imagine a computer today could synchronize that, but the camera worked the same way. Or that glass beaded screen where they projected a tiny image inside the box and bits of it reflected in individual beads. I heard about an outdoor screen on the side of a building that worked that way prior to WWII.

    Wish I could dig up an article I saved from a trade magazine years ago about the camera and screen they showed at I believe it was the 1919 World’s Fair. I have looked for that and looked for that over the years.

    And that statement “The line caused by the light pencil has been nearly eliminated.” Dang, I don’t even remember my old NTSC terminology, it’s sort of passe now, but could this “Light pencil” be the horizontal scanning? The line being the gap between the 525 lines, 472 of which appeared on the screen if you saw the full picture? (Before pixels, it was horizontal lines.) Remember bad TV’s where you only saw the middle compared to the better TV’s? When I was getting started we still had to worry about the “Safe area,” so important things didn’t get cropped. Imagine sports replays where the call in question was to the side, and you couldn’t see the whole thing because of it.

    The great joke in television was that NTSC stood for “Never The Same Color.” NTSC was a black and white system the FCC would not let the industry replace in the 1950′s because of a few hundred thousand TV’s already in use, so they had to come up with a way to artificially color a black and white image. Two identical cameras didn’t really give identical pictures. And black and white TV’s continued to sell in the U.S. for what? 40 years?

    But contrary to legend, the socalled PAL system the industry wanted to adopt is NOT the same system that took over in Europe. (PAL being called “Peace At Last.”) The unknowledgeable often insist it is. Our PAL didn’t actually work anyway, which contributed to the FCC not allowing it. There’s also the variant, PAL-M, AKA “Pay A Little More.”

    And the French adopted their own SECAM standard. And since they ARE French afterall, it’s referred to as “Something Entired Contrary to the American Method.”

    Dang, I want my career back.

  9. Firebrand38 says: October 9, 20096:03 pm

    -DOUG-: Maybe that’s because it was the 1939 World’s Fair and not 1919


  10. -DOUG- says: October 9, 200910:11 pm

    Actually no, it was 1919. Are you kidding? I had to blow that up to SORT OF read it and didn’t find anything about a camera. I would assume that was a CRT television they were going to market, and not the mechanical type I was talking about.

    There was broadcasting underway years before 1939. They were shooting live video from planes in 1939, and I’ve always wondered if some of the film from planes attacking ships might actually be kinescopes of broadcasts filmed back on the carriers. At the 1936 Olympics Hitler became the first leader delivering a speech on television. If you read this it mentions a London transmission that “Skipped,” basically was reflected off the horizon somewhere between the atmosphere and space, and was received in New York. At the time that was printed, there were already tinkers with receivers in their homes, as the headline of this says, that article is about the “Commercial debut.” Meaning home reception made easy. Dang, there were ‘Radio photgraphs’ dating back to the early 20′s. (I’ll let YOU Google all this.) Oh, and the original 2″ Quad video recorders recorded video in square frames just like film, and the tape was physically cut and spliced for editing. Helical scan video recordings could not be edited until the invention of the time base corrector in the 70′s.

    Television did NOT just up and start because someone started selling sets in department stores. In fact, it is a true open source technology, not invented by a single person but in fact is a compliation of hundreds of discoveries over decades by thousands of people who made their information public. . . .

  11. Firebrand38 says: October 9, 200910:42 pm

    -DOUG-: Actually in fact there was no World’s Fair in 1919 http://expomuseum.com/1…

    The word television was announced publicly for the first time by the Russian Constantin Perskyi at the 1900 Paris International World Fair http://en.wikipedia.org…

    As to the invention of television itself, I know… http://www.fcc.gov/omd/…

  12. -DOUG- says: October 10, 20095:31 am

    That *.PDF is from 2003. It says that NTSC and 525 lines is the standard even “Today.” Could that be true in HDTV. Hard for me to believe. But it only talks about the technology that wound up in COMMON use. What about the cinecamera, transmitting film LIVE moments after it was shot? I know they experimented with this during WWII for observation planes, but don’t know if it got out into the war. But this isn’t all that obscure, it became the basis for the Rank Cintel Flying Spot Telecine, the way movies wound up on tape. Any of these superficial things you find online aren’t going to begin to tell the story.

