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THE COLOR PIONEERS
Local Television Stations with Early Live Color Capability

Copyright 2006

Ed Reitan

[V1.00 (Revision k) 2006-11-21]

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KMTV Omaha

 

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Colorcasting a Ford Thunderbird Commercial at KMTV, Omaha


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TABLE OF CONTENTS:

 

Transitioning to Color

 

Early Color Pioneers (1954, 1955, 1956)

 

Later Color Stations (1957-1961)

 

Industrial Color Installations

 

Notes on RCA Color Equipments

 

Acknowledgement

 

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Transitioning to Color

 

Even before the adoption of the NTSC Color Standards, a number of pioneering local television stations had begun the conversion to color.  By January 1, 1954, some 22 stations were ready to carry the network feed of the Tournament of Roses Parade.  This was the result of a Herculean effort by AT&T to modify network circuits and by RCA to modify the transmitters of local NBC affiliates.  In the weeks before the January 1, 1954 Rose Parade, RCA had dispatched field technicians to stations across the country to verify the performance of transmitters along the coast-to-coast network.

 

In a short time, a significant number of stations made the early transition to local live color.  Surprisingly, this was in spite of the large investment required.  By the end of 1956, at least thirty-three stations were doing local live colorcasting – just three years after the start of color.

 

This can be compared to the relatively slow deployment of HDTV at the local station level.  See the "Transitioning to HDTV" write-up.

 

The first commercial live color camera was the TK-40A, based on the prototype TK-40 cameras used at NBC's Colonial Theater.  The first TK-40A deliveries were in February 1954 to CBS for its New York Studio 71 and to NBC for its Brooklyn Color Studio.  Later 1954 deliveries were made to CBS for its Hollywood Television City Color Studio and to NBC.

 

WKY-TV (Oklahoma City) received the first two TK-40A’s delivered to a local station.  Its local color operation started on April 8, 1954.  Following shortly, WBAP-TV (Dallas-Ft. Worth) made its first colorcast on May 15, 1954.  WTMJ-TV (Milwaukee) used a single TK-40A for its July 18, 1954 color start.  Two TK-40A’s were also delivered to KTLA, Los Angeles.

 

During its publication RCA Broadcast News provided articles describing stations, their management, and equipment configuration.  An RCA advertisement in the December 1956 Issue of Broadcast News (# 92) simply lists the call sign and city for 33 stations having live color television capability before the December 1956 date. 

 

This table was expanded by Ed Reitan to include below the channel, state, network affiliation (primary - secondary), date of first live colorcast(if known), and color equipment configuration as known.

 

To greatly improve my effort came Lytle Hoover who was the RCA Broadcast Equipment Division’s domestic Marketing Research Administrator from 1968 through 1982.  Lytle brought his extensive knowledge of sales of RCA color equipment during those years and the information he created in his “RCA Marketing Research TV Station Equipment Inventory Record” and from his data in the RCA “Live Color TV History” covering Station file folders & field trips.  Lytle lists the specific configuration of equipments at each station with their dates of delivery.  All of his additions and comments to my original work are highlighted in yellow.  My hat is tipped to Lytle Hoover for this excellent effort.  Thanks, Lytle!

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Early Color Pioneers (1954, 1955, 1956)

 

Here are the pioneering stations who had live NTSC color television capability in 1954 -1956.  Stations are ordered by State, and then City. 

 

Call Sign

Channel

City

State

Affiliation

Date

Facilities

KJEO

47

Fresno

CA

ABC

Sept 1956

TK-41 (1) [ref 6]

KRCA (now KNBC)

4

Los Angeles

CA

NBC O&O

1956-1960

Eventually
TK-26 Film (5)

TK40A/TK41C (10)

[ref 5]

KTLA

5

Los Angeles

CA

Ind.

mid-1954

 

 

 


1963
- 1966

TK-40A (2)
in a Remote Van
[KTLA colorcast the 1955 Rose Parade]

(3) in the Red Skelton Mobile unit TK-41 (2) [ref 5]

KRON

4

San Francisco

CA

NBC

< Dec. 1956

1957

TK-41C (1)

TK-26 Film(2)

