Posts in Category: Broadcast History

Television & The Presidential Inaugurations…Part 3 of 3

Television & The Presidential Inaugurations…Part 3 of 3

In photos 1,2 and 3, we see images from the inauguration of President Johnson and VP Hubert Humphrey in January 1965. For NBC the anchors were Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, with help from Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters. Peter Jennings was there for ABC with Marlene Sanders.

As they did in for the Kennedy inauguration, NBC color cast the parade, but not the capitol ceremonies. As we find out in this very good article on the LBJ television coverage, CBS was testing a new long lens with gyroscopic stability features which worked very well. NBC won the ratings battle by starting at 7 AM with “Today” hosts Downs and Walters, and ending coverage at 5:20, which was longer than ABC or CBS. This was the first time Telstar was used for the event and CBS videotape was broadcast to Europe on the new bird.

Pictures 4 and 5 are from Nixon’s first inauguration in January 1969, which was the first time all three networks broadcast the whole thing in color. Seen here are Nixon and wife Pat at the White House preparing to leave for the capitol with a Norelco camera behind them. In the color photo, Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters are handling the early day coverage for NBC’s “Toady”. At the link is a Chicago Tribune story on the day.

In image 6, Gerald Ford is sworn in August 9, 1974 in the East Room of The White House. Nixon’s resignation was tendered at 11:35 AM, and Ford sworn in at 12:05 PM. Although there were not grand capitol steps ceremonies, parades or balls, I felt President Ford deserved a place here.

Pictures 7 and 8 are from the Jimmy Carter inauguration in 1977 and show one of NBC’s mobile unit Norelcos in action with John Chancellor and David Brinkley in the booth.

On the eve of the inauguration, the Carter family attended a Kennedy Center concert where Shirley Maclaine, Leonard Bernstein, James Dickey, John Wayne, Aretha Franklin and John
Lennon contributed to the festivities.

On the gleaming inaugural platform the temperature was below freezing as the formal events commenced, but an audience of 150,000 braved the chill and gathered on the lawn of the Capitol, including my mother and dad, who were there as guests of the Carters.

Perhaps the highlight of the day came when the presidential limousine stopped at Constitution Avenue, where the new President and his wife stepped out and began to walk at the head of the
inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, following the example of Thomas Jefferson.

The final three shots are from Reagan’s first inauguration in 1981. With Walter Cronkite is Bill Moyers and a CBS Thomson camera in image 9. In image 10, that is NBC’s John Chancellor and Roger Mudd at the capitol. At the Washington “Today” set, host Tom Brokaw stays in the studio to watch the coverage, including the announcement that the US Embassy hostages in Iran were on a plane bound for Germany. President Carter, who had been working 24 hours a day for his last two days in office, left the next day to meet them in Weisbaden Germany.

I wish there were more and better behind the scenes shots to show you, but it seems that the more inaugurations were covered – the mystic of how it was all done wore off. From here on, most of the available photos are quite boring, so with this, we bring this three part series to an end with the hopes you enjoyed this look back in time. -Bobby Ellerbee

By the way, starting tomorrow and running through Saturday, The Decades channel will be airing all of the Presidential inauguration speeches back to back from Kennedy through Obama. Here’s a link for more.

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January 16, 1973…”Bonanza” & The Fake Mountain Come To An End

January 16, 1973…”Bonanza” & The Fake Mountain Come To An End

First, the “Bonanza” part of the story:

From September 12, 1959, until January 16, 1973 the men from The Ponderosa rode into our homes every week, but is wasn’t always a sooth ride. Initially the show aired opposite CBS blockbuster “Perry Mason” and the ratings were so bad that NBC wanted to kill the show, but RCA had a different idea.

“Bonanza” was one of the first series to be filmed in color and looked great on RCA’s big color sets, so they took over as the primary sponsor.

By 1961, ‘Bonanza’ was the number two show and stayed in the top three till 1970 and was number one from ’64 till ’67. By 1970, Bonanza was the first series to appear in the Top Five list for nine consecutive seasons (a record that would stand for many years) and thus established itself as the single biggest hit television series of the 1960s. Bonanza remained high on the Nielsen ratings until 1971, when it finally fell out of the Top Ten.

Now, about that “mountain” behind Virginia City…

The “mountain” at the rear of the Paramount Studios Western Street was actually constructed of a chicken-wire framework covered over by plaster and was immobile. I have highlighted in yellow where I think it was.

In March of 1959, ‘Bonanza’ producer David Dortort selected Paramount Studios in Hollywood to film the series. They had the largest sound stages and a good western street which was built for ‘Whispering Smith’ in 1947 starring Alan Ladd.

The reason the fake mountain was erected was to hide a high peaked construction mill built by Desilu in 1957. Another painted backdrop was located near the Western Street, for other shots, of a blue sky, with clouds. In the large annotated photo from 1975, you can see the “sky” behind the water set…the same one used in the parting of the waters in “The Ten Commandments”.

The Western Street was much smaller than the impressions we got from seeing it on “Bonanza” as wide-angle camera lenses made it appear much larger than in real-life. The local pigeons would frequently land and perch atop the fake mountain, shattering the illusion of distance and filming would be stopped until one of the crew members scared them away.

Other TV series made at the Western Street for exterior filming while “Bonanza” was being made there were “Have Gun-Will Travel”, “Branded”, and “The Guns of Will Sonnet”.

In 1979, a demolition team demolished the Western Street for an executive parking lot. The only building that was saved was the barn which was first seen in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Squaw Man” the first feature film ever made in 1914. On the “Bonanza” series it is infrequently seen as the freight station. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee

By the way, the last photo here shows Jerry Lewis filming “The Errand Boy” on this set.

