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The TK40 - 41 Series Color Cameras


The RCA TK40 was the first commercially available color television camera. Broadcasting color images for the first time in 1953, it was followed by the TK40A which became the first color camera to go into mass production beginning in 1954. In '55 RCA phased out the TK40 and went to the TK41. The TK41 was followed by the A, B and C models, and were manufactured until 1964, however in 1966, 24 more were made on special order when ABC bought 12 cameras for their remote trucks and 12 more were sold to stations. The TK41C that I have was from this last batch made and was bought by KTLA in 1966.

Before we move forward with the TK40-41 story, let's take a quick look at their experimental predecessors. As early as 1940, RCA and CBS were both working on color, but both companies were relying on mechanical means till after the end of World War II. By July of 47, RCA had moved on to all electronic means while CBS embraced the field sequential concept that still required mechanical systems. As seen below, this camera is the first RCA color camera configuration and I think was in use from about 1947 till around 1950. The 'coffin cameras' came next and were used till around the fall of 53 when the first few TK40s arrived for testing.

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Above is a photo that shows the first fully electronic RCA color camera in NBC's Studio 3H in 1949 and below is a shot of the monitor image from this experimental session. Below the monitor image we see two of these color cameras at the WNBW's Wardman Park color studio in Washington D.C. where the demonstrations of the CBS and RCA systems would be held for the FCC a few years later. There were only three of these cameras with one in NY and two in DC.

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Below are the famous 'coffin cameras' and were in experimental use NBC's Studio 3H at 30 Rockefeller and the Wardman Park studio in D.C. from around 1951 till the fall of 1953 when the TK40s arrived. Below left, Nanette Fabre sings for the cameras and engineers in New York and Princeton NJ (via closed circuit feeds), as she did for almost two years. She quit because she could no longer stand the monotony of doing the same show over and over for the daily closed circuit camera tests. To the right, one of the red haired models used for the continuing color tests. It is not known how many 'coffin cameras' were built, but there had to be at least 3...2 for NY and 1 for DC, but there most likely were 4 and possibly 6 as there was a color mobile unit you'll read about below.

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The final step before moving to the now famous TK40-41 profile would be to paint the cameras silver to reflect the sun and studio lights that made the umber grey coffin cameras even hotter. That all starts with the picture on the left. After the mobile unit did their first remote with the coffin cameras on a sunny summer day at Palisades Park NJ in 1953, they spray painted them silver to reflect the heat as the cameras were so hot, they nearly overheated. RCA got the message and when the TK40s arrived a few months later, they were silver. Thanks to Ed Reitan for his great timelines on these early color cameras, for more, click here.


The TK40-41 series was a huge triumph for RCA and was designed to showcase RCA's all electronic color television system, which was adopted as the standard for US broadcasters. These cameras used an image splitter, which directed the incoming light into three image orthicon tubes, recording moving images in their red, green and blue component colors. These early color cameras required tremendous amounts of light to operate correctly, making television studios of the day hot and uncomfortable. They were among the heaviest ever manufactured, with the camera heads alone weighing close to 300 hundred pounds and the removable viewfinder weighs another 75 pounds.

The TK40 was used for the first colorcasts, which included the opera Carmen on October 31, 1953, but that broadcast was closed-circuit for test purposes. The first commercial color broadcast was the Colgate Comedy Hour on November 22, 1953, however, prior to both, in August of ''53 , the first publicly announced experimental broadcast in compatible color TV of a network program was NBC's "St. George the Dragon” with Kukla, Fran and Ollie. All of these came from the Colonial Theatre. Many historical shots of these and other early color productions at the Colonial are just below.

The TK41s were in use by affiliates and networks well into the 1970s. Although the TK44 was introduced in 1968, NBC kept their NY, LA and O&O station TK41s in service for years, and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson used the 41s until about 1970. ABC had backup sports trucks with 41s till as late at 1978 or so.

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RCA produced the TK40-41 series from 1954 till 1964. In '66, one more special run of 24 was done and brought the total made to 239.

Truth be told, these cameras made some of the best color pictures ever seen. One of the big secrets of the 41's success though was the late Fred Himelfarb. Fred was an engineer that came from RCA to NBC with the first TK40s and was the direct link between NBC and RCA. He was the genius that made dozens of modifications and changes that made these cameras so great. Many thanks to his onetime associate, Jay Ballard for telling me about Fred.

One of the best stories I know about these cameras was told to me by Fred himself in one of only three phone conversations I was able to have with him before he passed suddenly in August of 2009. Due to NBC's lack of interest in the TK42s and 43s (which is another Fred story discussed in the RCA Archives section of this site), and with the long lag in the TK44's development, NBC was actually considering buying 35 Norelcos for their remote trucks. Fred had already begun to modify the specifications of Norelco's camera to suit his high standards in the image it made. Fred even wanted a smaller plumbicon tube size, and got it. Phillips built 6 of them to his specs.

