Early Television
Early Television
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Ed Reitan's Color Television History

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RCA-NBC Firsts in Color Television


RCA-NBC Camera Logo

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This is based on a press release that is titled "RCA-NBC Firsts in Color Television, a Chronological List of Significant Firsts by the Radio Corporation of America and the National Broadcasting Company in Color Television".

It was published on March 27, 1955 as "News Information" by the Radio Corporation of America, RCA Building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York 20, N.Y.

As usual, RCA publicized itself better than anyone else. I have clarified their claims, which in some cases are misinterpretable or incorrect, and made additions by making comments in blue.

"Quick Jump" to Pre-War, 1945-47, 1949-50, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959-61, 1962-66.

Date Description (Clarification)


February 6, 1940 RCA demonstrated a television receiver producing images in color by electronic and optical means without moving mechanism. (RCA actually made this demonstration to members of the FCC on Feb. 5 at RCA Manufacturing Company's plant in Camden, N.J. The New York Times on Feb.6 said that the demonstrations "were conducted in secrecy". No technical details were disclosed .)
February 20, 1941 Color television pictures in motion were put on the air by NBC in the first telecast of color by mechanical means from a TV studio. (However, CBS earlier began live studio pickup color broadcasts using its orthicon camera on December 2, 1940. CBS began daily colorcast field tests on June 1, 1941. RCA's use of "pictures in motion" or "from a TV studio" qualifications in this claim is unclear.)


December 13. 1945 Color television in three dimensions was demonstrated by RCA employing a mechanical system (The color system was a field sequential concept devised at RCA Labs, Princeton by Ray Kell, Richard Webb, George Fredendall, Al Shroeder, and company).
October 30, 1946 Color television pictures on a 15x20-inch screen, produced by all-electronics means, were demonstrated publicly for the first time by RCA. (this was the simultaneous system developed by Ray Kell, Richard Webb and the group at RCA Labs)
April 30, 1947 RCA Demonstrates its simultaneous color system at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Color images are projected on a 8 by 10 -foot screen using closed circuit pickup from a film/slide scanner.
July 16, 1947 RCA unveils the world's first all-electronic color camera as part of its simultaneous color television system at a hearing of the FCC in Princeton, N.J. This was the first demonstration of Richard Webb's new three-image orthicon color camera. Images were projected on a large screen and shown on a home receiver.


August 25, 1949 A new all-electronic, high-definition, fully compatible color television system was announced by RCA to the Federal Communications Commission. (This is the RCA Dot -Sequential Color System. Before the start of its Color TV Hearings, the FCC then demanded more details. This description, "A Six-Megacycle Compatible High-Definition Color television System", written by George Brown and James Reeves, was submitted to the FCC on September 26, 1949 as an exhibit to the Color TV Hearings)
September, 1949 Color operations started at the NBC Washington, D.C. Wardman Park studio.
October 10, 1949 "Kukla Fran, and Ollie Show" goes to the NBC network from the Washington, D.C. studio, using the RCA Dot -Sequential Color System cameras.
March 23, 1950 RCA demonstrated the first direct-view type color kinescopes to members of the FCC at Washington D.C. (two receivers were shown - using single and a triple gun color shadow mask CRTs)


July 9, 1951 A 21-inch direct-view color picture tube was shown by RCA. (RCA used the term "shown" when equipment was not operational!)
October 16, 1951 RCA exhibited a color TV receiver-projector which provided color pictures on a 9 x 12 foot theater screen at the Colonial Theater, New York.


