It was billed as “television’s first election night.” Of course, that was propaganda by NBC. It wasn’t true.
There had been election returns broadcast in 1932. However, that was back in the mechanical transmitting/receiving era. And it was on W2XAB, the CBS station. NBC wasn’t about to acknowledge that.
But it unleashed a big to-do about its Election Night coverage in 1940. No less a venue than Studio 8-H was set aside for NBC’s TV and radio broadcasts, with guests invited to have a seat and watch the company’s venerable first-string radio newsmen go at it.
W2XBS didn’t have the field to itself. W2XWV, the DuMont station, still in the testing stage, sent out a signal with the returns that evening. W2XBS had very little programming on the air the rest of the year; most of it was play-by-play sports.
There was no television on the West Coast as Don Lee’s W6XAO was still modifying its signal (and building new studios) to comply with FCC guidelines.
On the colour front in the last two months of the year, CBS declared it could now broadcast on-location in something other than black-and-white. And an industry committee planned to make a progress report to the FCC on January 20th, still nowhere near getting Commission approval for television stations to start running ads.
Here’s what we have been able to glean about TV programming in November and December 1940 from the New York Herald Tribune, the Daily News and PM (the latter for November is not available on-line).
Friday, Nov. 1, 1940
National Broadcasting Company television cameras will swing into action Tuesday  to cover the Presidential election, Niles Trammell, president of the NBC, announced today.
The first election ever covered by television, Tuesday’s experimental program will conclude a political series that began in Philadelphia last June. The series has included the Republican convention, the Democratic convention, the Democratic rally in Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, the Republican rally in the same arena, and now the final returns as the electorate speaks.
Charts, maps and tables are to be used to keep a complete pictorial story of the election on the air up to the climactic moment of triumph for either Franklin D. Roosevelt or Wendell L. Willkie. Several commentators will interpret figures and facts as they are posted before television’s electric eyes, and special press association wires will be installed to bring the latest news direct to the cameras.
The program experiment is to begin early on the evening of November 5 over station W2XBS. It will probably open with the regular radio news commentary of Lowell Thomas at 6.45 p. m. Thereafter, Baukhage, well–known Washington correspondent, will give running interpretations of the Presidential vote. In addition Earl Godwin, H. V. Kaltenborn, Raymond Clapper and John B. Kennedy are expected to make appearances before the cameras.
Alfred H. Morton, NBC vice-president in charge of television, stated that the experiment would be one of a series of equipment tests. In recent weeks the television station has undergone complete overhauling to make it conform to the new experimental frequency assigned by the Federal Communications Commission. The election night program will be broadcast over the new television channel, 50 to 56 megacycles, marked No. 2 or No. 4 on most of the television receivers in the New York City area.
“Television’s first election night service to the viewing audience will be another milestone in radio history,” said Morton. “By using pictorial devices, we will be able to keep an up-to-the-minute picture of the election before the viewer at all times. The service should easily be the most comprehensible on the air.
“Whenever a state goes either to Roosevelt or to Willkie it will be appropriately marked on a large map so that our audience can tell at a glance where the election stands. Tables will carry forward the cumulative story of electoral and popular votes.” (Harrisburg Telegraph)
Saturday, Nov. 2, 1940
8:30-11:00—Republican Rally at Madison Square Garden; Wendell L. Willkie and others.
WOR and WHN carried the New York Giants-Brooklyn Dodgers professional football battle at 2:15. Just by luck we turned on our television set (nothing was scheduled) and found the game on visual station W2XBS. The pictures had cleared up remarkably since Saturday night when the Republican Rally at Madison Square Garden was telecast. At that time we reported it was evident that a great deal of work was still necessary to synchronize the new transmitter with the various receiving sets throughout the city. Saturday the images were blurred but yesterday we did not lose one play. (Daily News, Ben Gross column, Nov. 4)
Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1940
6:45 p.m. and throughout evening intermittently—Election Returns and Commentaries; Lowell Thomas, H. V. Kaltenborn, Baukhage, Others.
