TV Broadcasting History - Various Articles

New York's Radio Images Leap Across The Mississippi

Television's Mail

Nebraska Observer Tries to Identify Bald-Headed Man

Ring on Violinist's Finger Is Seen in Tennessee

This article appeared in the The New York Times on August 7, 1932.


Television stations are beginning to receive fan mail. In the early days of broadcasting letters gave the first indication that public interest was captured. Announcers pleaded with listeners to report on distance and clarity of reception. Now the television impresarios and engineers are studying letters to find out how far the images travel and if an object or person can be identified after a flight through space.

Those who have no television in the home today probably wonder what they might pluck from the air if they did look in on the passing waves. The letters received by W2XAB, operated by the Columbia Broadcasting System, New York, unfold an interesting story on television in 1932.

"I picked up your station very clear and held it for about twenty-five minutes," said an observer at Raleigh, N.C.

That is 425 miles from Manhattan Island, where the images leaped into the air from aerial wires atop 485 Madison Avenue.

And from Bristol, Tenn., an ethereal spectator reports, "I am able to see the eyes, eyebrows, teeth, and notice the changes in expression. Often when some one is playing a violin more than once I have noticed a ring on the violinist's finger. I have been looking in on your station for six months or more."

Seen in Wisconsin

These television images seem to have no difficulty in jumping over New York skyscrapers for a long-distance hop. It was thought for a while that the tall steel structures might block or snatch them from the air before they could fly across the Hudson. But such is not the case. For example, from Stevens Point, Wis., this report was received:

"Imagine my amazement when I received your television program on Friday night from 9 to 11 o'clock. It was wonderful and more than 1,000 miles distant! Your singers, the violinist and the announcer together with the station identification card were perfect. Do you transmit sound in synchronism with the pictures and, if so, on what channel does the sound travel?"

An observer at Waterbury, Conn., said: "We have been receiving the W2XAB television broadcasts with fair success."

Some of the spectators are handicapped in reception of the pictures because they have no definite copy or program of the television schedule. They have to hunt around on the dial for the faces, which in their current state are somewhat elusive. Then they write to the transmitter for verification as in the early days of broadcasting.

"While experimenting with a television set last night we are quite sure that we intercepted some of your pictures from New York," said an observer in Montreal. "We saw several pictures between 10:15 and 10:45 P.M. The first was a man and two others were women. They seemed to be different persons."

Congratulations from Vermont

The same images that dance through the air to Dixie are seen in New England. They travel in all directions in much the same way as musical broadcasts.

"Congratulations on the excellent visual programs we are receiving from your station," said a spectator in Middlebury, Vt., in writing to W2XAB. "Reception is very dependable and the signal strength is quite sufficient for good quality; in fact, of the six television stations I receive regularly, yours gives the greatest detail. I have especially enjoyed seeing the dancer and the boxing bouts. For reception at this distance I find that it is much better to have the actress dressed in white or light clothes for far-from-television vision.

"The background should be given attention. Passing shadows of persons not in the field of vision are extremely annoying and confusing. May I suggest that your announcements be made by visual card as far as possible? Interruption of the regular signal throws off the automatic synchronization in most cases, and this is most annoying."

The images seem to have sufficient power in their wings to lift them across the Mississippi toward the Kansas wheat fields. An observer at Manhattan, Kan., reports: "Station W2XAB comes in very clear and strong. I receive all the evening programs regularly. I enjoyed the recent fight broadcast and would like to see more of that type of performance."

Cartoons Seen in the South

Cartoons drawn in front of the electric eyes in New York have been picked out of the air at Fairmont, W. Va., according to the following report: "I received the pictures broadcast by W2XAB. The cartoons were very clear. The plate on my neon tube seems to be divided into four parts, because I see four images of the same person or picture. I cannot understand why this condition exists instead of one large picture."

A spectator at Adrian, Mich., asserts that he is an interested looker-in on the W2XAB evening entertainment. Occasionally the pictures are very clear by the time they arrive in Michigan, but some difficulty is experienced in fading. He reports that more power is needed to send the faces from New York into that area with good signal strength in the daytime. The sunlight curtails the images that travel on certain wave lengths in much the same way that it shortens the range of broadcasting stations.