WTVJ

4

Miami

FL

NBC
(later CBS)

1956

TK-41 (1)

[ref 6]

WNBQ (now WMAQ)

5

Chicago

IL

NBC O&O

April 1956

TK-41 (5)

[ref 6]

2 more added later & operational until 1970

WGN

9

Chicago

IL

Ind.-DuM

1956

 

1959

1960

1960

TK-41 (1)
TK-26 (1)

TK-41 (1) [ref 5]

TK-41 (4) Comiski Pk

TK-41 (4)Wrigley Fld

WFBM

(now WRTV)

6

Indianapolis

IN

NBC

1956

TK-41 (1)

[ref 6]

KARD

(now KSNW)

3

Wichita

KS

NBC

< Dec. 1956

TK-41 (1)
see Kris Trexler's Site
[ref 3]

WDSU

6

New Orleans

LA

NBC

1956

TK-41 (1) [ref 6]

WBAL

11

Baltimore

MD

NBC

1956

 

1959

TK-41 (2),

TK-26(1)

TRT-1B(1) [Ref. 5]

WJBK

2

Detroit

MI

CBS

1956

TK-41 (1),

TK-26(1) [Ref. 6]

WCCO

4

Minneapolis

MN

CBS

June 1955

TK-41 (1)

[Ref. 6]

KCMO

(now KCTV)

5

Kansas City

MO

CBS-ABC

< Dec. 1956

TK-41 (1)

WBTV

3

Charlotte

NC

CBS

May 1956

TK-41 (1)
TK-26 (2)
"Chromascan" Color Opaque Camera
[Modified TK-4A (2)]

KMTV

3

Omaha

NE

NBC

Sept. 1955

Jan. 1956

TK-41 (originally 2 then 3),

TK-26(1)
First All-Day Color by any station
 April 1960

WBEN

(Now WIVB)

4

Buffalo

NY

CBS-ABC

Dec. 1954

TK-41 (1)

[ref.6]

WRCA (now WNBC)

4

New York

NY

NBC
WNBC shared Network Studios

1955-1960

TK-41 (25)

[ref. 5]

WCBS

2

New York

NY

CBS

(includes Network Studio 71)

1956

 

 

1962

TK-40A (1) obtained from Philco

Ref. [6]

TK-41C (6) [Ref. 5]

WCMH

4

Columbus

OH

NBC

1956

TK-41 (3)

[ref.5]

WKY

4

Oklahoma City

OK

NBC

April 8, 1954

[First Live local Station]
TK-40A (2), TK-4A slide, TK-26 film (fall, 1954) 

KGW

8

Portland

OR

NBC

< Dec. 1956

TK-41 (2)

WJAC

6

Johnstown

PA

NBC

1956

1955

1964

TK-41C (2)

TK-26 film (1)

TK-41C (2 more)

[Ref. 5]

WGAL

8

Lancaster

PA

NBC-ABC-DuM

1957

 

 

1958

TK-41(2) [ref. 6]

(First shows: Romper Room & News)

RCA TRT-1B

WRCV (Later WPTZ NOW KYW)

3

Philadelphia

PA

NBC O&O

(Now CBS O&O)

1954

TK-41 (1)

WFIL

(now WPVI)

6

Philadelphia

PA

ABC-DuM

1956

TK-41 (1)[ref.6]

"American Bandstand" was initially in Color using a single TK-41.

WCAU

10

Philadelphia

PA

CBS

1956

TK41 (2)

(Taken out of service in 1958 when CBS bought TV station & went back to B/W)

[Ref. 6]
Modified TK-26 for Opaques

WBRE

28

Wilkes-Barre

PA

NBC

1956

TK-41 (1)

WBAP

5

Fort Worth

TX

NBC-ABC

May 15, 1954

[Second Live Station]
TK-40A (2), TK-4A slide, TK-26 film (Dec., 1954)

WOAI

4

San Antonio

TX

NBC

< Dec. 1956

TK-41 [Ref. 6]

KOMO

4

Seattle

WA

NBC

1956

 

TK-41C (2)

TK-26 film (1)

[Ref. 6]

KHQ

6

Spokane

WA

NBC-ABC

Sept 54

Jan. 1955

April 1956

Slide & Bars
 TK-26 (1)
 TK-41 (2) in Mobile Truck
May 56 Lilac Festival

WTMJ

4

Milwaukee

WI

NBC

July 18, 1954

 

 

 

1965

[Third Live Station]
TK-40A (1), TK-4A slide, TK-26 film (November, 1954)

TK-41C(2) [Ref. 5]

WSAZ

3

Huntington

WVA

NBC

1957

TK-41 (1),

WSAZ Claimed to be the 12th station in the U.S (excluding the 5 RCA-owned stations) to install live color [ref. 4].

