Color TV broadcasts, the FCC, and YOU! - A nation in agony, 1950.

Back in 1950, TV manufacturers, the government, and up to four people were frantic about "What's To Be Done About Color Tee Vee?" Manufacturers were fighting about technical standards. Broadcasters were trying to figure out how to most effectively bury the color broadcasts in the schedule. This left the beleaguered consumer to decide whether it was worth over $700 (adjusted for inflation to modern Futurebucks) to stick a giant contraption to the front of their black and white TV, converting it to a color image, or just run out and spend $9,000 (again, converted for inflation) for a full-on color TV. Jesus.

We now present this article from the November, 1950 issue of LIFE so that you can relive all the anger, all the confusion, and all the Vitalis of this turbulent period of upheaval in our nation's history. Where were you when Howdy Doody switched to color? Probably hiding under the bed. He was freaky enough in grayscale.

A brief editorial on naming things:

It's interesting that LIFE felt the need to change the name of a "broadcast" to "colorcast" just because of the addition of color to the signal. A "broadcast" simply describes a signal sent over airwaves. Why should a relatively minor alteration of the signal's format call for a name change? Did they have "dramacasts" and "comedycasts"? No, they didn't. That would be just as stupid. But when people are all excited about something new, they get swept up in the fever of the moment and proclaim that we need a slightly new word to talk about the slightly different thing everyone's wetting their pants over at the moment.

This reminds me of the word "podcast". The word was coined by Apple as a portmanteau of "iPod" and "broadcast", and is more than a little cutesy, because that's Apple. Of course, Apple wants to claim inventorship of everything in history, no matter how many examples predate their execution of an idea. But, history is written by those who shout the loudest and have the best lawyers.

Anyway, the name "podcast" has stuck, due to adoption by most people, and to change it now would be awkward and forced. Sensibility and taste notwithstanding, Leo Laporte insists on calling his TWiT (This Week in Tech) podcast a "netcast". Leo gets ten out of ten points for giving Apple the finger, but minus several million for trying too hard and being verbally clumsy. It has completely failed to catch on, so Leo should just let it go.

Another notable example are William Shatner's forgettable Tekwar series of books. In Shatner's lame vision of the future, everything has a dorky new name based on the manufacturing process. Plastic figures heavily in the future, apparently. So, a window is not a window. It's a "plas-window". If your wondrous vision of the future basically involves prefixing everything with "plas-", maybe consider having a cup of coffee and going for a walk until you have a real idea for a story.

Instead of getting more obsessive and granular with names, always trying to force people to learn your stupid made-up word, why not lean in the direction of simplicity? Why be complicated for the sake of complexity? Just call a podcast a "show". It's a perfectly good word that already describes anything from a vaudeville revue to Laser Floyd. Does the means of delivery matter enough to try to shoehorn a new and dorky word into everyone's brain? The desperate wish to make up a name for every iterative version of something that already exists betrays the obsessive lack of perspective of the would-be wordsmith. Your new thingy is very exciting for you, and possibly very nice for someone to use, but it probably doesn't need a new pronoun. Consider what a random person would call it after two seconds consideration. If a pre-existing word leaps easily to mind, you probably don't need a new name for your thing.

For example, electric cars are becoming pretty common, but it's still just a car. Thankfully, nobody has tried to rename them "electrotransports". Just wait, though. Apple has yet to unveil their electric car invention. I'm sure they'll have some pompous declaration with a twee new name they made up. "All other forms of transportation are now obsolete. This is the iScoot. It has more rounded corners. The line forms to the left."


Steve Miller said...

Interesting that Sarnoff initially called color TV against the public interest. Or wait -- was he calling the Columbia system against the interests of RCA? There were two standards competing for FCC approval.

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