Television Conquest

New York will achieve regular telecasting in 1939 but the range will be too short for Canadians to "see in"

THOMAS WAYLING February 1 1939

Television Conquest

New York will achieve regular telecasting in 1939 but the range will be too short for Canadians to "see in"

THOMAS WAYLING February 1 1939

Television Conquest

New York will achieve regular telecasting in 1939 but the range will be too short for Canadians to "see in"


TELEVISION has at last “arrived” in the United States.

The National Broadcasting Company will inaugurate regular television programs from the Empire State Building in New York, on April 30. This year will also see the Columbia Broadcasting System telecasting regularly from the Chrysler Building. New York, and the DuMont Company from Montclair, New Jersey. The Don Lee System is also telecasting in Los Angeles.

Television sets already are on sale in the United States priced from $150 to $1,000. 'The average price of a gcxxl set for the average home will run about. $2CO to $300.

Don’t rush out to buy a set. however. Unless you are in the New York or D>s Angeles areas it won’t do you any g»K)d, You have to lxwithin fifty miles of the broadcasting station to pick up the program.

The relatively long waves used in sound radio in some measure follow the curve of the eart h. 'They also get around the curve of the earth’s surface because they are reflected by the “heaviside” layer, which is a sort of electrical blanket in the up|X’r levels of the atmosphere. This layer bounces them back to earth, and, if they are strong enough, they keep on rebounding between the blanket and the earth’s surface until they get right around the world.

A receiving set will therefore pick up these waves anywhere. A good set will magnify them to hearing volume.

The ultra-short waves used in television, for technical reasons we need not go into here, do not follow the curve of the earth and are not reflected by the “heaviside” layer. As a result, they rush off into space. Even those waves which start off travelling parallel to the ground are soon out of reach because of the curve of the earth. To pick up a television broadcast, therefore, a receiving set must (under existing conditions) lxwithin fifty miles of a sending station 1,200 feet high. 'The limit of ultra-short wave range is approximately the visual horizon.

Television Network Too Costly

THEORETICALLY, tliis difficulty could be overcome by setting up chains of television stations similar to those now operated in nidio. There’s an economic obstacle in the way here, however.

Linking up radio stations into a network is a simple matter. Ordinary telegraph and telephone lines are used. These have already been built for the basic purposes of telegraphy and telephony. Their use by radio involves only the payment of line charges.

Ordinary telegraph and telephone lines, however, cannot be used for television. The electrical impulses required to carry a television program are too numerous and tœ complicated. Sound broadcasting involves the transmission of up to 10,000 cycles a second; telecasting calls for the

transmission of impulses running as high as 3,500,000 cycles a second.

The carrying of this enormous number of impulses necessitates the use of a special wire line called a “coaxial cable.” Coaxial cable has been used successfully over short distances such a cable carried the television of the Coronation from Westminster Square to the British Broadcasting Corporation’s transmitters at Alexandra Palace but, at present, it costs $5,000 a mile. And on that basis, television networks traversing long distances are commercially impossible. To bring a televised program from New York to Montreal, for instance, would involve a prohibitive cost. Only the march of science can solve that problem.

This means that, for the time being, television stations will have to operate as independent units. Moreover, they will be established only where the density of population is sufficient to make them potentially profitable. The New York stations for instance, serving an area with radius of fifty miles, will reach 11,000,000 people. Eleven million people will provide enough owners of television receivers to induce advertisers to sponsor programs and thus provide the revenue necessary to maintain the station.

America Followed England

THE FACT that United States radio is supported by sponsors explains why America is two years or more behind England in the public broadcasting of television.

When English and American radio engineers began really to get somewhere with their television experiments, the British Broadcasting Corporation set aside a generous quota of its annual revenue from license fees for further experiments, and told its engineers to get on with the job. As a result, the British engineers went on the air with public television programs from Alexandra Palace, London, in November, 1936. The British were handicapped to some extent by lack of skyscrapers, so they used the old Alexandra Palace on the summit of a hill on the exige of London.

'The Radio Corporation of America started broadcasting experimental television programs from the mast on the peak of New York’s towering Empire State Building, 100 stories or so up in the air. on June 29. 1936.

Receiving sets were placed in the homes of the engineers and executives of R.C.A. and N.B.C. Originally the image produced by these sets was 5x8 inches in area and had a green tinge, but it is now black and white, and the size has increased to 7 x 10 inches. The British home sets showed a

picture 8 x 10 inches, but the British Scophony Company is now marketing sets with a 20 x 24 inch screen, and is experimenting with a screen 8 feet x 6 feet on the assumption that so many people are used to home movies they will not want anything smaller.

