Geek Trivia

Kinescoping Was An Early Method Of?

X-raying Patients
Detecting Submarines
Recording Whale Song
Recording Live Television
The Most Abundant Fish On Earth Is The?

Answer: Recording Live Television

It’s curious to think about while reading this trivia question in the 21st century (with ubiquitous on-demand video streaming services and high-tech recording devices like TiVos sitting under our TVs), but once upon a time it was remarkably difficult to record live television.

And, to be clear, we’re not even talking about recording television at home (this technology would take quite a while to work its way into the consumer market and the lives of everyday people) but the studios themselves recording their own broadcasts. You see, prior to the invention of video tape in the 1950s, the logistics of recording a live television broadcast were a nightmare.

When a show was produced live, it was transmitted in real time out to the viewers. There was no mechanism in place to simultaneously broadcast the video stream and record the video stream to some sort of in-line storage mechanism like there would be after the invention of magnetic video tape systems. The way studios dealt with this limitation was with the combination of a live video monitor attached to the video system of the television studio and a film movie camera pointed at the video monitor. (The term kinescope was the name for cathode ray tubes in television receivers which translated electrical signals into a picture on lighted screens and the source for the name of the process/recordings).

Yes, you read that correctly, the only way for television studies in the early-to-mid 20th century to record live television broadcasts was to point a film camera at a little video monitor. Later, if they wanted to rebroadcast the recording of the live TV event they would, you guessed it, load up the film reel in a machine that was essentially the reversed twin of the kinsescope: a broadcast video camera that could read analog film. The process of shipping reels of kinescoped film to stations outside the broadcast range of the original station (e.g. from New York City to Topeka, Kansas) was known as “bicycling” and was the only way for viewers outside of television production areas to see early television content from the major networks.

Because of this curious arrangement, some of the only copies of 1940s and 1950s era broadcasts we have are kinescopes which are not only low quality (as they’re just film recordings of CRT video monitors), but often have artifacts on them like insects crawling across the surface of the monitor during the recording process.

Image courtesy of the Canada Museum of Science & Technology.