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NBC Color Kinescopes Continued…Surprises & Rare Footage

NBC Color Kinescopes Continued…Surprises & Rare Footage

Yesterday, we discussed the RCA/Eastman Lenticular Color Kinescope process here, and from that we have gained more insight as well as two interesting new color kinescopes.

First, a few surprises. Surprise 1. It seems that one reason there are so few early kinescopes left is because the unions objected to more than one showing of the programs and demanded they be destroyed. The primary opposing force was the Musician’s Union, but others joined in too, claiming that, in an era when there was no such thing as residual payments, it was an unfair financial situation.

Surprise 2. NBC, the major innovator in kinescope use did not object to this…much. Yes, it was an expensive process for them to create and distribute the kines to affiliates not able to get live feeds yet, BUT…by it kept new live programming in demand. Dependency on them for content was important to the bottom line. It also kept the stations without live linkage from turning to outside film sources or local programming.

Surprise 3. It is not a surprise to say that color television was a lot more expensive than black and white, but the lengths to which RCA/NBC went to entice advertisers into becoming color sponsors was. Which helps explain the color kinescopes we are seeing here today.

These two color kinescopes we will see today, were more than likely created as pitch tools for the NBC ad sales department. The same is probably true of the Kovacs color kine we saw yesterday.

To be clear, Kovacs, the Perry Como and Arthur Murray color kinescopes were shot with regular 16mm Eastman color film and not on the lenticular Eastman film. The lenticular color process was used solely for the purpose of time shifting…so that Burbank could record live color feeds from NY, and develop the film in a 3 hour window to air in the west.

Since there was no urgency on the kinescopes made to show (via projector) at client meetings, they were done a different way, but they are indeed color kinescope recordings. Because of the difference in TV’s fields per second and film’s frames per second, only a kinescope camera could shoot this, as opposed to a regular motion picture camera.

Although the Kovacs, Como and Murray shows were live color broadcasts from NY, all three of these were most likely recorded at NBC Burbank on a modified kine machine there. All of these 3 videos fall within the time window that we believe the lenticular color kine system was in use at Burbank.

It is known that Burbank began experimenting with the RCA TRT-1 color video tape machine April 27, 1958 and that the new color capable Ampex VR1000 debuted at the April ’58 NAB convention, which Burbank had shortly after.

What we do not know, and never can know is this…are these recordings shot from the live feed from NY, or are these recordings of the lenticular playbacks on the west coast?

If they are the playbacks, they are not too shabby. If they are images of the live feed, still not too shabby and remind us how great the RCA TK41 was. What do you think?

Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee Perry Como Murray/Cooke Ernie Kovacs

Thanks to Troy Walters in Australia for the Como, Murray clips!

This is an ultra rare colour kinescope recording of the Perry Como Show which aired in living colour on NBC on 12th April 1958. Colour kinescope film recordi…

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NBC’s Color Kinescopes…The Lenticular Color Film Process

NBC’s Color Kinescopes…The Lenticular Color Film Process

First, this Ernie Kovacs color clip is most likely NOT a lenticular color kinescope, but…it could be, and we will discuss that.

This is a segment from the Ernie Kovacs “Saturday Color Carnival” show dated January 19th, 1957. It was also used in the NBC 50th Anniversay Special in 1976. The “Saturday Color Carnival” shows were all done from NBC’s Colonial Theater in New York.

This Kovacs color film has been widely discussed and displayed as a lenticular kine, but it is a 16mm recording on standard color film of the time. The RCA/Eastman lenticular process used 35mm film, and no lenticular color transfers of any kind are known to exist.

The only way this could be an actual capture of the lenticular system is, if it was a recording of a live playback of the lenticular show for the west coast, or an internal playback sometime afterward.

I have read many discussions on this clip, and several describe this as an NBC color kinescope film made for limited distribution to sponsors with a modified kine, which I think may be right.

It would be a simple process to use a regular kinescope camera (with their special shutter speed needed to record live television), loaded with color film to shoot a 5″ color monitor, instead of the usual B/W monitor. Burbank probably had a modified kine machine like this they used for sponsor requests and also lenticular comparison tests.

That simple process would seem to be an elegant solution to time shifting…that is delaying an east coast live show for rebroadcast in the west, BUT! The problem was that color film could not be processed in the 3 hour window the network had to turn it around, however…black and white film could be. That is where the lenticular process comes in.

On page 40 and at the top of page 41 is a description of how the process worked from the book “Jump Cut” by video editing pioneer Art Schneider.

From the November 17, 1956 issue of “Broadcasting” here is the article on the press demonstration at NBC Burbank.

In the comment section, I have included a couple of images that show close up views of what the lenticular film surface would have looked like.

Unless the NBC engineer who recorded this pops up and let’s us in on how and when this clip was captured, we will never know if this is an off air color film capture of the live feed from New York, or a capture of the west coast lenticular playback. Either way though, this does approximate what a color film image might have looked like on the very few color screens available across the western United States in those days before color videotape, which debuted in October of 1958.

As mentioned, no lenticular color transfers of those early programs are known to exist and any example of the results of the process are presumed to be lost forever. It is possible that one or more of the original 3 strip (R,B,G) masters survived, but so far, none have surfaced.

Eastman’s “Embossed Kine Recording Film, reversal panchromatic black and white” was the special film stock used and it was discontinued in 1958. NBC’s special lenticular kine machines are long gone. -Bobby Ellerbee

An excerpt of Ernie Kovacs “Silent Show” from 1957. This is a very rare 50s colour kinescope film recording of a colour program using the lenticular process….

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January 13, 1957…Dinah And The Colonial Theater TK40 Cameras

January 13, 1957…Dinah And The Colonial Theater TK40 Cameras

The Colonial Theater was NBC’s first color facility. A few seconds after this video’s start point, the first camera we see is the TK40 in it’s original configuration…notice there are no vents on the viewfinder housing. The Colonial was the only NBC theater with TK40s and these are the original four pre production/prototype cameras that were delivered in November of 1952. Production in Camden would not start till April of 1954 with only 25 TK40s built before a quick switch to the TK41 later that year.