"Last night I succeeded in bringing in the picture of a partially bald-headed man on my television machine," said an observer at West Point, Neb. "The image was quite clear, but I could not hold it long. There was some fading. The man moved his head quite often. The lips could be seen to move. I did not hear the sound. This is the only station I have succeeded in framing and I hope you can verify reception of this partially bald-headed person."

* * *

"Television has its problems," said William Schudt, director of W2XAB. "Television also has its limitations, and plenty of them. Fox example, we are limited in pictorial representations to three people. We cannot show full-length pictures with sufficient signal power to register properly in the home receiver.

"We plan programs for the limits of present television. Boxing is presented in a miniature ring. Contestants are cautioned to stay in focus of the flying spot lest they disappear off to an unseen corner of the television screen. Dick Madeo, who has presented many of the fistic exhibitions, has learned to box in circles, always within the focus of the light ray. The engineers likewise have adjusted their scanning apparatus so that it may be adjusted rapidly to follow the fighters in a limited space around the ring."

Scenic Background Is Used

Scenic backdrops are now used with the result that lookers-in obtain the illusion of a full stage. These had to be designed with care. Heavy outlines of simple designs in black and white show up the best. Ordinary scenery with its delicate shadings is useless with television in its present state, but adaptations of black and white designs made out of proportion give amazing results. So perfectly did one scene come through that it caused considerable comment among observers when it was put on the air for the first time.

It was a skyline view of New York, showing the buildings silhouetted in black against a white sky. Immediately following the test seven telephone callers inquired if W2XAB was actually scanning from the roof of the building, which incidentally overlooks a similar skyline. The illusion naturally produced by television often makes the simplest things appear strikingly lifelike despite the fact that they are mere pieces of cardboard on which rough sketches have been made.

New Radio Concept Would End Chains

Westinghouse, Glenn Martin Plan to Broadcast FM and Television From Stratosphere

Programs 'Bounce Back'

Would Originate on Earth and Be Relayed by 14 Planes Serving 422-Mile Zones

This article appeared in the New York Times on Aug. 10, 1945.


A plan for television and frequency modulation broadcasting from airplanes flying in the stratosphere, which could revolutionize the present-day concept of national network radio, was announced yesterday by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation and the Glenn L. Martin Company.

A chain of planes similar to the B-29, each cruising over a fixed area, would span the continent and transmit simultaneously five FM programs and four television shows to listeners on the ground six miles below. The stratospheric relay, it was asserted, would enable fourteen airplanes to cover 78 per cent of the country's population and obviate the need for many hundreds of ground stations.

Disclosure of the project was made at a luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel by A. W. Robertson, chairman of the board of Westinghouse, and Mr. Martin, both of whom forecast that cooperation between the aviation and radio industries would introduce a new era in mass communications.

Officials of existing networks attending the luncheon conceded that the proposed system might have far-reaching effects on future coast-to-coast broadcasting.

"If it works, it will be revolutionary," Niles Trammell, president of the National Broadcasting Company, asserted.

A major official of another network, who declined to be quoted by name, acknowledged that today's radio chain, consisting of hundreds of affiliated stations, could become a thing of the past if the Westinghouse-Martin project proved practical.

The Federal Communications Commission has been advised of the stratosphere plan and has expressed particular interest in its social and economic implications, according to Walter Evans, vice president of Westinghouse. An application for test flights this fall is now before the FCC.

Asked specifically if Westinghouse believed the projected system would make the existing form of network obsolete, Mr. Evans replied: "We think it does."

He added that the company expected that the plan would bring television into even remote rural areas "years ahead of any previously suggested system" and would greatly reduce the "astronomical costs" formerly anticipated in connection with video's development.

Credited with devising "stratovision" was Charles E. Nobles, 27 years old, of Paris, Tex., a radar expert for Westinghouse, who explained the radio features of the new system at the luncheon. The aeronautical aspects were detailed by William K. Ebel, vice president in charge of engineering for the Martin Company, who has played a major part in the development of the large Navy flying boats and the Pan American Clippers.

