By Dave Johnson
One of the most interesting inventors of the 20th century
was Dr. Peter Goldmark.
Originally from Hungary and educated in Berlin and Vienna,
Goldmark became interested early in television in Europe.
Experimenting at home, Goldmark worked on improving the
scanning disk system and was awareded the first television
patent in Austria.
Seeking his fortune he sailed to the U.S. in 1933. His first
job was a chief engineer of a sham company trying to get
rich on television stock sales. After leaving that company
and working for a firm in the export business for two years,
he applied for a job as a television engineer at CBS and was
hired at the beginning of 1936.
Goldmark's first assignment was to follow the research done
in the U. S. and abroad. He traveled to Europe and observed
the work being done in England, Germany, France and Italy.
By 1938 CBS radio had become a powerful competitor of NBC
and was committed to keep up with them in the new field of
CBS leased studio space in Grand Central Station above the
huge waiting room and also the Chrysler Building was leased
as a transmitter site.
Goldmark, who was not a big movie fan, by chance saw the
film Gone with the Wind in 1940. He was impressed with the
impact of the addition color made to the performance. Back
at the laboratory, he set about putting color into
television. Although Baird and A T & T had experimented with
mechanically scanned color, no one had really tried it with
high definition electronic TV.
Later in 1940, he had a system operating called the field
sequential system that by means of a drum or wheel with red
green and blue segments in front of the pickup tube was able
to encode the color to the video signal.
The system was simple and it worked. To decode all was
necessary was to have the same type of filter rotate in
front of the picture tube and be synchronized in speed and
phase. This was easily done.
He obtained permission from the FCC to use this format and
began transmissions from the Chrysler building. His first
source of programming was a film scanner of his design using
a Farnsworth Image Dissector tube. Later he was able to
adapt the new RCA camera tube, the Orthicon, into a camera
for live pickup.
He demonstrated live color pickup on December 2, 1940, the
same day his first son was born.
In 1940 industry representatives got together at the request
of the FCC to set the standards for black and white
television. Dr. Goldmark was chosen to represent CBS and
chaired one of the technical committees. He created quite a
bombshell when he demonstrated his color system to the
representatives of the NTSC.
Hoping to leapfrog black and white altogether, CBS's
demonstration did not get any support from the major
manufacturers, who had invested millions in black and white.
The FCC however was interested and while not approving the
system per se, it allowed continuing tests and color
Tests continued until December 8m 18941, when World War Two
shut down television broadcasts for almost the duration of
During the war years Goldmark was subcontracted out from CBS
to do research on war-related problems. He was involved in
what we now call ECM (electronic counter measures).
After the war he again tackled the color problem. Again his
goal was to leapfrog black and white entirely and gave
demonstrations of high resolution color in the new UHF band.
His system now used a method, developed during the war, of
using pulse code modulation to encode the sound during the
horizontal retrace period. The reduced bandwidth and
simplified the television transmitter.
The FCC seemed firmly behind it until RCA bought the FCC
commissioner Charles Denny, by giving him a vice president's
job with NBC after he rejected the CBS system.
A subsequent congressional investigation of the affair
resulted in an amendment to the Communications Act of 1934,
prohibiting a commissioner from representing a company
before the commission for a year after resigning from the
The color struggle went on for years until 1950 when the FCC
finally approved CBS's format to begin colorcasting in 1951.
Unfortunately so many black and white sets had been sold by
that time that the compatibility problem became an obstacle
that could not be overcome.
RCA continued to fight it in the courts, losing but causing
problems. Material shortages, specifically fractional
horsepower motors, due to the Korean War finally killed it,
the last colorcast occurring in October 1951.
When compatible color was approved in 1953, the biggest
hangup was in the small and expensive color CRT. It had only
a 12" screen and was very expensive to manufacture due to
the complex way the color dots were laid on a separate
screen behind the faceplate and clamped to the shadow mask.
In 1953 Peter Goldmark embarked on simplifying the color
tube and with help from his CBS staff developed a way to
photoengrave the color dots right on the faceplate of the
tube. The was such a breakthrough that RCA stopped their
research on their next generation tube and took out a
license on the CBS patent.
The color TV project was not the only area that RCA fought
him. The other major fight was about the LP record.
Goldmark, from a family of musicians, and musically talented
himself, could not stand the phonograph. To him the sound
from a shellac 78 was not music as the noise and poor
response ruined the original piece. Right after the war he
was to start on a path to change all that.
He systematically set about to find the limitations of the
78 and then to go about improving the record disk.
RCA previously had used 33 rpm for transcription disks but
just slowing down the record only lengthened the playing
time and did nothing for fidelity.
The first thing Goldmark did was find a new material for the
disk. Vinyl Chloride was just becoming available and
although more expensive than shellac, it would provide a
quiet, break resistant surface. The next step was to reduce
the width of the grooves. New technology was developed in
the making and recording of the disks. By 1948 his
invention, simply called the Long Playing or LP record was
ready for demonstration. Bill Paley, CBS chairman, had an
idea. Why not invite RCA to share in this new technology? He
set up a demonstration for General Sarnoff and his staff at
CBS laboratories. First a 78 was played and then the new LP.
Sarnoff was impressed but when Paley asked if he was
interested in going in with him he said he would have to
discuss it with his staff. A few days later he told Paley he
would not be interested.
What he did do was release his 45 rpm record, which had been
developed earlier and laid on the shelf. RCA pushed this as
the new format for classical music, but with the 7 second
gap between changes it was a sorry way to go. Only the
jukebox saved the format for single, popular records.
It took Toscanini's complaints about gaps in his recordings
to finally push Sarnoff in the LP market years later.
Among Goldmark's other developments were the Highway Hifi,
the first automobile recorded music system using a special
record player developed by CBS and offered in Chrysler
products in 1956.
The EVR (electronic video recording) player was another
technological milestone. This was a device to allow you to
play a pre-recorded program through your TV set. Development
started in 1961 and pilot models were available the next
Unfortunately, such supposed visionaries like William Paley
did not see any future in a home player of video
entertainment, so Goldmark had to push it as an industrial
and educational device. With on again, off again support the
project was abandoned in 1970 but it was by no means a
Goldmark, long head of CBS Labs, was approaching the
mandatory retirement age of 65 when he decided that
retirement was not for him.
He set up a new company in 1972, Goldmark Communications
Corp., which was later bought by Warner Communications. He
was happy with his new company but a tragic auto accident in
Westchester, New York, claimed his life in 1974.