Although from every standpoint radio’s coverage of the 1940 election exceeded that of all previous similar occasions, this particular Election Day will probably go down in radio history as the first one which the returns were televised.
In New York video set-owners watched the figures from the various states as they poured from the press association tickers in the studios of W2XBS, NBC’s television transmitter and of W2XWV, video station of the Du Mont Laboratories. Operating with only 50 watts power, pending completion of its 1,000-watt transmitter, the Du Mont station focussed its camera on the translucent screen of a ticker tape projector, enabling tele-viewers to follow the message as the tape flowed across the screen. The Du Mont transmission was visual only, as its sound transmitter is not yet completed.
NBC’s Visual Pickup
NBC’s telecast, combining sight and sound, also featured visual news, with a camera picking up an Associated Press printer as it typed its bulletins. Ray Forrest, NBC television announcer, also read special bulletins during the evening and interviewed a number of the network’s commentators, who left their regular posts long enough to report on trends to the lookers-in. A special television guest was Leo Rosenberg, Lord & Thomas vice-president, who 20 years before had announced the Harding-Cox returns on KDKA, Pittsburgh, in what is described as the first scheduled election broadcast. (Broadcasting, Nov. 15)
[A]t NBC the famous Studio 8-H, from which Arturo Toscanini directs the NBC symphony orchestra, was converted into a huge receiving room for wire and telephone reports of the returns. An audience of about 4,000 gathered in the studio as the guests of Miles Trammell, president of NBC, to hear the broadcasts and to see tabulations of the returns posted on a large score board on the stage.
Studio Guests Stand
The studio has seats for 1,400, but the seats were removed for the special election broadcast and guests stood on the floor, wandering in and out and to other NBC studios. A buffet supper was served from the stage.
The broadcast at NBC marked the twentieth anniversary of election broadcasting. Leo H. Rosenberg, who read returns of the Harding-Cox election from Station KDKA in Pittsburgh in 1920, was in the studio to read the first returns from the election of 1940.
Mr. Rosenberg then opened a new era in election broadcasting by appearing in the television studio of NBC to read the first election returns to go on the air by television. Because of Federal restrictions on television broadcasting, the televised election returns were put on as an experiment. The announcers and teletype reports of returns were broadcast from the television studio. A telecast of the crowds at Times Square had been planned, but the idea was abandoned because of the difficulty of setting up equipment In the crowded square. (from the New York Times, Nov. 6)
Tuesday, Nov. 12, 1940
Direct pickup in color television has been achieved experimentally in the CBS laboratories, Dr. Peter C. Goldmark, CBS chief television engineer, told the joint fall meeting of the Institute of Radio Engineers and Radio Manufacturers Assn. at Rochester, N. Y., Nov. 12. His staff is already constructing equipment with which laboratory demonstrations can be given for the FCC, the National Television Systems Committee and the press, he stated.
Dr. Goldmark further emphasized this development Nov. 13 in Washington when he told a meeting of the local IRE chapter that direct pickup of live performers for full-color transmission was now an established fact.
When the CBS color television was first shown to the press last September, with colored moving pictures as the subject matter transmitted, Dr. Goldmark stated that the color television experiments were then in the fourth year of five stages, with direct pickups of actual people and objects in color the final and only stage yet to be achieved. The stages were outlined as: Application of optical and electrical formulae to the practical problem of creating a picture in full color; addition of motion to color; adapting a standard receiver to receive color, and actually testing the system on the air.
In announcing that his theories of direct color had been verified, Dr. Goldmark said that with the equipment used in his experiments the color pickups had required no more intense lighting than for ordinary black-and-white television. He added that while with the same kind of equipment, color pickups may call for more light than black-and-white, the increase will not be great enough to present any problem.