Scophony has now started an American branch to meet the coming demand in the U. S. for television sets.

Scenes Cannot Be Edited

THE R.C.A.-N.B.C. experimental broadcasts brought -*• out some amazing possibilities of television. Early in 1938 one of the N.B.C. television trucks stopped on a busy New York street and commenced to televise the scene. Up in the N.B.C. laboratories in Radio City, the engineers saw on their screen the rushing traffic, the throng of pedestrians, all the activity of such a scene.

Then the “camera” men started to televise a near-by skyscraper, “scanning” it up and down just as they had scanned the street horizontally. The engineers in Radio City watched the screen; saw story after story of the tall building slip past. Then the camera stopped. It showed a tenth-story window. A girl climbed out on the window ledge, then flung herself down to the street below.

The cameramen swung their lenses downward, and the horrified engineers saw on their small screen the fatal incident from start to end.

It was a chance in a million that the camera would scan that building at the moment the unfortunate girl committed suicide.

On another occasion, last December, another television crew was scanning a new swimming pool at Astoria, New York. They heard tumult behind them and, turning the camera round, focused it on a group of buildings which had caught fire. The engineers “saw” that fire without being anywhere near it.

What the television camera sees it transmits. There is no editing television. What the camera's “eye” sees is inexorably transmitted to the receiving screen.

In the August 15, 1937, edition of Maclean s I told the story of television in England.

The American story runs parallel much of the way. The scientists and engineers in both countries tried out the old scanning disc system first, but ultimately discarded it in favor of the new electronic method.

Baird in England and Jenkins in America perfected the new system, which is based on the so-called “electric eye.”

How Scenes Are Transmitted

THE picture on a television screen must not be confused with the picture seen on a cinema screen. In the one case, that of the “movie.” a series of single photographs is thrown on the screen in a succession rapid enough to create the illusion of motion.

In television you see a ‘‘fluid” picture that actually moves as it is being drawn by the lightning horizontal strokes of an electronic “pencil” travelling two miles per second or 7,000 miles an hour from left to right, and 70,000 miles per hour from right to left. Reading that fast, you could wade through the Bible in ten seconds.

A complete image is drawn in one thirtieth of a second, and as the television waves sent out by the transmitter travel at the rate of 186,000 miles a second, there is no appreciable time lag between the original action and the reproduced picture. For all practical purposes, television is instantaneous.

There is no film in the television “camera,” but a specially designed electron tube which the American engineers call an iconoscope. The screen of this tube is made up of a mosaic of minute light-sensitive cells. An image of the object being televised is thrown on this screen and then “scanned” by a beam of electrons. This has the effect of setting up a series of electrical impulses corresponding to the amount of light falling on each tiny cell of the screen. These electrical impulses are then broadcast. Picked up by the receiving set, they are reconverted into light impulses which create an exact reproduction of the original image.

The heart of the receiving set is another electron tube, known in the U. S. as a kinescope. (The U. S. engineers call the two tubes Ikey and Kinney.) The end of this tube is coated with light-sensitive crystals, against which a stream of electrons controlled by the incoming waves is fired. A strong electron will light up the crystals it strikes, a weak one leave them dark, a medium one shaded. As these electrons flash line by line, the lights and shadows of the picture are made. It is the flatfish end of this big tube which is seen as the screen in a television set. In the U. S. sets, the tube is set on end and the image is seen in a mirror in the lid of the set. The British tube is horizontal, and you see the actual glass end which forms the “screen.”

The electrons do not strike the screen in bunches, but in such succession that a “dot” of light races across the top of the screen (at 7,000 miles per hour), then returns (at 70,000 m.p.h.) and starts the next line, just as one writes a letter. When it gets to the bottom of the screen it repeats in between the lines already made, so that it makes 441 horizontal lines in each complete image.

The dot of light travels across the screen 13,230 times a second, so that one “picture” merges into the other smoothly and without check. The British scanning is 20,250 times per second, and it must be admitted that the British picture I saw in England in June, 1937, was of better quality than the one I saw at N.B.C. in New York in December, 1938.

To tune in a television set, the dial is turned as in a radio. The British station broadcasts a St. George’s Cross. At first you can see the dot of light travelling across the screen. Then the screen goes dark in the centre to make a part of the cross. The dot speeds up and becomes a rushing line back and forth across the screen. Finally ;t goes so fast it cannot be distinguished. The screen shows the complete cross and that indicates you are tuned in.

