Thursday, September 19, 2002
Look Out, W6XAO, Here Comes Paramount
By ROGER M. GRACE
1931 marked the start of Don Lee’s experimental television station in Los Angeles, W6XAO. The ending date has yet to be set.
Now known as KCBS, it will come to an end when technological advances render television broadcasting an anachronism. We’ve seen telegrams, typewriters and reel-to-reel tape recorders become history, and TV inevitably will meet a similar fate, whether a long time from now or soon.
But this is the tale not of television’s demise, but its spunky, hopeful, early days. W6XAO, Channel 1, was part of the era when television had gone beyond its diaper stage, but not by much.
The Radio Annual for 1938, published by Radio Daily, listed 20 experimental television stations in the United States. Among them was only one station in California—W6XAO.
The book set forth the station’s broadcasting schedule as follows: nightly (except Sundays and holidays), 6:30-7:15 p.m.; Monday, 9-10 a.m.; Wednesday, 11 a.m.-noon; Saturday. 2-3 p.m, and “[o]ther times experimentally, which are announced on regular schedules.”
It provided this information on W6XAO:
“RECEIVERS: Over three thousand diagrams on how to build a cathode-ray television receiver have been sent without charge to persons who have sent a large self-addressed envelope to the [Don Lee] Television Division. Of these, approximately one hundred are estimated to have television receivers in successful operation in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Inglewood, Wilmington, Long Beach and elsewhere. Reports on reception are invited.
“DISTANCE: Mr. Roger Howell, of Long Beach, California, twenty miles airline from W6XAO, has, upon his own initiative, demonstrated his television reception to the officials of his city and to the press, who were favorably impressed.
“PUBLIC DEMONSTRATIONS: Since June 4, 1936, public demonstrations of Don Lee high definition television have either been held daily, or at stated intervals, at distances from 1-10 … miles from W6XAO. Approximately ten thousand persons have witnessed the receptions. Requests are currently being handled by ticket, for which a stamped self-addressed envelope is to be sent to the Television Division.”
On June 29, 1936, amid much hoopla, NBC unveiled high definition television with a 343-line picture broadcast from atop the Empire State Building. W6XAO was already providing transmissions with 441 lines.
W6XAO got its first serious competition when Paramount Pictures’ W6XYZ, Channel 4, went on the air. That station now has the call letters KTLA, and it’s on Channel 5.
Varying dates are given for when the station started its transmissions. Channel 5’s website says: “KTLA’s genesis actually dates back to 1939 when Paramount Pictures started KTLA as experimental station W6XYZ under the guidance of television pioneer Klaus Landsberg.” It’s true that a construction permit was issued in 1939, which is different from a station actually starting operations. Indeed, construction permits were issued around that time to would-be L.A. broadcasters—including LeRoy’s Jewelers, Mays Department Store, and Hughes Tool Co.—but it does not appear any stations were ever operated by them.
Various sources say that Landsberg was working for NBC in 1939, then went to work for Du Mont and, in 1941, was dispatched to Los Angeles to help set up W6XYZ. (Though Channel 5 was never a Du Mont station, Paramount was, at that time, a major shareholder in Du Mont.) Broadcasting Magazine and the Radio and Television Daily set the starting date of W6XYZ as 1942.
If KTLA was inaccurate in reciting its own history, it’s not alone. Recounting the 1931 launch of what is now KCBS, Ralph Story, on a 1984 station retrospective, told viewers: “We were the first and only television station on the west coast for nearly a decade.”
As noted last week, when Don Lee kicked off operations of W6XAO in December, 1931, he was already operating another TV station—one utilizing the “mechanical” broadcasting system—W6XS.
But W6XS wasn’t first, either. W6XC was broadcasting in Los Angeles in 1928, and a General Electric station was operating in Oakland that year.
A 1929 book for short-wave enthusiasts lists television stations then on the air—including W6XAM, at Washington & Oak Sts. in Los Angeles; W6XC at 5155 S. Gramercy Place, Los Angeles (which another source says was among the stations in operation in July, 1928); and W7XAO, Portland, OR. In 1930, W7XAO was still transmitting mightily with its 100 watts of power. And W6XAH in Bakersfield, a mechanical television station operated by Pioneer Mercantile Co., was on the air from 1931-35, beaming a signal northward.
In all probability, there were others.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company
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