Once the crane camera comes into view, notice it has a vented viewfinder housing, but it is still a TK40. My long study of The Colonial’s cameras has always made me wonder why they left one TK40 with the original un-vented VF cover. RCA supplied the updated, vented cover to TK40 owners once the TK41s went into production in 1954.

Usually, Dinah’s show came from Burbank, but for some reason, they are in NY for a couple of weeks. Dinah’s one hour show ran on NBC from October of ’56 till May of ’63 and was always in color. Bob Banner was the producer. -Bobby Ellerbee

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January 13, 1928…America’s First Public Television Demonstration

January 13, 1928…America’s First Public Television Demonstration

On this day in 1928, Ernst F. W. Alexanderson gave the first public demonstration of mechanical television in the U.S., from General Electric’s lab in Schenectady NY.

Farnsworth would demonstrate his electronic version in September of this year, and Francis Jenkins had done this in Washington DC in June of 1925, but as a “Shadowgraph” broadcast; in which only silhouettes of actors in front of a white screen were shown, as resolution was so low. In this 24 line demonstration, facial features could be seen, but barely. By September, W2XB was using 48 line resolution when “The Queen’s Messenger” was broadcast.

The Alexanderson Generator, which enabled long distance radio communication was the reason RCA was formed, and both RCA and CBS used his GE mechanical camera when the first began television experiments.

At the link is a good look at what he achieved, with some interesting images, including a New York Times front page story from January 14th, 1928 on this demonstration. -Bobby Ellerbee

Ernst F. Alexanderson – Electrical Pioneer

Father of television broadcast and voice radio

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How some cool silent film effects were done


If you are like me, seeing Harold Lloyd hanging from this clock always gives me chills and makes me wonder about his sanity, BUT…now we know how they did this, and more very slick effects.

As you scroll down the page, a half dozen or so mysteries will reveal themselves with some good animated reveals on how Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford (and Mary Pickford) and more stars fooled us all. At the bottom, be sure and click the Load More Images bar to see more from Buster Keaton and a cool color filter truck from the 1925 “Ben Hur”. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee

How some cool silent film effects were done

Imgur: The most awesome images on the Internet.

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Rare! Behind The Scenes…Shooting “Batman” First Episode

Rare! Behind The Scenes…Shooting “Batman” First Episode

January 12, 1966…’Batman’ Debuts On ABC

There are two rare video pieces here for you to see including this embedded clip (no audio) of a location shoot of a scene from the first episode with Frank Gorshin and Bert Ward.

In this second clip, we see the competing casting of the two teams of Batman and Robin…Lyle Wagoner and Peter Deyell vs Adam West & Burt Ward.

By the way, this was one of the first primetime shows ever to air twice a week. The first show to do that was “Shindig” and it’s interesting to note that ABC filled the two empty “Shindig” half hours with “Batman”, as “Shindig” aired their last episodes a week before the caped crusaders took over. -Bobby Ellerbee

Rare footage of the 1966 TV series Batman showing the set up and filming of one of the scenes of the first episode. Frank Gorshin as the Riddler and Burt War…

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History’s First Marriage Of Recorded Sight And Sound…Circa 1894

History’s First Marriage Of Recorded Sight And Sound…Circa 1894

From the inception of motion pictures, various inventors have attempted to unite sight and sound, but Edison did it first.

The Edison Company is known to have experimented with this as early as the fall of 1894 under the supervision of W. K. L. Dickson with this film known today as the Dickson Experimental Sound Film.

The film linked above shows a man, who may possibly be Dickson, playing violin before a phonograph horn as two men dance. The horn is being used in reverse to its normal application to “condense” the violins sound into the microphone.

By the spring of 1895, Edison was offering Kinetophones, which were film projector boxes with phonographs inside their cabinets. The viewer would look into the peep-holes of the Kinetoscope to watch the motion picture while listening to the accompanying phonograph through two rubber ear tubes connected to the machine.

While the pictures and sound appeared together, they were not what we would consider synchronous. Although the initial novelty of the machine drew attention, the decline of the Kinetoscope business and Dickson’s departure from Edison ended any further work on the Kinetophone for 18 years. This was shot at the Edison Studios in West Orange, New Jersey.

Since Edison’s main interest was his 1877 invention…the phonograph, he was mostly interested in a process the would have is sound device accompanied by pictures, which is why he was not concerned with moving ahead with a projector system. He later did with the Vitascope projector.

Actually, Dickson is the man that shaped the motion picture technique we still use today. In 1887 in Newark, N.J., an Episcopalian minister named Hannibal Goodwin developed the idea of using celluloid as a base for photographic emulsions. The inventor and industrialist George Eastman, who had earlier experimented with sensitized paper rolls for still photography, began manufacturing celluloid roll film in 1889 at his plant in Rochester, N.Y.

This event was crucial to the development of cinematography. The first “moving pictures” were actually series photography with multiple still cameras which could employ glass plates or paper strip film because it recorded events of short duration in a relatively small number of images. Real moving pictures, or cinematography, would inevitably find its subjects in longer, more complicated events, requiring thousands of images…just the kind of flexible but durable recording medium offer by celluloid.

It remained for someone to combine the principles embodied in the apparatuses of series photography with celluloid strip film to arrive at a viable motion picture camera. That was an innovation achieved by William Kennedy Laurie Dickson in the West Orange, N.J., laboratories of the Edison Company.

It was Dickson that split the 70mm Eastman stock into two 35mm strips and added sprocket holes to use in his Kinetoscope camera seen here with the viewing machine. -Bobby Ellerbee

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Research Assistance For Ed Sullivan’s Granddaughter…Can You Help?

