It is clear that television has become a part of our daily lives. It has been around for as long as we can remember, and is just as common in our homes today as electricity or running water.
We can all imagine being able press the button on the remote control via satellite or cable to choose from hundreds of TVs available at any moment. Many of us have multiple receivers so that our children can watch important shows like “As the World Turns”, Desperate Housewives, or “Survivor” while we are at work.
Couples can either watch their respective programs on separate sets, or activate Tivo so they can record any programs to be viewed later.
Television was a different story in 1936, when the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), gathered all executives involved in RCA manufacturing and radio’s National Broadcast Corporation to view television entertainment live for the first time.
Radio was thriving in the depression, and RCA/NBC were the leaders of the class. Radio programmers and manufacturers had achieved a new level of broadcasting capability through their innovative vision. This is why the term “television” was so appropriate, as it literally means “distant sight”.
It was 70 years ago that David Sarnoff (Chairman of RCA) hoped to get all radio manufacturers, retailers and broadcasters involved in expanding the new frontier of television.
The Empire State Building television transmitter was used for high definition television (343 lines), to RCA’s Licensees. The program featured speeches from Major General James G. Harbord, Chairman of the Board, RCA, David Sarnoff, President of RCA and Otto S. Schairer, Vice-President RCA, responsible for Patents and Trademarks. The live broadcast featured dancing girls and a documentary about army maneuvers. After the demonstration at Waldorf Astoria, a dinner was held to celebrate the event.
This was the first TV dinner! This is my discovery. RCA and NBC never claimed it.
The only known surviving photograph of this private event known can be seen at: http://framemaster.tripod.com/index-3.html
This caption is for the photograph:
“RADIO CORPORATION of AMERICA”
FOLLOWING A DEMONSTRATION DURING THE RCA SYSTEM HIGH DEFINITION TV IN FIELD TEST INAUGURATED June 29, 1936
After the successful private broadcast, it was decided that the program would be enhanced and invited the public and media to a larger TV demonstration in November. Live performances would include professional singers, actors, and entertainers.
The Birth of Live Entertainment and Music on Television November 6, 1936
This broadcast marks a significant milestone in television history. All the talent used to produce the broadcast was live for the first-ever time. These accounts are based on the complete press release. I believe it is the only complete one.
“Experimental Television Demonstration for The Press”
National Broadcasting Company RCA Building Radio City, N.Y. November 6, 1936 TELEVISION CHANGES DEMONSTRATED BY NBC AND RCA
The National Broadcasting Company demonstrated television program transmission today (Friday, November 6th) in a 40-minute program that illustrated RCA experimental developments. These images were broadcast from the Empire State Building’s transmitter and received at the RCA Building’s 62nd Floor.
David Sarnoff, President of Radio Corporation of America, presented the results of field testing conducted by company engineers since September 1. Lenox R.Lohr, President, NBC, discusses the practical difficulties involved in staging performances for broadcast.
Four features were not present in any previous demonstrations of television. Although previous laboratory television demonstrations have been made, this was the first RCA and National Broadcasting Company demonstration of practical working conditions. This was the first time that a complete program was shown, both for entertainment and transmission. The new 12-inch receiving tube was also shown for the first time, which reproduces a picture onto a 7 1/2 x 10-inch screen. This screen is capable of commercial adaptation and is the largest.
The fourth part of the demonstration featured a behind-the scenes television tour. The guests were guided through the NBC television studios at the RCA Building as well as the transmitter station at top of the Empire State Building using a specially prepared moving picture film. The demonstration was viewed by those who were able to see the process of “live” talent being transformed into images through the air. They also saw the scanning of moving pictures films and witnessed the complex operation of the television apparatus.
The talks by Messrs. Lohr and Sarnoff, as well as the behind-the scenes film, were enjoyed by the Inkspots (*The Ink Spots), colored comedy teams and Hildegarde (“The Television Girl”) in their characteristic songs. Television also showed a Bob Benchley short, and a selection from newsreel subjects. Betty Goodwin, from the NBC Press Department, announced the program.
Ralph R. Beal (RCA Research Supervisor), O(scar] B. Hanson (NBC Chief Engineer) and Charles W. Horn (NBC Director of Research and Development) presented the demonstration. The engineers stated that there are still many problems in transmission and production before television can be commercially produced.
This was the first demonstration of RCA experimental TV under field conditions by the media since the Radio Corporation of America gave the task of setting up a television operation plant to the National Broadcasting Company.
This task included the construction and installation of studios that could be used for television, as well as the mounting of equipment at the transmitter at the Empire State Building. It also involved the determination of engineering methods that would allow the transmission of pictures to be transmitted and the training of staff members to manage the plant.
Lenox R. L. Lohr, President and CEO of the National Broadcasting Company, Talks About NBC’s Television Future
November 6, 1936 Press Release by NBC Television
Lenox Lohr Statement for The Press
National Broadcasting Company RCA Building Radio City, N.Y.
November 6, 1936
Statement by Lenox Lohr, President, National Broadcasting Company, introducing Mr. Sarnoff during the NBC Press Demonstration for RCA Experimental Television.
