Black and White to Color

Channel 13's original owners had stated that color would be part of the picture when they signed on the air in 1955.  The station was capable of broadcasting a color signal received from the CBS network, but this only required a rack of colorplexer equipment in master control.** 

WFLA had been showing local color from their film chain since February, 1955,
but studio-produced programs remained in black and white until 1966.

At WTVT, an RCA 16mm color film chain was installed early on but rarely used due to the limited availability of color programming.  

A 1955 newspaper advertisement lists a program called "Fishing Fun" with Capt. Marty Foster.  In very tiny typeface, the ad states that 'film portion telecast in color.'  Color film for the program was provided by Foster, since the station did not have color film processing until 1966.

The cost of live color equipment, CBS' lack of interest in providing regular color programs, and the low percentage of color receivers in the Tampa Bay area prevented WTVT from seriously considering local live and tape color until the mid 60's.  


The NBC network had pioneered color programming in the 1950's and slowly added more color shows to their schedule until announcing that in September of 1966 they would be "The Full Color Network."  CBS and ABC apparently saw that color was where the industry was heading and planned to have their prime time schedules mostly color for the fall of 1966.  The price of color television receivers had steadily fallen over the years and by 1965, a 21" set could be purchased for under $500 (still a good amount of money, since a middle class family earned in the neighborhood of $150 a week). 

Managers at WTVT, WFLA and WLCY were watching the stats for color television use in the Tampa Bay market.  In 1964, the number of Tampa Bay area viewers with color receivers was around 4%.  Two years later, it would be 14%, the 'magic' number that made it logical for them to provide local, live color.  Not only would the station's news and public service shows benefit from the introduction of color, but advertisers could make use of the studio facilities for color commercials.  WTVT was ideally suited for local commercial production and the addition of color made the station a hotspot for bay area advertisers such as Publix, Belk-Lindsay, and several car dealerships.

Four manufacturers were selling broadcast color television cameras in 1965: RCA, Philips, G.E. and Marconi.

The Norelco PC-60 was good for CBS and proved
to be a workhorse for twenty years.

G.E. PE-250.  Sure, G.E. can make a good light bulb...
can they make a good color television camera?

RCA was flooded with orders for their TK-42. 
Deliveries were months behind schedule.

Marconi cameras from the U.K. were also contenders
in the U.S. television market.  Their monochrome predecessors
were used on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The cameras made by Philips (carrying their Norelco trademark) were selected for use by CBS network operations and history has proven their superior color picture over all competitors.   WTVT's Chief Engineer Bill Witt opted to stay with the familiar and in the fall of 1965 placed an order for four TK-42 color cameras from RCA.  It is possible that price (around $65,000 per camera), delivery schedules, or a concern over foreign-made equipment and their reliability might have been involved in his decision to boycott Philips.  Three TK-42s were allocated to the Tampa studios and one for the St. Pete studio. 

Channel 8 also put in an order for the same model RCA cameras  while across Tampa Bay, WLCY ordered G.E. color cameras.


In 1966, the race was on nationwide for local TV station's conversion to color.  Stations across the country were clamoring for delivery of their gear in order to secure 'bragging rights' of being first in their market with local, live color.  By December of 1965, RCA was inundated with orders.

"C'mon, Earl...let's get these babies finished and out to WTVT!"
TK-42 assembly line at RCA's Camden, N.J. factory.

The RCA factory struggled to meet the demand of over 300 TK-42 cameras ordered by 1966.  In a December, 1965, St. Petersburg times article, WTVT officials hopefully predicted that their color cameras would arrive by January, 1966.  That date was more than optimistic; After four anxious months RCA finally shipped four TK-42 color cameras to WTVT in mid-April.  WFLA received theirs soon after.

Engineer Adrian Snow adjusts the RCA-TK 42.  Note built-in zoom lens.

After attending a week-long TK-42 training seminar at RCA's Camden, NJ headquarters, WTVT engineer Adrian Snow returned to Tampa and led the other engineers in studies of the technical requirements of the new camera.  The TK-42 was an entirely new design that combined three vidicon tubes (red, blue, and green) with an image orthicon (monochrome channel).  Lighter in weight and more transistorized than its TK-41 predecessor, the new TK-42 came with a built in 5 to 1 zoom lens (the TK-43 used an external 10 X 1 zoom).  Most stations ordered the TK-42 with an optional wide-angle lens that attached to the front of the camera (visible in the photo above).  

