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Ed Reitan's Color Television History

Color Line

CBS Color Television System Chronology

Ed Reitan

Color Line

CBS Color Telvision Quality

Example of the gorgeous CBS Color Television System Quality

Photography from the screen of John Folsom's 1950 CBS Labs RX-43 CBS Color Receiver
Using New Darryl Hock Color-Mixer NTSC to CBS Converter
November 19, 2006

Color Line 

In his autobiography Maverick Inventor, Peter Goldmark tells how he was inspired to develop the CBS Color Television System. Goldmark was the technical head of the CBS Television effort that started in 1939. On a belated honeymoon to Canada in March 1940, Goldmark and his bride decided to see the Technicolor movie, Gone with the Wind. At the time, color movies were few and far in between and Goldmark was awed by the beauty and richness of Technicolor. Immediately, approaches to achieving television in color started spinning in his brain. Returning to New York he approached his supervisors to support experiments in developing a system. By June 1940 he was able to show still pictures from a color slide on a 5-inch color monitor. This led to the first disclosure of the CBS Color Television System to the public on August 28, 1940, and its first demonstration to the press on September 4, 1940.

It has been quoted many times that the system developed by Goldmark rivaled the quality of the Technicolor Process for films. Pictures published in Life Magazine in 1941 and 1950 comparing Kodachrome photographs of the original subject and photographs of a CBS color receiver show excellent color fidelity of even this earliest color television system.

Until now a live demonstration of the system has not been available. Finally, on April 24, 2004 at the Early Television Conference in Columbus, Ohio, the CBS Color Television System was demonstrated for the first time after 50 years. An original CBS color television receiver and a CBS color monitor were restored to present signals from a NTSC-to-CBS converter (designed by Darryl Hock). The presentation of The Wizard of Oz on those displays showed rich and beautiful images, just as they were always described for the CBS Color Television System.

This following chronology of the CBS Color Television System culminates my magnum opus started with its first release on September 7, 1977. Major updates have been done in the years since. This 2006 release updates the CBS History paper I presented at that same 2004 Early Television Foundation Convention. Photos from that presentation will be added to this page as links. [items in blue are my comments, items in red are future references/links, items in green are comments added after the 2004 ETF paper presentation].

Color Line

August 28, 1940

First Demonstration of the Field Sequential CBS Color System by Peter Goldmark broadcast over W2XAB (using a 343 line, 120 field, RGB sequence, 6 MHz Channel). An Image Dissector camera is used to pickup images from color film. The film scanner camera was located at the CBS Headquarters, 485 Madison Avenue, in New York City; a 25 watt transmitter was in the Chrysler Building. pix

September 4, 1940

Demonstration to Technical Press as reported in "Electronics" for Oct. 1940. A modified commercial 9-inch set (RCA TRK-9) is used as the receiver. [pix of TRK-9 demo set]
The September 4, 1940 broadcast carried a brief travelogue over W2XAB from atop the Chrysler in New York City. Viewers of that broadcast described the pictures transmitted as startlingly clear and vivid in color of landscapes, flower gardens, and native costumes. [October 1969 Apollo 11 TV article 1969-NASA-Article.jpg]

December 2, 1940

First live studio pickup broadcast of CBS Color (using Orthicon camera). [pix of camera]

February 20, 1941

Color television pictures in motion were put on the air by NBC in its first telecast of color by mechanical means from a TV studio.

From DuMont Receiver Manual for its multi-standard Model 180X to 183X set:
(b) NBC has transmitted color with 441 lines per frame and 60 frames per second, requiring 26,460 scanning lines per second, and 120 vertical fields per second.

March 8, 1941

The first NTSC presents B&W standards to the FCC. FCC announces approval of standards on April 30, 1941 and authorizes the service starting July 1, 1941. The NTSC-FCC decides that color is still far in future [B-T 12/21/53].

June 1, 1941

Daily color broadcasts (field tests) begin on WCBW

September 2, 1941

375 line, 120 field system announced (ref. IRE April 1942 paper, also see Sept. 1943 paper).

From DuMont Receiver Manual for its multi-standard Model 180X to 183X set:

(a) CBS Color pictures use 375 lines per frame at 60 frames per second which requires a horizontal scanning rate of 22,500 lines per second, and a vertical scanning rate of 120 field scans per second.

September 22, 1941

Color spread in "Life" magazine, showing live camera in CBS Studio, cut-away diagram of CBS live camera, actual subject and off-the screen photos comparing color quality. [pix from spread comparing live and CBS Color repro of flowers]

World War II

CBS Engineers develop Ultra High Frequency (UHF: 480 to 920 MHz) Technologies for Classified Military Applications.