Research Assistance For Ed Sullivan’s Granddaughter…Can You Help?

Our friend Margo Precht is doing research for an upcoming documentary on her famous granddad, who most people know as the man that introduced The Beatles and Elvis to America.

What most don’t know is that he was a risk-taker who booked African American artists despite threats from his southern sponsors and piles of hate mail. He showcased acts audiences had never heard of that are household names today – and he treated these artists with dignity back when racism was normal and insidious – challenging America to do the same.

Margo is looking for subjects to interview in relation to how his show played a role in race relations in America. Specifically, she is looking for white viewers who may have had a completely different understanding of race relations after watching black entertainers on the Ed Sullivan Show. Preferably a big change, like someone brought up in a racist home or community that had a major change of heart on the matter.

If you have first hand accounts, or if you know of anyone she should talk to, you can either add you comments here or, send a private message to her at The Sullivan Project’s Facebook site at this link.

Thanks for your help! -Bobby Ellerbee

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January 10, 1949…RCA Introduces The 45 RPM Record

January 10, 1949…RCA Introduces The 45 RPM Record

I was 8 when I got my first record player, and the first two 45s I ever had were Bobby Day’s “Rock’n Robbin” and Andy Griffith’s “What It Was, Was Football”. Do you remember your first 45s?

Here is Charles Osgood’s story on the debut from last year, and a 1949 RCA demonstration record that was part of a display in dealer show rooms. -Bobby Ellerbee Charles Osgood RCA Demo

The 45 RPM Record was introduced by RCA Victor on January 10, 1949. This “Almanac” feature from CBS’ Sunday Morning is worth 2 minutes and 45 seconds of your…

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You Mean They Weren’t Driving A Real Car To California?

You Mean They Weren’t Driving A Real Car To California?

On January 10, 1955 the cast of “I Love Lucy” set out for California…sort of. It was Season 4, Episode 12.

The clip is not great, but it shows us how this looked when it was framed and shot.

The car is a new Pontiac convertible. Here we have the cut away car with a rear projection screen showing them heading west.

If you ever wondered about this famous song, “California, Here I Come” was written for the 1921 Broadway musical ‘Bombo’, starring Al Jolson. The song was written by Buddy DeSylva and Joseph Meyer, with Jolson often listed as a co-author. Jolson recorded the song in 1924 and it was an instant hit. -Bobby Ellerbee

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1939 Hollywood Tour…The Studios, Movies & People Making News

1939 Hollywood Tour…The Studios, Movies & People Making News

The great “March Of Time” newsreel archives give us a look at Tinseltown as it was in July of 1939. The studio bosses are all here as are shots from the sets of “Gone With The Wind”, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” and more!

Everybody from DeMille and Capra are here as well as Sennett,
Keaton, Chaplin, Zanuch and even Lee De Forest. You’ll also see the men that Howard Hughes fought with at the Hayes Commission when they tried to keep the best part(s) of Jane Russell off the silver screen. Enjoy! -Bobby Ellerbee

The March of Time Hollywood History- The Movies March On! Volume 5, Episode 12– July 1939. For screening and comparison purposes ONLY under Fair Use doctrin…


ESPN Presents MegaCast Production for College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T – Clemson vs. Alabama – ESPN MediaZone

90 Cameras Ready For…College Football Championship Game Tonight

For college football fans, tonight is the night! Alabama and Clemson will face off at 8 PM in Tampa with ESPN covering the game from every angle, with more than 90 cameras inside Raymond James Stadium, including staples of ESPN’s production: SkyCam, Pylon Cameras (all eight), and a full complement of RF cameras and steadicams. Additional production highlights:

Super Slow-Motion: Nine super slow-motion cameras, including a super slow-motion camera on the SkyCam

Arial Coverage: Both the DIRECTV and Goodyear blimps have coverage from high above the stadium

Goal Posts: Cameras affixed to both goalposts

Replays: More than 35 replay machines

4K Cameras: Four different 4K cameras

Virtual Graphics: SkyCam with the ability to provide virtual graphics

ESPN has more than 1,000 staffers onsite, 65 transmission paths between Tampa and Bristol and have added 70,000 feet of cable in around the stadium.

If you watched yesterday’s video of the 1977 NFL game I posted, this is a far cry from their 6 camera, 1 instant playback machine. As a Georgia Bulldog, I’m pulling for Alabama where our new coach worked with Nick Sabin for 9 years. Next year, I want to see UGA play Alabama in this game! And Win! -Bobby Ellerbee

ESPN Presents MegaCast Production for College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T – Clemson vs. Alabama – ESPN MediaZone

ESPN’s unrivaled, multi-network production capabilities will be on full display for the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T between Clemson and Alabama on Monday, January 9, at 8 p.m. ET with the presentation of the fourth MegaCast. The traditional game telecast airs on…

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An Hour Long Look At CBS Covering The NFL Live, 1977

An Hour Long Look At CBS Covering The NFL Live, 1977

Sunday morning…time to settle in with a great hour of television history and a big cup of coffee. -Bobby Ellerbee

Here’s a special on how CBS covered a Redskins – Cardinals game in 1977 from Washington’s CBS station, WTOP with thanks to Tom Buckley for sharing ‘The Game Behind The Game’ with us.

This was shot in five parts and the meatiest ones to me are parts 2 and 4…those are the technical sides, but there is a lot of familiar faces and interesting background information in the other parts too.

Part one takes us inside the trucks and announcers booth and has a bit about football history…sort of.

Part 2 starts at 10:15 and gives us a good look at the Thomson cameras (six in use) and some conversations with the cameramen including Stan Gould. Director Sandy Grossman is in every part.

