Sunday, June 29, 2014


This is only a test


(From Ask MetaFilter):

An old memory of color TV? Color on a black and white TV? What?! (1950s filter).

My dad was born in 1952. Recently, we went out to lunch. The conversation covered a variety of topics. At one point, he recalled a tale from his youth...

Essentially, this: He grew up outside of Detroit, and he positively recalls that his family owned a black and white television set. He says that periodically the television network or local broadcast partners would attempt to deploy new technologies that might transmit a color signal to a black and white set, and that these attempts would be prefaced with an on air announcement. Essentially, "We will be trying to send color to your black and white TV sets. If anyone sees color, please call us and let us know."

I find many aspects of this story super strange, and also potentially fascinating. However, parts of it also don't add up. Like... what!? Does this ring a bell to anyone? Perhaps there's a kernel of truth buried inside a story that has otherwise "grown" a little bit over time?

(From Some Science Forum Thingie)

Something happened that reminded me of this tonight, and I think I have finally made sense of something seen as a kid. For some odd reason it just hit me. When I was fairly young and living in the Los Angeles area, there was a test done one night on a local TV channel that was supposed to produce a color picture on the black and white TVs commonly in use. And I can recall seeing some color; I think mostly green. From time to time I have thought about this and wondered what it was that I saw. In fact at times I have doubted the memory as it didn't make any sense, but I can remember the event very clearly. Tonight it occurred to me what they were probably up to. I bet that they were strobing the white to produce a false color image, as is done with alternating black and white dots on a rotating wheel [I don't recall the name of the effect]. The idea is that each pixel on the screen would be strobed at the frequency required to produce the desired color for that dot. Does this make sense? I'm not sure what the strobe rate is that produces the false color effect, or if this was doable on B&W televisions, but it is the only thing that has even threatened to make any sense here. Is there any other way that one can imagine producing color on a B&W screen?

Why do I remember these things? I must have been an
embryo or something, or else very very little. The
TV both fascinated me (it was a magic box that was just about
the only thing that could pry me out of boredom) and scared
the living bejeezus out of me cuz every so often, there
would be a Test of the Emergency Broadcasting System, with
terse-sounding announcer coming on to say, "This is
ONLY a test". There would be this Godawful official-
looking logo on that said CD, probably for Civil Defense,
then for half a minute or so there would be this BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
sound that gave me nightmares. I would literally wake
up screaming,my head dripping with sweat. This "only a
test" stuff, routine as it was supposed to be, seemed to
escalate at certain times, which I new see coincided with
things like the Cuban Missile Crisis. My brother "played
war" all the time,which was no doubt his way of coping
with it all, but too often I was the one playing the
prisoner, further stoking my tiny paranoia.

But this, this - I really thought I had dreamed
this! My TV was always doing strange things, like
cancelling Howdy Doody, flipping like crazy, or refusing
to broadcast anything but a tiny dot of light so
that the TV repairman had to come over and replace the
picture tube.
But this was even more bizarre. An announcer
would come on - God, how far back I must dig to
retrieve this one! Anyway, an announcer would come on,
and as he talked a picture would come on of, say,
scene in Hawaii with palm trees swishing
around, and around the border of the shot would
be a strobing, flashing pattern. The announcer
 would say, "Do you see color on your TV?"
(I guess assuming no one had color TV at that point,
maybe because it was 1958).

I don't know if I saw color, but the flashing,
strobing patterns and the stupid meaningless
Hawaii scene scared me almost as much as the announcer,
whom I was sure was THE SAME GUY who did those
Civil Defense announcements.
Now I find these two posts from science forums
(note, one of them would not post because it turned
completely transparent on the page - heh-heh, no
ghosts here - so  attempted to re-paste it in color,, and
good luck reading it), you know the type, done by guys
with glasses held together with tape, and they're saying,
maybe it was realBut everyone has the same feeling: I
probably imagined this, it probably didn't happen.
There is even a sense of embarrassment about it: it
must've been a joke, I was fooled, I made it up! The
memory always seems to be hazy and there is a weird
feeling of unreality, even isolation.

We got all the Detroit channels, so the
mention of "outside of Detroit" (if you can read
it) seems significant. They were always doing
weird things in Detroit, like rioting and broadcasting
Poopdeck Paul and Milky the Clown. Now at least I know
I'm not completely insane to remember this.

I wonder what they proposed to do: frame
the black-and-white shows with dancing borders
of flashing color? Sounds like about as much
fun as having a migraine to me. I think maybe I did make
this up. Or maybe the memory was implanted telepathically into
several thousand brains by evil Russian scientists:

"This is only a test."