Mr. Nobles noted that it was a basic characteristic of both television and FM signals that they extend only as far as the horizon, whereas existing radio (amplitude modulation) follows the earth's curvature. To overcome this limitation on service range, he said, chief efforts up to now have been concerned with costly co-axial cables, laid underground, to link stations or with the use of fixed relay units perched on high hills or mountains.

By putting such stations in airplanes operating at 30,000 feet, the altitude expected to be employed, Mr. Nobles continued, a signal could reach 211 miles in one direction as compared with an estimated fifty miles for a transmitter atop the Chrysler or Empire State Buildings. Accordingly, each plane would cover an area 422 miles in diameter.

In actual operation, a program from an FM or television studio would be beamed directly upward from a ground transmitter to the plane circling overhead. The plane, in turn, would "spray" the signal back to ground over the 422-mile area and at the same time relay the program to the plane circling in the next area.

For a basic national network, with each plane serving millions of persons, stratosphere transmitting units would fly over New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Kansas City, Curtis, Neb.; Leadville, Col.; Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. Addition of planes over Atlanta, Memphis, Dallas, Sacramento and Portland, Ore., would provide coverage of 78 per cent of the population.

A concurrent advantage of the stratosphere station, Mr. Nobles noted, was that the power needed to impress a satisfactory signal on a receiver decreased with an increase in the transmitter's height. One kilowatt at 30,000 feet would deliver the same signal as fifty kilowatts on the ground, he said, adding that tubes to furnish one kilowatt were already available, even for high-definition color television . Color television could thus be placed " on equal footing technically with present black-and-white low-definition television," he contended.

Operation of a single plane was estimated by Mr. Nobles at $1,000 an hour, compared with $13,000 for sufficient stations covering an identical area. It was estimated that the first experimental plane would cost $500,000.

Mr. Ebel said that the Glenn Martin Company was satisfied that "absolute reliability of airplane broadcasting service is not only possible but is not too difficult to attain."

"We can safely say that with the most modern navigational, radar, anti-icing and blind landing equipment and with sufficient reserve aircraft, no area would be deprived of stratovision service because of weather," he said.

Mr. Ebel explained that at 30,000 feet most of the usual bad weather would be missed. High winds would be no particular problem, he said, because B-29's have withstood velocities of 150 miles an hour over Japan and the average velocity over the United States at 30,000 feet is fifty miles.

Two planes would be in the air at all times in each service area, one doing the relaying and one acting as a reserve. Each plane would go up for an eight-hour shift.

In the event local ground storms prevented take-offs, Mr. Ebel said, planes could be summoned from another area, noting that "by the time a plane took up off from Chicago and comfortably went up to 30,000, it would be over Pittsburgh."

With two planes in constant service and reserve ships readily at hand, Mr. Ebel did not anticipate any interruption of service as the result of engine failure. Each plane would carry a crew of nine, with six attending to the broadcasting equipment, and also would be equipped with automatic pilot devices. Its over-all size would be equivalent to that of the B-29 but its weight would be a third less.

Threat to Television Is Feared in Frequency Modulation Order

Radio Engineers Believe Assignment of No. 1 Channel Will Put Television 'Out on a Limb' if Shift Is Necessary

This article appeared in the New York Times on May 21, 1940.

The Federal Communications Commission's assignment of television's No. 1 channel to the frequency modulation broadcasters has left telecasters using this wavelength "out on a limb," according to a round-up of opinion among the radio engineers in the New York area yesterday.

Until specific provisions are made by the FCC it is not known whether the displaced operators will be shifted to the channel now known as 2 or if new frequencies will be allocated to them in the new channel assigned to television between 60 and 66 megacycles.

In New York, channel 1 has been used by the Radio Corporation of America for research work and by the National Broadcasting Company for public television program service.

Inquiry on whether NBC would stop operation of its No. 1 channel station atop the Empire State Building brought the following explanation from an NBC representative: "We must await the FCC's report on television, which we understand may be issued this week. Until then we will not know what provisions are to be made for television or to what channel we must move to when vacating No. 1.

