Berlin 1936 were the first Olympics to have live television coverage. The German Post Office, using equipment from Telefunken, broadcast over 70 hours of coverage to special viewing rooms throughout Berlin and Potsdam and a few private TV sets, transmitting from the Paul Nipkow TV Station, the first television station in the world.
Both Vladimir Zworykin’s Iconoscope camera pick up tube and Philo Farnsworth’s Image Dissector camera pick up tube were adopted and operated in German cameras. In 1936 Zworykin, a Russian Jew, was working for RCA labs and Farnsworth, a Utah Mormon, was working with Philco. Both would have been persecuted for their religious and ethnic backgrounds in Nazi Germany, and yet their inventions made television cameras possible.
Actually, the 180 line German television system was crude compared to the 405 line British system. England inaugurated regularly scheduled programming in the fall of 1936.
21 cameras were used. Some used image dissectors and some used iconoscopes. The most impressive was the ‘Fernsehkanonen’ (television canon), which was 6 feet long. Three of these cameras were used at the Olympics.
28 viewing rooms were set up around Berlin, where 150,000 people are estimated to have seen the Olympics.
Projection sets were used to produce 8 x 10 foot images. The signals were transmitted by coaxial cable to the viewing rooms.
By this year there are approximately 2,000 television receivers worldwide.
Okay, so television wasn’t really the German regime’s innovation. Radio was.
“They built all kinds of new, innovative technologies that allowed for global short-wave relay. They subsidized the world’s broadcasters to come to Berlin, and they basically decided that the Olympics were going to be the roll-out of the finest radio broadcasting possible.
“The world’s best microphones were unveiled for the Berlin 1936 Olympics, which really created wonderful fidelity and sound. It was the first time that somebody in Sydney, Australia, somebody in Rio de Janiero, somebody in London and somebody in Tokyo could all hear the exact same event with terrific fidelity at the exact same time.
“In 1932, the Los Angeles Olympic committee did not allow this kind of live, global broadcasting. They were afraid of hurting ‘the gate,’ but in Berlin they prioritized propaganda over profits. And so they really wanted to make the world listen in to Germany. The audience was gigantic, it was 300 million people at least, so it was by far the biggest audience ever gathered to participate in anything live. It created this kind of ephemeral, electric celebrity that we associate with the Olympic Games today.”
Header image: TV center at the time of the Olympic Games, 1936