When these 6 Norelcos arrived, it so happened that NBC was about to televise the World Series, so…Fred deployed them all to the stadium and invited the Phillips brass to watch from a special hospitality truck that showed only the broadcast feed. After the game, they all commented on how great it looked on TV, and every single Phillips executive said that they were especially impressed by the shot from the outfield. That's when Fred told them that actually there were 7 cameras there and that the outfield shot came from an RCA TK41C. More improvements were made.

Below are over 50 images of these incredible electronic hulks starting with a few special, never before seen images that were taken at the place where color television broadcasts were born…The Colonial Theatre in New York City. The Colonial was home of the first experimental and broadcast programs for RCA and NBC.


Above and below are two very rare images of the first color cast of Meet The Press. The date is February 14, 1954 and the guest is Senator John F. Kennedy, but this is not from Washington. The location is the Colonial Theatre in New York…home of the first TK40 color cameras. Notice that there are no side vents on the viewfinder. This lack of ventilation made for some very hot cameras, but at least they have been painted silver and are not the original umber grey.
Photos courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

This photo was taken the same day. In the center are Kennedy and Lawrence Spivak, but note that behind them and a TK40, you can see the front fascia of a theatre balcony. This helps verify the location of this broadcast as the Colonial as no one at NBC knew this. I had to piece this story together myself with the help of someone who actually ran one of these cameras…Frank Merklein. More on Frank below and in the Gallery
Photos courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

Above is another image from the first Meet The Press color cast from the Colonial. Below is the same Colonial Theatre camera taken on a different day. The cameraman in the photo below adjusting the dolly mounted TK40 is thought to be Ben Franklin, one of Frank Merklein's fellow cameramen there at the Colonial.
Above photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared. Below photo courtesy Life Magazine.

On August 30, 1953, six months before Meet The Press, and even before the October 31, 1953 broadcast of "Carmine” and the November 22, 1953 broadcast of the "Colgate Comedy Hour”, NBC brought Kukla, Fran and Ollie from their studios in Chicago to the Colonial Theatre for the taping of ''St. George and the Dragon'. It was another first in color broadcasts as this was the first publicly announced experimental broadcast in compatible color TV of a network program. Above hostess Fran Allison with the same dolly mounted TK40 as seen above.
Above photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

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Above and below are yet two more rare photos. These are the first RCA TK 40s at NBC and are working in Studio 3K on the Howdy Doody Show. Notice there is no vent on the small upper door over the high voltage area like the later TK 40A and TK 41s had there. 3H had been the home of early color testing and was remodeled for all color when the TK40s arrived and was renamed 3K. My 87 year old friend, Frank Merklein may have been behind the camera pictured here. Frank worked at the Colonial Theater and on Howdy Doody. In the Gallery, you will find more of Frank's fascinating story, to see it, click here.
Above and below photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

Above is the great Tonight Show host, Jack Parr with a TK41A or B…it's impossible to tell an A from a B from the outside. From its beginning, The Tonight Show was always done live, but in January of '59, they began taping the show and in September of 1960, the show went all color. Below is Jackie Mason on an early Johnny Carson show from the same studio. In the new Gallery section, be sure to see a special Tonight Show album pictorial history that even includes current Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien cameras. Click here to go there.
Above photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

Above photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

Working on this page, I've learned a lot of Meet The Press history, and here is another piece of it. The image above was taken in 1962 at WGAL in Lancaster PA. The show would occasionally originate from various well equipped affiliates and WGAL was all that and more. This is a sneak peak at over 100 photos covering 60 years of their history which is included in a special album in the new Gallery. Click here to see it.
Photo courtesy WGAL TV.

Remember Hullaballoo? Above is a shot from December 13, 1965 with the Man from Uncle, Robert Vaughn as a guest host. Notice there are 3 TK41s in this picture and the lowest one actually has the cradle head mounted to a rolling board for floor level shots. Below, the Beau Brummels from 1965 also.
Above and below photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

Above, Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall star in ''Petrified Forrest' in the May of 1955 production of Producer's Showcase. The camera is mounted on a Houston Fearless type 30B studio crane.
Above photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

I remember watching Omnibus. It was a great show that interestingly appeared on ABC and CBS before finding a home at NBC. Above, Gene Kelly stars in the Omnibus presentation, ''Dancing: A Man's Game' in December of 1958. Alistair Cooke was the host. Cameraman Walter Vitter's TK41 is mounted on a McAllister crab dolly at the Brooklyn studios.
Above photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