June 1944

CBS recommends wide-band color system to industry. In mid-1944 CBS receives FCC permission to construct and operate an UHF color television transmitter.

May 25, 1945

FCC reserves UHF band for future expansion of black and white and color TV

October 10, 1945

CBS demonstrates experimental UHF color broadcast using laboratory test equipment and a 10 MHz channel. [Goldmark, Progress in Color Television paper]

December 13, 1945

RCA Demonstrates field sequential color and 3D television. [pix]


Radio Technical Planning Board (RTPB) recommends field sequential standards of 525 line, 180 fields (in a 15 MHz channel)

January 30, 1946

Transmitter and Receiver put into operation for Feb. 1, 1946 demonstration on of a 525 line, 120 field system (10 MHz channel on a 490 MHz UHF carrier). A UHF transmitter built by Federal Telephone and Radio Corporation (with power output of 1 kw. peak, effective power of 20 kw.) is installed in the Chrysler Building. A second generation Film Scanner is on the tenth floor of the CBS Building. [Report on CBS 490-Mc. Color Television, Arnold C. Nygren, FM and Television, Feb. 1946] [pix]

September 27, 1946

CBS Petitions FCC to adopt its UHF Color Television System (525 line, 144 field, 16 MHz channel)

October 31, 1946

RCA Announces its Simultaneous Color Television System

"late" 1946

CBS describes a 441 line, 144 field system (12 MHz channel).

December 3, 1946

FCC Hearings on Color Television open. RCA suggests its 14.5 MHz channel Simultaneous System.

January 27-28, 1947

Demonstration on record of CBS System to the FCC.

February 13, 1947

FCC Hearings on Color Television end.

March 18, 1947

FCC denies CBS system petition for UHF utilization as "premature"
FCC: CBS System was not adequately field tested and other narrowband systems were not explored, and feels both the CBS and RCA Color Systems require too much spectrum space.

August 16, 1948

CBS reports continuing development of Color Systems for transmission within 12 MHz and 6 MHz channels. The High Definition 12 MHz System uses 525 lines at 144 fields/second using a 10 MHz video band. The Narrow Band 6 MHz System presents 441 lines at 144 fields/second using a 4 MHz video bandwidth. The letter from Adrian Murphy, CBS Vice President, to the IRE-RMA Joint Technical Advisory Committee (to the FCC) also discloses an all-electronic CBS Projection receiver and the first use of an Image Orthicon for live pickups. They were still clinging to their 12 MHz systems (by using single sideband techniques to achieve the faster 144 field rate) but CBS was now investigating systems that could fit within a standard black and white 6 MHz channel.

October 1948

Smith, Kline, and French {Joseph DuBarry, asst. to SK&F President}, a pharmaceutical company, approaches CBS to provide a complete color television system for televising surgical and medical procedures. CBS, the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and SK&F cooperatively develop a compete system of portable camera, control console, and demonstration receivers using a 405 line, 144 field standard (in 6 MHz channel).

Dr. I. S. Ravdin, head of Surgery of the Pennsylvania School of Medicine is asked by SK&F to cooperate with a surgical training demonstration at the June 1949 AMA session in Atlantic City. Dr. Ravdin points out the limitation of previous operations presented in B&W and challenges SK&F to do something about color. SK&F funds the development of the hardware by CBS, with CBS providing personnel for operation. [pix: camera and Control console].

Zenith is subcontracted to build 20 Color Monitors with full door blonde wood cabinets.

May 25(26?), 1949

FCC issues notice of future proceeding to receiver proposals on 6 MHz. Color Television [Herold] Note: This at odds with July 11 below.

May 31, 1949

First closed circuit Medical operation televised in color (per Goldmark) under the sponsorship of Smith, Kline, and French (Cesarean Section at the University of Pennsylvania).

June 6, 1949

AMA Conference, Atlantic City, CBS Demonstration to thousands of physicians in the Convention Hall.

The response is explosive! Excitement from the demonstration causes the television industry to become abuzz with the possibility of immediately adopting the CBS System for commercial broadcasting.

July 11, 1949

FCC formally requests information from industry on color television systems.

August 18, 1949

First Experimental CBS Color TV Broadcast in Washington, D.C.
(Smith, Kline, and French sponsorship)

August 25, 1949

RCA announces its compatible Dot-Sequential Color System [Exhibit 206, Herold]

September 6, 1949

RCA is requested to provide supplemental engineering data to FCC [Exhibit 207, Herold].

