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Early Color Television

Peter Goldmark - an article by Dave Johnson

A handwritten manuscript of the following article was found in the papers of Dave Johnson, a television collector who died in 2007.

Peter Goldmark

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 television.

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 broadcasts.

Tests continued until December 8m 18941, when World War Two shut down television broadcasts for almost the duration of the war.

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 FCC.

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 year.

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 technical failure.

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.