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Published: Tuesday, 5/6/2008

TV's evolution offers hope for technology that's still languishing

Many of us old-timers remember our first glimpses of television in the late 1940s, perhaps at a neighbor's home or in an appliance-store window.

Many Toledoans got a peek at the future of television in 1928, 13 years before the Federal Communications Commission approved commercial TV and 20 years before Toledo got its first TV station.

But for several years before 1928, readers of The Blade had been seeing stories about television experiments. Many, though, probably didn't grasp all the implications.

In January, 1928, General Electric Co. demonstrated the first TV broadcast outside a laboratory, beamed to sets in homes of three GE executives. The following month, Scottish inventor John Logie Baird sent a TV image of a man and a woman 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, from London to the Westchester County, NewYork, home of a short-wave radio operator.

By spring, American Telephone &Telegraph was showing off its own Bell Laboratories television technology in a movie that the former Ohio Bell Telephone Co. provided to organizations and clubs around the state, including some in Toledo. And by the end of 1928, a dozen experimental TV stations operated around the country.

Once they saw the promise of revenue, numerous companies jumped onto the bandwagon.

It was a long time coming, considering that the first of many inventions leading to TV dated to 1884: a spinning disk, with holes that could capture images on photo-sensitive surfaces, designed by Paul Nipkow, a German engineer.

By the late 1920s, inventions were fast and furious, leading to patent fights between such inventors as Philo Farnsworth and Russian-born Vladimir Zworykin.

TV also had attracted the interest of corporate giants like Radio Corporation of America and Westinghouse and also entrepreneurs like Charles Jenkins, who sold kits to hobbyists who wanted to build their own sets.

The technology for black-and-white TV was pretty much complete by 1939, when it was demonstrated at the New York World's Fair, and by 1941 the country had set industry standards for commercial broadcasts. However, World War II caused production to be suspended, and it was 1946 before the industry really took off.

Toledo got its first TV station, WSPD-TV, Channel 13, on July 21, 1948. The station broadcast a test pattern at 6 p.m. that evening, followed by programming at 6:30 that included a children's show, a western movie, cowboy songs, and a speech by Mayor Michael V. DiSalle.

The station was Ohio's third and the nation's 28th, and the Toledo had only about 500 sets.

Before that, early owners of TV sets in the city had to have tall antennas to get a signal from Detroit, or they had to watch TV at dozens of taverns that had invested in sets to offer sports programs from Detroit.

After the introduction of TV on a mass scale, developments were rapid and frequent - including color, communications satellites, cable, videotaping, big screens, VCRs, flat screens, and high-definition TV.

That should give us hope that some technology that now seems to be languishing - solar power, alternative fuels, cancer cures - will take off when investors see the possibilities.

Perhaps it's just the American way: Money moves life-changing technology.



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