 

References:

 

[ref. 1]  #81, December 1954 “RCA Broadcast News”, WKY, WBAP, & WTMJ.

[ref. 2]  #92, December 1956 “RCA Broadcast News”, List of Live Color Stations (all above)

[ref. 3]  Kris Trexler’s KARD Site at http://www.kingoftheroad.net/kard.html.

[ref. 4]  WSAZ Correspondence with Bill Sutherland, Tucson, AZ, Sept. 19, 2001.

[ref. 5]..Lytle Hoover’s RCA Marketing Research TV Station Equipment Inventory Record

[ref. 6]..Lytle Hoover’s data in “Live Color TV History” Station file folders & field trips

[ref. 7]..RCA Inventories – Other Military that would use TK-41s were: Griffis AFB,

Lowry AFB, Wright-Patterson AFB, Hill AFB, Ft. Richie, NASA-MD, Aberdeen Proving Ground-MD.

 

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Later Color Stations (1957-1961)

 

Five years later the April 1961 Broadcast News (No. 92) “Color ‘61” Issue identified additional stations with local live color.  The slow-down of color television during the late ‘50s is evident with only five new stations added to the “color pioneer” list.

 

Call Sign

Channel

City

State

Affiliation

Date

Facilities

WFGA-TV (Now WTLV)

12

Jacksonville

FL

NBC

Sept. 1, 1957

1962

TK-41 (2) TK-26 (2) TRT-1AC VTRs (2) [Ref. 5]

WHDH-TV

5

Boston

MA

CBS

Nov. 1957

TK-41 (4)

TK-26 (2)

TRT-1AC (2)

[Ref. 5]

WWLP

22

Springfield

MA

NBC

Sept. 1957

TK-26 (1956)

TK-41 (2)
http://www.wwlp.com/tv22/past/1950.html

KSTP

5

St. Paul

MN

NBC

1958(5)

1961(3)

1966(1)

1956 (1)

1959 (2)

ref.[6]

TK-41C (5),

IN 35’Mobile Vans  TK-41C (1),

TK-26(1)  Film, TRT1B/TR-2 VTR

WLWT

5

Cincinnati

OH

NBC

Aug. 1957
(Aug. 9, 1957 Ruth Lyon Show)

1964

"Mobile Control Room to Serve Four Crosley  Stations"

TK-41C (3),

TK-41C (2 more) [Ref. 5]

 

 

The Image Orthicon pick-up tubes used in live color cameras were expensive and had limited life.  The periodic cost of re-tubing the three tubes in each camera strained the budget of local stations.  Lighting and air conditioning costs were greatly increased.

 

Eventually, many stations dropped regular live color productions, or (as KMTV-Omaha practice) only did live color for the noon news and adjoining local/women’s programs.  The color cameras would be shut down, and the 6:00 and 10:00 PM news done in black and white.  Eventually by the late 1950’s, the live TK-41 color cameras were left dark, and stations didn’t even keep their TK-26 hot to allow for color slide/film inserts.

 

In 1958, General Electric introduced its three orthicon live camera and film scanner.  Little is known of stations that used this competing General Electric live color camera.  Ed Ellers has reported that KVOO in Tulsa had a single GE 3-IO camera.   Lytle Hoover’s inventories indicated KRLD-TV, Dallas had 8 of these units, as well as 1 at KJTV Bakersfield, CA and 2 at WRGB-TV, General Electric Broadcasting’s TV Station in Schenectady, NY.  Readers are requested to identify other stations that used the early image orthicon G.E. color camera. 