April 14, 1953 A color television camera, equipped with a single tri-color tube instead of three color pickup tubes, was demonstrated by RCA. (This striped image tube technology was developed by Paul Wiemer at RCA labs. This was in response to complaints about the size and weight of the 3-image orthicon camera, and the need for a lightweight field camera. However, this prototype never went into production, and crews were destined to carry 300 lb. TK-41's to the top of sports stadiums for 20 years through the mid 1970's.)
June 25, 1953 RCA-NBC petitioned the FCC to adopt the compatible signal specifications used by the RCA color television system as standards for commercial color TV. (RCA insulted the industry by jumping the gun when they submitted a petition instead of waiting for the formal industry-wide NTSC petition submission on July 22, 1953.)
August 30, 1953 The first publicly announced experimental broadcast in compatible color TV of a network program was presented by NBC of "St. George and the Dragon" on the "Kukla, Fran, and Ollie Show"
October 31, 1953 NBC presented the opera "Carmen", in color, marking the first time an opera had been telecast in color and the first production of a full-hour program in compatible color TV.
November 3, 1953 A live show from the NBC Colonial Theater studio in New York was transmitted by RCA compatible color television via radio relay to Burbank, Calif., in the first transcontinental color TV demonstration. (This claim is not true, as CBS did the first transcontinental closed circuit color TV demonstration of a medical operation from Los Angeles to New York on December 6, 1951. This was closed circuit color program demonstration and was viewed only by advertising executives in the NBC Burbank Studios.)
November 22, 1953 (The "Colgate Comedy Hour with Donald O"Connor" is the first commercial NTSC color program. Special permission was received from the FCC for the commercial colorcast. A black and white kinescope recording of this show survives.)
December 1, 1953 Magnetic tape recording of both color and black-and-white color programs was shown by RCA at its Princeton laboratories. (This was the impractical RCA high-speed longitudinal tape system which could only record and playback a few minutes of a program -- but it worked!)
December 17, 1953 NBC was the first to broadcast a color signal after approval by the FCC of the RCA-pioneered standards for compatible color. (NBC was the first to colorcast the still NBC "Chimes" logo at 5:31:17 P.M. using NTSC, not RCA, standards. But CBS had the first live color program on the air at 6:15 P.M. featuring Rocky Marciano, using its Chromacoder cameras. NBC followed at 6:30 P.M. with a special program with Pat Weaver, General David Sarnoff, and Jimmy Durante)
December 22, 1953 The first live commercial in color was telecast by NBC in a variety program entitled, "Season's Greetings".
December 23, 1953 NBC transmitted the first commercial TV program on color film, on "Dragnet". (The episode was "The Big Little Jesus" - in Technicolor - which is still shown in syndication)


January 1, 1954 The Tournament of Roses, from Pasadena, California, was telecast in color by twenty-one stations of NBC's first coast-to-coast color network. This colorcast marked a series of significant "firsts" in television history including: the first use of NBC's new mobile color TV unit; the first West-to-East transcontinental transmission of color television; the first West Coast origination of a color program under compatible color standards; and the first broadcast of a network color program by a coast-to-coast series of stations.
February 16, 1954 NBC transmitted the first newscast in color -- "Camel News Caravan" - including the first integration of 16-mm color film into a live program.
March 4, 1954 The first shipment of compatible TV cameras and associated studio equipment was made from RCA's plant in Camden, N.J. (The first RCA color camera to be shipped to an independent (non-O and O) station was to WKY-TV in Oklahoma City. This camera was received "three weeks before WKY-TV's first live color program from its studios on April 8, 1954". )
March 19, 1954 The first colorcast of a sport event, a boxing match from Madison Square Garden, was presented by NBC. (Maybe the first by NBC, but not the first color sports, as baseball and football were colorcast by the CBS system).
March 25, 1954 Production of RCA's first commercial color TV sets equipped with a 15-inch picture tube began at Bloomington, Ind. (This was of course the famous CT-100)
June 25, 1954 NBC made the first network transmission of 35-mm color film, on "Mrs. USA" program.
July 8 - Aug. 19 First TV network color series -- "The Marriage," a situation comedy with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn.
July 15, 1954 RCA announced development of a new and improved 21-inch color kinescope with a picture area of 255 square-inches. Originally, they had planned to introduce a 19-inch flat faceplate tube, similar to the original 15GP22 tube. But RCA instead developed a CRT, the metal cone 21AXP22, using the CBS curved screen concept).
August 11, 1954 Use of color and black-and-white TV in military combat was demonstrated for the first time by RCA-NBC in cooperation with the Army Signal Corps at Fort Meade, Md.
September 12, 1954 NBC presented the first of its 90-minute color TV "Spectaculars" -- "Satins and Spurs." The program also inaugurated NBC's new Brooklyn, N.Y. studios.
September 15, 1954 RCA demonstrated its new 21-inch color picture tube and a simplified color TV receiver. (The plans and components for this set were made available to RCA patent licensees. The set, known as the Licensee Labs Simplified Receiver, was built in production by Emerson, Raytheon, Gilfillan and others. This chassis never performed as well as RCA Victor's "simplified" version - the CTC-4 chassis.)
Oct. 14 - Dec. 30 "Ford Theatre" was the first network sponsored TV color film series to be presented on a regular basis.
November 28,1954 First two-hour color production of a Shakespeare play. "Macbeth" on "Hallmark Hall of Fame".
December 1, 1954 RCA began commercial production of color TV sets with a new 21-inch picture tube. (This was the model 21-CT-55 receiver, a 21-inch version of the CT-100 circuit. By summer of 1955, two new models, a console and a table model, were started in production. The new sets employed the CTC-4 chassis, the first to use printed circuits. The chassis was also used in receiver cabinets sold in 1955-6 by Magnavox and Hallicrafters.)


