A Brief History of TV in America in the Form of Old RCA Commercials

By  |  Friday, June 25, 2010 at 9:43 am

For no particular reason other than that it’s Friday, let’s take a guided tour of the evolution of TV in America from the late 1930s through the early 1970s–as shown in commercials and promotional films from RCA, which was once practically synonymous with consumer electronics in this country. You may take moving images, color screens, remote controls, and displays small enough to tote around for granted, but they were all startling breakthroughs in their day.

In 1939, the mere idea of pictures traveling through the air was exciting and demanded a technical walkthrough.

The problem with modern ads for tech products is they so rarely involve singing apes.

At first, the idea of an early color TV ad being in black and white was weird. Then I thought about it and realized it would have been weirder if it had been in color.

Warning: DON’T WATCH THIS ONE. You won’t be able to get the song out of your head for 24-36 hours.

When this bit was filmed, remote controls were such a new idea that it took five minutes to enumerate their wonders (and even the “off” button needed to be explained).

In 1959, it was considered perfectly normal for TV engineers to wear bowties to work.

There was a time when busted TV tubes were a major source of domestic woe, and smart consumers insisted on RCA replacement tubes.

This could probably be remade today as an ad for 3D TVs.

This TV doesn’t look all that portable to me.

I’m not sure what “computer crafted color” is, but it sounds impressive.

In 1971, lack of vacuum tubes was a major selling point.

I’m ashamed to confess that I wasn’t sure whether RCA still made TVs until I checked. It does. But it’s now a phantom brand that’s licensed to an unspecified third-party manufacturer by its owner, French-based Technicolor (which hasn’t bothered to update the RCA site to stop using the parent company’s old name, Thomson). I’m not sure whether RCA TVs are ever advertised on TV these days, but I’m pretty sure there are no current RCA commercials as entertaining as these ones…


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3 Comments For This Post

  1. dave Says:

    I worked for RCA (consumer electronics) which became GE (1986) and then Thomson (1988).
    “Computer crafted color” probably refers to the computerized-in-circuit testers (which RCA pioneered) in consumer electronics.
    The TV department was sold to a Chinese company and is now a name used by various companies for marketing.
    The successor to RCA consumer electronics (Thomson) was an important developer of the DirecTV satellite service.
    Thomson went bankrupt (last year?), reorganized, and changed its name to one of its divisions – Technicolor.

  2. Mel Says:

    Am I the only one wondering about the hookah pipe in the remote TV ad? WHY!?

  3. Jason Anderson Says:

    “Only as far as the eye can see”? Hmm.. if only this “Tele-vision” could somehow be carried by way of some sort of cable or something. Maybe shot down from space? Maybe some day.