Part 3 takes us into the announcer’s booth with Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier and starts at 21:20

Part 4 starts at 31:35 is full of “how we do it” info in which we see the demonstrations of the vidifont, slow mo and instant replay discs. We also visit audio and the sidelines with the “red hat” man who works with the referee on network commercial breaks.

Part 5 is the wrap up and starts at 41:42. Again, enjoy and share! local EMMY WINNING hour special on how a network shoots a “live event “like a football game. This inside look at TV production answers Who does What…




Until yesterday, I had never heard of this and found it hard to believe, but here is the amazing proof laid out, fittingly…in 3 video reports.

In the 1996 report, a single disc of the John Logie Baird video record or Phonovision had just been discovered. As you’ll see, no one had ever seen it, because even Baird had not created a way to play it back, so another Scotsman had to build a way to see it, which is covered there too.

The images were from 1933 and showed The Paramount Astoria dancing girls, shot with a 30 scan line mechanical system. In the 1998 story, 11 more Baird discs have been found, with the earliest dated September 20, 1927. This report includes bits from those newly discovered discs, and at the end there is interesting archival film of Alexandra Palace being made ready for the tests of the competing Baird mechanical system, and Marconi-EMI’s new electronic system.

The 1999 CNN story is a condensed version. You learn something new every day, and after all…isn’t that what life is all about? -Bobby Ellerbee 1996 BBC 1998 BBC 1999 CNN

Triggered by my discovery and restoration of a video-only fragment from a BBC 1933 30-line TV programme, Tomorrow’s World featured the results of this and Ph…


Happy 25th Anniversay…”ABC World News Now”

Happy 25th Anniversay…”ABC World News Now”

Here is our friend Barry Mitchell with “World News Now” creator
David Bohrman and the effortlessly hilarious Lisa McRee. Here are some clips that didn’t make the show’s anniversary reel, but are a lot of fun.




This article includes A MUST READ, FIRST HAND ACCOUNT from one of NBC’s veteran cameramen, Frank Vierling. His story starts 68 years ago today, on his first day, January 6, 1949, and gives us details of the little known NBC mobile camera units used INSIDE 30 Rockefeller Plaza, in studios that were still radio studios!

The Birth and Rebirth of Studio 3A

By Frank Vierling, with thanks to Joel Spector

I was hired and reported for work on January 6, 1949. All new engineering hires had to pass through Whitney Baston’s studio audio operations class. I was assigned to Kinescope Recording, for about a month, waiting for a new class opening. Following Mr. Baston’s class I worked a few studio shows before being assigned to the TV Field group where the mobile units were, garaged in Long Island City.

Field had two mobile units, each equipped with three camera chains. Unit 1A’s gear was color coded blue and Unit 1B’s was Yellow. (These units covered sports, but were mostly used to televise shows from the theaters NBC was acquiring, but had not yet equipped permanently).

A third set of cameras (the Green Gear) was stored in Rock Center and moved to different studios as programming required.

Only two studios, 8G and 3H had their own cameras. The Green Gear covered the NBC Symphony from 8H, Perry Como in 6A and Milton Berle in 6B, among others.

On a 1949 Saturday, still a member of TV Field, I was part of a crew assigned to work in NBC Studio 3B. We moved the Green Unit (in house) equipment to 3B and set up for Jon Gnagy’s show “You Are an Artist”. John hosted the very first “learn to draw” show on TV.

Following Gnagy, one camera was pushed across the hall into Studio 3A for “Story Book Time.” An actress, dressed in a Little Bow Peep costume, read and turned pages of a giant story book. (This was TV’s first use of 3A although technically it was just an extension of 3B.)

Before we broke for lunch, Leon Pearson did a noon news spot. While we were on our lunch break, Studio 3B was set up for the prime time “Phil Silver’s Arrow Shirt Show,” which was followed by a Pearson news spot at 11.

After the Pearson news spot, we moved the gear and set up Studio 6A for Sunday morning’s Horn & Hardart “Children’s Hour,” hosted by Ed Herlihy. With little sleep and short turnaround we were back in for the Sunday broadcast day. In addition to the “Children’s Hour,” we did “Leave It to the Girls,” with Maggi McNellis in 6B (cameras pushed across the hall). The cameras returned to 6A for the “The Meredith Wilson Show” and sign off news with Leon.

The Birth of TV in 3A.

Sometime in 1949 Field received three new camera chains. At first, it was thought they were to replace or add to our Field equipment. We soon found they were bound for studio 3A. The gear was coded RED. With the Red Gear, 3A became the third TV Studio. A variety of shows originated from 3A, a few I worked were “Morton Downey’s Mohawk Rug Show” and “The Roberta Quinlan Show”, the sitcom “Henry Aldrich” (“Coming Mother”), “Who Said That?” and “Date in Manhattan”. – Frank Vierling

Many thanks to Frank for capturing that great history and Joel Spector for sharing it. This photo shows the NBC Green Unit in use on one of the first “Texaco Star Theater” broadcasts from Studio 6B. Notice they lit the show with only a dozen scoops. The Green Unit’s camera control units were mounted on rolling carts and were always set up in the sound lock hallways of each studio.

The signals eventually wound up in Master Control, but just where the director, TD and switcher was is not known. I know that later, but still before TV control rooms were added, some TV people were in the radio control rooms of these studios. Perhaps they had a portable video board, or the signals went to the control rooms of either Studio 3H or 8G which were real TV studios. I’ll try to find out from Mr. Vierling, who’s in his 90s now. -Bobby Ellerbee


January 6, 1952…First Ever “TODAY” Promo, Live With Fred Allen

January 6, 1952…First Ever “TODAY” Promo, Live With Fred Allen

At 16:27, a sketch starts with a mysterious body on the set, but at 19:17, the body awakens…to our surprise, it is a sleepy Dave Garroway.

