New York: RCA Corporation, 1937-1940. Very Good. Item #CAT211
In the late 1930s, television was in its experimental phase and radio dominated the American media landscape. RCA and its NBC network directed experimental broadcasts from their studio in Radio City, broadcasting from a transmitter at the top of the Empire State Building. The first large scale exposure the American public had to the new technology was at the 1939 World’s Fair. NBC and its parent company, RCA, initiated a schedule of programming the same year to coincide with the exhibition. The onset of war, the expense of the new machines, and the limited geographic range of the broadcast limited the amount of television consumers until after the war.
RCA’s involvement in the development of television began in 1929, when the inventor Vladimir Zworykin convinced RCA’s David Sarnoff to produce a commercial version of his prototype system. Sarnoff and RCA would eventually invest millions of dollars in the project. The present collection shows this development at the tail end, when the technology was near completion and RCA had begun to promote the new technology in earnest. The first broadcasts were on W2XBS, which would later become WNBC Channel 4, broadcasting from the Empire State Building transmitter at the top of the building. RCA began selling its TRK-5 and TRK-9 model televisions at the same point, but the onset of the war and FCC involvement prevented the mass rollout the company had imagined.
Of the thirty-six images here, thirty are from the NBC archives, mounted on linen and most with large labels to versos explaining the pictures. Many are credited to NBC staff photographer William Haussler. The NBC photographers tried to capitalize on the look of the modern era with the photos, and the labels direct the conversation as such. One reads: “Modern Art / If this picture appears to be an example of ultra modern photography there is good reason. It has to do with television, most modern of the arts.” The photos show the facilities at Radio City and the Empire State Building. The new technology is on full display, with the Iconoscope Camera shown in one image and various transmitters, microphones and other pieces of equipment shown in others. One image at the Radio City studios shows Lanny Ross, another shows the composer Walter Damrosch seated at a piano. The last few photographs - these without the internal NBC markings - show the first series of broadcasts from afar, some showing the United Airlines-equipped Research ship in its journey over Manhattan, another showing the Billy Soose boxing match of 1941 in Madison Square Garden. Another image printed in the 1950s shows the first ever NBC telecast in 1930, a single close-up of a Felix the Cat doll.
A scarce collection, and significant documentation of the early television age in America. We find no record of these images in the Getty NBC-Universal archive. Photographs generally well preserved in very good condition with some stray marks on versos, overall quite well preserved.