Years of Television in California
Robert L. Pickering
all you want about cautious business. Talk of men whose investment
principles are built on economic research. Talk of the necessity of
confidence for financial expansion. But uncross your fingers when you
television receivers went on general sale in New York, and the
National Broadcasting Company’s transmitter atop the Empire State
Building began its regular weekly broadcasts on May 30. The happenings
of that day dissolved the myth that the sons of Uncle Sam are no
longer gambling, fun-loving pioneers. For nearly 15 million dollars
have gone into ten years of plant investment and snail’s pace
experimentation. And a word from the Federal Communications Commission
or a nose-wrinkling gesture by the public will send 15 millions of
dollars down the drain. No more adventure in American money masters?
Tommyrot. Fiddle-faddle. Look at the record of television.
we’re Californians, let’s look at the closest record: One of the
oldest, most exciting and least publicized television stories—that
of the Don Lee Broadcasting System, with headquarters in Los Angeles.
story began back in 1926, when Mr. Don Lee, who had exclusive
distribution rights in California for Cadillac automobiles, entered
the broadcasting business by purchasing station KFRC in San Francisco.
A year later he purchased KHJ in Los Angeles. With substantial talent
organizations being maintained at both stations, Lee proceeded to
furnish a greater diversity of entertainment by arranging full-time
network-line installations between the two stations to allow
interchange of programs.
McClatchy stations at Fresno, Stockton and Sacramento liked the
arrangement, and acquired full-time line facilities in December of
1928. Less than a year later the transcontinental facilities of the
Columbia Broadcasting System were extended to the Pacific Coast, and
the Don Lee and McClatchy stations were invited to provide
Columbia’s California outlets. Four other stations in Oregon and
Washington were added to the Don Lee network.
the arrangement with Columbia, the Lee system provided all the
telephone lines between California stations and had a partnership
arrangement with Columbia for their use in the Northwest. By 1930,
then, the Don Lee Columbia network was a nine-station Pacific Coast
hookup, releasing Don Lee commercial and sustaining coast network
programs and also releasing Columbia transcontinental commercial and
investment was not large, but the income from broadcasting and
automobiles was good, and Don Lee’s curiosity was strong. He had
investigated television; he realized its ultimate importance; he
desired to earn a first rank position in the Pacific Coast field.
in 1930 he set out to make expenditures for television research work.
By now the Don Lee Broadcasting System can afford, all by itself, the
expenditures that are being made for television.
Lee himself died in 1934, but the product of his handwork is still
growing. It’s now a 31-station network affiliated with Mutual
instead of Columbia. Four of the stations are owned outright by the
system. The president and—by Don Lee’s will—sole stockholder of
the system is Thomas S. Lee, his son. And the most important
by-product is W6XAO, a television transmitting station in Los Angeles.
November, 1930, Don Lee engaged the services of 24-year-old Harry R.
Lubcke, B.S., University of California, an electrical engineer, and
gave him the title of Director of Television of the Don Lee
Broadcasting System. From that time on, the Don Lee outfit’s
remarkable progress in television has been due to a combination of
young Harry Lubcke’s inventive genius, the business acumen and
daring financial spade-work of the Lees, and the careful supervision
of dynamic General Manager Lewis Allen Weiss. Together with
Vice-President Willett H. Brown and Sales Manager Thayer Ridgway, they
form one of the most forward-looking radio and television promotional
teams in the nation.
license for establishment of the W6XAO transmitter was granted in
June, 1931, five months after it had been applied for. Regularly
scheduled telecasting was started by the station more than eight years
earlier than by the NBC New York transmitter.
December 23, 1931, W6XAO went on the air from the eighth-floor
transmitter at Seventh and Bixel streets, Los Angeles, at 44 1/2
megacycles, to broadcast one hour daily except Sundays.
order to provide listeners, or “lookers,” Lubcke prepared and
distributed plans for construction of receiving sets to many amateurs
in the area of Los Angeles. Early in the game, something like a
hundred people built teleceivers from Lubcke’s plans. As compared
with this year’s estimated figures of radio listeners to the
stations of the Don Lee network—8,000,000 in 2,000,000 homes—the
most optimistic guess concerning W6XAO’s customers is something like
1500 in not many hundreds of homes.
sets will not be marketed commercially in Los Angeles for several
months yet, all of these were built by the lookers for themselves or
for interested purchasers, at a cost of about $200 each.
images and good reception are being regularly recorded by Don Lee’s
audience of amateurs in a radius of 30 miles from the station. The
30-mile limitation is not the fault of weak transmission, but merely
due to the ultra-high-frequency television beam’s habit of traveling
straight forward, like a rifle shot ungoverned by gravity—on and on
out into space.