The National Broadcasting Company extends a warm welcome to all members of the media who have gathered upstairs to view this television demonstration. You will see that this demonstration is the result of many people’s tireless efforts and the large sums of money spent over many years. You can see the results of these efforts for yourself. Television is now ready to go into the field. It is currently undergoing tests that will ensure it doesn’t reach the public before it can provide satisfactory service.
The National Broadcasting Company’s role in television will include operating transmitters, programming and, when the program becomes commercially available, securing sponsors. Our engineers are putting equipment on the air every day under service conditions in order to be ready to help.
The Program Department is currently learning a new technique in continuity writing and make-up. It’s testing commercial programs to see if television can be used to sell products.
Our engineers are currently studying the economics behind networking so that multiple stations can be interconnected using either short-wave relays or coaxial cables. We also develop equipment to make outside pick-ups. We believe that the National Broadcasting Company, with the knowledge we have gained daily, will be ready to provide television services to the public when it is time. You will witness television being put through its paces today thanks to the visionary and entrepreneurial spirit of Mr. David Sarnoff (President of the Radio Corporation of America), who will now speak.
TELEVISION STATEMENT TO THE PRESS November 6, 1936, by David Sarnoff (President Radio Corporation of America).
We invite you to see an experimental TV test, so that the progress of this promising new art can be seen in real time rather than just through pictures.
The haze of speculation or conjecture.
Our field tests in television started on June 29, 2018. This was the start of television experimentation between a regular transmitter station and several homes in this country. We have made and continue to make progress on the three main fronts of television development. This includes research that must lead to efficient transmission and reception, technical progress that must translate into practical sets for home from the laboratory’s achievements, and field tests to determine what the requirements and possibilities are for a public service that will eventually allow us to both hear and see programs over the air. Our work on all fronts has shown definite progress, and we are closer to achieving our goal.
Let me first and foremost, as a matter of immediate interest, tell you about the progress of our field testing. We have been transmitting from our TV station at the Empire State Building in New York City. This is controlled by the NBC television studios located in the RCA Building. These transmissions have been measured and observed through several experimental receivers in the metro area and nearby suburbs. These results have been instructive and encouraging. These tests have shown that many of the commercial services must meet certain needs, as we expected.
We have transmitted motion pictures and talent through the air. These television programs have been seen over a greater distance than we expected. Due to the extreme height of our transmitter we have received transmissions up to 45 miles away from the Empire State Building.
These tests were very informative in that they have taught us a lot about ultra-short waves and how we can deal with them. We now know more about interferences. Most of them are human-made and can be eliminated. We have overcome the challenges of making apparatus work outside of the laboratory. These tests have proven the reliability of our technical system. This experience has allowed us to map the requirements of a practical television service.
Now, we will expand our field testing in several ways. We will first increase the number and quality of observation points within the service area. We will then raise transmission standards.
We are currently using a 343-line definition in our field tests. Radio Corporation of America, the Radio Manufacturers Association and the radio industry recommended to the Federal Communications Commission the adoption of a 441 line definition for commercial operation. The recommended standards will be applied to New York’s transmitter. This will also mean that synchronized receivers must be built to meet the new transmitter standards. Television requires that transmitting and receiving equipment be synchronized. This is a requirement and imposes obligations on those who provide a quality product and provide a service. Standards cannot be stopped prematurely, or progress would be impeded. On the other hand changing standards can lead to rapid obsolescence.
Our laboratories continue to conduct basic research in order to solve the problems in television and also to discover other uses for the ultra-short and micro waves that have such great potentialities in this new realm of the ether.
We have now moved on to the technical side of television. However, the construction and operation television studios have allowed us to coordinate our technical advancement with the program technique that a home service will eventually require. Today you are guests at RCA’s broadcasting company, the National Broadcasting Company. The NBC’s president, Mr. Lenox LOHR, has ordered a series television program testing to determine initial requirements.
The National Broadcasting Company started a national service for sound broadcasting ten years ago. It enters its second decade of service, bringing its experience and facilities to the new art television.
Network syndication is a major problem in television. The United States has 128,000,000 inhabitants and our current facilities allow sound broadcasting to be distributed across a large area. Similar coverage of television programs would require similar network interconnections by wire or radio.
Our program has three components: first, we need to develop commercial equipment suitable for television reception; secondly, we need to develop a program service that is suitable for network syndication; and third, we have must create an economic base that will support a television program.
Television’s advancements in America continue to be undisputed in terms of technical demonstration, research, and laboratory development. We lead the way in research that is constantly expanding the radio horizon and technical development that has made it possible to transmit and receive systems that meet the highest standards in field demonstration.
Now, we are working on program and studio techniques that will cover every possible possibility in the ever-expanding art. Television in the United States and abroad are distinguished by two types of experimental public services: those that are funded by government in smaller countries and those that are free to develop commercially.
Although the problems with television are complex, I believe they can be overcome. A television service for the public that will complement and not supplant broadcasting will create a new industry.
*2:30 PM – NBC/RCA Television demonstration. Ink Spots performed on the first NBC TV demonstration and are, therefore, the first black performers to appear live on American television. Variety reports that the Inkspots, which are a colored comedy-singing unit, performed a three-minute skit containing all the stage makeup. The boys were also in motion, and there were a couple of full-length shows. It turned out to be a good idea. It worked out okay.