September 26, 1949

FCC Hearing Begins, Second CBS Petition to FCC. Hearings involve 62 days of testimony from 53 witnesses.

October 10, 1949

RCA makes its initial disastrous demonstration to the FCC.

("RCA System lays a Colored Egg" - Variety).

Comparative formal demonstrations were made by CBS and RCA to the FCC on November 21-22, 1949.

November 22, 1949

Recess of hearing until February 20, 1950.

December 9, 1949

First Successful 25 frame/sec. color motion picture kinescope recording of CBS System. Color recordings also made of RCA dot sequential and CTI line sequential systems. [SMPTE paper]

February 23, 1950

Color Equipment demonstrated by RCA, CBS, and CTI to the FCC.

April 6, 1950

Continued demonstrations to the FCC.

April 26, 1950

CBS demonstrates Horizontal Interlace of its system at CBS Labs in New York City.

May 26, 1950

Color hearing ends with 10,000 pages of transcripts and 265 exhibits.

At the conclusion of the color hearings in 1950, the color television proponents pressure the FCC to immediately adopt a color standard.

Jul. 5-6 (11), 1950

Senate Advisory Committee on Color Television (Dr. Condon, Chair.) submits its final report to Senate Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee. The report is favorable to RCA and widely quoted by RCA in the following court litigation.

September 1, 1950

FCC issues its First Report on Color Television Issues favoring the CBS System (At all of the demonstrations on record, RCA had difficulty producing a color produce pictures with adequate color fidelity. The inability to reproduce skin tones is a particularly serious handicap. The FCC pointed to misregistration, dot textures, poor contrast problems, bulky receivers, and high equipment complexity-costs. The FCC did acknowledge the compatibility problem of the CBS System and the desirability of adopting a satisfactory compatible system.)
The FCC proposes required manufacture of black and white receivers with bracket standards (receiving both CBS color and NTSC b&w signals) as a means of delaying the final decision and allowing fuerther studies.
The FCC was proposing a way of waiting for a compatible system.
The FCC reasoned that if manufacturers would build black and white receivers that could handle both monochrome and CBS scanning standards, time could be allowed for the development of an acceptable compatible system. The FCC said that, with a 5-6 million annual receiver sales rate, within one year 40 percent of the receivers in use could receive the CBS broadcasts. If the set makers could not provide this "bracket standard" reception capability, then the FCC would be forced to adopt the CBS system immediately to avert the continually growing compatibility problem.
Of course, the manufacturing industry refused, when faced with adding an additional increment to their receiver sales cost with what they thought was an impossible timetable.

September 29, 1950

Manufacturers say they cannot meet FCCs deadline for the manufacture of bracket standards sets. [B-T 12-21-53]

October 4, 1950

RCA petitions FCC to delay final determinations and to permit additional demonstrations until June 3, 1951. This petition is denied on Oct. 11, 1950.

October 11, 1950

FCC issues its Second Report on Color Television Issues in which it approves the CBS Field Sequential Color Television System (authorized for broadcast after Nov. 20, 1950).

October 17, 1950

RCA brings suit to halt color television in Federal District Court in Chicago.

December 22, 1950

By a vote of 2 to 1, the Chicago District Court upholds FCC order of Oct. 11, 1950. The Court decides to continue in effect until April 1, 1951, or until terminated by the Supreme Court, a restraining order issued by the District Court on November 16, 1950 delaying start of color standards.

May 28, 1951

The Supreme Court Upholds FCC ruling approving CBS System;
Denies RCA petition (NY Times May 29, 1:2)
However, RCA had effectively delayed the startup of the CBS system for seven additional months, allowing sales of even more black and white sets that could not receive the CBS signals.

June 15, 1951

CBS acquires Hytron with its Air-King television-manufacturing subsidiary (to assure at least some source of color television receivers).

June 25, 1951

On June 25, 1951, the FCC announces all regular television stations are permitted to broadcast color programs in accordance with the standards adopted by the Commission.

June 25, 1951

First commercial CBS Color Program with Arthur Godfrey, Ed Sullivan, and George Ballanchine over 5 station network, 4:35 P.M. from New York Studio 57 (10.5 Million monochrome sets existing in U.S. are blind to this colorcast) [List of those appearing: Arthur Godfrey, Faye Emerson, Sam Levenson, Ed Sullivan, Garry Moore, Robert Alda, Isabel Bigley, Bill Baird Marionettes, Sol Huroks New York City Ballet arranged by George Balanchine, Patty Painter (Miss Color Television), Wayne Coy (Chairman of the FCC), William S. Paley (CBS Chairman), and Frank Stanton (President of CBS)]

June 26, 1951

CBS begins regular scheduled series of daytime and early evening (non prime time) colorcasts including the "Mike and Buff Show" (with Mike Wallace) and "The Mel Torme Show". [CBS Color Program link]
These CBS colorcasts are stillborn. The RCA delaying tactic had already been successfully fatal to the CBS Color System.

