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HAVE YOU BEEN watching a lot of electronic images lately? Me too, including television, opera streaming, GMax aeroplane crafting, and occasional Zooming. I guess I count any screen, be it Panasonic Viera or Apple iMac27 and iPad or vintage Sony Vaio.
While giving my eyes a rest, I got to thinking about early television, when those of us of a certain age were fascinated by minuscule images in black and white, combined with snow and periodic test patterns.
“What’s a test pattern, Grandpa?”
This time around, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, tidbits are gleaned from BBC Television: 50 Years, itself something of a vintage book published 35 years ago, plus some Internet sleuthing.
In his foreward, Bill Cotton, BBC TV Managing Director in 1986, wrote, “From the beginning, all those at Alexandra Palace, programme makers, technicians, and administrators, were operating virtually in a vacuum…. The public was familiar with the concept of television from ‘Ally Pally’ largely through the press; but comparatively few people had seen a broadcast.”
An Edwardian High-Tech Dream. BBC Television: 50 Years describes the contribution of Scottish electrical engineer Alan Campbell-Swinton.
Campbell-Swinton conceived of firing electrons at a cathode-ray screen in a sweeping beam, releasing charge and creating varying strength impulses. These impulses could be amplified, fed to a transmitter, and received by another cathode-ray tube, thus recreating the image.
Technology had to catch up with his imagination. In 1931, Vladimir Zworykin, a Russian-born physicist working in America, came up with the idea of a mosaic of separate photo cells arrayed on the cathode-ray screen. He called it an Iconoscope.
Competing Technologies. BBC Television: 50 Years notes, “The official opening of the service was on the afternoon of November 2nd  and took place twice: first by the Baird system and then by the Marconi-E.M.I system.”
E.M.I. had evolved in 1931 from a merger of two British recording firms: the Gramophone Company (also known as H.M.V. for “His Master’s Voice”) and Columbia Gramophone Company. E.M.I.’s success was helped by historical connections between H.M.V. and Radio Corporation of America (R.C.A.), which employed Zworykin.
The Baird system had electromechanical complexities that put it at a disadvantage over the Marconi-E.M.I.; the latter, completely electrical, had adopted the Swinton concept in 1934. The last Baird transmission was on January 30, 1937.
Tomorrow, we’ll see how BBC TV got on, until an abrupt hiatus beginning in September 1939. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020