Above is a classic in the making…an Andy Williams special that aired in May of 62. If you want to be really surprised at how great the pictures that came from the TK41 are, just check out an Williams special. I always watch for them on PBS around Christmas and they are spectacular. The color is as good as it gets and the audio too! Remember, they did this with booms and big heavy cameras. Our friend Jon Olson, a 30 year Burbank veteran cameraman worked on the Willaims show from start to finish.
Above photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

Here is a TK41C at the grave of our late president John F. Kennedy as Queen Elizabeth visits in May of 65. Jackie is in yellow and Caroline is on the front row with Robert and Eunice Kennedy. In the left foreground is the dolly of the BBC camera. Although it's not shown, I'm guessing it was a Marconi Mark VII.
Above photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

The actors in the scene are John Davidson and Bert Lahr. 
They are taping The Fantastics for The Hallmark Hall Of Fame. Taken in Brooklyn in 1964.

This is Andy Williams in rehearsal for the Andy Williams Show, taken at NBC Burbank

This is from The Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of Eagle In A Cage. The actors pictured are Trevor Howard and Pamela Franklin. Taken in the Brooklyn studios 1965

TK-41s in the studio with Perry Como at the Ziegfeld Theatre in Manhattan. The crew pictured here includes (left to right) on boom, Jerry Caruso, Don Stewart Q cards, Al Camoin on crane camera, Arnie Gold and Carl Marlow Q cards. Stewart and Marlo were NBC pages before joining the crew and worked as a team as Como depended on two sets of Q cards to keep the look informal.
The above and following four images courtesy of the Bobby Ellerbee collection and NBC

Above is 36 year NBC veteran cameraman Jan Kasoff. His TK-41 is mounted on an HF 30B in use at NBC's Brooklyn studios in a photo from around 1968. Jan started full time with NBC in 1967 and until '78 he worked on soap operas, game shows, sports, news and more. Jan did his first Saturday Night Live in '77 to cover for a cameraman who was out. He was asked to do SNL as a regular in '78 and continued there for the next 26 years as a permanent member of the SNL crew until he retired in 2001.

After a 6 month hiatus Jan came back to do the show for another year and a half until he became a Florida snowbird. He did his last Saturday Night Live in March of 2003. After his second retirement, NBC continued to ask Jan back at busy times and he would return when asked, and work the Nightly News and other shows. He did his last assignment for NBC in November of 2008 when the Florida winters became just too good to pass up.

Jan got his start by doing what a lot of us used to do, apprenticing. He was around the Perry Como Show set at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York a lot and made himself useful to the staff and crew. He was raised on the TK41s and was one of NBC’s top color cameramen. That camera brings back a lot of fond memories for Jan, and he would just love to have one in his den, but don't mention this to his wife. If she complains Jan, tell her you want the crane too. That should do the trick.

This a bank of 4 RCA TK41 color cameras taken at NBC Brooklyn, circa 1964. I think this on the set of The Mitch Miller Show. They used this big cyclorama backdrop behind their large chorus quite often.
The five black and white images just above are courtesy of the Bobby Ellerbee collection and NBC. Color image courtesy Jan Kasoff.

From NBC's 1956 Color Spectacular, Jack and the Beanstalk with Joel Grey 
Photo courtesy Life Magazine

1959 NBC presentation of Our Town, possibly at the Brooklyn 2 studios. Above is a TK41 mounted on a Houston Fearless type 30B studio crane.
Above photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

Above and below, you see either a TK41A or B in use at NBC Burbank during the 1962 taping of a Bob Newhart special. The viewfinder hood is interesting as I have only seen it in Burbank photos. These guys were great at making mods to cameras as you'll see in the Conrac TK41 mod further down.
Above and below photos courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

Dick Martin (L) and Dan Rowan of Laugh In with an RCA TK41 in the background at NBC Burbank.
Photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

Above and below are the only photo images we know of from Laugh In that give us a look at the Burbank TK41s in action during this great show's run. These two images are a tad fuzzy because they are frame grabs from video of Episode 3 that aired on February 3rd, 1968. Many thanks to Bill Struth.

RCA TK 41 in December of 1966 taping Christmas at Rockefeller Center.
Photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

Rehearsing the Perry Como Christmas Show at NBC's Ziegfeld Theatre studio.
Photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

Looks a lot like my Rosie at work. TK41 at the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena
Photo courtesy NBCU Photobank.com. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

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Great shot of Television City's main color studio in 1955 showing two of the 3 TK41s at work on the Bob Crosby Show. Thanks to Jim Hergenrather at CBS's TVC for sharing this photo with us.

