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Television: Adding Sight to Sound

Jeffrey Syken

When Dr. Valdimir Kosma Zworykin - inventor of the two main components that made commercial television possible, was asked what his favorite thing on television was, he responded: “The switch. The switch to turn the damn thing off.” When asked about how he felt about his children watching television, he was even more candid: “I hate what they’ve done to my child…I would never let my own children watch it.”

But back in the 1920s, television was the holy grail of the communications industry and Dr. Zworykin’s Iconoscope (for sending images) and Kinescope (for receiving images) would make the technology possible on a commercial level. However, to make television a reality, he would have to convince the pioneer of radio broadcasting and CEO of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) – Brigadier General David Sarnoff, that the future lay in television, not radio. Zworykin’s estimate of the cost to develop television - $100K, was a bit on the low side. To Sarnoff’s dismay, it cost RCA $50 million to develop commercial television and another $70 million to develop color television.

David Sarnoff had no regrets on letting Zworykin sell him on TV, his risky investment in television created a billion dollar business and allowed mankind to “see over the horizon.” The roots of television lay in radio and it was from those ranks that the engineers, technicians, writers, directors, actors etc. would come, for the most part. Appropriately enough, television made its public debut at the 1939/40 New York World’s Fair - a.k.a. “The World of Tomorrow.” The future would have to wait until WWII ended, but in the post-WWII era the television industry expanded and matured with the goal of ten million TV sets in American homes by the mid-1950s reached. Sight and sound had been joined together, for better or worse.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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