Can You Help Solve The Mystery Of This 1930s TV?

84 years ago, a teenager built a TV set in a basement in Hammond, Indiana. The teen was a radio amateur, [John Anderson W9YEI], and since it was the late 1930s the set was a unique build — one of very few in existence built to catch one of the first experimental TV transmitters on air at the time, W9XZV in Chicago. We know about it because of its mention in a 1973 talk radio show, and because that gave a tantalizing description it’s caught the interest of [Bill Meara, N2CQR]. He’s tracking down whatever details he can find through a series of blog posts, and though he’s found a lot of fascinating stuff about early TV sets he’s making a plea for more. Any TV set in the late ’30s was worthy of note, so is there anyone else out there who has a story about this one?

The set itself was described as an aluminium chassis with a tiny 1″ CRT, something which for a 1930s experimenter would have been an expensive and exotic part. He’s found details of a contemporary set published in a magazine, and looking at its circuit diagram we were immediately struck by how relatively simple the circuit of an electrostatically-deflected TV is. Its tuned radio frequency (TRF) radio front end is definitely archaic, but something that probably made some sense in 1939 when there was only a single channel to be received. We hope that [Bill] manages to turn up more information.

We’ve covered some early TV work here not so long ago, but if you fancy a go yourself it’s not yet too late to join the party.

Retrotechtacular: A DIY Television For Very Early Adopters

By our very nature, hackers tend to get on the bandwagon of new technology pretty quickly. When something gee-whiz comes along, it’s folks like us who try it out, even if that means climbing steep learning curves or putting together odd bits of technology rather than waiting for the slicker products that will come out if the new thing takes off. But building your own television receiver in 1933 was probably pushing the envelope for even the earliest of adopters.

“Cathode Ray Television,” reprinted by the Antique Valve Museum in all its Web 1.0 glory, originally appeared in the May 27, 1933 edition of Popular Wireless magazine, and was authored by one K D Rogers of that august publication’s Research Department. They apparently took things quite seriously over there at the time, at least judging by the white lab coats and smoking materials; nothing said serious research in the 1930s quite like a pipe. The flowery language and endless superlatives that abound in the text are a giveaway, too; it’s hard to read without affecting a mental British accent, or at least your best attempt at a Transatlantic accent.

In any event, the article does a good job showing just what was involved in building a “vision radio receiver” and its supporting circuitry back in the day. K D Rogers goes into great detail explaining how an “oscillograph” CRT can be employed to display moving pictures, and how his proposed electronic system is vastly superior to the mechanical scanning systems that were being toyed with at the time. The build itself, vacuum tube-based though it was, went through the same sort of breadboarding process we still use today, progressing to a finished product in a nice wood cabinet, the plans for which are included.

It must have been quite a thrill for electronics experimenters back then to be working on something like television at a time when radio was only just getting to full market penetration. It’s a bit of a puzzle what these tinkerers would have tuned into with their DIY sets, though — the airwaves weren’t exactly overflowing with TV broadcasts in 1933. But still, someone had to go first, and so we tip our hats to the early adopters who figured things out for the rest of us.

Thanks to [BT] for the tip.

 

Retrotechtacular: Measuring TV Audiences With The “Poll-O-Meter”

It may come as a shock to some, but TV used to be a big deal — a very big deal. Sitting down in front of the glowing tube for an evening’s entertainment was pretty much all one had to do after work, and while taking in this content was perhaps not that great for us, it was a goldmine for anyone with the ability to monetize it. And monetize it they did, “they” being the advertisers and marketers who saw the potential of the new medium as it ramped up in early 1950s America.

They faced a bit of a problem, though: proving to their customers exactly how many people they were reaching with their ads. The 1956 film below shows one attempt to answer that question with technology, rather than guesswork. The film features the “Poll-O-Meter System,” a mobile electronic tuning recorder built by the Calbest Electronics Company. Not a lot of technical detail is offered in the film, which appears aimed more at the advertising types, but from a shot of the Poll-O-Meter front panel (at 4:12) and a look at its comically outsized rooftop antenna (12:27), it seems safe to assume that it worked by receiving emissions from the TV set’s local oscillator, which would leak a signal from the TV antenna — perhaps similar to the approach used by the UK’s TV locator vans.

The Poll-O-Meter seems to have supported seven channels; even though there were twelve channels back in the day, licenses were rarely granted for stations on adjacent channels in a given market, so getting a hit on the “2-3” channel would have to be considered in the context of the local market. The Poll-O-Meter had a charming, homebrew look to it, right down to the hand-painted logos and panel lettering. Each channel had an electromechanical totalizing counter, plus a patch panel that looks like it could be used to connect different counters to different channels. There even appears to be a way to subtract counts from a channel, although why that would be necessary is unclear. The whole thing lived in the back of a 1954 VW van, and was driven around neighborhoods turning heads and gathering data about what channels were being watched “without enlisting aid or cooperation of … users.” Or, you know, their consent.

It was a different time, though, which is abundantly clear from watching this film, as well as the bonus ad for Westinghouse TVs at the end. The Poll-O-Meter seems a little silly now, but don’t judge 1956 too hard — after all, our world is regularly prowled by equally intrusive and consent-free Google Street View cars. Still, it’s an interesting glimpse into how one outfit tried to hang a price tag on the eyeballs that were silently taking in the “Vast Wasteland.”

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Pulling Off A CRT Transplant Doesn’t Have To Be Tricky!

