Early Television Stations
According to information that we have, W6XAH broadcast in
Bakersfield, California, starting in January of 1932 and continuing until
W6XAH was operated by Frank, Leo and Charles Schamblin of
the Pioneer Mercantile Company, which also started the first radio
station in Bakersfield in 1933, KPMC, operating on 1560 kHz. Lee DeForest
was involved in the television station, and a nearly lifesize picture of
him was on the wall at KPMC.
The station made its first broadcast on
January 6, 1932. According to Leo Schamblin's son (also named Leo), a
receiver was installed in the showroom of the Pioneer Mercantile hardware
store in Taft, about 40 miles away. People from the town came to watch the
first transmission, which was of the Walt Disney cartoon Steamboat Willie.
The following day, Leo received a phone call from Walt Disney, who
inquired as to how the transmission went. Leo told him that everything
went well, and Walt replied that he had been following the progress of
W6XAH, but unfortunately Disney was going to file suit against the station
for use of the cartoon. Leo was astounded, but Walt then told Leo that the
damages that Disney would demand would be $25, and that Disney would send
Leo a check for that amount. Walt explained that Disney had to protect its
copyright position with the new medium of television.
Apparently the station stopped broadcasting a regular
schedule later that year, but continued to experiment with television until
1935. FCC records show the station licensed for the 2000-2100 kHz band in
1935. During 1932, the audio portion of the TV transmissions was
apparently broadcast on 1550 kHz.
Here is an account of the station from Mark Luttrell,
whose grandfather, Al Randour, was a division manager for Pioneer
Experimental work with W6XAH was primitive and was done with a limited budget
and limited equipment. The Schamblin brothers were able to produce basic
television images but they were only able to be received in the vicinity of
the studio and only a few homes had televisions receiving signals in those days. People
gathered on the sidewalk outside the studios to watch the experimental
broadcasts on television monitors that had been set up. It is also
interesting to note these experiments took place before there were radio
stations in Bakersfield.
Broadcasts varied and included musical groups such as local dance bands. My
grandfather, Al Randour was a member of the "Moonlight Serenaders" band that
Mr. Frank Schamblin had organized which was one of the groups appearing on
W6XAH. In addition, people made appearances during broadcasts to talk about
community events. Local historian Richard C. Bailey gave talks on Kern
County (Bakersfield is the county seat) history as well.
Because of limited funding and technical problems with these television
experiments, efforts were discontinued that same year. However, the
Schamblin family then started KPMC (the PMC was for Pioneer Mercantile
Company) radio in 1933. This radio station broadcasted at 1560 A M very
close to the 1550 A M frequency used as the audio channel for W6XAH during
the television experiments. The station was affiliated with the CBS and
Mutual Radio Networks. In 1978, the radio station was sold to Dan B. Speare
Broadcast Enterprises which operated KPMC until the station
was again sold in the 1990s to Buckley Radio of Connecticut which owns radio
stations across the U.S.
Other accounts of the history of the station are given
by Frank Smith and Roger
Grace. In 1966 the Kern County Centennial Observance Committee
published an article about W6XAH
in the Kern County Centennial Almanac, with pictures of the cameras
Here is a description of the station's technology from the
book "The Great Television Race" by Joseph H. Udelson:
The builders altered a standard Jenkins transmitter scanner
by adding a new disc of
32 apertures, rotated 60 times per second; 3 rotations were required
to produce each of the final 96-line frames, with 20 such frames per
second. The increase in picture lines was accomplished without the
necessity of adding additional frequency bandwidth to the assigned
100 kHz. (normally able to accommodate only a 60-line frame) by
using a new single sideband suppressed carried technique. A variant
of this method, vestigial sideband transmission, is the standard
employed in current American television broadcasting.
An article appeared in the July-August, 1932 issue of
Television News that described how the single sideband transmitter
worked. It also featured pictures of the film camera and and the
transmitter. This article was titled "Single Sideband Television Transmission.
More image detail with lower frequency range possible with this method",
and was written by R. D. LeMert. The distorted images are because the
magazine was too brittle to scan without damaging it, and had to be
Newcomb Weisenberger, who
was a student at the First National Television school in the early 1930s,
visited his friend at radio station KPMC in 1935. Here are his
Jasper McCrillis helped me find my TV school and a place to
live in Kansas City, and he met me at Union Station in Kansas City
when I arrived to attend First National. He was several months ahead
of me so left before I finished First National TV.
When Jasper finished FNT, he went to work for KPMC in Bakersfield, California. A
friend of De Forest, Ralph Lamert, was operating television station W6XAH
When I visited Jasper in Bakersfield, he was working for KPMC in the
same building where the television station equipment was placed. I
missed seeing Dr De Forest and Lamert who were in and out of there.
As we entered the KPMC building, we saw a near life size
picture of DeForest holding his triode.
Jasper showed me a booth with a window opening
into the projection room. The opening was framed by a four-sided
light trough with clusters of bare bulbs. Head and shoulders would
show in the window. The intense light reflected into a photoelectric
cell through the spinning disk.
The other camera was a more
conventional flying spot scanner. Jasper and I preferred the cooler
flying spot. One advantage was that the photoelectric cells were
open all the time gathering the sparse light. This also allowed two
banks of cells to watch at once. These were at the focal point of
concave reflectors the size of auto headlights of the period. Five
or six reflectors and cells made up a bank.
The effect was that one bank collected illumination from the left
side and one from the right side of the object. An operator manned
each bank so as to balance the image. They moved the banks
laterally, along overhead tracks and pivoted the banks as one would
adjust spotlights on a stage. Problems included narrow bandwidth
amplifiers and limited broadcast channel width.
When everything was operating at optimum, one could recognize a
familiar face. (if it was solo) a quartet was unrecognizable.
The TV station may have been off the air when I visited KPMC, but
the equipment was still there.
The equipment pictured below was found in a Bakersfield
antique shop in 1996, and is reportedly from W6XAH. Udelson indicates
that they were using a 96 line mechanical system. However, the equipment
in the pictures appears to be for a 60 line system. If you have any comments or
observations, please contact us.
Scanning disk housing
Rear view of scanning disk housing with motor and gear drive
60 line lens disk
Scanning disk housing parts
Mirror drums and power supply chassis
Three mirror drums
Arc lamp housing
Pictures courtesy of Eric Stumpf