Watch a Local TV Station Switch From Black & White to Color for First Time (1967)

The his­to­ry of tele­vi­sion is a murky, con­vo­lut­ed affair, filled with patent wars, cor­po­rate back­stab­bing, and sto­ries of thwart­ed genius found in many such tales. The sto­ry of col­or TV can seem no less com­pli­cat­ed, with patents stretch­ing all the way back to 1904 (filed by a Ger­man inven­tor), decades before the mag­ic box appeared in any liv­ing room. The first mechan­i­cal col­or sys­tem was designed by Scot­tish inven­tor John Logie Baird in 1928.

Attempts to broad­cast col­or TV would­n’t be made until the 1950s, with the first com­mer­cial broad­cast made by CBS air­ing in 1951 on five sta­tions. Hard­ly any­one could see it. When NBC broad­cast the Tour­na­ment of Ros­es Parade in 1954, few­er than 8,500 Amer­i­can house­holds owned a col­or TV set. By April 1961, an edi­to­r­i­al in Tele­vi­sion mag­a­zine argued that col­or “is still in the egg, and only skill­ful and expen­sive han­dling will get it out of the egg and on its feet.” Need­less to say, the adop­tion of the new tech­nol­o­gy was exceed­ing­ly slow.

Rat­ings wars and adver­tis­ing wars forced col­or to come of age in the mid-60s, and as a result “col­or TV trans­formed the way Amer­i­cans saw the world, writes his­to­ri­an Susan Mur­ray at Smith­son­ian, as well as the way “the world saw Amer­i­ca.” Col­or tele­vi­sion “was, in fact, often dis­cussed by its pro­po­nents as an ide­al form of Amer­i­can post­war con­sumer vision: a way of see­ing the world (and all of its bright­ly hued goods) in a spec­tac­u­lar form of ‘liv­ing col­or.’” Col­or was explic­it­ly talked up as spec­ta­cle, though sold to con­sumers as a truer rep­re­sen­ta­tion of real­i­ty.

“Net­work exec­u­tives pitched [col­or TV] to adver­tis­ers as a unique medi­um that would inspire atten­tive­ness and emo­tion­al engage­ment,” writes Mur­ray, “mak­ing [view­ers] more like­ly to pur­chase adver­tised prod­ucts, a grow­ing myr­i­ad of con­sumer goods and appli­ances that were now avail­able in a wider set of vibrant col­ors like turquoise and pink flamin­go.” (Thanks, of course, to the advent of space-age poly­mers.) Such his­to­ry pro­vides us with more con­text for the puz­zle­ment of news­man Bob Bruner in 1967 (above), intro­duc­ing view­ers to Iowa’s Chan­nel 2 switch-over to col­or.

“I feel dou­bly hon­ored to have been cho­sen to be the first one involved in our big change,” says Bruner after chat­ting with sta­tion man­ag­er Doug Grant, “because there are so many much more col­or­ful char­ac­ters around here than this report in the news.” That year, there were char­ac­ters like Pink Floyd appear­ing for the first time on Amer­i­can Band­stand (see that footage col­orized here), their psy­che­del­ic vibran­cy mut­ed in mono­chrome.

Bruner had already been upstaged near­ly ten years ear­li­er, when NBC’s WRC-TV in Wash­ing­ton, DC intro­duced its first col­or broad­cast with Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­how­er, who extolls the virtues of the medi­um above, in the old­est sur­viv­ing col­or video­tape record­ing. Even so, only around 25% of Amer­i­can house­holds owned a col­or TV in 1967. It would be anoth­er decade before every Amer­i­can house­hold (or every “con­sumer house­hold”) had one, and not until the mid-80s until the medi­um reached full sat­u­ra­tion around the globe.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent:

When Rod Ser­ling Turned TV Pitch­man: See His Post-Twi­light Zone Ads for Ford, Maz­da, Gulf Oil & Smokey Bear

Pink Floyd’s Debut on Amer­i­can TV, Restored in Col­or (1967)

Elvis’ Three Appear­ances on The Ed Sul­li­van Show: Watch His­to­ry in the Mak­ing and from the Waist Up (1956)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.