March 22, 1929…RCA Begins First Nightly Experimental Broadcasts

March 22, 1929…RCA Begins First Nightly Experimental Broadcasts

This is a combination of some newly discovered details with a few very rare and little known places and events that no one that I know of has ever woven together to tell this historic tale. I have written about all of these elements separately, but now, can finally combine them all to tell a broader, richer story.

To set the mood, look at the 1928 image of a mannequin in front of a huge camera like object. Here are some surprises about this image…first, most assume this is a camera shooting through a wooden frame with spotlights. Actually the “spotlights” are photo imaging cells and make the picture. The “camera” is an arc light projector with a rotating disc, which at the time was the basis of mechanical television. By the way, this is the Alexanderson system made by General Electric.

This photo was taken at RCA’s very first research facility at 7 Van Cortlandt Park South, an address I was only able to nail down in January after years of searching. RCA built it in 1924, and until RCA bought the Victor Company plant in Camden in 1930, this was the home of RCA research and development. This is the first home of W2XBS, RCA’s experimental television station that is today, WNBC.

On page 10 at this link is a rare article on 7 Van Cortlandt from a 1956 RCA Radio Age Magazine. Much of this new information is drawn from there, but there are many other interesting aspects of the period to read about there.

The W2XBS call letters were granted in 1928, and the call letters listed 7 Van Cortlandt as the official address, but shortly after, Theodore Smith and his TV team had come up with a 5,000 watt transmitter and they needed to move. Fortunately, RCA Photophone had an office in the 411 5th Avenue building, just down the street from their new corporate HQ at 711 5th Avenue.

Photophone was RCA’s name for their sound to film technology and they had a new studio there plus some extra room which is where Felix The Cat first graced the airwaves. The Felix tests more than likely began shortly after the move to 411.

On March 22, 1929 the Radio Corporation of America announced that “television images are now being broadcast daily from 7 to 9 P.M.”  The company’s vice president, Dr. A. N. Goldsmith said that the program was intended to give “experimenters an opportunity to look in on the development work, which, it is contemplated, will in due course evolve into a service to the public on a commercial basis similar to that of sound broadcasting.”

Near the bottom of this rare article on the 411 Building’s history is detail confirming the RCA article dates and the next steps in experimental television’s history.

Thanks to the RCA article, we can finally put a date of 1930 to the famous Felix photo, but we don’t know if it was taken at 411 or at W2XBS’s next stop…the Roof Garden Theater atop The Amsterdam Theater where the testing moved in late 1930. It remained there until operations were move to the top of the Empire State Building in 1933. My money’s on the photo being taken at 411 which is also shown here. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee


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