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Industrial Color Installations

 

A number of installations supported color production, post-production and special industrial use.  Additional military installations are listed in Reference 7 above.

 

Call Sign

Channel

City

State

Affiliation

Date

Facilities

Skelton Studios

Color Pgm.
Productn’
”RED-EO-Tape”

Holywood
”Chaplin Studios”

Renamed “Skelton Studios”

CA

NA
Red Skelton Show

Sept. 1960

Mobile 40' Color Vans (3) TK-41C (3)TK-26 (2)

AMPEX Color VTRs
($1M investment)

Glenn-Armistead

Color Pgm
Productn’

Hollywood

Glen-Glenn Post

CA

NA

1960

Tractor Trailers (2)
25 kW Generators TK-41C (4) TK-26

RCA Color VTRs (2)

Radio Corp. of America

Mobile Color Unit

New York

NY

NBC

January 1, 1954
(Many NBC 1954 and 1955 Remotes)

TK-41 (2)

New Unit First Used for 1954 Rose Parade;
Ak-Sar-Ben Coronation (KMTV);
Mummers Parade (WCAU):

 Indianapolis 500 (WFBM)

Reeves

Color Pgm
Post
Productn’

New York

NY

NA

1959

TK-41 (1)

TK-26

RCA TRT-1B VTR (2) ref. [6]

Strategic Air Command (SAC)

"Map Room"

(War Room)

Omaha
Offutt AFB

NE

NA

1957

TK-41C (4)

Tk-45(1)Weather Briefing Room

TK-26 (1)

4' x 6' Projectors (2)
(#101 Aug.. 1958)

 

Ft. Monmouth

Military Training

Ft. Monmouth

NJ

US Army

1957

TV Repair and Training Center

[Ref. 5/6]

Brooks AFB

 

Brooks AFB

TX

USAF

1960

TK-41 (2)

{Ref. 7]

Smith, Kline, and French

Medical Color Television

Philadelphia

PA

SK&F

1956

Mobile Color Van
TK-41 (2)
TK-45 (1)
(#92 Dec. 1956)
(Van unveiled at April 15-17, 1956 NARTB) as SK&F changed from CBS field-sequential color

 

Univ. of Michigan

Medical Color Television

Ann Arbor

 MI

 

1959

TK-45 (1)
TK-41 (1)
TK-26 (1)

Ref. [5/6]

Walter Reed Hospital

Medical Color Television

Washington

DC

 

1955-6

Three Studios
TK-45 (3),

TK-41 (3)
TK-26 (1)
Color Receivers (30)

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Notes on Using Early RCA Color Equipment

 

The Jan.-Feb. 1954 RCA Broadcast News, "The Color Television Issue" (No. 77), recommended a 4-step sequence for integrating NTSC Color into a local station:

 

1.  Network Capability

2.  Color Slide Pickup (TK-4)

3.  Color Motion Picture 16mm Pickup (TK-25)

4.  Live Studio Camera Pickup (TK-40A)

 

The TK-4 used a Flying Spot CRT, double slide holder, and three photo multipliers for red, blue, and green pickup.  A few TK-4 slide cameras were delivered to several local stations.  For film pickup the TK-25 used the same Flying Spot optics in conjunction with a rapid pull-down film projector (driven by a high power tube amplifier).  As the rapid pull-down of that projector quickly wore out and would tear the film, none of the TK-25s were delivered and development work was accelerated to develop a three-Vidicon color film camera. 

 

Late in 1954 RCA Broadcast News announced a prototype three-vidicon slide/film camera.  The first delivery of the resulting TK-26 Color Film/Slide camera went to WMAR-TV in Baltimore, and was pictured in the December 1954 Issue (No. 81). The reference said that, “within a few more weeks”, 40 stations would receive delivery of production TK-26 units.

 

The resulting TK-26 could be multiplexed with two slide projectors, two 16-mm film projectors (or 35-mm film projectors).   Eventually, a modification was made available whereby the TK-26 could televise small table-top areas of advertising products or opaques.

 

The RCA colorization plan was changed to a 3-step sequence for:

 

1.  Network Capability

2.  Slide/Film (TK-26)

3.  Live (TK-41)

 

In 1956 RCA would introduce the TP-7A dual drum 35mm slide projector for use with the TK-26 camera.  It could now hold 36 slides.

