Published Date

August 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 27: What Is the Future of Television? (1945)

The organizations engaged in manufacturing television sets and in broadcasting are intelligent and hard working. They are trying to find ways to make money out of television and at the same time render a public service. Many of them are wealthy and have good records of public service in the radio field.

The speed with which television develops will depend to a great extent upon the companies involved. Like most fields, there are leaders who spearhead the movements. Leading the faction that says television will be ready for the public right after the war is the Radio Corporation of America. On the other side of the fence is the movement to have a better picture produced before sets are made available. This group is headed by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

RCA has tremendous engineering and manufacturing facilities and controls many basic patents. One of the two major radio networks, the National Broadcasting Company, is its subsidiary.

CBS is exclusively a radio network and its only link is with the Columbia Record Corporation, manufacturers of popular and classical phonograph records.


The go-ahead-now group

The RCA-NBC group says that the present television picture is a good picture. They further say that improvements in studio apparatus, cameras, transmitters, and receivers, made possible by wartime inventions, will give a postwar television picture much better than the prewar picture. They predict pictures larger than the present 9 x 12 inch ones since television receivers which project a picture on a fairly large screen, like a home movie, have been developed.

The RCA-NBC camp has held emphatically that the public should not be deprived of good television immediately after the war, in the hope that better television may be available somewhere from two to ten years later. They comment that television immediately after the war will supply jobs to thousands of people at a time when soldiers are returning from battle and people are being let out of war plants.

RCA-NBC technicians state that it has never been scientifically proved that television can be transmitted via the higher frequencies, and they pose the question, “What would have happened to the radio industry, or any other industry, if it hadn’t put its products on the market until they were absolutely perfect?” Their answer is that we would probably still be waiting for radio to come along.

The wait-for-better-pictures bunch

Looking at the other side, CBS and those companies that agree with it say flatly that the present picture is not good enough. They continue by saying that although it is not an engineering fact that television transmitted at high frequencies will produce better pictures, it is a strong possibility. They argue that an industry should develop the best product in its power before offering that product for sale to the public.

The strong point of the CBS contention is that 7,000 television receivers representing a public investment of about $2,000,000 and transmitting equipment representing a broadcaster investment of $20,000,000 are now in use. It’s bad enough, they say, to nullify those investments, but it would be far worse to let the public investment in sets run up to some $200,000,000 and the broadcaster investment up to a possible $50,000,000. If that should happen, television standards may be frozen at their present level and it may be a long time before the public gets better television. They point out that current models of television sets, once the standards are changed, become completely useless.

Continuing their argument, the CBS group states that if, as they believe, new television standards are inevitable, the quicker they come, the better for the entire country.

Furthermore, they point out, with mediocre reception, people might never buy enough sets to provide an economic base for broadcasting television. A truly fine picture may make the difference between eventual success and failure of the entire industry. If national advertisers who can pay for expensive and entertaining programs are to be attracted to television, it must deliver a picture as good as newspapers, magazines, and billboards, they state. The research necessary to prove the feasibility of this improved picture can be completed in one year of concentrated effort. And a year, in their opinion, is not too long to wait.

There you have it, the arguments lined up on both sides. Now let’s see what some of the other people interested in television have to say about these arguments.

All problems solved

All the important technical problems of television are either known or solved, according to an engineering official of the Farnsworth Television Corporation. Farnsworth, he states, is going to go ahead and manufacture television equipment for sending and receiving pictures immediately after the war.

The head of the DuMont Laboratories replies to the CBS arguments by saying that Columbia is not in a position to know of the many improvements in present transmitting and receiving equipment that have been made since the beginning of the war. DuMont not only manufactures television equipment but operates a television station, WABD, in New York City, and has been broadcasting television several evenings a week for more than a year. CBS, however, has its own research staff and its transmitter located in Grand Central Station in New York.

Large shares of stock in DuMont Television are owned by the Paramount Pictures studio. Film producers are greatly concerned over, television and are keenly interested in the possibility of showing television in theaters. Several of the other movie studios, including Twentieth Century Fox, own stock in television manufacturing companies and broadcasting stations. Later on we’ll look into this interest the movies have in television.