Now and then during the broadcast there will be dots and dashes and lots of flashes on the screen—interference from the generator of a passing automobile.

N.B.C. uses a more complicated design for tuning in. but the principle is the same. The sound part of the program is tuned as in radio. It is synchronized with the picture, so all you have to do is tune it in as you do now.

New Opportunities For Entertainers

rT'HE major problem now engaging the television systems is that of programs. It would appear simple to televise major sport events, such as is done in England where the Derby and similar affairs are televised, and to borrow sound films from Hollywood and stage players from the theatres, but it is not so easy as all that.

Television can and will use radio, stage and movie material, but that will not be enough. It wouldn’t take long to use up the movies. Comedians complain that in the old vaudeville days the same set of jokes would last a year or longer; one radio broadcast and it is done. The same is true of movies used for television. The whole production of Hollywood would not last long.

N.B.C. program authorities intimate that television programs will cost three times as much as radio programs. Radio staging is something like that of the Elizabethan stage, leaving scenery to the imagination. Television must have complete scenery and full costume. At present miniature scenes are used, particularly for titling, but the British television studios at Alexandra Palace add to all the complications of radio and television the technique of stage setting.

Most experts claim that television will not hurt the stage or the movie industry to any appreciable extent. Television, they say, will offer a new medium for outstanding stage and movie talent, and increased opportunities for the development of new talent.

Thomas H. Hutchinson, production director of N.B.C., declares that the promise of television drama dazzles the imagination.

“Television development has followed a peculiar pattern,” he states. “It has been lopsided. The technical, electrical and engineering sides have advanced on a common front, but program production has lagged far behind.

"The television drama calls for highly skilled artisans. The scene and costume designer worked previously in Hollywood; the script writer has a combination of stage and radio and movie experience; the cameraman had a background of radio engineering and movie photography; the actors had experience before the microphone, the footlights and on the lot; and the production director likewise has weathered the climates of Hollywood, Radio City, and Broadway.

“Since television entertainments must meet the requirements of a home audience before all else, the producers have the job of discovering the peculiar psychological traits and habits of small groups gathered in a living room.”

The longest feature yet telecast from New York has been the Sherlock Holmes mystery drama, “The Three Garridebs,” which went thirty-six minutes. The hundred families who had television sets in

New ^ ork (the R.C.A. and N.B.C. officials and experts) watched the clever sleuthing of Holmes and Dr. Watson, and tried to figure out the “who dunnit” angles. The illusion was so strong that some of those home groups began to look around for intruders.

Television must come up to the Hollywood standard but at a fraction of Hollywood costs, for in television there is only one performance and in the movies one production may be shown thousands of times.

N.B.C. officials state that it had been thought television might offer a place for the old-time vaudeville acts, but they proved a washout. Stage acts which had been funny and hilarious were entirely unconvincing on a television screen.

Obstacles to Development in Canada

AS FOR Canada, the television picture ^ ^ is still very dim. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s revenues have proved insufficient to give the country' really adequate radio station coverage up to the present, or to attract talent which can compete with the costly American programs.

C.B.C. therefore has no thought at present of launching into television. It would be an expensive business, for a single station would cost around $100,000 before a penny was spent on programs. Then there is the space limitation. Montreal and Toronto are the only really big centres of population, and there would be a furor from Coast to Coast if C.B.C. were to establish a costly non-paying television station for the people of Montreal only, or Toronto only.

Until the coaxial cable cost comes down, or some form of beam transmission from station to station is evolved, Canada will probably be out of the television picture. Canadians’ only hope of television for some years, unless there are unexpected developments, will be to live around Windsor, Ontario, and pick up the telecast from a station which no doubt will be built in Detroit. Torontonians might, perhaps, pick up Buffalo, if a station were established in the latter city.

There is hope, however. Consider the tremendous strides made by radio transmission and reception in th^ past ten years. It is not inconceivable that similar progress will be made in television, so that telecasting in 1949 may be as far in advance of present conditions as the shortand long-wave radio set in the home of today compares with the heterodyning radio sets of 1929.

Editor's Note: In November last New

York engineers succeeded in picking up an image televised from London 3,000 miles across the Atlantic. This would seem to contradict the statement that the present range of television is fifty miles. The explanation lies in the fact that the transatlantic telecast was carried by waves of a frequency which cannot be used in regular commercial telecasting for technical and economicreasons.