"It will not be a big job to shift over to the channel now known as No. 2, which under the new set-up will be No. 1. But should we have to move to the new channel assigned to television between 60 and 66 megacycles, that would call for a new transmitter, and we might be off the air several months."

Since television receivers are pre-tuned to definite channels so that by the snap of a switch the operator shifts from one to the other, it will become necessary to retune the sets. This, it is explained, is a job for service men. It is estimated by NBC that 3,000 receivers are in use in the New York area.

Commenting on the FCC's decision, Major Edwin H. Armstrong, inventor of the "FM" system, said that the telecasters ought to be happy on being moved from their present No. 1 channel because the waves have reached Chicago and such overlapping causes interference. He explained that interference would be less likely on the 60-66 megacycle path.

"It might cost at a maximum $20,000 to shift from the present No. 1 channel to the new 60-66 channel" continued Major Armstrong. "The important news in the FCC decision is that any town that can support an 'FM' broadcasting station now can get it because there will be plenty of channels which various towns can use without overlapping."

"The only fly in the ointment now is that the new 60 to 66 megacycle channel, as I see it," said Allen B. DuMont, president of the DuMont Laboratories at Passaic, N. J., who has a television license to build a station in New York. "Receivers now in use will not pick it up. If it is used, service men will have to go around and retune each set.

"Frequency modulation advocates have been given everything they asked for. Now , if the FCC will do the same for television, manufacturers will know where they stand and can 'go to town.'"

New rules and regulations for "FM" stations will probably be released by the FCC within two weeks, according to Dick Dorrance, representative of FM Broadcasters, Inc.

"Then we will know when the complete plan for operation will be effective," added Mr. Dorrance. "In the meantime all applications for 'FM' stations must be refiled. It will be a gradual process and may not get into full swing until the first of the year.

"Approval of 'FM' by the FCC and assignment of frequencies should work no hardship on television. To shift from channel No. 1 to channel No. 2, as experimental stations in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles may have to do, is a comparatively simple job of readjustment of the transmitter to the new wave, also retuning of the aerial and reflectors."

TV's Biggest Mystery

Texas Station Signal Seen in England -- Three Years After It Went Off the Air!

This article appeared in TV Guide, apparently the issue of April 30-May 6, 1955. This episode is debunked in this article.

Is there an intelligence somewhere in outer space which is beaming TV signals at the earth?

Or can television signals from Texas wander around the ionosphere for more than three years and then be picked up in England?

These are two of the questions with which engineers are wrestling in Houston, Tex., and in Britain as they delve into the mystery of KLEE-TV. And these are the facts.

1. At 3:30 PM, British Summer Time, September 14, 1954, Charles W. Bratley, of London picked up the call letters KLEE-TV on his television set. Later that month, and several times since, they have been seen by engineers at Atlantic Electronics, Ltd., Lancaster, England.

2. The call letters KLEE-TV have not been transmitted since July 1950, when the Houston station changed it letters to KPRC-TV.

3. A check of the world's television stations confirms the fact that there is not now and never has been another KLEE-TV.

Paul Huhndorff, chief engineer of KPRC-TV, to whom the Britishers sent their report, has no explanation. He contends it is not unusual for signals to be received hundreds or even thousands of miles from the transmitter. KPRC-TV [and the old KLEE-TV] has been picked up at Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2000 miles away.

Such freak reception occurs when signals shoot off into space, strike an atmospheric layer known as the ionosphere, and rebound to earth. However, the reception of such pictures has been as nearly instantaneous as electronics permit. A time lapse of 30 seconds would be a cause for wonder.

Members of the old KLEE-TV staff have identified pictures of the signals as looking like the standard call-letter slide they used. Engineer Huhndorff, waiting for more information from England, reserves final opinion. Meanwhile, he offers three theories.

1. The whole business is a hoax perpetuated by some amateur TV operator. This he discounts on the grounds of his fellow engineers' integrity.

2. The signals may have rebounded from a celestial object a light year and a half away. This would be a mathematical miracle if it happened once. Several times is just too fantastic for belief.

3. Some intelligence in outer space has received the signal and has re-transmitted it in the hope of communicating with this planet.

Those are the theories. We suggest the readers take their pick or invent their own.

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