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Television History in London, 1936
I have lived just 10 miles away from a small and growing privately-owned museum of television and television history and found it fascinating.
I've listened to stories from The Greatest Generation of older folks who went home one day after school to hear strange people talking in the living room -- It was the new-fangled TV set!
In my parents' attic I once found a television from the late 1930s with a 6-inch diagonal screen set into a 4-foot tall birch wood cabinet and outfitted with push buttons instead of a dial. It was weird, but the current set had only three channels, weird by 21st century standards.
People I've interviewed have different memories of the events surrounding the first commercial broadcasts. However, the big official Grand Opening of the first TV Station after years of experimental broadcasts in America, France and UK was most likely on November 2, 1936 in Alexandria Palace, London, England.
Although the development of television foundation technology dates back to 1872, the first television broadcasting station was located at Alexandria Palace.
History and Popularity
The concept of scanning a picture by mechanical means was proposed by Alexander Bain in 1843. By the 1920s, amplification technology made television practical to use. At this time, the Scottish inventor John Logie Baird used the Nipkow disk in his video systems. On March 25, 1925, he made the first public demonstration of televised moving silhouette images and this was done at Selfridge's Department Store in London UK. In the 2010s, a TV series about Selfridge's was very popular.
First Commercial Broadcasts
Some folks recall the first commercial broadcast as being aired in February 1936, but this could be incorrect or a memory of an earlier experimental broadcast. It is all documented in a BBC film tilted Television Comes to London, produced by Dallas Bower and Gerald Cock [BBC archives].
The broadcast reportedly lasted for 18 minutes, from 9:05 - 9:23 PM local time on either February 11 or November 2, 1936 depending on the memory. It could also have been 3:00 PM by some accounts. Adela Helena Dixon (from the later film Banana Ridge) performed with the television studio orchestra. She was also a star of Broadway and British stage and played opposite Sir John Gielgud in Romeo and Juliet.
She sang in the 1936 BBC opening on a show called Variety and this is where the term "variety show" originated for TV.
The location of TV station had to be high in the air because the VHF waves used required line-of-sight reception nothing could block them or they would not get through. Some 30,000 square feet inside an old Victorian entertainment complex, Alexandra Palace, in London was ideal.
The BBC mounted a 215-foot mast with antennas for sound and picture vision, along with a sound transmitter. Intended to transmit over a line of 25 miles radius, the signal occasionally reached into continental Europe.
The opening of the BBC Television Service using Marconi-EMI technology held its Grand Opening for about 400 "viewers" who saw and heard speeches by the Postmaster General, the BBC Chairman, and Lord Selsdon.
World War II
Broadcasting was interrupted by the war in 1939, when the station cut off in the middle of a Mickey Mouse cartoon until 1946, when the cartoon supposedly resumed and an announcer apologized for the 7-year interruption.
BBC on August 26, 1936: The first artist to appear on the screen was Helen McKay. Petula Clark, a 1960s pop star, sang on the BBC in 1946.
Lyrics for "Television" from the BBC Archives & Museum
A mighty maze of mystic, magic rays is all about us in the blue,
And in sight and sound they trace living pictures out of space
To bring a new wonder to you
The busy world before you is unfurled - Its songs, its tears and laughter, too.
One by one they play their parts in this latest of the Arts
To bring new enchantment to you.
As by your fireside you sit, the news will flit, as on the silver screen.
And just for entertaining you with something new
The stars will then be seen. So...
There's joy in store, the world is at your door -
It's here for everyone to view, conjured up in sound and sight
By the magic rays of light - That bring Television to you.
America and RCA
Early in 1930s America, RCA experimented with black and white television broadcasts in the laboratory.
In RCA mounted antennas atop the Empire State Building for commercial TV broadcasts.
In 1928, the US federal government, FCC, issued call letters "W2XB" to what is now WGY Television in New York City. This is the first established Television Station in America, broadcasting on old Channel 1, which is no longer used due to calibrations changing on the TV dials.
However, WX2B did not receive a commercial license apparently until 1942 when it was renamed WRGB.
They claim to be the first TV Station in the world, but seem to base this on experimental laboratory broadcasts back on January 13, 1928. It broadcast only in kHz and not MHz and had limited range, but issued farm reports three times a week.
I think it could be considered as still experimental tellevision broadcasting , but this is open to question.
Timeline of Television in the USA and UK
- Albany NY: CBS Channel 6 - Channel WRGB. This CBS affiliate is one of the the first experimental television stations anywhere, first broadcasting in early 1928 (before the Wall Street Crash) and delivering the first daily programs ever on the air. Next came commercial broadcasting during WWII, but London UK was first in commercial TV. WRGB at cbs6albany.com/ Retrieved June 6, 1017.
British Broadcasting Corporation in the UK. Through May 2017, 832 episodes of Dr, Who have been shown and I have met a couple of the Doctors! Very long success: 1963 - 2017, intermittent.
Ohio's Early Television Museum in Hilliard
The Early Television Museum is a local museum of early television receiver sets. It is located in Hilliard, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, USA.
© 2007 Patty Inglish