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Old 12-19-2017, 11:21 AM
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65 years of blue bananas

I just realized that this year was the 65th anniversary of the RCA blue banana practical joke. I don't know the exact date, but here's my honorary re-creation.
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Old 12-19-2017, 11:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by old_tv_nut View Post
I just realized that this year was the 65th anniversary of the RCA blue banana practical joke. I don't know the exact date, but here's my honorary re-creation.
I've been watching NBC-TV as long as I can remember, but I don't recall RCA (former parent company of NBC) ever playing a "blue banana" practical joke. Sixty-five years ago would have been 1952; NBC wasn't broadcasting in color then (I don't think anyone was at that time, except perhaps CBS with its ill-fated field-sequential color system). Was this some sort of promotion for NBC or perhaps just a joke? Every color in the picture shown is correct except for the banana, so I'm thinking some wit at RCA came up with this just to be funny.
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Last edited by Jeffhs; 12-19-2017 at 12:00 PM.
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Old 12-19-2017, 12:33 PM
Tom9589 Tom9589 is offline
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The 'blue banana" joke was never broadcast. I don't remember all of the details, but it was a practical joke played on some executives when they hassled an engineer who was working into the night.
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Old 12-19-2017, 01:04 PM
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The blue banana joke was played by George Brown, chief engineer of RCA labs. In 1952, the NTSC color system was being tested with broadcasts originating in Manhattan and received at a lab on Long Island. So, it was broadcast, but only on an experimental station to prototype receivers. All the interested manufacturers were there with prototype receivers. One evening, the Long Island lab called the studio and asked to have some live material put on the air. Brown, who was at the studio, saw a bowl of fruit and a can of blue paint, and got the idea to paint the banana blue. When the engineers on Long Island called to complain that the color was wrong, Brown told them that the color on the studio monitor looked just like the live scene. They reportedly struggled to get the sets correct, but either the banana or the other fruit would be wrong.

Some experimental receivers were in the homes of RCA executives, and some versions of this story say that they called the studio, but George Brown's book specifically mentions the engineers on Long Island.

My addition to this story:
My former boss at Zenith, Charlie Heuer (RIP) was the junior engineer for the Zenith prototype on Long Island. He told me that the senior Zenith engineer (a crusty old fellow named John Rennick) was so sure of the Zenith set that he took one look, said "You've got the phase reversed!", shut off the set and went to dinner.

Thereafter, RCA traditionally included a blue banana somewhere in test material for new television systems.

I liked this story so well that I also included a blue banana in test material for the Zenith/AT&T proposed HDTV system as an inside joke.
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Old 12-21-2017, 04:47 PM
consoleguy67 consoleguy67 is offline
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The RCA lab on Long Island was located in Rocky Point.
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Old 12-21-2017, 05:06 PM
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George Brown states in his book that the lab for these tests was established in 1951 in Astoria, about 3 miles from the Empire State Building.

Rocky Point would not have been used for color system and receiver compatibility tests; maybe for fringe area reception at some point, as it is almost 60 miles distant.

Brown also describes the sequence of events as:
WNBT finished its regular schedule at midnight.
Ray Kell, engineer in Astoria, requested and got some test patterns.
After about 30 minutes, John Million (an exec who had been moved from supervising the Silver Springs lab outside DC when it shut down) asked for live material. Brown put him off for a couple of hours until Kell was done with his tests, about 2 am. Then Million said he had seen a bowl of fruit in the studio, and asked that the face model, Marie, hold some fruit. At this point, Brown quickly had Marie hold the bananas while he painted them blue, and then sent her before the cameras. According to Brown, it was John Millions, not the engineers, who spent some time as the butt of the joke trying to make the receiver look right.
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