September 20, 1951

Production begins on the first (and only) Commercial CBS Color Television Set (CBS Columbia, Air-King, Model 12CC2 - 400 Produced, 300 shipped).
(200 shipped, 100 sold per A.B. DuMont.)

September 28, 1951

First Advertisement for commercial CBS set being on sale by Davega and Gimbels Department Store for $499.95 in the N.Y. Times.

September 29, 1951

Calif.-Penn. Football Game is colorcast --- reviewed a "disappointment" by Gould (N.Y. Times) because of viewing fatigue, motion color fringing, and color unbalance.

October 1951

Chromatic Television Labs demonstrates combination B&W and Color receiver using the Lawrence Chromatron CRT. In 1953 Chromatic Labs announced its plans to supply approximately 12 field sequential color receivers to Britain to present the Coronation of Elizabeth II. Pye, Ltd. cooperated with CTL.

October 19, 1951

In less than a month after sales of the first color receiver began, Charles E. Wilson of the Defense Production Administration asks CBS to suspend mass production of color receivers "to conserve material for defense" for the duration of the emergency. CBS announces (almost too quickly) that it agrees and will also drop color broadcasts; color receivers are recalled and destroyed. Strangely, monochrome receiver production is not affected!

This, according to Allan B. DuMont was, "a move to take Columbia off the hook."

October 20, 1951

Last Commercial CBS Color System Broadcast - North Carolina and Maryland Football Game. Five later games scheduled for colorcasting are cancelled. Eleven stations, as far West as Chicago, had carried the CBS Color System broadcasts. [list of stations]

Ironically, this football game had been publicized in local newspapers of the 11-station color network as being the first color telecast in their respective areas. Ads in Detroit and Chicago newspapers touted the event twelve dealers are listed in the Detroit paper as having sets available for viewing of the game. [pdf].

Quoting testimony by Frank Stanton [8]: Plans were under way for fuerther expansion of the broadcasting of color programs; additional programs were sponsored; our sales force was engaged in vigorous efforts to interest other advertisers and there were several promising prospects; and in order to increase broadcasting by stations not owned by CBS, we had completed plans to purchase and pay for time on some 10 affiliates along the eastern seaboard during which they would carry our color broadcasts. (See list of stations in [9]).

October 21, 1951

Allen B. DuMont charges that "CBS assented because of lack of public interest"

November 20, 1951

National Production Authority invokes the Defense Production Act to issue Order M-90 prohibiting the manufacture of color sets for general sale. This was the only control measure limiting end products issued after WWII. Color Receivers were the only "end item" product to ever be banned in this manner. It would be illegal to manufacture any color television receiver in the United States of America through early 1953.

December 6, 1951

First transcontinental Color TV (Los Angeles to New York closed circuit not broadcast) - a medical operation by USC doctors using Smith, Kline, and French facilities).

1951 onward

Industrial Color Television Systems based on the CBS Color System are manufactured and sold by DuMont, General Electric, Remington-Rand, Castle, RCA, and CBS Labs.

March 25, 1953

At a House Hearing the NPA is asked to reply why it instituted the color receiver ban. CBS announces that it has no plans for resuming its color system,...and on the next day:....

March 26, 1953

NPA lifts it ban on color receiver manufacture (and is not forced to testify why the original ban was issued).

July 21, 1953

NTSC Color Standards Proposal presented to FCC by the National Television System Committee

October 8, 1953

CBS unveils its Chromacoder System for Color Camera pickup {B-T p. 35, October 12, 1953] pdf

Dec. 17, 1953

FCC announces approval of NTSC System. CBS is on the air at 6:15 P.M. with a live color program featuring Rocky Marciano an hour after the approval -- thereby beating NBC for the first official NTSC colorcast. CBS uses field sequential cameras, with conversion to NTSC using its "Chromacoder" unit, through March 1955.

January 1, 1954

First large network coast-to-coast broadcast of NTSC Color to 22 cities - the Tournament of Roses Parade from Pasadena.

January 27, 1954

General Electric is licensed by CBS to build commercial version of the Chromacoder. Unable to buy color cameras from RCA, CBS orders four Chromacoder cameras. (See Letter in Library of Congress of CBS complaining to RCA.) It is believed that one Chromacoder system was installed in the Texas station (WZAU).
[pix: OBrien paper showing side-by-side RCA and Chromacoder Camera].

