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Latest New Year's resolution — read more!

Fri, 01/31/1997 - 7:00pm
Walt Ciciora
So am I going to suggest you start reading novels and "great literature?" No, not at all. I'm going to sneak up on that proposal and suggest instead that you read material that deals with the history of our industry and related industries and the biographies of some of its pioneers. CED told me I could write about anything I wished. Here's a test of that premise. I'm going to suggest that you subscribe to another magazine! Not that you stop reading CED, but that you add another to your list. Before you revolt, the new magazine is only quarterly, so it won't increase your reading load that much. However, I must warn you, this is a magazine I read cover-to-cover and can't put down once I get it. The magazine is American Heritage of Invention & Technology. The cover story of the Winter 1997 issue (Volume 12/Number 3) is "The Color War, CBS vs. RCA in the battle for modern television technology." The story, by David E. Fisher and Marshall Jon Fisher, runs 11 pages and is very interesting. The cost of the magazine subscription is only $15, and a special includes the book Great Inventions That Changed the World. The cover story of the book (more like a magazine collection of best stories from past issues) is "Ten Top Patents of All Time." Be sure to ask for the book as part of your subscription. For subscription information on the magazine, call 1-800-627-4022. The magazine article is a condensation of just one chapter of the book: "Tube: The Invention of Television," by David E. Fisher and Marshall Jon Fisher. It's a new book, just published in 1996 by Counterpoint Press (ISBN 1-887178-17-1) and lists for $30. While the book is easy and fun to read, it is a scholarly work. It includes an extensive bibliography, notes and a comprehensive index. A nice feature is a chronology of events in the history of television. The Sloan Series The book is one in the Sloan Technology Series sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. This series will provide more than a year's worth of fascinating reading. Other books in the series include Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, by Richard Rhodes; The Invention That Changed the World: How a Small Group of Radar Pioneers Won the Second World War and Launched a Technological Revolution, by Robert Buderi; Computer: A History of the Information Machine, by Martin Cambell-Kelly and William Aspray; Beyond Engineering: A New Way of Thinking About Technology, by Robert Pool; and Crystal Fire: The Birth of the Information Age, by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddesen. The "Dark Sun" book is a sequel to Richard Rhodes' earlier book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Both books reveal how close we came to disaster and should help us appreciate how fortunate we have been. Dark Sun was published in 1995 and contains a great deal of newly-declassified information, as well as material first available after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The "Radar" book, like the "Television" book, was published in 1996. It's a lot closer to our field of interest and should be on your list to read right after "Tube." Who invented color television? Almost everyone "knows" that Edison invented the electric light bulb; Watt, the steam engine; and Bell, the telephone. But who invented television? You'd think all the SCTE members would know the answer to that one. Maybe the reason they don't is because there is no one inventor of television. As the book describes, there were a lot of experimenters. A lot of failures accrued before there was anything close to success. It will come as a shock to some, but early television and even early color television both had their basis in spinning mechanical disks. Television became practical only after it became "electronic." The story of television is filled with intrigue, dirty tricks and aggressive pursuit of the business prize. Patents, government anti-trust actions, and government standard-setting procedures add to the suspense. Propaganda and personal rivalries make the story almost worthy of spawning a movie. Some major contributors did not benefit financially, while others became rich. Stories about the names "Sarnoff" and "RCA" make up a lot of the book's content. In fact, it is hard to imagine how color television could have happened if it weren't for one man being in control of a major network, programmers, television receiver manufacturing, a major research organization, and the manufacturer of broadcast equipment. With all of this under Sarnoff's control, he had all of the components at his disposal to make color happen. Sarnoff could lose money for years on his dream, confident that it would eventually be a major business. Sarnoff was fortunate not to be in the current financial world, where maximizing profits comes above all else. In today's world, Sarnoff's operations would be split up and sold for what they could bring. Long-losing, long-term development projects would be out of the question. In fact, given the recent history of RCA, that's exactly what happened to Sarnoff's progeny. It makes you wonder if HDTV has a chance without a Sarnoff. Even though "Tube" is a detailed book, there are many things you won't find in it. Don't look for the history of cable TV in "Tube." But surprisingly, the story of television all by itself is detailed and fascinating. Contact Walt Ciciora at: wciciora@aol.com
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