eighth-floor transmitter sends images only as far as a man can see
from an eighth-floor window, and not beyond the earth’s curvature.
also means that the images do not go into North Hollywood’s canyons
nor down to the foot of Santa Monica’s palisades, television beams
do not circle around obstructions as radio beams do.
those Los Angeles “lookers” who are so located as to receive the
W6XAO signals are fortunate enough to have been able to watch the
experimental development of numerous Lubcke inventions which, appearing
so early, have proved to be broad and basic improvements. These
improvements in all phases of television have resulted in many United
States and foreign patents in the names of Lubcke and Don Lee, certain
of which have been sold to RCA, with the license to use them retained.
underlying principles of these inventions were proved thus in May, 1932,
when a cathode-ray type television receiver developed by Lubcke and his
staff was taken aloft in an airplane for the first time in history.
Images sent out from the Don Lee transmitter were seen by press
representatives in planes over Los Angeles.
of the objectives of the flight was to prove that the Lubcke teleceiver
was operable when connected to other than city power lines. Before this
development, a power line common to both sender and receiver had been
used to accomplish television synchronization. Reception in an airplane
was a dramatic, press-inspired manner of verifying the absence of any
power-line synchronizing. One implication was that inter-city
cathode-ray reception of ultra-high frequency waves is practical.
pace-setting development in the Pacific Coast’s march of television
was the lacing in operation of the United States’ largest completely
successful cathode-ray teleceiver tubes—the “screen” on which
images are received is the flat end of the cathode-ray tube. The new
tubes, costing $75 to make, weigh about six pounds each, operate on 6000
volts, and yield clear images 14 inches square.
large success and small publicity is indicative of the importance of the
Lubcke staff’s brilliant but secret experiments. Although Don Lee
television developments employ patented methods and devices for
producing and receiving images, they are exactly according to national
standards agreed upon by all television industry factors.
early Don Lee transmitting practice, satisfactory images were gained by
employing a mosaic-type direct pickup tube in the camera, with images
composed of 300 lines repeated twenty-four times per second. The best
non technical explanation of this complicated combination of facts has
been made in an article in The Family Circle:
nothing more than an optical illusion. At any fraction of an instant,
all there actually is to look at is one tiny pin point of light of
varying intensity. But it travels so fast that you seem to see an entire
picture. For that matter, movies are an optical illusion, too; you see a
number of still pictures in such rapid succession that the characters
appear to be moving.
little pin point of light inside the television tube works just like the
needle on a phonograph record repeater. It travels over the entire
screen, rapidly increasing in intensity to give the effect of light and
shadow, then entirely electrically and automatically pops back to the
beginning and starts all over again. In the transmitting station a
scanning beam of cathode rays is doing exactly the same thing at the
same speed, and between them is the radio link.”
at first, adequate images were received from W6XAO when the pin point
took 300 trips across the screen and popped back to the beginning
twenty-four times every second. Recently the station installed a
441-line, thirty-times-a-second scanner, and now furnishes extremely
well-defined or high-definition images. The first public demonstration
of these images was made at the Don Lee Broadcasting System headquarters
in June of 1936. During that month W6XAO was on the air four hours
daily, and 5,000 persons attended the free demonstration.
date the station has transmitted 11,000,000 feet of motion picture film.
The production and transmission of “live talent” programs started in
April, 1938, after a year of preparation.
present the six-day weekly schedule of W6XAO consists of live talent
four nights and film two nights. films are mainly newsreels and
many observers predict great program developments once television
receivers are extensively placed in homes, Thomas S. Lee has his own
ideas about it. He thinks the type and variety of programs his station
has been putting on are pretty much what will hang on. Besides
outstanding newsreels—among which he numbers the reel concerning the
big Long Beach earthquake, which W6XAO transmitted a couple of days
after the occurrence—television stations have developed mobile camera
units which can follow police calls and sports pages to transmit spot
news as it occurs.
for films, there seems to be some doubt that movie makers will allow
their features, which cost thousands of dollars per running minute to
produce, to be shown gratis at home to otherwise potential paying
patrons. The movie men are in a hotter spot than they were when talkies
first proved popular. Some have protected their investment by further
investing in television companies—not, however, in the Don Lee
enterprise; the Lee investment in time, labor, materials and equipment
runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars, and no outside capital has
been solicited or accepted.
big chance for films in television’s vague but starry future appears
to be sponsored short subjects, such as those now produced by various
manufacturers, the Federal Government and large retail corporations.