Stating that direct pickup of full color television has “definitely graduated from the drawing board and formula stage and appears to require only straightforward engineering effort,” Dr. Goldmark added that while his laboratory results “are most encouraging,” he wants it fully understood that “we are still in the laboratory”. (Broadcasting, Nov. 15)
Saturday, Nov. 16, 1940
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16—Expenditure of more than $3,000,000 on research and experimentation with television is proposed by ten television projects which received the approval of the Federal Communications Commission yesterday .
This brings the total budgeted for that purpose by the two-score individuals and firms which have been authorized to date by the commission to engage in experimental operation to $8,000,000.
Among those for whom experimental operation has just been permitted is the Hughes Production Division of the Hughes Tool Company, which has $2,000,000 available for stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco and will experiment in program production in cooperation with Hughes Productions of Hollywood.
Columbia Broadcasting System has obtained permission to operate on Channel No. 8 to test public response and do other research in Los Angeles in conjunction with its New York station.
Earle C. Anthony, Inc., will operate on Channel No. 6 to study the relative merits of horizontal and vertical polarization in the Los Angeles area, with particular study of the effect of ignition and diathermy interference, and transmission over salt water to Catalina Island.
Leroy’s Jewelers will operate on Channel No. 10 “to further improve the quality of pictures transmitted by television from the standpoint of reception quality and to determine the system of television transmission which will produce the best results for widespread use from a visual and optical standpoint.”
May Department Stores Company will operate on Channel No. 12 for general research and experimentation in the Los Angeles area.
Television Productions, Inc., a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures, will operate a television relay station on Channels No. 13 and 14, to supplement Television Station W6XYZ, also in Los Angeles, for which the applicant has a construction permit. The latter, using Channel No. 4, proposes experimentation with the “DuMont standards.”
In addition, the commission granted stations to New York, Chicago and Manhattan, Kan., as follows:
Metropolitan Television, Inc., New York, to operate on Channel No. 8 (162,000-168,000 kilocycles), 1 kilowatt aural and visual power to develop program techniques for determining public taste, including the use of two television theatres where programs will be projected daily for free public viewing. This applicant is associated with two department stores, Bloomingdale Brothers and Abraham & Straus.
Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., Chicago, to operate on Channel No. 4 to participate in CBS television research by developing data on Chicago conditions which might assist in the ultimate determination of polarization and synchronization for a national television.
Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science, Manhattan, Kan., will use Channel No. 1 to determine propagation characteristics, study horizontal and vertical polarization and experiment with various synchronizing systems using various numbers of lines and frames. (New York Times)
Sunday, Nov. 17, 1940
1:45-5:00—Brooklyn-Cleveland Pro Football Game.
Tuesday, Nov. 19, 1940
8:45-11:00—Rangers-Americans Hockey Game at Madison Square Garden.
Thursday, Nov. 21, 1940
SCHENECTADY, N. Y., Nov. 21 (UP)—Television in color, similar to natural color motion pictures, was said to be a step nearer today after a demonstration by Dr. E. F. W. Alexanderson, General Electric consulting engineer and inventor.
Dr. Alexanderson said that a simple addition of synchronized color wheels at the transmitting studio and on a standard home receiver resulted in “realistic colors” in the radio broadcast image.
The inventor demonstrated his two-color system in a special broadcast from the G-E television transmitter to a standard receiver in his home, to members of the National Television Systems Committee and George Henry Paine, a member of the Federal Communications Commission.
A two-color, 24-inch revolving disc was mounted about a foot in front of the picture end of the cathode ray tube on Dr. Alexanderson’s receiver. Its orange-red and greenish-blue transparent field, whirled about at 1,800 revolutions a minute.
Dr. Alexanderson said that a similar disc was mounted before the iconoscope pickup tube of the television transmitter. Other than the two discs, everything was the same as with black and white television at both studio and receiver, he said.
Friday, Nov. 22, 1940
8:30—“Land of Evangeline,” film.
