Early Television in Schenectady, New York


GUEST POST BY KEN KINLOCK

Recently I read in a daily history blog that on May 13, 1928 that “WGY-TV in Schenectady, NY began regular television broadcasting”

Having once worked in Schenectady, I had heard other things about television (and radio) both before and after that date. Matter of fact, We updated a WebSite about early radio history.

http://www.ominousweather.com/VacationFrenchRiviera/Entertainment.html#WGY

1928: General Electric establishes an experimental electro-mechanical television station, W2XB, at its factory in Schenectady, NY. The station broadcasts a moving image from a “camera” using a Nipkow disk with a 24 line resolution. The star of these early transmissions was a 13″ tall Bakelite statue of Felix the Cat slowly rotating on a turntable. In addition to the statue of Felix the Cat, W2XBS also broadcast images of a human subject. These broadcasts were used by GE engineers to test the new technology. In 1942, W2XB becomes WRGB, sister to radio station WGY.

The regular television broadcasting was not only local, but sent to New York City also. Wonder where it was rebroadcast from? At that point, General Electric owned a significant portion of Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Other owners were Westinghouse, the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) and United Fruit Company.

Above picture is from 1939 and shows the General Electric Broadcasting station in the Helderberg Mountains near Albany, New York.

A block diagram of the GE electro-mechanical television system, Radio News, April 1928.
Note that two radio transmitters were used in these experimental broadcasts. The visual image was broadcast on experiemntal shortwave station W2XB operating on 37.33 meters (7.7 MHz) and the sound was broadcast over radio station WGY operating on 379.9 meters (790 KH).

1928: On September 11, 1928, W2XB (video) and WGY (audio) broadcast American first television drama, a 40 minute one-act melodrama titled “The Queen’s Messanger.” Because the TV screens were small, only the actor’s face or hands were shown. Three “cameras” were used, two for the actors faces and a third for the actors hands or stage props. The play had only two characters. A female Russian spy and a British Diplomatic Courier. Four actors were used. Two for the character’s faces, and two for their hands. Amateur radio operators in Los Angeles and Pittsfield, Mass. watched the experimental broadcast on home built television sets. In a story published in the Washington Post on September 21, 1928 under the headline: DRAMA IS RADIOED THROUGH TELEVISION, these radio operators reported: “Results only fair due to fading in 21 meter band, voices very strong with occasional glimpses of faces.” General Electric took a number of staged publicity photos of the event and a short clip of the “broadcast” was included in a GE produced newsreel.

Divesture of RCA. In 1930, General Electric was charged with antitrust violations, resulting in the company’s decision to divest itself of RCA. The newly separate company signed leases to move its corporate headquarters into the new Rockefeller Center in 1931. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. , founder and financier of Rockefeller Center, arranged the deal with GE chairman Owen D. Young and RCA president David Sarnoff. When it moved into the complex in 1933, RCA became the lead tenant at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, known as the “RCA Building”.

 

RCABuildingRCA Building in NY City

GE570Lexington

570 Lexington Avenue went to GE. It was used as a “Executive Offices” until 1974 when General Electric corporate headquarters moved from Schenectady, NY to Fairfield, Connecticut.

30 Rockefeller Center (known as 30 Rock and now as the COMCAST Center) not completed yet. Opened in 1933.

RCA (also known as Radio Victor Corporation of America) owned 570 Lexington Avenue but 570 not complete until 1931. NBC was never there. Radio Victor, one of the most powerful of the postwar radio companies, owned the National Broadcasting Company and the R-K-O theater chain. Its headquarters were at 570 Lex until 30 Rock was completed.

Prior to occupying its location at Rockefeller Center, NBC had occupied upper floors of a building at 711 Fifth Avenue. Home of NBC from its construction in 1927, until moving to 30 Rock in 1933.

 

WanamakerNYC

Wanamaker building? That was where Sarnoff received broadcasts from the sinking Titanic.

Was TV broadcast by WRCA or WNBC?

Was WEAF (owned by AT&T) involved? AT&T was the only company who could have laid the cable. WEAF became CBS. On April 7, 1927, a group of newspaper reporters and dignitaries gathered at the AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories auditorium in New York City to see the first American demonstration of something new: television. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover provided the “entertainment,” as his live picture and voice were transmitted over telephone lines from Washington, D.C., to New York.

From “Early Television” http://www.earlytelevision.org/NBC_prewar_programming.html

When RCA introduced their television sets at the 1939 Worlds Fair, NBC began regularly scheduled television broadcasting. The schedule consisted of about 2 hours of broadcasting in the afternoon, and an hour or so in the evening. Much of the programming was done using remote pickup equipment. Sports events, plays, and other events were covered.  Even in 1939, NBC conducted audience surveys to help determine their programming. A 1940 article in Electronics magazine summarized the data from the surveys. The first television commercial was broadcast by NBC in 1941. NBC even broadcast television from an airplane in 1940.

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 1941 ruling that the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) had to sell one of its two radio networks was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1943. The second network became the new American Broadcasting Company (ABC), which would enter television early in the next decade. Six experimental television stations remained on the air during the warÑone each in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Schenectady, N.Y., and two in New York City. But full-scale commercial television broadcasting did not begin in the United States until 1947.

By 1949 Americans who lived within range of the growing number of television stations in the country could watch, for example, The Texaco Star Theater (1948), starring Milton Berle, or the children’s program, Howdy Doody (1947). They could also choose between two 15-minute newscasts:CBS TV News (1948) with Douglas Edwards and NBC’s Camel News Caravan (1948) with John Cameron Swayze (who was required by the tobacco company sponsor to have a burning cigarette always visible when he was on camera). Many early programs such as Amos ‘n’ Andy (1951) or The Jack Benny Show (1950) were borrowed from early television’s older, more established Big Brother: network radio. Most of the formats of the new programs: newscasts, situation comedies, variety shows, and dramas were borrowed from radio, too (see radio broadcasting and television programming). NBC and CBS took the funds needed to establish this new medium from their radio profits. However, television networks soon would be making substantial profits of their own, and network radio would all but disappear, except as a carrier of hourly newscasts. Ideas on what to do with the element television added to radio, the visuals, sometimes seemed in short supply.

Between 1953 and 1955, television programming began to take some steps away from radio formats. NBC television president Sylvester Weaver devised the “spectacular,” a notable example of which was Peter Pan (1955), starring Mary Martin, which attracted 60 million viewers. Weaver also developed the magazine-format programs Today, which made its debut in 1952 with Dave Garroway as host (until 1961), and The Tonight Show, which began in 1953 hosted by Steve Allen (until 1957). The third network, ABC, turned its first profit with youth-oriented shows such as Disneyland, which debuted in 1954 (and has since been broadcast under different names), and The Mickey Mouse Club (1955; see Disney, Walt).

The programming that dominated the two major networks in the mid-1950s borrowed heavily from another medium: theater. NBC and CBS presented such noteworthy, and critically acclaimed, dramatic anthologies as Kraft Television Theater (1947), Studio One (1948), Playhouse 90 (1956), and The U.S. Steel Hour (1953). Memorable television dramas of the era most of them broadcast live included Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty (1955), starring Rod Steiger (Ernest Borgnine starred in the film), and Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men (1954). By the 1955 television season, 14 of these live-drama anthology series were being broadcast. This is often looked back on as the “Golden Age” of television. However, by 1960 only one of these series was still on the air.

From here on out, just refer to the WIKI. It is a long and beautiful story.

LIKE it, LOVE it and I will write more.

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