Sponsored by private advertisers and incorporating genuine entertainment
factors, they could be made to pay out—in entertainment value for
lookers; in public relations and advertising value for sponsors; and in
toll charges for transmitters, since the problem of television networks
seems financially unsolvable.
is in live-subject transmission that Thomas Lee’s experience and
opinions seem most important. One of the many firsts in the Lee
station’s work was the recent application of television to
criminological work. Flashing over the video-sound lanes from W6XAO in
Los Angeles, prints of a hypothetical criminal’s fingers were viewed
on a teleceiver by police officers many miles away and identification
made almost instantly from suspect files. The fingerprints were also
seen by lookers in all parts of Los Angeles County as part of the
regular W6XAO educational program.
Lee expressed the belief that some day scientists will enable police to
flash fingerprints to the Department of Justice at Washington a few
moments after discovery of a crime; the comparison of information would
require less than five minutes.
has been quick to see the educational and entertainment possibilities of
television. The oldest continuous dramatic television serial is
W6XAO’s Vine Street, broadcast in 15-minute episodes twice a week for
twenty-five weeks now. It’s a part of Tommy Lee’s broad program
designed to make television contribute toward a richer and happier life
at work and play. In a recent interview he explained what the final
result of his educational theories would probably be.
beside the teleceiver in her own living room, the housewife can
duplicate every movement of a famous dressmaker in cutting the pattern
of a fashionable garment. She can learn to prepare a new dinner dish;
she can learn how to select economical cuts of meat; she can learn how
to redecorate her home. junior can learn the fingerings on his
saxophone; the younger children, after supper, can do their school
homework by watching a tutor. Many men will learn how to break a hundred
on the golf course; and there are always subjects of studio
demonstration-interview type such as pipes, horses, shooting, stamp
collecting and bowling.
production technique satisfactorily abreast of the latest international
developments, owner Lee has not rested. His organization has taken three
steps within the past few months to place it in the forefront of the
he has bought a 20-acre site on a mountain top at the eastern boundary
of Griffith Park, widening the transmission field of the Don Lee
equipment to take in new thousands of homes in the Hollywood hills and
the San Fernando Valley. The site is one and a half times higher than
the top floor of the Empire State Building in New York. Mount Lee is
thus the highest television location in the world. The transmitter is
being rebuilt for installation on the mountain.
second step in the Lee expansion program was the filing of an
application with the FCC for a license to telecast in the San Francisco
area. Although no information has been given out as to the site of the
new Don Lee station, it is known that the equipment will be a
one-kilowatt sight-sound transmitter serving San Francisco, Oakland,
Alameda, Berkeley, Richmond, San Leandro, Hayward, Burlingame, Redwood
City, San Mateo, Palo Alto and Marin County. Programs will follow the
Los Angeles pattern and will include talent from the San Francisco-Don
Lee radio staff.
and most promising of all developments for the Don Lee television
interests, was the recent step taken by the government to include the
organization in a national television standardization conference.
General Manager Weiss and Television Director Lubcke left May 8 for
Washington in answer to a telegraphed invitation from FCC Chairman T. A. M. Craven.
While in the East, the two also inspected other television plants in New
York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and Lubcke has devoted some time in
Washington to patent matters.
believe this is the go signal, that the United States is on the
threshold of one of the greatest scientific and social advances since
the advent of the radio and talking film,” Weiss said before he left.
By now, with six weeks of conferring behind them, the two Don Lee
officials are agreed that after nine years of motor-tuning behind them
their organization is ready to beat everybody on the pick-up when the
light does shine green.
THE FRONT COVER SHOWS NORMA YOUNG, HOME ECONOMICS
EXPERT OF MUTUAL DON LEE, INTERVIEWING CHEF OTTO PAUL REISS OF SOUTHERN
PACIFIC -WHILE THOUSANDS OF HOUSEWIVES LOOK, BY TELEVISION
THIS IS BETTY JANE RHODES - WHO HAS BECOME KNOWN AS
THE FIRST LADY OF TELEVISION
TO LOCATE A CRIMINAL BY TELECASTING HIS FINGERPRINTS
TELEVISION HELPS LONG BEACH POLICE OFFICERS OTTO FAULKNER AND L. E.
THIS IS THOMIAS S. LEE, SPORTSMAN, PRESIDENT OF MUTUAL
DON LEE BROADCASTING SYSTEM, WHOSE TELEVISION STATION W6XAO HAS BEEN
SHOOTING PICTURES AND SOUND OVER THE HOLLYWOOD AIR LANES FOR ALMOST
— Magazine of the Pacific
State Chamber of Commerce
June 1939 - W6XAO W6XA0
- a O or a 0?
W6XAO W6XA0 - a O or a 0?
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