 

This set of equipments would remain the standard for the industry until mid 1965.  RCA would deliver over 80 TK-41Cs between 1961-1965.  In 1965 RCA introduced 4-tube technology.  The “New Look” TK-42/43 live camera used a monster 4 1/2-inch Image Orthicon tube for luminance and three small R, B, & G vidicons for color information, while the “New Look” TK-27 film camera used a large vidicon for luminance and three small R, B, & G vidicons for color.

 

In 1966-67 competitors to RCA evolved and offered improved performance.  These included the Norelco-Philips PC-60/70, GE PE-250 and Marconi Mark VII cameras.  The King of image pickup tubes – the Image Orthicon - was soon to be deposed by the smaller and more sensitive, but not as sharp, Plumbicon pickup tube.  But the beautiful chromaticity from the TK-41 was not quickly replaced by the soft pastel and mushy color of the Plumbicon; the TK-41’s continued to be the workhorse of many local stations (and the Johnny Carson Stage at NBC Burbank) up to the 1970’s.  RCA introduced its Plumbicon live color camera, the TK-44A, in 1968 with several new features improving picture sharpness and sensitivity. 

 

Jay Ballard reported in Sept. 2005 that, “believe it or not, ABC kept a back up OB unit for "Monday Night Football" with 41s into the late 70s.  When Ballard worked local TV in Boston, ABC came into town with a 41 OB van for an NBA game circa 73-74.  Mile High Stadium in Denver had Burbank 41s permanently installed which were used into the 70s”.

 

Those wanting further information on this first generation of color equipments can wade through the original and hard to find service manuals for the TK-41, TK-26, and their processing amplifiers.  

 

Instead, there is a book that provides a better overview for all the RCA colorcasting hardware equipments.  It is:

 

COLOR TELEVISION, MANUAL For TECHNICAL TRAINING (color television equipment for broadcast stations), Radio Corporation of America, Camden, N.J., 223 pp. + 2 foldouts, 1958.

 

The book also describes procedures for adjusting cameras for optimum performance, the TM-21 Color Monitor, early color videotape, microwave relays, switching systems, color system planning, transmitter operation, and mobile vans.  It occasionally appears on ebay. 

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Acknowledgement

 

This write-up has been in-work since 2002.  Both Lytle Hoover and Ed Ellers provided valuable comments and additions.

 

After being a TV director for 12 years Lytle Hoover joined the RCA Broadcast Equipment Division to become its domestic Marketing Research Administrator from 1968 through 1982.  As a part of the TV industry research he developed a computerized database of complete equipment inventories for all TV facilities in the USA and overseas.  Lytle retired in 2004 at age 72 and has developed a photo history of RCA’s Broadcast Equipment Division in Camden.  It can be seen at the “Old Radio” Internet website URL:  http://www.oldradio.com/archives/hardware/TV/RCA-TV.htm

 

Ed Ellers had an expansive knowledge of television history – all from his home base in Louisville, KY.  Ed shared his knowledge with many via the internet and with me on numerous telephone conversations.  His enthusiasm on the subject of television development was infectious to share.  Ed passed on October 5, 2003, only in his 40’s – to him this “Pioneer” article is dedicated.

 

In Memorium: Ed Ellers

Most of our residents never knew Ed Ellers, but he was one of those folks the people at City Hall relied on whenever something went wrong with anything electronic. Indeed, he was one of those unsung heroes who keeps things going even though he does it in the background.

While not a resident, Ed loved the City and, particularly, the
Reading Center. Just before he passed away after losing a battle with esophageal cancer at the age of 42 late this year, he asked that anyone who wanted to remember him could do so by sending a donation to the Reading Center. His Mom has also donated a large number of his books in his memory.

We paid Ed to fix things. But half the time he forgot to turn in time sheets. In that regard, as well as many others, he was as much a volunteer as an employee. He was a unique character and all of us miss him.

Lonnie Falk,
Mayor, Prospect
Kentucky

 

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Ed Reitan can be reached by email through:

ereitan “at” novia.net

 

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