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An old memory of color TV?
April 20, 2012 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Color on a black and white TV? What?! (1950s filter).

My dad was born in 1952. Recently, we went out to lunch. The conversation covered a variety of topics. At one point, he recalled a tale from his youth...

Essentially, this:

He grew up outside of Detroit, and he positively recalls that his family owned a black and white television set. He says that periodically the television network or local broadcast partners would attempt to deploy new technologies that might transmit a color signal to a black and white set, and that these attempts would be prefaced with an on air announcement. Essentially, "We will be trying to send color to your black and white TV sets. If anyone sees color, please call us and let us know."

I find many aspects of this story super strange, and also potentially fascinating. However, parts of it also don't add up. Like... what!?

Does this ring a bell to anyone? Perhaps there's a kernel of truth buried inside a story that has otherwise "grown" a little bit over time?
posted by kbanas to Technology (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sounds gimmicky to me but I do recall reading about these.
posted by tilde at 1:24 PM on April 20, 2012


April fools gag from way back?
posted by mazola at 1:27 PM on April 20, 2012


It happened in Sweden.
posted by mazola at 1:28 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


While it was likely an April Fool's joke, but there were some cases where people tried to get color from Black and White displays using the Benham's Top illusion. Benham's top is a method of making subjective colors from black and white flickers. I read a way of doing this for computers in an old Byte magazine as well.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:29 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sounds gimmicky to me but I do recall reading about these.

There's an episode of Happy Days where the Cunnigham family tries to use one of those lenses. It doesn't work very well, if memory serves.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:30 PM on April 20, 2012


Very interesting answers, folks, thanks!

An April fools gag sounds promising. He obviously doesn't remember it that way, but then again, he was also like ten, so, you know.
posted by kbanas at 1:33 PM on April 20, 2012


Also: Col R Tel Color Television Converter. Sample.

I had no idea.
posted by mazola at 1:40 PM on April 20, 2012


I have a similar memory to your father although it is pretty hazy as it would have been from when I was just 6 or 7 or something so no details, just something about the announcer saying we would be able to see color on our black and white screen.
posted by caddis at 1:42 PM on April 20, 2012


Also: Col R Tel Color Television Converter. Sample.

I had no idea.


Oh my God! I don't think this was it - as he was fairly clear that it was something that required no additional hardware, it was just that they were "sending out" a new kind of signal, but, still, that's crazy.
posted by kbanas at 1:46 PM on April 20, 2012


he was fairly clear that it was something that required no additional hardware, it was just that they were "sending out" a new kind of signal

Not necessarily. It could have been true (unless it was CBS), sending in color even if no one could receive in color (therefore a joke on them).

Promoting that shows were in color (I recall some opening placards with IN COLOR and PRESENTED IN COLOR as promo) to promote the network or make you pay more attention to the sponsor. Competition = fierce. :)

Then again, when the 24-hour news cycle was budding, I'd be up all night watching ABC Overnight News and remember one correspondent out for a while; his co-anchors would state he was "away on assignment" in such a way as to indicate he was probably on some hippy dippy sabbatical, sticking them with all the work. Another time, they did a setup where an anchor, post story, was beamed ala-Star Trek out of the studio.
posted by tilde at 2:09 PM on April 20, 2012


This article might be helpful:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_television#FCC_color

At some point in all this testing (remember, the system they finally went with was compatible with b&w sets, meaning you could at least see a b&W picture on that type of set when a color broadcast was shown, which was a massive feat of backwards compatibility for its day), might they not have been announcing they were running some test broadcasts in color, even in a time when no one had a color set, and he misunderstood?

If you look around in that article, there were also SEVERAL tests of failed systems that involved spinning mechanical filters, etc. CBS had a failed proposal for a system that was technically ahead of the RCA system (which eventually improved and won out), and I think there were adapters being sold which were supposed to make a set work with it.

Again, I wonder if he, being very young, didn't quite understand the announcement. It would be typical youthful wishful thinking to hear something about a color broadcast and assume you could see it with the b&w set your parents had.

http://www.earlytelevision.org/color.html -

http://www.criticalpast.com/video/65675075009_color-television-broadcast_Columbia-Broadcasting-Systems_Color-Television-Monitor-Tube
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:30 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


It would be typical youthful wishful thinking to hear something about a color broadcast and assume you could see it with the b&w set your parents had.

Most definitely. I had a black and white TV when I was a kid, and would get so excited when "Batman" was announced to be "In Color!", only to realize that nope, it was still the same old black and white.

I have a feeling that your dad might have been remembering announcements stating that a Compatible Color broadcast was about to begin, and that if any owners of black and white sets noticed any problems with the broadcast (as opposed to "seeing color") they should call to report it.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:44 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Way back in the dark ages (i.e., the '50s) you could make your B&W TV into "color" with a glass plate that attached over the screen: the top third was pale blue, the middle third was clear, and the bottom third was green, which theoretically and magically made your picture have a blue sky and green grass.

Yes, children, we really did this..... what can I say? We also parked the family brontosaurus in the garage.
posted by easily confused at 4:37 PM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Circa 1965 when color tv sets were on the market but my family still had a B&W set, I was convinced that I could see little bits of the color that was being broadcast leaking into our TV. (No doubt that Benhan's top illusion) but i do remember being very excited, hoping that it might even magically expand into a full color picture eventually.
posted by metahawk at 5:34 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a kid in the 60's, I just accepted the information that a show was "Presented in Living Color" on face value. I saw all kinds of things I thought of as colours - it never occurred to me that black, white and grey were the only colours possible. When dad finally brought home a colour tv, my mind was truly blown.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 10:22 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is what I remember - a Sprite commercial that attempted to show a green lime on a black and white television. My hazy memory is that it somehow worked, but I was pretty young....
posted by caddis at 10:45 AM on April 21, 2012


R. L. Gregory talks about this in his book The Intelligent Eye (as I recall; my copy's buried in an ancient stratum of my storage unit, and I can't find a 'look inside' link for it).

It was done on British TV, according to Gregory, and the effect depends on the same thing that makes Benham's top work, namely, the differing time constants of the three types of cones in the human eye (essentially, they gather light for differing intervals before firing), which results in flashing white light of certain frequencies producing very different levels of response in the different cone populations, thereby inducing a predictable sensation of color.

Gregory said it caused a number of British viewers to think they'd gone insane.
posted by jamjam at 1:19 PM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


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