There can be little doubt that most of us have taken television for granted. After all it has been around as long as we have, and it is as common in our homes as electricity and running water.
None of us can imagine not being able to press a button on the remote control via cable or satellite and choose from among hundreds of televisions offerings at any given moment. Most of us have several of these receivers in our homes so our children can be appropriately entertained while we watch our important shows, like “As the World Turns”, “Desperate Housewives”, or “Survivor”.
Couples can watch their own respective programs on different sets or activate Tivo to record any programs for later viewing.
The television story was much different in 1936 when on June 29th when the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) assembled every executive involved in RCA manufacturing and radio’s National Broadcast Corporation (NBC) to view live television entertainment for the very first time.
Radio had flourished during the depths of the Depression and RCA/NBC were at the head of the class. These manufacturers and programmers of radio had successfully refined new dimension of sight to their broadcasting capabilities. The term “television” had been aptly coined for this since its literal meaning was “distant vision”.
Seventy years ago on this June day, it was the hope of David Sarnoff, Chairman of RCA, to get all of their radio retailers, manufacturers and broadcasters involved expanding this new frontier of television.
The Empire State Building television transmitter was used to demonstrate high definition television (343 lines) to RCA’s Licensees. The program featured speeches by Major General James G. Harbord (Chairman of the Board, RCA), David Sarnoff (President of RCA) and Otto S. Schairer (Vice-President RCA, in charge of Patents and Trademarks). This live broadcast included dancing girls and a film about army maneuvers. A dinner celebrating this event was held after the demonstration at the Waldorf Astoria.
Hence this was the world’s first true TV Dinner! Note this is my discovery, no claims were ever made by RCA or NBC.
The only known surviving photograph of this private event known can be seen at: http://framemaster.tripod.com/index-3.html
The caption for this photograph reads:
“RADIO CORPORATION OF AMERICA
FOLLOWING A DEMONSTRATION OF THE RCA SYSTEM OF HIGH DEFINITION TELEVISION IN FIELD TEST INAUGURATED JUNE 29, 1936”
After this successful private broadcast it was decided to enhance the programming and invite the public and press to an even greater TV demonstration later in November. This time there would be live performances by professional actors, singers and entertainers.
The Birth of Live Entertainment and Music on Television, November 6, 1936
This is the true milestone in television history as all talent used for this broadcast were accomplished for the first time on live television. The following accounts are taken from the complete press release and photographs which I believe is the only complete one known:
“Experimental Television Demonstration For The Press
National Broadcasting Company RCA Building, Radio City, N.Y. November 6, 1936 TELEVISION DEVELOPMENTS DEMONSTRATED FOR PRESS BY NBC AND RCA
Television program transmission was demonstrated for the press today (Friday, November 6) by the National Broadcasting Company in a 40-minute program illustrating RCA experimental developments. The pictures were broadcast from the transmitter on top of the Empire State Building, and were received on the 62nd floor of the RCA Building.
David Sarnoff, President of the Radio Corporation of America, reported on results of field tests conducted by the company engineers since September 1 last. Lenox R. Lohr, President of NBC, discussed the practical problems presented in staging performances for the air.
The demonstration possessed four features not included in previous press demonstrations of television. It was the first made by RCA and the National Broadcasting Company for the press under practical working conditions, although previous demonstrations of laboratory television have been given. It represented the first showing of a complete program built for entertainment value as well as a demonstration of transmission. It also included the first showing of the new 12-inch receiving tube, which reproduces a picture on a 7 ½ by 10-inch screen. This is the largest screen yet employed which is capable of commercial adaptation.
A fourth feature of the demonstration was a television tour behind the scenes. By means of an especially prepared moving picture film, the guests were conducted through the NBC television studios in the RCA Building and the transmitter station at the top of the Empire State Building. The watchers in front of the line of receivers installed for the demonstration saw the processes whereby performances by “live” talent are transformed into pictures through the air, witnessed the scanning of moving picture films, and observed in detail the intricate television apparatus in actual operation.