    There may not have been a World’s Far in 1919 (Good thing I said I “Believe” that’s where it was) but there was SOME opportunity for them to show it off. Who was it, Baird? Who eventually got credit for transmitting the first moving pictures in public BEFORE he is credited with gaining the capability. I think it was 1925 when he had a public show in a department store, at a time when a single store could be what it takes a mall to be today. But thst system turns out to only be 4 or 5 frames a second, where continous motion came to be defined as at least 6 frames a second, which he came up with shortly after his demonstration. Baird invented what he called the “Video disk,” which was played on a “Phonovision,” if that gives you an idea of how it worked.

    Funny how the FCC website doesn’t acknowledge that General Electric was broadcasting regularly WITHOUT a license while licenses for others were being processed. The FCC issued it’s first license to Charles Jenkins according to your link, but I’m more interested in the 2ND LICENSE. That’s to Hugo Gernsback. That’s right, Hugo A GO GO, who created the term Science Fiction and had the award for it named after him. His license was also issued in 1928, and he’d been at it for 5 years when this article came out. Gernsback published the first Television magazine, called—’Television.’

    All this fascinates me to no end, which is probably why it became my career, dormant though it may be at the time. Im much the manner of Ham operators, people were building their own receivers and watching television in the 1920′s. And it was much happening much like radio had 10 years earlier; stores, manufacturers and newspapers broadcasting just to be big shots; along with a few garage efforts by people also wanting to be bigshots. So much will be dismissed by the FCC historians as hooliganism, and for me that’s the best part. Timeline’s leave out the interesting parts.

    But rereading this again, I see ‘Spiraling lenses,’ ‘Discs’ and ’30,000 flickers a second.’ That tells me this IS the mechanical television system. I don’t have the explanation for the red images other than it was red’s turn to be winning that fight. But I’ll bet the shade was magenta.

    I don’t know about in digital, but in analog the video signal was 1 volt. Green was generated by .59 volts, red by .31 volts, blue used the remaining .1 volt. If the signal faded by .03 volts in green, .02 volts in red, and .01 volts in blue, the picture would be green even though it lost the most signal, because it has lost the smallest percentage. If green alone got weak the picture turned magenta. If red alone weakened it turned cyan. If the blue weakened it turned yellow.

    When I was getting started in TV, the tube cameras were still common in low budget operations, and the tubes would often be utterly shot. If the studio had money, they’d have just bought CCD cameras, they’d never retube the old junk. And of course engineers cost money, so we’d be without one. We being a bunch of kids that’ll work cheap in this awful environment because we needed the money. A great opportunity for a guy whose Dad had nicknamed him ‘Dauntless’ as a play on his name, because he just stumbled in and tried it all the time.

    It was pretty easy figuring out how to make the cameras give a good picture in the studio with all the scopes and controlled lighting available, but what about ENG in the field? When I had to work with junk cameras like that I took to carrying magenta, cyan and yellow cards for white balance. The camera wasn’t going to properly take a white balance in its’ condition, but I could fool it by making it try to turn the offending color to white by white balancing on that color of card. It also worked well for ‘Day for Night’ video: The idea being to make daytime look like night by taking the blue out of the picture, so I’d white balance on a blue card. Then I’d crush the IRE and boost the peds to bright black. (There is too bright black in video, there’s also blacker than black.) I know you’re not really understanding this without a successful Google session, but I’m having fun. (Sigh) People insist there’s no such thing as black light, but play the end of a videotape where the picture is black and turn off the overhead light. Notice how you can read in the light from the black screen. . . .

  13. Randy says: October 10, 20092:39 pm

    @12: “That tells me this IS the mechanical television system. I don’t have the explanation for the red images other than it was red’s turn to be winning that fight.”

    Doug, red was the color of the neon lamps used in the early mechanical television sets, used because you could modulate the brightness quickly enough to form the image, as opposed to incandescent lamps with the thermal inertia of their filaments:


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