January 19, 1955 Color TV of approved standards was used for the first time by RCA as a means of inter-city consultation and diagnosis by doctors.
March 7, 1955 NBC presented "Peter Pan" on "Producers' Showcase", starring Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard, as the first full-length Broadway production on color TV. The show attracted a then record audience of 65-million.
March 27, 1955 Dedication of NBC's Color City in Burbank, Calif., featuring the first TV studio ever constructed specifically for color broadcasting.
June 7, 1955 First color TV broadcast of a President: Dwight D Eisenhower's commencement address at West Point.
Sept. 17, 1955 First color TV coverage of College Football - Georgia Tech vs. Miami at Atlanta (Not so! CBS telecast a number of football games using its color system).
Sept. 28, 1955 First color TV coverage of the World series (Dodgers - Yankees).
October. 31, 1955 First full-hour Monday-through-Friday color TV drama series presenting different plays each day started on "NBC Matinee Theater."
Dec. 12, 1955 "Sleeping Beauty" was the first color TV broadcast of a full-length ballet.


March 11, 1956 Sir Lawrence Olivier starred in "Richard III," three hour color film, TV's longest dramatic presentation.
Sept. 15, 1956 New York's Ziegfeld Theatre opened as the newest NBC-TV color studio with the season's premier of "The Perry Como Show."
Sept. 29, 1956 First water show on color TV -- "The Esther Williams Aqua Spectacle" from NBC's Brooklyn Studio. (This was the first program to be time-zone delayed on the West Coast by the new lenticular film color kinescope process.)
October 23, 1956 First network use of RCA magnetic tape for color or black-and-white was presented on the "The Jonathan Winters Show." It consisted of a pre-recorded song sequence in color (by Dorothy Collins) during the program.


November 27, 1957 "Annie Get Your Gun," starring Mary Martin was a special two-hour Color Broadcast feature. (Multiple studios were used at Burbank. Mary Martin was televised riding a horse on a treadmill at full gallop.)


April 28, 1958 NBC dedicates its $1.5M Videotape Central at Burbank. The facility includes an RCA Color Video Tape Recorder and eight Ampex black-and-white machines converted to color with RCA Labs electronics. With the onset of daylight savings time, the facility is used for multiple time-zone delay. Shortly thereafter, a total of four RCA Broadcast Color Recorders were operational in the facility. The use of video tape for pre-recording of shows came later.
May 22, 1958 Dedication ceremonies of NBC's Washington, D.C., studio facilities, which were the first such to be built "from the ground up" for color TV broadcasting. (President Eisenhower, David Sarnoff, and Robert Sarnoff spoke at the dedication of WRC-TV. This was the first time a color video tape recording was made of a President. This earliest existing color recording was located at the Eisenhower Library in Kansas. It was restored, preserved and transferred to digital video tape by Ed Reitan of ITT, Don Kent of KTLA, and Dan Einstein of the UCLA Film and Television Archive.)
October 17, 1958 Fred Astaire made his starring TV debut in the color broadcast of "An Evening With Fred Astaire," which was to win many awards including nine Emmys. (There were eventually ten Emmy awards: Thirty years later in 1988, Reitan, Kent, and Einstein also received a technical Emmy award recognizing "Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Development" for their restoration of this earliest surviving Color Video Tape of an entertainment program).
October 21, 1958 First use of stereophonic sound on a TV network color program. The George Gobel Show. (The second audio channel was simulcast via the NBC Radio Network.)


February 22, 1959 The "Perry Como Show" is colorcast using "compatible" stereo sound.
Sept. 12, 1959 "Bonanza," TV's first full-hour Western color film series began.
January 20, 1961 Inaugural Parade of President John F. Kennedy is presented in color.
Sept. 24, 1961 Premier of "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color," full-hour Sunday series of color TV programs ranging from nature stories to animated cartoons, from tales of adventure to famous classics and musical extravaganzas. (This program, more than any other, sparked the increasing sales of color receivers, and the eventual take-off of color television).


Fall, 1962 ABC began the colorcasting of filmed cartoon shows "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons".
Fall, 1965 ABC offeres "The Hollywood Palace" and " The Lawrence Welk Show" as its first live color shows.
Fall, 1965 CBS resumes regular colorcasts, including "The Ed Sullivan Show".
November 7,1966 NBC becomes the first 100% color network with the conversion of "Concentration" to color.

References: Detailed descriptions of the above milestones, with references, is included in the book version.

The RCA-NBC Logo is from the side of a Pre-War Field Pickup Iconoscope Camera that was discovered by Eric Stumpf, sold to Dan Gustafson, and now owned by Steve McVoy.

Color Line

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