HILLIARD, OHIO—For nearly two decades, aficionados of television’s technical history have trekked to this Columbus suburb to exchange information, add to their collections of vintage TV sets, secure obscure parts for receiver restoration projects and to make new friends.
This year’s May 4-6 Early Television Foundation conference drew 125 attendees who traveled from all across the United States to take part in what has become an annual event.
In addition to a large auction of antique television sets and associated vintage equipment, an afternoon of TV history-related presentations, socializing and a wrap-up Saturday night dinner, the conference also features a large flea market where “anything goes” that’s related to television. This year’s offerings included an early Ampex type “A” one-inch videotape recorder, a variety of cathode ray and receiving tubes, test equipment for servicing early receivers, complete and incomplete early TV chasses, and even some now-vintage analog TV broadcast gear including a Tektronix 520 vectorscope that was priced to sell at $20.
ON THE AUCTION BLOCK
The big draw (and money-making event) is the Saturday morning “live auction” (it’s streamed live to allow those who can’t attend in person to see and remotely bid on items). This year’s event lasted some three hours and saw literally hundreds of items put on the block.
Top dollar entries were a 1954 RCA CT-100 color set with good CRT selling for $4,400, a pre-war II (1937) British Baird “mirror lid” receiver that changed hands for $4,000, and a first-gen (early 1954) 15-inch color set from Westinghouse that also commanded $4,000. Color receivers from the 1950s and 60s always command premium prices at ETF auctions. Another RCA CT-100 with a defective CRT sold for $500, and a working Admiral 21-inch set commanded $950. The auction also included some early television camera tubes, including a very rare RCA 1930s/early 40s “orthicon.” The reserve on this item wasn’t reached, however, and it went unsold.
The annual conference also includes presentations on various aspects of television’s history and technology. This year’s presenters included Carl Doyle, senior product development engineer, who described the technical accomplishments of C. Francis Jenkins (early television researcher and founder of today’s SMPTE organization) and brought along one of Jenkins’ early 1930s mechanical television receivers.
Other presentations included a discussion of the accomplishments of the Bendix Corp. in the field of television by George Lemaster; a description of what was possibly RCA’s worst TV receiver, the 10-tube, 8-inch model KCS100 “personal portable” by former RCA employee Ed Milbourn; the “dos and don’ts” of early broadcast image orthicon television camera restoration by Ralph Sargent; and also a non-technical offering by collector Dave Sica, who offered fellow collectors advice on making provisions in their wills to ensure that their collections won’t wind up in a dumpster.
A special workshop session provided hands-on techniques and information for those wanting to restore Philco’s futuristic “Predicta” television receivers.
“All in all, this year’s conference was very successful” said McVoy, characterizing attendance as “pretty close to a record. We had 20 people who had never been to the convention before, and a lot more young people than usual. The auction proceeds totaled $21,500, much more than last year.”
McVoy also commented on the recent acquisition of what he termed the “rarest of the rare” color TVs, a late 1953 Raytheon model. “There are only a couple of others known to exist” said McVoy. “We were very fortunate to obtain this for the collection.” According to a Dec. 21, 1953 Chicago Tribune account, Raytheon had already begun shipping the sets to retailers, only days after the Dec. 19 decision by the FCC to allow the broadcasting of color via the NTSC standard.
McVoy said that he’s planning to add another display of television technology from the 1970s to the present, as younger visitors want to know what happened after the 1960s and why sets they are familiar with aren’t included in displays.
He also noted that the museum will play a part in an upcoming regional ATSC 3.0 conference in late June. “The ATSC conference itself will take place at an area hotel, and we will be hosting an evening reception for the broadcasters,” said McVoy. “They’ll be bussed over for the reception and get to see a lot of TV history leading up to this new broadcasting achievement.”
The Early Television Museum opened in 2001 and features more than 7,000-square feet of display space. It includes a complete RCA late 1940s television transmitter, a late-1940s vintage remote broadcast vehicle with cameras and microwave head, several early broadcast cameras, a large number of fully-restored mechanical, pre-war, and early color receivers, an operational CBS-type field sequential color camera and display, a gallery featuring camera and display tubes, and a laboratory facility established to perpetuate the rebuilding of cathode ray tubes. The first of the annual conferences took place in 2003.
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James E. O’Neal has more than 50 years of experience in the broadcast arena, serving for nearly 37 years as a television broadcast engineer and, following his retirement from that field in 2005, moving into journalism as technology editor for TV Technology for almost the next decade. He continues to provide content for this publication, as well as sister publication Radio World, and others. He authored the chapter on HF shortwave radio for the 11th Edition of the NAB Engineering Handbook, and serves as editor-in-chief of the IEEE’s Broadcast Technology publication, and as associate editor of the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal. He is a SMPTE Life Fellow, and a Life Member of the IEEE and the SBE.
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