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E631
TELEVISION: Window on the World - Section D: Postwar Developments

Jeffrey Syken

“Now, we add sight to sound”
David Sarnoff

When Sarnoff, president of RCA, formally introduced television to the world (from a podium in front of the RCA Exhibit Building at the 1939 New York World’s Fair), he heralded it as: “the birth of a new art and a new industry, which eventually will provide entertainment and information for millions.” He was right. There were many others who would be instrumental in the development of “Seeing-at-a-Distance” (a/k/a “Tele-Vision”), some of them you’ve probably heard of such as Philo T. Farnsworth and Vladimir Zworykin, but there were many others whose names have been lost to history (i.e. Charles Francis Jenkins and John Logie Baird). Although David Sarnoff’s contribution was not technical, it was critical in that it was his vision of television’s potential (and his willingness to sacrifice millions of RCA dollars in pursuit of that vision) that would, ultimately, make the modern television industry a practical reality.

In its formative years, television - a derivative of radio, was seeking a path-of-least-resistance to commercial acceptance. By the mid-1920s, it seemed “Mechanical Television,” whereby a motor-driven spinning scanning disk formed images, was the answer. But there were those who realized the limitations of mechanical television and, instead, pursued an electronic solution, building upon the work of those who came before them. This would lead to the development and acceptance, by 1932, of “Electronic Television” as “the way forward.” Delayed by WWII, after the war monochrome (black-and-white) television would develop both technically and commercially into the fledgling industry David Sarnoff had foreseen. By the mid-1950s, the focus was on Chroma (color) television and, by the mid-1960s, color television had come-of-age. In the ensuing years, the “Holy Grail” would be “Mural TV” (flat-screen). With major advances in electronic technology, that too was made manifest.

With technical advances to electronic technology accelerated due to wartime exigencies (i.e. improvements to the CRT), with the peace came a “War Dividend” that the television industry was ready, willing and eager to exploit. By the fall of 1946, one of the major problems of prewar television would be solved with the introduction of the “Image Orthicon,” developed by RCA. One-hundred times more sensitive to light than pre-war pickup tubes, no longer would television performers be subjected to intensely hot studio lighting. However, it would not be until the 1950s that the Orthicon tube was produced in quantity. The immediate postwar years would also realize an explosion of television set ownership, with forests of antennas adorning the tops of buildings. Methods of transmission were also improved, with vast networks of buried coaxial cable and microwave-relay stations allowing for coast-to-coast broadcasts and satellites, allowing for global broadcasts. With the introduction of UHF (Ultra-High Frequency), remote, underserved areas could finally “Catch-the-Wave.” Television would also make great strides in its “non-broadcast” role, aiding industry, medical/general education and business. As well, television would make its first preemptive steps towards color telecasts.

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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