Inside a TK-42...3 color vidicons and 1 monochrome image orthicon.  
Note rear zoom control (left handle) and focus control (right handle)

An odd design choice was made by RCA for the zoom and focus controls.  Basing their design on the monochrome turret lens cameras that featured a single handle allowing the operator to 'rack' to different lenses,  RCA engineers carried this motif onto the TK-42 by making the zoom and focus controls realized as dual handles built into the rear of the camera.  Due to the difficulty of operating the camera the rear controls were uniformly rejected by users of the TK-42.  Conventional zoom and focus controls were mounted on the camera's pan-handles and connected to the zoom/focus via cables.  While this solved the operational problem the cables would often crimp, resulting in a zoom that 'chattered' along the focal length.  Maintenance issues with the zoom were an ongoing situation with the TK-42.

Cameraman Gil Muro uses the standard zoom/focus instead of
the factory-installed dual handle controls on his TK-42

The TK-42 would fit onto the standard Houston Fearless electric pedestals but a new, larger control ring was needed for steering.  The camera required almost twice as much light as the older black and white models.  250 foot candles was the norm, and in some situations even more lighting was required.

Channel 13 also ordered an additional color film chain and color video tape recording equipment to make the conversion to color complete.

Trade ad featuring the TK-42


Fearing that rival station WFLA would be the first on-air with local live color, the unofficial debut of Channel 13's color telecast occurred on Saturday, April 30th, during a  6 p.m. Pulse newscast.  Engineers hastily placed a TK-42 on a wooden crate aimed at anchorman Hugh Smith, who was the only talent to appear in color that evening.  Smith explained to viewers that WTVT was first with local, live color and that the TK-42s would be back in a couple of days after engineers gave the green light.  On Monday, May 2nd, the color camera was again used briefly to demonstrate a live model and a floral arrangement. 

The official debut of  Channel 13's local, live color was on Monday, June 6th, during the 6p.m. Pulse News.  The programs opening moments were in monochrome as Smith announced that color was only a few minutes away.  First, color newsfilm was introduced by a ceremony staged earlier at the WTVT film lab.  Gene Dodson, the station's general manager, was shown on black and white film as he reached for a switch marked 'color.'  At the moment the switch was pushed, the scene changed from monochrome to color...and a new television era began for Tampa Bay viewers.  Back in the studio Hugh Smith appeared live in color and introduced a special message from Ray Dantzler.

Dantzler's topic was the history of color television, and how proud WTVT was to be the first bay area station with it.  But all was not picture perfect; Dantzler's speech had been pre-recorded on one of the new color VTRs but the playback levels were not adjusted properly.  Dantzler's skin tone appeared in different bands of color due to the mis-adjustment of the four heads of the playback machine.  It was a minor fault, but pretty unsettling considering that the subject was color television.  All was forgiven as the station plunged ahead with color programming.  

The newsroom had been freshly painted and new furniture installed.   The boomerang-shaped newsdesk was topped with mahogany and trimmed in green.  A clear plastic relief map of the world's continents covered a light blue wall.  The entire set was dubbed "The Color Communications Center."  

A window installed in Studio B allowed a camera to see into the newsroom.  A TV-screen shaped frame was placed over the window connecting Studio B to the newsroom providing a dramatic new open for Pulse News by showing a TK-42 as it positioned for a shot of Hugh Smith.  As the announcer started his opening copy ("From WTVT's Color Communications Center...This is Pulse...the heartbeat of a changing world"), the cameraman would adjust his zoom lens for a 'push in' to Smith.  

Color Communications Center (1966)

Viewers could now enjoy news, sports, and weather in color, in addition to Ernie Lee, Sandy Miller, "Shock" Armstrong, and syndicated programs.  For the first time, "The Adventures of Superman," the classic 1950s series starring George Reeves, was telecast in color.***  

Superman was one of the first syndicated shows telecast in color over WTVT. 
This hand-tinted still of George Reeves came from the archives of the Ch. 13 art department.

Channel 13 even had their own version of the NBC peacock:  an animated fireworks display was shown prior to any syndicated color program or movie.

Once again Channel 13 had trumped the competition...and it wouldn't be the last time.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - -

**In 1966, Channel 13 was owned by Gaylord Broadcasting, a unit of the Oklahoma Publishing Company.  The flagship station of Opubco was WKY, an independent (and later NBC affiliate) in Oklahoma City.  WKY had introduced local live color back in April, 1954! (Source: RCA Broadcast News, Dec. 1954)

***The Superman producers were prescient in filming their shows in color beginning with the 1954-55 season.  Other series that originally were filmed in color but aired in black and white were Science Fiction Theater, The Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger, and Travel/Adventure Theater.  All Hanna Barbera cartoons, beginning with Ruff n' Reddy in 1957, were filmed in color, as were the Popeye cartoons from the 1961 production.  A fair amount of the original Popeyes produced in the 1940's by the Fleischer Brothers and Famous Studios were made in color and included in the package.  Stingray, a new series from the producers of Supercar, premiered in color on WTVT as well.   Syndicated talk shows such as The Merv Griffin Show also went color in '66.