Besides the talks by Messrs. Sarnoff and Lohr, and the behind-the-scenes film, the audience was entertained by the Inkspots (*The Ink Spots, see footnote), colored comedy teams, and Hildegarde, “The Television Girl,” in characteristic songs. A Bob Benchley short and a selection of newsreel subjects also were demonstrated by television. The program was announced by Betty Goodwin, of the NBC Press Department.
The demonstration was presented and supervised by Ralph R. Beal, RCA Research Supervisor; O(scar) B. Hanson, NBC Chief Engineer, and Charles W. Horn, NBC Director of Research and Development. These engineers explained that numerous problems of transmission and production will still remain to be solved before television on a commercial scale can be attempted.
The demonstration was the first showing for the press of RCA experimental television under practical field conditions since the Radio Corporation of America assigned the task of setting up a television operating plant to the National Broadcasting Company.
This assignment included the construction of studios adapted to television technique, the installation of equipment in those studios and at the transmitter atop the Empire State Building, the determination of workable engineering methods for the transmission of the pictures, and the training of a staff to take over the operation of the plant.
Lenox R. Lohr, President of the National Broadcasting Company Talks about NBC’s Television Future
November 6, 1936 Press Release from NBC Television
Lenox Lohr Statement For The Press
National Broadcasting Company RCA Building, Radio City, N.Y.
November 6, 1936
Statement by Lenox R. Lohr, President of the National Broadcasting Company, introducing Mr. Sarnoff at the NBC Press Demonstration of RCA Experimental Television:
On behalf of the National Broadcasting Company, I extend a cordial welcome to the representatives of the press who are assembled upstairs to see this television demonstration. What you will see today is the result of tireless effort on the part of many men and the expenditure of huge sums over a period of many years. The success of these efforts you can judge for yourselves. But, at last, television is out of the laboratory and into the field, undergoing tests which will assure that it does not reach the public until it is capable of satisfactory service.
The role of the National Broadcasting Company in television will be operating transmitters, programming, and, when it becomes available for commercial use, securing sponsors. In order that we may be prepared to do our part, our engineers are daily putting apparatus on the air under practical service conditions.
Our Program Department is learning an entire new technique in continuity writing, make-up, staging, and a multitude of other details which this new art will demand. It is experimenting with commercial programs to determine the effectiveness of television to sell goods.
Our engineers are studying the economics of networking, so that several stations may be interconnected by either coaxial cable of short-wave relays, and are developing equipment for the making of outside pick-ups. With the experience that we are gaining daily, we feel that when the time is ripe to offer television to the public, the National Broadcasting Company will be prepared to do its part. As you see television put through its paces here today, you will see results which are largely due to the vision and enterprise of Mr. David Sarnoff, President of the Radio Corporation of America, who will now speak to you.
TELEVISION STATEMENT TO PRESS November 6, 1936 by David Sarnoff, President Radio Corporation of America
In view of the public interest in the promise of sight as well as sound through the air, we have invited you here today to witness an experimental television test so that the progress in this new and promising art may be reflected to the public factually rather than through
the haze of conjecture or speculation.
You will recall that our field tests in television began only on June 29 of this year. That date marked the beginning in this country of organized television experiments between a regular transmitting station and a number of homes. Since then we have advanced and are continuing to advance simultaneously along the three broad fronts of television development-research which must point the road to effective transmission and reception; technical progress which must translate into practical sets for the home the achievements of our laboratories; and field tests to determine the needs and possibilities of a public service that will ultimately enable us to see as well as to hear programs through the air. On all these fronts our work has made definite progress and has brought us nearer the desired goal.
First and as of immediate interest, let me tell you the progress of our field tests. As you know, we have been transmitting from our television station on top of the Empire State Building in New York City which is controlled from the NBC television studios in the RCA Building. We have observed and measured these transmissions through a number of experimental receivers located in the metropolitan area and adjacent suburbs. The results thus far have been encouraging, and instructive. As we anticipated, many needs that must be met by a commercial service have been made clear by these tests.