Early Electronic Television
Early TV In New York City
by Kenneth E. Batcher
May 3, 2012
Note: From 1936 through 1940, Ralph Batcher wrote a series of articles about television which were published in the New York Sun on a weekly basis. These "Data Sheets" contained information about all aspects of television technology. Ken Batcher, Ralph's son, has donated the articles to the museum, and we are in the process of scanning them.
I was born in December 1935, during the Great Depression, when my family lived in Queens, New York City. My father, Ralph R. Batcher, was the Chief Engineer of The A. H. Grebe Radio Company until they went bankrupt in 1932. About the same time as my birth, he built a TV set in the basement of our house.
As I recall, the set had a CRT about five inches in diameter and was built on an oscilloscope chassis. The circuitry was very sensitive to temperature so the chassis had a number of control knobs all around it that my father had to adjust, now and then, to get a good image on the CRT - he was the only one who knew how to operate the set. The set had a lens in front of the CRT to magnify its image a bit.
The earliest images I recall seeing on my father's TV were of the 1939 World's Fair that was being held in Queens.
The NBC TV station in New York (WNBT) was given an FCC license to start commercial broadcasting on July 1, 1941 so they mailed their programming schedules to set owners each week. To get an idea of what they broadcast in 1941. Click here for their schedule from June 30, 1941 to July 5, 1941.
The most vivid TV image I recall was a nightly weather forecast sponsored by Botany Ties. It was an animated commercial of a lamb wearing a tie on a little island in the middle of an ocean. After complaining about being marooned, the lamb looked through a telescope to see the weather forecast: fair, rainy, cold, warm, etc.
Apparently, this TV commercial was first aired in September 1941, because this web page says:
"In 1941, with television still feeling it's way around and with less than 5,000 TV sets across the country, the first animated commercial was broadcast. It was in September of that year when the animated Botany Lamb first pranced across television screens to promote Botany Mills ties (as well as forecast the weather). There were seven of these spots produced for this original campaign, but the series itself continued through 1948."
On Sunday afternoon, Dec. 7, 1941, my father was down in the basement when the TV program was interrupted by a bulletin about the raid on Pearl Harbor - most of the nation first heard about the raid on radio but our family first heard about it on TV.
I recall that occasionally, during WWII, about six or so air-raid wardens would go down to our basement to watch my father's TV. Here is an article that appeared in the New York Times on 1/24/1942 describing what they saw.
In September 1944, our family moved to a house in Douglaston, Queens. Reception on my father's TV was now much better because our new home was so high on a hill that we could actually see the top of the Empire State Building 12 miles away.
We continued to watch TV on my father's set in the basement of our new home until he bought a Philco 48-2500 Projection TV Set for our living room. Sometimes, when a vacuum tube in the Philco had to be replaced, my father would just re-wire its socket to use some other tube he already had in the basement instead of buying a new tube - over time, the circuitry in our Philco evolved into something quite different from the original circuit.
My father passed away in December 1968 and a few months later my mother moved to the house of my sister, Olive, in College Park Maryland. My siblings and I cleared out the house in Douglaston to sell it. While clearing out the basement, I came across a box of newspaper clippings (pasted on 5-by-8 index cards) of a weekly column that my father had written for the New York Sun called Television Data Sheets.
My father gave each Data Sheet a number to indicate its subject matter. The column first appeared in the New York Sun on Saturday, November 14, 1936 and continued into 1940. Click here for the catalog of the 188 Data Sheets that were in the box. Each entry in the catalog shows the year when the Data Sheet was published in the New York Sun, the sheet number, and the title.
Since the newspaper clippings are over 70 years old, they are seriously dis-colored and hard to read.
The newspaper clippings are being donated to the Early Television Museum in Hilliard, Ohio for safe-keeping.