Dreaming in Color

RCA was blindsided by the 1950 FCC decision, which also proved unpopular for the television industry at large. A week after the FCC approved the CBS system, RCA filed a suit against the government agency, hoping to stall the adoption of the color standard. Central to RCA’s case was that a system not compatible with existing television sets would not be in the public interest. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, who ultimately sided with the FCC, but the resulting publicity mired the CBS system in controversy and kept it from the market.


The Shadow Mask

With the debate about the incompatible CBS color system raging, RCA was hard at work developing an alternative to both the CBS system and their previous unsuccessful system. The most promising was the shadow mask system, first developed by Alfred Schroeder for RCA in 1946. It eventually became the centerpiece of RCA’s all-electronic, compatible color television system. The complexity of the shadow mask picture tube hindered early mass production, but it eventually found a place in almost all 20th century color televisions.


In 1952, RCA demonstrated their shadow mask system to the FCC, who formally reversed their 1950 decision and adopted the all-electronic RCA system in 1953. Immediately after that, RCA began to manufacture commercial sets starting with the model CT-100, or “Merrill.” It was a pilot run for mass production, and RCA hoped to prove that color receivers could be manufactured on a large scale. Unfortunately, its high price tag ($995 in 1954) meant that few people bought them.