W9XAP on the Silver Screen

Curator's note: The Universal Newspaper Newsreel release of 26 February, 1931 included a segment titled "First Vaudeville Show Broadcast in Television Trials". It shows what purports to be a W9XAP/WMAQ broadcast. You can view this segment (video only) now---or you can first read the description below.

About the Newsreel...

When was it filmed? On or about 27 January, 1931 when W9XAP broadcast the first of what it claimed would be a regular Tuesday night vaudeville series featuring artists currently performing at the RKO Palace Theater. The Chicago Daily News announced the program on its radio page on 1/27/31:

"Stage stars appearing in current loop shows offer something new in radio tonight when they open a series of synchronized programs over station WMAQ and television station W9XAP. The program will be a regular Tuesday night feature from 8:15 to 8:30 o'clock hereafter and will present R.K.O stars in Chicago for the week.

"Frank Conville, popular commedy star, and his partner, Sunny Dale, will offer song and dance numbers in this opening show. Helen Yorke and Virginia Johnson, will sing. And there will be other acts."

Is this a film of the actual broadcast? Probably not. The newsreel crew shot the "broadcast" from multiple camera angles. And it included a scene of a family watching the program, presumably at home. It's quite unlikely that these multiple setups could have been accomplished during the fifteen minute period of the January 27th broadcast. The newsreel therefore probably shows a recreation of a broadcast.

What the Newreel Shows...

Left: The segment title. Universal Newsreels by 1931 were released in sound with narration provided by Graham McNamee, a New York NBC staff announcer. The version I've obtained has no audio. This suggests that they might be outtakes or uncomposited elements of the original. The faster-than-normal speed suggests they were shot with a silent camera. I've slowed the motion down somewhat.

Right: A WMAQ announcer, sitting in front of a "microvisor" (camera) installed in the studio wall. Does anybody know who this gentleman might have been?

Left: The performer---a magician pulling things out of a hat. No magician was listed on the bill at the RKO palace the week this newsreel was filmed, further evidence that the segment was staged.

Right: A WMAQ/W9XAP engineer at the controls of one of the microvisors (cameras). Since the innards of the scanning devices were extremely sensitive to motion, they were locked in a fixed position.

Left: The same engineer operating another piece of equipment, possibly the device that switched from one scanner to another. Keeping the various scanners in phase must have been a challenge. Any variation would cause the received image to shift horizontally.

Right: A child adjusts the phasing control of a Western Television "Visionette" receiver. Both the scanner and receiving disks were rotated by synchronous motors. But only by chance would the receiver disk be in phase with the transmitted signal. Much fiddling with the phasing control was probably required. Note that this model "Visionette" included two receivers: one for W9XAP's video; the other for WMAQ's audio.

Left: The received imaged. Actually, it's probably a simulation. The flickering neon lamp of the receiver would not have emitted enough light to be effectively captured on film. Moreover, the newsreel shows neither the scanning lines nor the visual "beat" (caused by the difference between the shutter speed of the camera and the scanning speed of the receiver) that an actual film of a received image should show.

View the W9XAP newsreel

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