In my story here Monday, we found out that the full staff of the new “TODAY” show began reporting to work at 4 AM, Monday January 2, 1952, to get them acclimated to their new schedules, two weeks prior to the January 14th debut. This aired at the end of that week, on Friday night, the 6th.

This is also a rare look at “Sound Off”, a show that had rotating hosts that included not only radio star Fred Allen, seen here, but Bob Hope and Jerry Lester as well. The show only aired for a few months, and this is one of the last episodes. The announcer is Dick Stark.

I think this show came from NBC’s Uptown studios at 106 Street. Notice in the front of the gag, CBS gets dished and the “NBC Man” is called Mr. Weaver, a poke at NBC program head Pat Weaver, who of course was the creator of “Today”, “Tonight” and much more. -Bobby Ellerbee


January 5, 1961…”Mr. Ed” Debuts + The Voice Of Mr. Ed…

January 5, 1961…”Mr. Ed” Debuts + The Voice Of Mr. Ed…

Would you be surprised to know that the man who directed the first six “Francis The Talking Mule” movies in the ’40s, directed “Mr Ed”?

Makes sense doesn’t it? His name was Arthur Lubin, but you may be surprised to know who the voice of Mr. Ed was. I’ll save that for the second part of this story, and this unaired pilot episode is cued to the first time we ever hear Ed speak (at 8:21).

This is one of only a few shows ever released in syndication that was later picked up by a network for prime time. Produced by Filmways, “Mr. Ed” first aired in syndication from January 5 to July 2, 1961, and then on CBS from October 1, 1961, to February 6, 1966.

After the pilot was sold, a few things changed. Wilber and Carol Pope, played by Scott McKay and Sandra White in the pilot, became the Posts played by Alan Young and Connie Hines but the voice of Ed stayed the same, and here is that part of the story.

His real name was Harry Leonard Albershardt, but his stage name was Alan “Rocky” Lane – star of over 30 B movie westerns between 1947 and 1953. Those were his most notable “credited” successes…but not his biggest. See, he never got credit for being the voice of Mr. Ed.

At first, he didn’t want his name on the credits because he had been a successful screen actor, and being the voice of a horse was, well…a step or two down. But, once “Mr. Ed” became a hit, he changed his mind. By then, children had also caught on to the show and the credits listed Ed as played by “Himself”. Producers were afraid putting Lanes name there would “pop the bubble” so to speak and gave him a hefty raise instead.

From 1929 through 1936, he appeared in twenty four films. In 1937 his career began to soar as the star in 1938’s ‘The Law West of Tombstone’. In 1940, he portrayed “RCMP Sergeant Dave King”, the role becoming one of his most notable successes in a half dozen “Mountie” movies In 1946 and 1947, he portrayed “Red Ryder” in seven films. The following year, he became “Rocky Lane” in Western films.

Between 1940 and 1966, Lane made eighty two film and television series appearances, mostly in westerns, but also as the voice for Mister Ed (1961–1966).

Here’s a trailer of a western with him as Rocky Lane. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee“Mr. Ed Original unaired pilot” This pilot does not have Alan Young or Connie Hines, but it does Allan “Rocky” Lane as the voice of Mr. Ed who remained the v…


January 4, 1960…”Tonight” Show Moves To NBC Studio 6B

January 4, 1960…”Tonight” Show Moves To NBC Studio 6B

By far, the most famous shows to originate from 6B are ‘The Texaco Star Theater’ and the ‘Tonight’ shows with Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and now, Jimmy Fallon.

‘Tonight’ of course started with Steve Allen and Jack Paar originating the show at The Hudson Theater, but on Monday, January 4, 1960, the show moved to 6B, Paar had begun taping January 12, 1959 and the show went color Monday, September 19, 1960.

On Monday, October 1, 1962 in Studio 6B, Johnny Carson debuted as the host of ‘Tonight’. -Bobby Ellerbee


Rare Details Of RCA’s First Reseach Lab…7 Van Cortlandt Park South

Finally! The RCA New York Lab Address Was 7 Van Cortlandt Park South….

Since the first pictures of Felix The Cat on the mechanical television turntable set began to be seen on this page over 5 years ago, people have asked me where that Van Cortlandt Park testing facility was.

Finally, today I found out in a book written about Dr. Zworykin. Now that I had that, I did more digging and found this two page article in a 1956 Radio Age Magazine. This was the first RCA lab and testing facility. It was built by RCA in 1924 and was their technical HQ, until the move to Camden in 1930.

This is where among many other things, magnetic loudspeakers were invented, and it was the first home of W2XBS television. -Bobby Ellerbee

Rare Details Of RCA’s First Reseach Lab…7 Van Cortlandt Park South – Eyes Of A Generation…Television’s Living History

On page 10 of this 1956 Radio Age, there is a short but sweet description of a “unicorn”…the rarely mentioned but very important Van Cortlandt Park lab and research center, which was RCA’s first. There, W2XBS (now WNBC) came to life, as did the first ever magnetic coil loudspeakers and much more! Re…




SURPRISE #1. If you always thought those were spotlights mounted in the black frame, you (and I) are wrong. They are actually quite the opposite of lights.

SURPRISE #2. If you always thought the contraption shooting through the opening was a camera, you (and I) were wrong. It actually quite the opposite of a camera.

SURPRISE #3. The things we thought were lights, are actually what make the images…those are photo electric cells.

SURPRISE #4. The thing we thought was the camera is actually projecting light, through a spinning disc, on the subject.

Such are the days of early television, but more precisely mechanical television. Tomorrow and the day after, there will be more surprises and more detail, but for now…at least we have something to think about. Happy New Year! -Bobby Ellerbee

By the way, the Felix photo was taken at RCA’s first lab, at 7 Van Cortlandt Park South in New York City, where the W2XBS testing began. On the table to the left is the transmitter. TV testing then moved to 411 5th Avenue, a few blocks south of the RCA HQ at 711 5th Ave., and later, to the Roof Garden Theater at the New Amsterdam Theater and finally to the 85th floor of the Empire State Building. The manikin with the camera is most likely at 411 5th Ave.




