Battle for Color TV I

Program Information

Series: A Moment in Time
Duration: 00:03:39
Year Produced: 2009

If Peter Goldmark had had his way, television would never have been broadcast in black and white.

A Moment in Time is a brief, exciting and compelling journey into the past. Created to excite and enlighten the public about the past, its relevance to the present and its impact on the future, A Moment In Time is a captivating historical narrative that is currently broadcast worldwide.

For more information visit:


Lead: If Peter Goldmark had had his way, television would never have been broadcast in black and white.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: By the late 1920s most of the technical problems of TV broadcasting were solved. A way had been found to convert light into electricity. The transmission of this electrical signal would be done just like radio, but the major obstacle proved to be the way in which the signal would be picked up or scanned.

Television is in many ways similar to a motion picture. Characters in a movie don't move. Motion picture film is simply a series of still photographs put end to end and run so fast across the screen that the mind of the viewer gets the impression of movement. Television operates in basically the same way. Hundreds of frozen images per second are picked up or scanned by the camera, converted to electricity, and then sent on to the TV set which sits in the next room, or fifty miles away, and it reconverts the signal.

There are basically two ways of scanning: mechanically, shining light through a spinning disk with tiny holes or spirals that would let the light through to be converted, or using an electron gun that fires a signal across the photosensitive background which then converts the signal. The spinning disk was simpler to use. The electron gun was more complicated but produced a clearer picture.

From the 1930s to the early 1950s advocates of these two ways of scanning were engaged in one of history's great technological debates. Whoever prevailed would make millions. On one side was NBC, its parent company the Radio Corporation of America, and hard-driving Chairman David Sarnoff. NBC backed the electronic system. On the other side was CBS, which under Chairman William Paley advocated the spinning disk.

RCA and Sarnoff were the pioneers. By 1940, using electronic scanning, it had launched commercial black-and-white TV but, as early as 1936, CBS's chief engineer Peter Goldmark had convinced Paley that the network should skip black and white and go directly to color using a spinning disk.

Next time: Color wars.

At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.

Virginia Standards

12th Grade SOLs » Science » PH.10