Over on the CBS side of the fence is at least one manufacturer, Zenith Radio Corporation. The press seems to lean toward the better-pictures-before-selling-sets idea.

The silent actors

A great majority of the interested organizations have not been outspoken as to the future of television, but have simply proceeded with their plans. Typical of this group is General Electric. GE has been aggressive not only in the development of transmitting and receiving equipment but also in progressive programming and reviewing audience reaction to various types of television programs.

Several other manufacturers, including Westinghouse, Stromberg-Carlson, and the Crosley Corporation, have filed applications to operate television stations. Others, such as Emerson Radio, have indicated no plans for broadcasting but will probably manufacture receiving sets.

The Balaban and Katz theater chain in Chicago and the Don Lee West Coast radio network are building or operating television stations but have no interest in the manufacture of sets.

Newspaper publishers are becoming actively interested in television too. The Milwaukee Journal has a construction permit for a commercial television station, and the New York Daily News has filed an application to operate one.

The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (Bell Telephone) will probably have a say about television in connection with the development of television networks. One of the satisfactory ways of carrying television pictures from one transmitter to another is through a coaxial cable, produced and installed by AT&T.

During the war no more than six commercial television stations have been in operation, though three more have construction permits and await only the release of vital materials to be completed. Twenty-five experimental stations have been in operation, three of them with regular programs, and the construction of 20 more has been authorized. About half of the “experimental” stations are relay transmitters or portable pickup units used in connection with fixed broadcast stations.

FCC has a file of applications for new stations that early in 1945 totaled well over 100 for commercial stations, 7 for experimental, and 19 for relay stations.

Puzzling over the interests of broadcasters and receiver manufacturers and trying to figure, on the basis of their interests, whether they are working to speed up or slow down the coming of television into the home is like doing a jigsaw puzzle with about a third of the pieces missing. Only the individual companies know their real aims. How the puzzle is going to come out no one can predict today.

The last word

In its allocation of frequencies to television in May and June 1945, FCC attempted to settle the “upstairs” or “downstairs” question of television for the time being.

The commission is convinced that wartime developments in the electronic art make possible a wide-channel television broadcasting system such as requested by CBS, Zenith, and others. It believes that better black and white as well as color pictures can be transmitted. It also points out that all the improvements made possible by these recent developments cannot be utilized in the 6-megacycle-wide television channel, asked for by RCA-NBC and others.

FCC does not believe, however, that broadcast service via 6-megacycle channels, plus improvements now available over low-frequency prewar television, should be abandoned, nor that commercial television should be held in abeyance until a wide-channel system in the ultrahigh frequencies can be developed and proved. It has endeavored, therefore, to assign as many 6-megacycle-wide channels below 300 mega-cycles as possible. In doing so it takes into account the needs of other services for frequency space in the same part of the spectrum.

It has been proposed to assign a total of 12 channels to television in the downstairs part of the spectrum. This will make it possible for as many as seven television stations to operate in one city.

In order that a television broadcast system may be developed for transmitting color pictures and better black and white pictures through the use of wider channels, a space has been made available in the upstairs portion of the spectrum or experimental research.

In their official report, the commissioners of FCC stated, “The time which may elapse before a system can be developed to operate on wider channels in these ultrahigh frequencies is indefinite and primarily dependent upon the resourcefulness of the industry in solving the technical problems that will be encountered in this portion of the spectrum.”

Should John Q. Public be asked to buy a television set right after the war, with the full knowledge that it may become obsolete in a short time? Should the people who advocate better pictures before television sets are offered for sale be given a year to prove their point, and possibly come up with better pictures? Why would motion-picture studios be actively interested in television? If you were a broadcaster would you advocate going ahead with television, or would you prefer to hold off for better pictures? Was FCC fair to the CBS-Zenith-Cowles group in deciding to allocate to television frequencies in the lower part of the spectrum, rather than waiting or giving them a chance to prove their point?

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