WTMJ-TV Test Patterns and Programs, November 1947

WTMJ-TV, the television station owned and operated by The Milwaukee Journal, began broadcasting regular test patterns and experimental programs in November of 1947. The station had announced in August that it hoped to begin broadcast 20 hours of actual programming a week by the start of December [1].

On October 9th, The Milwaukee Journal reported that “T day” had been officially set as Wednesday, December 3rd; the station would broadcast Wednesdays through Sundays [2]. Eventually WTMJ-TV hoped to affiliate with NBC but that likely wouldn’t be possible until 1948, meaning all programming would be local origination unless the station could pick up broadcasts out of Chicago (whether or not that was “technically feasible” remained to be seen) [3].

On October 30th, The Milwaukee Journal explained that the test programs set to begin in November “will be in the nature of dress rehearsals to give final training to the staff, to test equipment and to provide opportunities for dealers to demonstrarte television sets” [4]. A station official had this to say:

The November programs may not be perfect. They will be merely tests. Each will be at least a half hour long. The schedule has not been set definitely, but programs probably will be broadcast Friday night, Saturday afternoon and on one other afternoon. In addition to that basic schedule, there will be other programs. Studio programs, for example, are scheduled for the nights of Nov. 5 and 12. [5]

As an example of the sort of test programming the station broadcast, here’s WTMJ-TV’s schedule for the week of November 9th [6]:

Tuesday, November 11th, 1947
9-9:30PM – Live studio and film program.

Wednesday, November 12th, 1947
11AM-12PM – Test pattern.
4-5PM – Test pattern.
8:30-9PM – Live studio program.

Thursday, November 13th, 1947
11AM-12PM – Test pattern.
3-3:30PM – Film program.
4-5PM – Test pattern.
8:30PM – Wrestling from South Side Armory.

Friday, November 14th, 1947
11AM-12PM – Test pattern.
4-5PM – Test pattern.
8PM – Live studio show and film.

Saturday, November 15th, 1947
11AM-12PM – Test pattern.
3-3:30PM – Film program.
4-5PM – Test pattern.

John M. Otter, Philco’s general sales manager, was apparently touring the 11 cities with television stations in November of 1947 and watched the Tuesday test programming and reported that “the definition was perfect and the picture as clear as any I have seen. It indicates that WTMJ-TV has good equipment and a high, well placed antenna” [7]. The program in question featured a ping-pong game, a news broadcast and some films.

Here’s the schedule for the week of November 16th [8]:

Tuesday, November 18th, 1947
11AM – Test pattern.
4PM – Test pattern.

Wednesday, November 19th, 1947
11AM – Test pattern.
4PM – Test pattern.

Thursday, November 20th, 1947
11AM – Test pattern.
3PM – Film show.
4PM – Test pattern.

Friday, November 21st, 1947
11AM – Test pattern.
4PM – Test pattern.

8PM – Film show and live program.

Saturday, November 22nd, 1947
11AM – Test pattern.
3PM – Film show.
4PM – Test pattern.
8:30PM – Marquette basketball, from Marquette gym.

Paul McMahon, writing about the station’s test programs, gave several examples of the problems encountered by WTJM-TV cameramen and station staff, most having to do with the black-and-white nature of the medium [9]. During one rehearsal, a cameraman noticed that a model’s black dress appeared both beige and black when televised; the model had to try on three other black dresses before one that televised as entirely black could be found.

Women could not wear rouge or lipstick, because it would televise as white. Men had to wear makeup even when clean shaven to keep from looking like they had a five o’clock shadow. A marionette show using black strings and a black background had to be entirely reworked because the strings would stick out on the air.

Works Cited:

1 “Television Due Around Dec. 1.” Milwaukee Journal. 17 Aug. 1947: 22.
2 “See Television in a Few Days.” Milwaukee Journal. 9 October 1947: Part 2, Page 1.
3 Ibid.
4 “Set Television Test Displays.” Milwaukee Journal. 30 Oct. 1947: 26.
5 Ibid.
6 “Television Tests.” Milwaukee Journal Green Sheet. 11 Nov. 1947: 2.
7 “Pictures on Air ‘Equal to Best’.” Milwaukee Journal. 12 Nov. 1947: 16.
8 “Television Tests.” Milwaukee Journal Green Sheet. 17 Nov. 1947: 2.
9 McMahon, Paul. “Television Is a Tricky Thing.” Milwaukee Journal Screen*Radio. 23 Nov. 1947: 4.


1 Comment

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    By early 1948, WTMJ could have been carrying “live” NBC programs because the network’s “Kinephoto” process had been perfected. “Kinephoto”, of course, was their trademark for kinescoped films of live TV shows, photographed from a monitor by a special 16mm camera adjusted to “record” TV pictures as they were broadcast. Most of those programs were directly mailed, on 16mm reels, to those stations that couldn’t carry them “live”.

    I’m quite certain those “test” broadcasts were “crude” and somewhat “unprofessional”…but it must have been fascinating to see them, as it’s been attested that most people would watch ANYTHING that moved on a TV set in those days…

Leave a Comment