Whether it’s an engine swap in an old car or pulling a hard drive out of an old computer, we often find ourselves transplanting bits from one piece of hardware to another. [Emily Velasco] recently attempted this with a pair of CRTs, and came away with great success.

The donor was an old 1980s fishing sounder, which came complete with a rather fetching monochrome amber CRT display. [Emily]’s goal was to transplant this into the body of a early 2000s portable television. The displays were of a similar size and shape, though the Toshiba CRT from the 80s used a lot more glass in its construction.

The tube socket in the TV used to hook up the display matched the old CRT perfectly, so there were no hassles there. A bit of soldering was all that was needed to hook up the yoke, and [Emily] was ready to test. Amazingly, it powered up cleanly, displaying rolling amber static as you’d expect, given that analog television stations have been off the air for some time now.

After some perseverance, a VCR playing Mystic Pizza on VHS was able to deliver a video signal to the TV, proving that everything was working well. The next stage of the project is to get the television electronics to fit inside the 1980s fishing sounder housing, as it’s the more attractive of the two. Things were just built differently back in those days!

We’ve seen some other great vintage display swaps before, too. Video after the break.

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Tiny TV Celebrates The Forgotten Tech Of CRTs

For those of us who grew up before the Internet, the center of pretty much every house was the TV. It was the shrine before which we all worshipped, gathering together at the appointed times to receive the shared wisdom of mass entertainment. In retrospect, it really wasn’t that much. But it’s what we had.

Content aside, one thing all these glowing boxes had in common was that which did the glowing — the cathode ray tube (CRT). Celebrating the marvel of engineering that the CRT represents is the idea behind [Matt Evan]’s tiny desktop TV. The design centers around a 1.5″ CRT that once served as a viewfinder on a 1980s-vintage Sony camcorder. [Matt] salvaged the tube and the two PCB assemblies that drive it, mounting everything in a custom-built acrylic case, the better to show off the bulky but beautiful tube.

The viewfinder originally used a mirror to make the optical path more compact; this forced [Matt] to adapt the circuit to un-reverse the image for direct viewing. Rather than receiving analog signals off the air as we did in the old days — and we liked it that way! — the mini monitor gets its video from a Raspberry Pi, which is set to play clips of TV shows from [Matt]’s youth. Rendered in glorious black and white and nearly needing a magnifying glass to see, it almost recaptures the very earliest days of television broadcasting, when TVs all had screens that looked more like oscilloscope CRTs.

This project is a nice homage to a dying technology, and [Matt] says it has spurred more than one conversation from people you grew up knowing only LCD displays. That’s not to say CRTs are totally dead — if you want to build your own old-school TV, there’s a kit for that.

Taste The Television: TTTV

Associate Professor [Homei Miyashita] from Meiji University’s School of Science and Technology in Tokyo has developed a new technology for reproducing taste on a television or monitor, a system called Taste the TV (TTTV). The team of researchers used taste sensors to sample a variety of foods, and came up with a palette of 10 different aerosol flavors which can be combined in various ratios. The taste is generated in a staging area at the top of the screen onto a thin plastic film, which is then scrolled down into position.

Possible applications shown in the video below the break include cooking programs, restaurant menus, and wine tasting events. We’re not quite sure how popular this would be to consumers. Tele-tasting a cooking show with friends would be inconvenient, if not unsanitary. We’re also not aware that current video interface protocols such as HDMI or ATSC include any provisions for senses other than sight and sound. If you have access to scholarly journals, [Prof Miyashita] research paper on TTTV is available in the 34th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology.

We’ve written about a couple of taste-generating projects before, see here and here.

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Vintage TV play The Brady Bunch on loop using modern electronics

Groovy TV Gets A Very Brady Makeover

Here’s the story of an old Sharp TV, which was donated to [mandy] to be hacked. Just one look and you can see, very clearly, it plays old Brady Bunch tracks.

Upon inspection of the old television, [Aaron] and [mandy] found that the unit first hit the local Montgomery Ward in 1969. And what just momentous event played on televisions across North America in 1969? Well yes, the Apollo moon landing. And David Bowie’s Space Oddity. And Abbey Road. And Woodstock. But no, we’re talking about that other momentous event that would shape young minds for generations to come:

The pilot episode of The Brady Bunch.

Vintage TV play The Brady Bunch on loop using modern electronics
The wood base keeps all the electronics in formation.

Yes, The Brady Bunch, that campy TV show that first aired in 1969 and ended in 1974. It just so happens that [mandy]’s favorite TV show is The Brady Bunch, so when the bright orange Sharp TV came along, she knew what had to be done.

While the style of the television may be timeless, the internals weren’t. They were removed, and a new internal frame was built from a naturally occurring cellulose/lignin composite adorned in Brady Blue. Inspired by in-store advertising displays and billboards that play the same content on a loop, [mandy] and [Aaron] added an Eyoyo 7” monitor and an Aptek video player.

Leaving no question as to what era the TV came from, the revamped piece now plays about 50 of [mandy]’s favorite Brady clips on loop, all modified to be centered properly on the off-center screen. Groovy! To round out the experience and keep things mellow, the knobs were re-attached using Lego pieces, and are reportedly very satisfying to spin.

If you’ve got a thing for vintage hacks, you might like this Pi-powered NuTone home intercom or this vintage camera flash turned clock. And if you have any awesome hacks you think we’d like to see, be sure to send them on over to the Tip Line!