Surprise #1…THIS IS A PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN PHOTO OF THE WORLD’S FIRST TELEVISION REMOTE BROADCAST, three years before John Logie Baird’s 1931 Epson Derby remote in England.

Surprise #2….This was also the first live television news event. Or, was supposed to be. It seems that all went well in rehearsal, but when Gov. Smith came to the podium, all the film cameras there turned on their bright lights, which washed out the ability of the photo cells to see the image.

Surprise #3…The photo was taken on August 22, 1928, as WGY transmitted Gov. Al Smith’s speech accepting his nomination for the U. S. Presidency. The event took place in Albany, New York, and 24-line pictures were sent back to Schenectady, OVER A TELEPHONE WIRE.

Using a telephone line for TV transmission was a relatively new event. Jenkins did a 5 mile “Shadow Graph” transmission in 1923, but it was late 1927 before Baird did a 435 mile transmission in the UK, and AT&T did a New York-Washington linkup.

This rare image is the one that started the idea for these surprise stories. I found it a about six weeks ago in one of the anniversary editions of the Broadcasting Magazine Yearbook (pg.4).

The three black boxes on stage caught my eye first, then the caption, which said, “These General Electric television cameras, from WGY Schenectady were said to be involved in the first TV remote when they covered New York Gov. Al Smith, the 1928 Democratic Presidential nominee, accepting the nomination in Albany.”

I was confused by the black boxes in the photo, but began to investigate. This is where yesterday’s surprises in Part 1 came into play. The two smaller boxes here are the photo electric pick up cells, and the big box in the center…the one we think of as a camera, is actually projecting a strong light through a scanning disc inside the big box.

Put another way, it is a “flying spot scanner”. In much the same way electronic television tubes scan the subject – delivered by the camera lens to the target screen, scanned from left to right, and top to bottom – the mechanical system’s “camera” projected a spot of light that scanned the subject the same way.

The images of the subject are made by the photo electric photo cells which are seen here as the two smaller black boxes.

Surprise #4…At the link is an incredible 20 second piece of film from WGY in 1928 that will explain how this works. WATCH CLOSELY and repeat.

First, notice…the octagonal object on the left is the “monitor”, a mechanical televisor unit with a 3 inch screen. The smaller black boxes with the big glass objects are not lights, but the photo electric “eyes” that make the picture. The big black box with a lens on the front (that looks like a camera) is the light projector and the lens focuses the 1000 watt light inside, projected through a spinning disk.

Watch how the tech moves the small photo electric box like a camera…which is is.

This is part of the first ever dramatic television broadcast called “The Queen’s Messenger” and what you are seeing in this clip is how they shot a close up scene that concentrated on the actors hands, and what they had in them.

There were only four actors, these two hand actors and two face actors…a female Russian spy and a male British diplomatic courier. Only close ups were possible and there were three projectors in the room with six photo electric cell boxes. One projector was for the female face actor, one for the male face actor and one for the hand actors.

By the way, this is a brightly lit reenactment for the film camera, because the studio had to be twilight dark in order for the not so sensitive photo electric cells to capture the 24 lines of light projected onto the subjects.

Also shown here is an April 1928 diagram of the GE mechanical television process that includes the broadcast and reception method. Notice that two radio transmitters were used in these experimental broadcasts. The visual image was broadcast on GE’s experimental shortwave station W2XB operating on 37.33 meters (7.7 MHz) and the sound was broadcast over their radio station WGY, operating on 379.9 meters (790 KHz).

The last image is a simplified version of the broadcast apparatus from an April 1928 Mechanic’s Illustrated.

Tomorrow, how mechanical television morphed into the electronic version, and more surprises! Please share this with your friends, so they can be surprised too. -Bobby Ellerbee




With so many overlapping and similar events happening not only in the US and UK, but at RCA, Westinghouse, General Electric and AT&T, writing this synopsis is a real challenge. That’s why, as this final part leads us into electronic television, I am only hitting the major events, and giving you links to fill in the glorious details. You will find them at the bottom of the page.

In the next few days, I will also be writing a new story on some of the very interesting history I’ve discovered on RCA’s accumulation of brain power and inventions.

Surprise 1…We start with the first time the photo electric “eye” was actually put inside a light sealed box to make a television camera.

You can see that in the first photo, which is the AT&T “Direct Scanning System”. It was first demonstrated July 12, 1928 at the Bell Labs in New York, and was the first demonstration of outdoor television using sunlight and a scanning disc…something no other researcher had been able to do.

It was not revealed at the time, but the 50 hole, 3 foot disc system’s success was due to the new, Bell improved Case Thalofide photo electric cell.

On August 24, 1928, Philo Farnsworth gave a private demonstration of his all electronic system to Pacific Bell. The images on the
one-and-a-quarter by one-and-one-half inch blueish screen made images hard to identify, but the motion was easy to follow. Ten days later, he demonstrated it to the press in San Francisco. Reports were that “the basic principal of electronic TV had been proven and that perfection was just a matter of engineering”.

Surprise 2…Farnsworth applied for his first patent, which was on the Image Dissector tube January 7, 1929, but contrary to popular belief, he did not patent the first all electronic system. His patent did not specify a cathode ray receiving tube, as he was convinced that he could not patent such a basic device.

As I understand it, the real problem with Philo’s system was that due to some unlockable technical relationship between the Image Dissector output and the transmitted image, the size of the picture received was forever limited. That is, the only way to get a bigger picture on the receiving set was to massively increase the size of the Image Dissector tube.

