Color TV's 60th anniversary

Looking for something else, I discovered that TODAY is the 60th anniversary of the first U.S. color telecast. “On June 25, 1951, with 12 million TV sets in existence, of which only two dozen could receive CBS color, CBS made history by presenting an hour long color TV program hosted by Ed Sullivan and Arthur Godfrey with 16 stars that performed song, dance and comedy routines.”

As this article notes, “Earlier attempts to create marketable color broadcasts had been hampered by the FCC’s insistence that any color signal be readable by existing black and white sets as well. Even though the CBS color transmission system was not compatible with most existing televisions, the FCC approved it as the U.S. standard in 1950…

“Unfortunately, the color television sets that were required to view the programs did not sell very well. In 1953, the FCC reversed their decision to use CBS’s design as the national standard in favor of an RCA design that was compatible with existing TV sets.”

Like most software/hardware problems of today, there weren’t more color TVs sold in part because there weren’t enough color programming, and vice versa. But when NBC took the lead in color broadcasting, due in no small part to its relationship with RCA, which could build color TVs, color became inevitable,
slowly at first.

Jan 1964 – 1,620,000
Jan 1965 – 2,860,000
Jan 1966 – 5,220,000
Jan 1967 – 9,510,000
Jan 1968 -14,130,000 Roughly 25% of US households
Jan 1969 -19,200,000 Roughly 33%
Apr 1969 -20,560,000
Oct 1970 -26,200,000
Jul 1971 -29,700,000 Roughly 48%

The pace quickened when ABC and CBS went to full color for its 1966 fall schedule. I remember well the teases:

ABC in color,
The Avengers,
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,

CBS in color,
CBS logo.

Of course, early on, I saw those “color” logos in black and white.

0 thoughts on “Color TV's 60th anniversary”

  1. The first color set I saw would’ve been around 1966, and I thought it was done with a paper ring with colors on the back of the TV (the set I saw had one, probably a sales thing, I guess). The first program I watched was a kids show on UHF at a time when our TV only got VHF. My family’s first color TV was 1969/70, and there was no going back.

    Thanks for reminding me of all that!


  2. I don’t remember the first color TV show I saw I remember watching the Wizard of Oz in black and white when I was around 7 years old. I also remember watching a black and white show called Dark Shadows!


  3. I recall color television’s slow start in the 1950’s. The 1955 RCA set cost around $1000! But the screen was small and there were very few programs in color. Color broadcasting didn’t really expand “exponentially” until RCA’s patent’s expired in the early 60’s and other manufacturers began building sets. [Motorola had the first rectangular screen in 1964]
    I didn’t see my first color broadcast until 1963. There was a color set in the window of a store and the Flintstones (Friday Night) was on. The color was impressive, but within a couple of years, new rare earth phosphors were developed producing much better color.


  4. About 1961, on a winter Sunday evening, at a family friends’ home, on an RCA table model, “Bonanza”! The most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I was six, and hounded my father for the next 8 years to buy a color set. Finally, 1969, an Admiral console for Christmas, and even the most hardened b&w fan was amazed.


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