8:40—“A Bride For Henry,” 1937 Monogram film with Warren Hull and Anne Nagel.
Sunday, Nov. 24, 1940
1:45-5:00—Brooklyn-Chicago Pro Football Game.
Friday, Nov. 29, 1940
New York—NBC will conduct the first important theatrical tests of television at the New Yorker theatre within the next four weeks. Complete theatre television equipment has already been installed. (Hollywood Reporter)
Saturday, Nov. 30, 1940
Following the shutdown of the NBC television transmitter on Tuesday , no more test patterns and experimental programs will be telecast until Dec. 11. [sic] (Daily News, Ben Gross column)
PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 30. — Having completed the televising of the University of Pennsylvania football games, W3XE, Philco Corporation’s experimental television station here, has completed arrangements for a full winter schedule of television shows from the Arena, local sports center. Philco will televise all the ice-hockey games, the Ice Follies of 1941, ice revue scheduled to show at the Arena in January, and a roller-skating derby, an Arena activity set for February.
In addition, Philco is dickering with outside promoters to televise all the boxing and wrestling bouts held at the Arena. Arena shows will supplement the live programs from the studio, averaging three hours daily, with other outside pick-ups planned to round out the schedule. There are only about 300 television receiving sets in the city, and most of them are experimental pieces used by Philco engineers. (Billboard, Dec. 7)
Sunday, Dec. 1, 1940
8:35—Americans-Boston Hockey Game.
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 1940
8:30-9:30—“Two Gun Justice,” film.
Although it is sizing only about six or seven hours a week of actual program television, NBC is currently transmitting nearly 30 hours a week of test patterns and field tests. Non-program telecasts are at the request of television set dealers, who want the test stuff for adjustment of new sets, installations and readjusted sets already in use.
Regular programs are being transmitted on an average of three days a week, with most of the shows confined to outside pickups and films. Most of the pickups are sports events. There has been no transmitting the last couple of weeks, as the engineers were installing a new synchronizing generator and putting the equipment back in shape after a series of test shows and experiments for the National Television Systems Committee.
Shows scheduled for this week and next include wrestling bouts at Jamaica (N.Y.) arena, Friday night (13); the collegiate basketball games in Madison Square Garden. N. Y., Saturday night; amateur boxing in the Garden next Monday night l6); Rangers-Boston Bruins pro hockey game in the Garden Dec. 19, and the college basketball games in the Garden Dec. 21. Start televising track meets in January. Two cameras are used for all shows. (Variety, Dec. 11)
Thursday, Dec. 12, 1940
DuMont Test Broadcast.
Refinements in the Du Mont delay-screen television tube, which retains the image and makes feasible halving the number of frames per second from 30 to 15, thereby permitting 625-line screen scanning instead of the 441-line RMA standard, have resulted in the production of a white tube in place of the former orange one, the Allen B. Du Mont Laboratories reports. The new tube, said to minimize flicker, has recently been demonstrated to engineers studying various systems of television transmission and reception for recommendations to the FCC.
Construction and installation of transmitting apparatus for the DuMont television station atop 515 Madison Ave., New York, is reported to be progressing satisfactorily, with its completion expected shortly after Jan. 1. The 50-watt experimental transmitter made a program test Dec. 8 when it telecast an animated chart of the pro football game between the Washington Redskins and the Chicago Bears. A miniature football moved across a scale football field in accordance with the plays of the game, the board also indicating the type of play, downs, players involved and score. (Broadcasting, Dec. 15)
Friday, Dec. 13, 1940
8:30—Professional Wrestling from Jamaica Arena.
Saturday, Dec. 14, 1940
8:15-11:00—College Basketball: City College-Oklahoma A&M; Long Island U.-Oregon.
Monday, Dec. 16, 1940
8:30-11:00—Diamond Belt Amateur Boxing Bouts.
