Early Television
Early Television
Early Television Early Television
Early Color Television

John Mackenzie's Recollections of the SKF Experiment

Early Television

Smith Kline & French Medical Color-TV Unit - 1955This may have been one of the most unusual jobs corporate America ever created! In 1955 John K. Mackenzie1 left CBS in New York to become television director for the Smith Kline & French (now GlaxoSmithKline) closed-circuit medical color-TV unit in Philadelphia.2

During the three years I was there we televised about 300 clinical and surgical procedures from some 25 medical schools. These were live, not taped or recorded. There was no videotape in those days,┬ and kinescopes (16mm film recordings) would have been incredibly time consuming and expensive. All our programs were microwaved across town to our large-screen color-TV projectors setup at medical conventions.

Medical convention auditoriumThe unique nature of these closed-circuit color telecasts often attracted large convention audiences. As a result our "cast" comprised many of the best known names in American medicine. I've often thought that if I could recall everything I learned I could pass the state boards without going to medical school.

Boom camera in surgeryIn retrospect, the sessions with Drs. Michael DeBakey and Owen Wangensteen were interesting. Dr. DeBakey performed what I believe to be the world's first televised endarterectomy. And Dr. Wangensteen, doing a gastric resection, was so upset we were around at all with thick black TV cables snaking around his personal surgery he threatened to throw us out. And I'm not sure I blame him. The anesthesia being used, cyclopropane, could react enthusiastically to electrical sparks. Fortunately, we never blew up any operating rooms.

The studio equipment* including a sort of Lego lighting bridProsthetics clinicge was usually setup in a hospital waiting area or large conference room. It took our crew of eight from 10 to 12 hours to unpack crates, run cables, and get things worrking. We got pretty good at this. Except, once-in-a-while, we┬�¤d blow fuses when we turned on all the studio lights. That made people unhappy; particularly those on motor driven respirators. (It took a lot of juice in those days to get a decent color pict