This is the Television History section of
The Broadcast Archive

Maintained by:
Barry Mishkind - The Eclectic Engineer
Last update 2/27/12

40) Is Television AM or FM?

Actually, both! TV broadcasts a combination of AM and FM. The video signal is transmitted by an Amplitude Modulated carrier, while the audio is sent out via Frequency Modulation.

40a) Who invented Television?

There is a rumor Don Kimberlin did it. But actually, most of the patents belong to Philo T. Farnsworth. Among the early developers of the technology: John Logie Baird, Dr. Ernst Alexanderson, and Dr. Vladymir Zworykin.

41) When were the first experimental TV broadcasts?

42) When were the first regular TV transmissions?

43) When were the first regular Color TV transmissions?

Once monochrome broadcasts were common, CBS and RCA went to war with different color broadcast systems. Baird had demonstrated a crude color system as early as 1928. CBS, which proposed its Field Sequential System in 1940, fought its way through the courts, received approval for color broadcasts to begin June 25, 1951. CBS produced a gala opening broadcast. The only problem? CBS Color Television, while of very high quality, was incompatible with the monochrome sets that were now being sold in increasing numbers. While CBS pondered the problems, the Korean War shut down all color tv production.

After the Korean War, RCA sought to get the FCC to revisit the matter of color standards, pushing its NTSC system. Based partially upon its compatibility with monochrome televisions sets, the FCC approved the RCA-NBC backed NTSC color method on December 17, 1953, replacing the CBS system, effective January 22, 1954. Among the first compatible televisions sold was the Admiral, selling for $1175 (over 1/2 the average salary in the US that year), and the RCA CT100. The price of a receiver dropped to under $200 in about a year..

This decision was not entirely non-political. 

NBC began regular color television broadcasts in the mid 1950s. Set sales, however, were dismal. In the 1960's RCA color began to "take hold", and in the summer of 1966, NBC went "all color," dropping the peacock opening in early 1975.

Other nations did not necessarily follow US television standards - the lowest in the world aside from the earliest British 405 line video - which limited transmission to 525 lines and 30 fields of interlaced video. Effective transmitted resolution in the US is usually considered approximately 350 lines. The PAL and SECAM systems used in Europe were capable of 625 and 800 line resolutions, but were incompatible with NTSC standards, which because of the early difficulty in providing stable color pictures came to be called "Never Twice the Same Color."

44) What about Digital TV?

Interestingly, Philo Farnsworth knew TV could look better than NTSC, and began experiments on High Definition Television in the late 1940s. By the mid-1950s, he was demonstrating 1100 and 1200 line (resolution) pictures. It would take almost 50 years before the US adopted similar standards. 

The first Experimental HDTV license is claimed by WRAL-HD in Raleigh, NC.

July 23, 1996 - WRAL-HD began operations.

1996 - WHD in Washington, DC began operations.

January 1997 - KOMO/Channel 4 (Seattle) became the first commercial broadcast station on the West coast to transmit high-definition digital (HDTV) television tests.Read a narrative by Don Wilkinson of KOMO-DT's development.

Spring 1998 - KOMO-DT Seatlle, WA goes into regular operation on channel 38.

January 28, 2001 - WRAL-HD announces the inauguration of regular new gathering and presentation in HDTV.

Some other start dates:

One of the "confusing" aspects is that some stations will claim dates in operating as "Digital Television" (DTV) and some will claim dates as "High Definition (Digital) TV" (HDTV). While there is some difference, technically, since a new receiver is required for either, setting separate "firsts" may be splitting hairs just a bit.

44A) The Great Digital Change-over

In its desire to generate more money by auctioning spectrum space, Congress directed the FCC to move all television to digital transmissions, effective February 17, 2009. Stores were forbidden to sell TVs without an ATSC tuner in it after July 2005. After setting aside a huge budget (over $1 Billion) to give $40 coupons so users could get discounts on digital tuners, and TV stations spending Billions to install new transmitters, some politicians decided at the last minute that a few people might not get tuners in time. So, the date to terminate analog TV was moved to June 12, 2009.

Confusion reigned. Some stations petitioned to turn off their analog transmissions early because repairs to old transmitters were getting more and more expensive. There was also the electrical bills for maintaining both transmitters at each station - and with the economy in a deep downturn, it was harder on the stations. 

June 12, 2009 came and went. As it turned out, less than 15% of the stations signed off. With over 6500 translators and Low Power TV stations still on the air in June 2009, the analog to digital conversion is still in progress. 

45) What happened to channel 1?

What is now WNBC in New York was licensed for channel 1 (50-56 MHz) from July 1, 1941 to September 30, 1946 when they were granted a modification of license for a change to operate on channel 4 (66-72 MHz).

Among models, the RCA model 630 television set included a "Channel 1" position on its step tuner.

WNBC may have been the only station to have operated on channel 1, although one report indicates W6XAO/KTSL, Los Angeles, and W9XZV/WTZR in Chicago did operate on Channel 1. Approximately a dozen stations were assigned to the channel (including KARO, Riverside, CA, WSBE, South Bend, IN, and several experimental stations), although they may not have been built on Channel 1..

A short history of Channel 1:

 There was also TV in the 2.5 MHz region (the Charles F. Jenkins system, also killed by Sarnoff), as well as some other assignments for TV before WW II.

46) Miscellaneous TV items:

WRGB, which may be the oldest TV call sign in continuous use (it was assigned in 1941), was named after GE engineer Dr. W.R.G. Baker, who headed the National Television System Committee both in 1940-41 and in 1950-53. This is especially ironic, given the use of Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) guns in video monitors.

Pay TV was first authorized by the FCC in 1950. A series of experiments by Zenith to bring movies to the public via "Phonevision" ended when the major studios declined to permit television to compete with the movie theaters.

Some more history of television can be found at