May 1935 Short Wave Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
from Short Wave Craft,
published 1930 - 1936. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
If you think government bureaucracies
meddling in the affairs of private business is a relatively new phenomenon, think
again. Elected and unelected persons and agencies have since the inception of control
over the populace made it their business to dictate which pursuits of technology
are sanctioned and which are not. Often, the motivation lies in who within those
bureaucracies stands to benefit monetarily from the decision. In this story lamenting
the painfully and, in the author's opinion, unnecessarily long time experienced
in bringing commercial broadcast television to the marketplace - in 1935. One of
the primary stumbling blocks was the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) preventing
companies from televising paid commercials during programs because, in the FCC's
view, picture quality was not good enough to serve advertisers' interests. In the
process, development dollars were not forthcoming. Of course the arrogance in such
an attitude is that it assumes the companies who would be paying for advertising
services are not smart enough to determine for themselves whether it would be a
good investment. As you know if you have read any of the other articles I have posted
on the development of television, there were many major schemes in the works for
television systems, some of which relied heavily on mechanical apparati with mirrors
and spinning discs. An agreement among manufacturers on a 'standard' that would
allow all systems to play well together ended up being another big reason for the
How Soon Shall We Have Television?
It is unfortunate that our short-wave experimenters cannot today
enjoy the reception of television programs, the transmitting stations being partly
subsidized by the Government, if necessary - all of which would serve to greatly
spur the development of television in this country.
What is delaying the development and application of television in America? Various
factors, including the question of finance - failure of the Government to permit
sponsored programs - lack of experimental image transmission - and other factors
which are here discussed.
By H. Winfield Secor
Television for the public has recently received considerable impetus, so far
as the daily newspaper reports are concerned at least, and most of us have undoubtedly
read the recent opinion expressed by Senatore Marconi that he hoped to see practical
television established between Europe and America by means of microwaves. This means
that he places great faith in the possibilities of long-distance transmission by
microwaves, having such an extremely short length as 60 centimeters or 24 inches.
Dr. Alfred N. Goldsmith, well-known radio expert and consulting engineer to the
Radio Corporation of America, said that the possibility of using radio waves of
very short length to carry television across the ocean had both a bright and dark
side. On the dark side, is the interference which such waves would cause to the
radio systems of other countries. This would mean that the micro-waves spectrum
would have to be considered on an international basis and allocated so that one
nation's transmission would not interfere with others. If the micro-wave radio spectrum
proves to be, upon development, the form in which television signals can cross the
Atlantic, it is likely to be the only medium we can use for the purpose.
British to Launch Big Television Service
One of the new and interesting reports on television for the public comes from
England where the engineers of the British Broadcasting Corporation are said to
have planned swift action on the government authorization of a public television
service. Working in cooperation with the Marconi and Baird television companies,
they are about to decide on a site for a high television transmitting tower, which
will be of sufficient altitude to provide an uninterrupted path for the ultra-short
waves between the television transmitter and receiver over the 30 mile radius it
is primarily intended to serve. It is possible that the Crystal Palace tower rising
280 feet above the level of the Thames, will be used for the first television broadcast.
Demonstrations of the Baird experts at a distance of 25 miles from Crystal Palace
have shown vision and sound to be satisfactory. Recently a demonstration by two
Baird home television receivers operating on Crystal Palace transmitting signals
gave brilliant black and white images. One model, which cost $250, gave an image
6x8 inches and the second larger machine, valued at $450, produced a brilliant image
9x12 inches, sufficiently large to be enjoyed by the whole family.
Another demonstration by the Baird engineers in England the other day, and which
shows how far behind we have fallen in America, consisted of a demonstration or
transmission of outdoor scenes. These scenes, due to the difficulty of being picked
up well by the average televisor, were photographed on a motion picture "talkie"
film and, with a delay of but 30 seconds for the development and drying of the film,
it was sent through the television transmitter and the image picked up on short
What Is Delaying Television in America?
If you talk to some of the business and technical experts connected with our
large American radio corporations, you will find several similar arguments they
will give you as to why television has apparently been "put to sleep" for the past
several years, and also why we can hardly hope to have practical television for
the enjoyment of the vast radio public in this country for several years to come.