The cream of the amateur crop—forty-eight Diamond Belt boxers—will fight in the finals at Madison Square Garden tonight, before a crowd expected to exceed 15,000. The net proceeds will go to Mrs. William Randolph Hearst’s Free Milk Fund for Babies.
There will be twenty-four bouts, starting at 7:30 p. m. Tickets range from 55 cents to $3.30. Eight bouts in the junior, novice and open classes will be held.
Open class conquerors will merit a trip to Boston for the all-Eastern finals on Dec. 23 to battle for places in the national Diamond Belt finals at Boston in January.
Among the chief bouts are the heavyweight novice struggle between 233—pound Tony Missero and 229-pound Jim Reeder; the Bronx rivalry between Nat Peragine, of the Teasdale A. C., and Jerry Conway, of the C. Y. O., in the 175-pound open; the light heavyweight contest between Joe Lamotta, of Teasdale, and Jimmy Miller, of Abyssinia, and the 118-pound open struggle between Peter Beaton, of Tuckahoe, and Harold Gibson.
A three-ply sweep will be attempted by Ed Heinzinger, of Tuckahoe, in the heavyweight open. Two years ago he won the light heavyweight junior. Last year he took the heavyweight novice. He will box Earl Lowman. (Herald Tribune)
Thursday, Dec. 19, 1940
8:10—Rangers-Americans Hockey Game.
Saturday, Dec. 21, 1940
8:15—Basketball Games, NYU-Syracuse; St. John’s-Oklahoma.
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 21.—Thomas S. Lee, president of the Don Lee network, expects his television station, W6XAO, to return to the air late this winter or early spring with a television production schedule, most of which would be live talent.
Lee pointed out that W6XAO, up to the time it shut down, maintained a schedule of 14 1/2 hours weekly, of which about 11 hours were produced by live talent. “This,” states Lee, “gives you some idea of our interest in flesh.”
Lee, pointing out that seven other television applicants had been granted licenses, predicted there would be considerable activity in Southern California the next year or two.
W6XAO went on the air December 23, 1931, and in nine years televised some 6,000 programs, using live talent on 75 cent of the air time. Production stopped owing to reconstruction of transmitter on top of Mt. Lee. overlooking Hollywood. (Billboard, Dec. 28)
Friday, Dec. 27, 1940
8:15—Professional Wrestling from Jamaica Arena.
SHELL UNION OIL Corp., New York, experimented with television advertising Dec. 27, when, in cooperation with General Electric Co., operator of television station W2XH [W2XB], Schenectady, it staged a telecast featuring Ted Steele and his orchestra. Feature was purely experimental and no payment for time was made. (Broadcasting, Jan. 1)
Saturday, Dec. 28, 1940
8:15—Basketball Games, Fordham-Kansas; NYU-Minnesota.
Sunday, Dec. 29, 1940
8:40—Rangers-Toronto Hockey Game at Madison Square Garden.
And now the big day approaches wherein much—yea, very much—will depend on the alertness of the needle-and-thread men and the emergency carpenters....
What will happen as Philadelphia’s big annual show [Mummers Parade] is staged Wednesday morning will be the result of a year of labor of 18,000 who will march, and possibly as many more assistants...
Arrangements have also been made to televise the parade at the north side of City Hall. Station W3XE will begin its television—the first ever attempted at a New Year’s parade—at about 9:45 A M. before the parade reaches the judges’ stand. The same station will broad cast a description of the parade from a sound-proof booth.
The television, it was announced, will be receivable within a radius of 500 miles. (Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 29)
Monday, Dec. 30, 1940
If Lowell Thomas’ face is red for his television broadcasts, blame it on his last-minute workouts. . . . Only a short time ago the noted commentator had the New York Central change its schedule to conform with his unavoidably late departure from the studios. . . . The other day he realized that he had to run almost every day to catch a train on the way to New York. . . . So now he’s attempting to have the railroad change the schedule once more so he won’t have to race for the New York City train, either. (Bergen Evening Record, Justin Gilbert column)