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Bing Crosby's brother Bob in rehearsals at Television City in 1956. Notice the CBS logo and the lack of any RCA markings…CBS hated RCA because the FCC picked RCA's color system over CBS's. 
Photo courtesyLife Magazine

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TK41 at work at CBS Television City in Hollywood in 1956. In this and the 3 photos below, note the beautifully elegant Houston Fearless crane that allowed such great shots and fluid motion long before today's Jibs came into vogue, even at the local station level. Below is the same camera in 1957 during the rehearsal of Cinderella.
Photo courtesy Life Magazine

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Notice on the photo above and on the 2 below that show singer Johnny Ray going over his lines at Television city in 1958, there were no RCA markings, or even the Color Television badge on these cameras. After RCA won the color system war, there were hard feelings between CBS, NBC and RCA.
Photo courtesy Life Magazine

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(Above) In this September 11, 1955 photo of Judy Garland at CBS in New York, notice the metal addition to the front of this TK41. In those days, teleprompters were big heavy electro-mechanical devices that featured copy printed on paper rolls and a lot could go wrong. My friend and renowned television historian Paul Beck and I speculate that this ingenious modification that probably allowed for quick removal and replacement of the 20 pound prompters to fit down over the metal plate's crown into a slot on their back. This still allowed the cameraman to rack the lenses and since the bottom lens on the 40 and 41 was the ''taking' lens, it was out of the shot even though the prompter would stick out at least 4 or 5 inches from the plate. (Below) Ten days later, Judy is back at CBS in Los Angeles.
Above and below Courtesy of CBS Photo Archives. All Rights Reserved. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

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Rehearsal shot from the 1957 presentation of CINDERELLA, featuring (at left) Alice Ghostley and Kaye Ballard (as the Stepsisters); Julie Andrews (as Cinderella) and (at right) Ilka Chase as the Wicked Stepmother. Image dated March 22, 1957 .
Copyright CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: CBS Photo Archive. This image cannot be archived, sold, leased or shared.

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Above and below are photos taken circa 1956-57 at CBS's Television City in Hollywood. Three TK41s line up on Ann Palmer for color adjustments. Ann was the CBS color test model that they used daily to adjust the flesh tones. NBC in NY was the first to use a live model every day, but as yet, I have not found the on set pictures I've seen of her but I'm still looking.
Photo above courtesy Life Magazine, below courtesy Retired CBS Employees Site


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ABC TK41 at a football game I would say is in the north or northwest. Not enough people attending to make the game in the south or southwest. Great shot.
 Photo courtesy ABC

Hummmmm. Wonder what's under the tarps? Could it be 25 cameras? 
Photo courtesy ABC

Surprise! It is 25 cameras! Here are 12 of ABC's TK41Cs, 12 Norelco PC 70s and 1 RCA TK60 (used for title cards). They are all lined up for inspection and some great shots. As far as I know, these 4 pictures are the complete set that were taken one day in the mid 1960s. 
Photos courtesy ABC

Chuck Pharis has this picture beside his computer to remind him of the day he decided television would be his life's work. For that story, click this link.  This line up may have been constructed for use in the Wide World of Spots segment he saw that day about the cameras ABC used in their golf coverage.
 Photo courtesy ABC

I have a strong suspicion that these are the 12 TK41Cs that ABC Sports got in 1966. As discussed above in the text section, RCA did one final run of 24 C models on a special order basis. Notice that all have the Houston Fearless cam style pan head, and not the usual extra wide cradle heads that came with earlier TK40-41s. I'll bet HF quit making them in '64 when RCA stopped making 41s. The HF cam style pan head came out around '65, about the same time as the TK42s.

Till we can get more pictures from ABC, I'm including these 3 great classic photos of Dale Walsh playing his TK41.
 Courtesy Chuck Pharis

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Above is a photo of the Video Tape Center (New York) studio "A" stage department heads, circa 1965. The spiffy looking TK-41s came out of a remote truck parked in the loading dock. That was the first time our photo source, Tom Coughlin saw color TV for the first time. Thanks Tom. I remember as a teenager just getting interested in TV, seeing pictures of the Marconi Mark IV b/w cameras at work there at VTC shooting Lipton Tea spots featuring Groucho Marx announcer George Fenneman. Below is a photo believed to also have been taken at the Video Tape Center around 1966.

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All military photos were taken at Walter Reed Army Hospital and are courtesy of Life Magazine.

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This TK41 is still owned by KSPT and lovingly cared for by Glenn Griffin, The Hubbard Broadcasting archivist and all-round very good guy. They still take this out on exhibit at the state fair. By the way...he's not the one who painted it blue.

Circa 1958, Moscow, Russia. RCA displayed this TK41B at an international trade show. Ped mounted in a pickup truck…now that took some muscles. The cameraman is none other than NBC and Colonial Theatre veteran Ben Franklin.


Above and below is a pristine TK41 on display at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria NY. They have a few other cameras there too, including a Norelco, but I have not been able to get a set of photos of their cameras on display. If I do get them, I'll add them to the collections page.

 

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