One of the first arguments is that it did not pay to keep on broadcasting television
images, because the Federal Communications Commission would not issue licenses to
the operating companies for "sponsored" television programs, owing apparently to
the fact that sufficiently clear images were not produced.
This is part of a vicious circle as it were, and another argument is and has
been the lack of any great amount of capital for developing television during the
past few years, and, added to this, a pronounced lack of interest on the part of
the radio public.
According to the best authority, the television dream of one
or two of the large American radio corporations is illustrated in this picture.
Must we wait 3 to 5 years more until this grand television scheme can be placed
into operation, before we can enjoy television In our homes?
There are several answers to some of these questions, a few of which may be catalogued
in the following manner: If television broadcasting by first-class stations, such
as that operated by the Columbia Broadcasting System up to about two and one-half
years ago, had been maintained and experiments continually conducted which were
aimed to improve the clarity of the image, we would be two and one-half years nearer
our goal of practical and satisfactory television for the public. The writer's contact
with that section of the radio public who at one time or other had occasion to see
some of the television images demonstrated both on "home-type" machines, as well
as public exhibition screens as large as 6 to 8 feet square, shows that undoubtedly
a pretty bad impression resulted as the images would frequently fade and become
"fuzzy," etc. It is the writer's contention, however, that if some of the radio
broadcasting companies, such as CBS, NBC, and others as well as private plants of
the large radio concerns - like those operating station WLW, had "followed through",
as they did in the early days of American sound broadcasting, we would have had
a very different state of television affairs today than we have at present.
Only a Few Stations Transmitting
At present, there are twenty-eight American television broadcasting stations
licensed by the Federal Communications Commission - half a dozen of these are actively
broadcasting television images, one or two in the eastern part of the United States,
two or three in the central part of the country and one or two on the west coast.
So far as the public and the great army of half a million or more "live" radio experimenters
are concerned, there is practically a complete dearth of television images to be
As Dr. O. H. Caldwell, former Federal Radio Commissioner, recently put it - "England's
move to start television broadcasting in earnest will undoubtedly furnish the necessary
impetus to spur America to develop, or rather apply, practical television for the
benefit of the public." Dr. Caldwell said further that the results of putting television
into active use at once will be far-reaching and will go a long way in pulling us
out of the depression. In Germany, he stated further, Hitler is supplying money
to advance the transmission of images by radio. The only thing that is holding
back the development of the industry in America on a scale comparable to the early
days of broadcasting, is the need for capital to finance the construction and equipment
of image transmitters. To provide television programs throughout the country would
require an initial investment estimated at 50 to 200 million dollars or more. This
sum seems staggering to private capital, but to a government that is handing out
billions for purposes that seem less constructive, even $200,000,000 for television
is not unthinkable. Television transmitters really have a sounder claim to government
financing, in the present unemployment situation, than do other enterprises that
have received generous Federal aid. Each television transmitter built will be the
means of initiating the manufacture of thousands of television receivers, involving
new factories, restoring employment and injecting new impetus into the machine of
American capitalists have never been slow to offer their financial cooperation
for the development of any new and promising invention. Undoubtedly one of the reasons
why some of the ambitious television inventors in this country have found it difficult
to find capital to carryon and develop practical television to the stage it should
have reached by this time, is due to another link in the vicious circle already
mentioned, namely, the rather poor images obtained a few years ago; and for one
reason and another, the failure of those radio broadcasting companies, who could
have easily kept on broadcasting images, to carry on, and thus keep the television
engineers continually on the job, which would have certainly resulted in a much
finer image today than we were used to seeing say 3 years ago. It is certainly to
be regretted that there has been nothing, practically, during the past three years
to sustain experimental interest in television, such as would have been the case
had a number of stations been broadcasting images regularly.
"The British are to be commended for their enterprise ... What they plan exactly
parallels tests made in New York and other cities several years ago. England's problem
is comparatively simple ... As the area of the United States is 38 times as large
as the British Isles, our television problem is more than 38 times as large as theirs."
Dr. Alfred N. Goldsmith, Prominent American Radio Engineer.
"We will follow England's experiment with keen interest. Experiments two years
ago with television transmission gave us a sympathetic understanding of the difficulties
to be encountered to sustain public interest in images possessing limited detail
... A conservative policy of watchful investigation will best serve our interest."
Edwin K. Cohan, Director of General Engineering, Columbia Broadcasting System.
