Short Wave and Television Magazine, August 1937

  

"Broadcast from Speeding Iceboat a Thrill"

In radio's early days, magazines such as this February, 1937 issue of Short Wave and Television delighted in portraying radios in motion—used in cars, trains, boats, on horseback, you name it.

The cover painting shows a daring sports announcer broadcasting from a speeding iceboat, of all things. The idea was that his backpack transmitter would send descriptions of the race to a nearby receiver, which would then retransmit the play-by-play by wire or microwave to a central broadcasting station, for the enjoyment of the radio public.

Yes, it's a bit of a stretch, and there's no hint that iceboat racing was ever described in this fashion. However, the cover brings to life the ferment of ideas that typifies magazines of this era.

This is Your Brain on Television

By the late 1930s, interest in television had reached a fever pitch, and the former Short Wave Craft magazine, of which you can view several examples in our Literature section, became Short Wave and Television.

This issue has several television articles, including Lesson 1 of "Television Course" by George Eckhardt, author of the book Electronic Television. His article includes this charming diagram that shows, in simplified form, how an electronic television dissects an image into a series of lines, "as though the picture were cut into strips cemented to a ribbon."

Perhaps some day I'll run across a copy of Eckhardt's book. He did a pretty decent job of explaining technical concepts to a popular audience.

Let's Hear it for Mechanical Television!

Elsewhere in this issue is a guest article by Lee de Forest, a pioneer of commercial radio, although not, in my opinion, the greatest technical mind of his time. Some people believe that de Forest didn't truly understand the operation of the radio tube that made him famous.

De Forest's editorial offers a sharp counterpoint to the lesson about electronic television. In it, he stoutly declares that "cathodic" television is a complete failure. In his words, "It is increasingly apparent that fifteen million odd dollars, spent in cathodic research, have gone wrong!"

"Only a mechanical scanning system," he states, can meet the unavoidable requirements of commercial television broadcasting.

Mechanical TV was superior, in his view, because it would deliver highly detailed images at reasonable cost, unlike the fantastically expensive electronic system.

His final paragraph warns, "It remains then for the sapient directors to recall their engineers from their blind-alley and to set them out upon the logically sensible track. The sooner this is done the earlier we may expect to see Television in the Home."

History soon showed de Forest's prediction to be almost comically wrong. Mechanical scanning television never progressed beyond crude, low-resolution images and it relied on cranky gizmos that were costly and hard to maintain.

Mechanical TV was the true blind alley, in short. Less than 10 years after this article appeared, all-electronic television had become dominant, in the essential form that we use today.

In fairness, perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to scoff at de Forest. With the benefit of 70 years of hindsight, we can clearly see which solution was most practical. At the time he was writing, however, our modern TV system was a functioning reality but not yet a commercial success.

©1995-2017 Philip I. Nelson, all rights reserved