Tests using a mechanical camera and an electronic receiving tube had been done as early as 1926 at Bell Labs, but half tones were not possible until improvements in the photo electric cells were made. That is why Bell’s Direct Scanning or Outside System was so important.

Finally in May of 1929, a 7” by 20” tube, fabricated by Corning Glass was given a willemite phosphor screen prepared by Zworykin’s group at Westinghouse. With it’s green phosphor screen, half of the goal of electronic television was accomplished. Here, half tones made a difference again, as part of the research Zworykin had done on the Westinghouse facsimile machine’s half tone transmission and reception was incorporated.

On November 13, 1928, Zworykin received an American patent on his improved all cathode ray television system. It was not until February of 1933 that RCA was able to demonstrate a fully electronic camera with Zworykin’s Iconoscope tube, which is shown here, with his recently developed spherical Iconoscope tube.

At this link is a very thorough and photo filled article from Richard Brewster from our friends at the Early Television site.

Below are two excellent videos that take us through the whole process…from Nipkow’s disc and Baird’s work, to Farnsworth and Zworykin. -Bobby Ellerbee


January 2, 1952…”Today” Show’s Full Staff Reports To Work at 4 AM

January 2, 1952…”Today” Show’s Full Staff Reports To Work at 4 AM

To get everyone acclimated to their new early morning schedules and ready for the Monday, January 14 debut, all writers, talent, technical and production staffers were required to report for work at 4 AM on Wednesday, January 2, 1952.

Their new home was at the recently renovated RCA Exhibition Hall space on West 49th Street, just across from 30 Rock, where the long shot photo was taken from. Preparation had begun some weeks before, with the set mostly completed by the 2nd, and staffers working daily across the street in a large NBC conference room to plan the show’s many element.

On Wednesday, January 9th, just three weekdays before the debut, dry runs began and all the images here are from that first day of rehearsals, which extended through the weekend.

There were several firsts on the show, including the use of at least two camera mounted teleprompters. Notice in the first photo, the RCA TK30 is mounted on a tripod, but this was only a temporary setup as the first two Houston Fearless PD 3 counter weighted pedestals ever made, arrived on January 10th and were in use on the debut. The other two studio cameras were mounted on the old PD 1 Houston Fearless pedestals. The last photo shows the new PD 3 peds in use on the debut show, with our friend Frank Merklein behind the camera.
At the link is the first 13 minutes of the show, and two minutes in, we see what is believed to be the first ever electronic “bug” and lower screen headline crawl. The headline crawl is achieved with the help of the Gary Telop Horizontal Tape Scroll, which used 8mm news ticker tape, like the paper tape in ticker tape machines. That effect was combined with an NBC developed electronic time display, which was a “Today” exclusive.

This original “Today” show street level studio is now part of Christie’s Auction House and a few hundred feet west of the current “Today” location in Studio 1A. Conveniently, “NBC Studio 1H”, better known as Hurley’s Bar, was just a few hundred feet west of Garroway & Company’s digs. -Bobby Ellerbee


January 1, 1954…A Day Of Color Firsts And, A Quandary

January 1, 1954…A Day Of Color Firsts And, A Quandary

63 years ago today was the first time the new RCA/NBC color trucks were used. Unlike the black and white RCA Tele Mobile units from the ’30s, which had a camera/switching truck and a transmitter truck, both color trucks were camera trucks, with the signal feed handled by one of Ma Bell’s ever-present microwave trucks.

It was the first west-to-east color broadcast to be nationally televised and of course, it was the first color broadcast of The Rose Parade.

The two new color remote trucks were ready in early December of ’53 and each truck had two RCA TK40s, which presents a quandary. According to RCA historian Lytle Hoover’s great statistics, there is no record of any TK40s being built in Camden prior to March-April of ’54 when RCA began their first assembly line run of 25 cameras.

I think perhaps they were using the Colonial Theater TK40 prototypes, as they had been “borrowed” for field testing in New York on many occasions in 1953, using one of the old Tele Mobile units converted to color. Although this is the oldest known photo of the trucks, I am pretty sure this was taken in New York in April of 54 with the new TK40s. -Bobby Ellerbee


January 1, 1961…Behind The Scenes At KTLA & The Rose Parade

January 1, 1961…Behind The Scenes At KTLA & The Rose Parade

The events in this great fourteen minute clip, were all filmed in the last week of December, 1960, and lead up to the air date of Sunday, January 1, 1961.

We’ll see how on this day, KTLA produced a Sunday news show at 1 PM, a live musical show at 2, and at 3, a color-cast of the Rose Parade.

This is full of RCA TK10s and TK41s, familiar faces like announcer Tom Kennedy, newsman Clete Roberts, cameraman Dick Watson, great control room and mobile unit shots and more.

I hope the KTLA vets among us will point out faces and places. Although we don’t get inside the color mobile unit, or the Telecopter (America’s first), built by Klaus Landsberg and John Silva, at least we get to see them in action. -Bobby Ellerbee

A look at how television programs are prepared for transmission, includes details of planning, rehearsals and the final televised shows. Examples are used to…


NBCUniversal Gambles in Beantown With NBC Boston Launch

2017’s First Big Television Venture…NBC Boston, Day 1

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. For those not familiar with this historic move, here is the story from Variety. If you want to take a live look, here is a link. Good Luck! -Bobby Ellerbee

NBCUniversal Gambles in Beantown With NBC Boston Launch

New Year’s Day marks the launch of what might be considered the broadcasting equivalent of Boston’s Big Dig. At 3 a.m. on Sunday, NBC will flip the switch on NBC Boston, a newly launched O&O th…




Thanks to our friends in cold Times Square that helped us ring out 2016, and our friends in warm Pasadena who’ll help us ring in a rosy 2017!
Happy New Year! -Bobby Ellerbee


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