"Television will go a long way in pulling us out of the depression ... The only
thing that is holding back the development of this new industry is capital to finance
the construction and equipment of image transmitters. To provide television programs
here would require an initial investment of from $50,000,000 to $200,000,000 or
Dr. O. H. Caldwell, Formerly Federal Radio Commissioner.
Perfect "Laboratory" Images Reported - But Not for Public
On the brighter side of American television developments, we have had the secret
reports which leak out now and then from the laboratories of such great operating
companies as the R.C.A., that first-class television images have been obtained in
their laboratory tests - images in fact equivalent in quality to those projected
by home movie machines! The writer has been told by people who have seen some of
these images that such is the fact, and this being the case, it is indeed unfortunate
that apparently the public, as well as a great section of the army of the unemployed,
as Dr. Goldsmith has pointed out, cannot benefit by the immediate or at least early
application of this television service.
Unofficially, from bits of information gathered from various sources, the "grand"
television scheme for we Americans seems to be all tied up, due to patents, lack
of finances by the smaller radio and television concerns, etc., in a plan whereby
one or two of the largest American radio companies are planning to erect a series
of ultra-short-wave television transmitting stations in all the larger cities across
the country. In other words, these images are to be transmitted on waves of 5 to
6 meters or less, which, of course, with their extremely high frequency, lend themselves
ideally to the practically perfect transmission of a first-class clear image, one
of good size on a "home televisor" and having possibly 300 to 400 scanning lines.
At least two large laboratories have been busy the past few years on the development
of cathode-ray televisors, and according to reports given by those who have seen
the images produced by this type of televisor, the results are well worth waiting
This is but one angle of the situation, however, and it does seem too bad that
during the past few years we could not have had a number of stations broadcasting
television images in this country, even though mechanical scanning had to be used.
John V. L. Hogan, well-known American radio engineer, who, let it be said to his
credit, has kept on broadcasting television images for the benefit of the experimenters
during the past few years, told the writer there is no reason why we cannot obtain
good clear television images of sufficiently fine detail by mechanical scanning.
In other words, it is not an immutable law that we have got to have cathode-ray
tube televisors to give us satisfactory images at the receiver. Another point in
this same direction, and one which will be vouched for by thousands of people who
saw daily demonstrations some years ago by the Bell Telephone Laboratories and the
New York Telephone Company, is the fact that very good likenesses of people's faces
were televised over a distance of several miles by wire - all by mechanical scanning.
About 5 years ago, the Bell Telephone Laboratories' television experts, headed
by Dr. H. E. Ives, gave several remarkable demonstrations to editors and others
in which not only outdoor scenes picked up directly by one of their televisors and
projected over a circuit to a receiver in another part of the laboratory, but television
images in colors were transmitted and received with wonderful fidelity and one of
the onlookers remarked that one of the strawberries "looked so real" that it seemed
that one of them could be picked out of the image!
One of the writer's main contentions is that with all this really remarkable
television development, which was in actual operation 5 and 6 years ago, we, in
this country, should be miles ahead of the point at which we now find ourselves.
But in fact - insofar as the radio public is concerned - we have no television!
A "New Deal" for American Television
The question of how soon shall we have television for the American public is,
therefore, practically unanswerable at the present time. It has been reported several
times in the past 2 years, that one of the large radio companies would put their
perfected cathode-ray television receivers on the market, and "start the ball rolling"
- but so far as any definite word from any of the American radio business leaders
is concerned, they will say nothing definite.
One of the best hopes for an early break in television for the public seems to
lie in a Government subsidy, which could be later paid back to the Government, and
as already pointed out, some immediate action in the development and application
of television would help to start factories going and help us to catch up with the
television activities of our British and German friends. What the writer and many
others who have been in close touch with American television would like to see,
would be a rebirth of the activity shown a few years ago on the part of the smaller
television and radio companies, who started doing a very creditable job with mechanical
scanning systems. Furthermore, there is nothing to stop these companies from procuring
the services of competent engineers who could devise for them new systems of cathode-ray
scanning or its electro-mechanical equivalent, for it is foolishness to believe
that all of the real genius in television engineering is encompassed within the
brains of possibly half a dozen engineers in the employ of two or three large radio
Posted May 12, 2020(original