[B-T, p. 72,
Feb. 1, 1954 Four [Chromacoder] cameras have been ordered by CBS and will be delivered before March 1, 1954. Strangely in the same issue it is announced: First two of the 12 color cameras CBS has ordered from RCA will be delivered this month with the balance of the million dollar order completed by June, as released by Walter Watts, RCA VP. Shipment also begins to WKY-TV Oklahoma City, WBAP-TV Forth worth, WBEN-TV Buffalo, WTMJ-TV Milwaukee, WCCO-TV Minneapolis, and KTLA (TV) Los Angeles.]


Field Sequential Color Television Technology used for Apollo Moon Missions.


High Definition Television Projectors, using the Texas Instrument DLP chip, employ the Field Sequential color concept with a rapidly rotating color wheel. Artifacts mentioned in 1951 still bother some viewers in 2006 (Red, Blue, Green color flashes).

Color Line

CBS Bibliography

[1] Color Television Part I, P.C. Goldmark, J.N. Dyer, E.R. Piore, J.M. Hollywood; Proceedings of the I.R.E., April 1942, pp. 162-182.
[The classic first paper! - Color characteristics at the receiver and camera, equipment photos, filter shapes, flicker considerations, excellent bibliography]
This document was also published as Color Television, P.C. Goldmark, J.N. Dyer, E.R. Piore, J.M. Hollywood, Journal SMPE, April 1942 and is reprinted in Milestones in Motion Picture and Television Technology The SMPTE 75th Anniversary Collection SMPTE, 1991 (may still be available).

[2] Color Television Part II, P.C. Goldmark, E.R. Piore, J.M. Hollywood, J.J. Reeves (Columbia Broadcasting System); Proceedings of the I.R.E., September 1943, pp. 465-478.
[Phosphors, color fidelity, selection of color sequence, auto color phasing, first consideration of wide-band color system]

[3] An Experimental Color Television System, R.D. Kell, G.L Fredendall, A.C. Schroeder, R.C. Webb (RCA Labs); RCA Review., June 1946, Vol. VII, No. 7, pp. 141-154.
[color and 3-dimensions!, first disclosure of variable width color filter disc (visible
in Fig. 5 but not discussed) for camera (as this is used with a light integrating pickup tube I.O., this concept would have been easily extrapolated to use with the high duty cycle light integrating DLP light valve for controlling color balancing), spokes in wheel (Fig. 8),]

[4] UHF Television Systems Reports by RMA Committees on Color, , Data Bureau, Radio Manufacturers Association, NYC, TS 2144, November 26, 1946, 1943, pp. TS 2.1 2144-A-9 to 10.
[Mention of possibility to use four or more primaries (but concluded that the increase in bandwidth, because of the need for higher field rate, is not justified and that a three-color system is sufficient) the seed for more than three primaries had been planted!]

[5] Color Television U.S.A. Standard, Peter C. Goldmark, John W. Christensen, John J. Reeves (Columbia Broadcasting System); Proceedings of the I.R.E., October 1951, pp. 1288-1311.
[F.C.C. Standards, a wonderful paper that documents the state of the art for the commercial color system but appears to be nothing special as to unique color disks in camera and receivers]

[6] Eidophor System of Theater Television, Earl I Sponable (20th Century Fox, N.Y.); Journal of the SMPTE., April 1953,Vol. 60, pp. 337-343.
[Describes Color Eidophor, shown at April 1952 demonstration, using 150 fields/second. Note that Sponables papers are deposited at
Columbia University].

This system is one in the series of ever increasing field rates (from 120 to 144 to the 150 color primary fields per second of the Sponable system). Industrial systems commonly upped to 180 fields per second. I can provide examples of these
DuMont and others systems if you wish.

Also, the Chromacoder ran at 180 primary color fields per second. CBS used this method for the early production of NTSC color programs. It converted a CBS Field Sequential Color cameras vertically scanned output to NTSC color standards.

[7] Coy Speech justifying Color Television Standards, Proceedings of the National Electronics Conference, Volume 6 (of 7), September 25, 26, & 27, 1950. (Provided by John Folsom).

[8] Hearings before the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, House of Representatives, 83rd Congress, First session on the Present Status of Color Television, March 24,25,26,27, and 31, 1953.

[9] Original five CBS color stations:

New York










Eventual additional CBS color stations:













Color Line

Copyright 2006

V1.02 (Revision h) 2006-11-24

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