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Downtown's Television History Over 75 Years Old

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, April 07, 2009, at 03:26PM
Don Lee Television Camera and Tower USC Digital Archives / Dick Whittington Studio []

A television camera and tower for Don Lee Television, likely in the 1940s after the studio had left Downtown.

When ESPN opened its new studios at L.A. Live yesterday, it proclaimed them the world's first 1080P production facility.

How appropriate, then, that these new studios would be located less than half a mile away from the Cadillac dealership at 7th and Bixel where on December 23, 1931, Don Lee's W6XAO launched one of the country's first regular television broadcasts.

On December 27, 1931, the Los Angeles Times announced the station's feat.

With the near-dawn of the New Year comes this word from the Don Lee radio station, KHJ: "For the first time in the United States a regular daily television service using electrical scanning has been effected. Signals are being sent out between 6 and 7pm daily."

Of course, those first broadcasts didn't do much good. The same article noted that sets to receive the broadcasts weren't yet commercially available.

Lee's broadcasting empire was born in an unlikely place. He was a car dealer, so he began his radio forays from a studio built in a dealership garage.

In 1940, the Los Angeles Times proclaimed Los Angeles the leader in all things television.

Did you know that Los Angeles is the home of the oldest regular program television station in the United States? Station W6XAO, situated at Seventh and Bixel Sts., and owned by Thomas S. Lee, has telecast more than 3000 programs, including "live" talent and 11,000,000 feet of talking motion pictures, during the last eight years.

It is the only television station west of Kansas City. Its stepped-up schedule makes available to set owners at least nine full hours of programs per week, divided into six one-hour night shows and three one-hour matinees. At the opportune time the station will be moved into de luxe headquarters that are to be erected on a 23-acre mountaintop overlooking Hollywood.

The question at the beginning was not an obvious one. Los Angeles in 1940 still had only 300 television sets.

The new site the article mentioned was a piece of property just above the still-unshortened "Hollywoodland" sign. The station on the site opened in the spring of 1941.

In the interim, the broadcaster had achieved several firsts. In May of 1932 the station sent images from the Downtown studio to an airplace 3000 feet over Burbank airport. The airline involved hoped the technology might be used to transmit weather maps to planes.

In 1934 the studio demonstrated a broadcast for the Society of Motion Picture Engineers. Claudette Colbert's "The Torch Singer" was beamed to a set located in the studio, but at only sixteen frames per second and without sound.

Two years later the station took an attempt at solving the sound issue by launching broadcasts that synchronized the television broadcast with audio on Lee's radio station, KHJ. The Times noted that "for those who have no television receivers, there will be a measure of sport in conjuring up the scenes by listening to the sound part of the program."

KTLA, the city's second station, opened on the Paramount Studios lot and the Hollywood shift was on. W6XAO, later known as KTSL, was Downtown's first station and, until now, it's last.


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