Thursday, December 15, 2011

This Is Only A Test!

THIS IS ONLY A TEST -- It's hard to imagine, kids, but there was once a time when you could only watch television through an antenna stuck to your roof -- and sometime after the late, late movie ended (in the wee hours of the morning), your local television station would "sign off" and the American national anthem would start playing and this fabulous-looking Indian Head Test Pattern would appear on your screen and stay there until the station resumed broadcasting around 5:00 AM (for the farm reports) or 6:00 AM (for morning news).  This now-iconic image (for those millions of baby boomers) made its television debut around 1947 and stayed in use until the mid-to-late 1970s -- and many a person fell to sleep in the eerie gray-white light it emanated and snoozed to the soothing (to some) white noise static from the television speakers.  But (and here's the big "but") -- what the heck was it used for?  And who the heck thought of it??  The original artwork was created in 1938 by a guy named Brooks (don't know the gent's first name) for RCA and the graphic of the Indian chief and all of the patterns on the chart actually served specific purposes. An experienced broadcast engineer in a television studio could glance at the drawing of the chief and quickly know if everything was okay or if more careful adjustments of the studio's cameras were needed. Such adjustments were made on a regular basis because television system electronics then used hot vacuum tubes -- the operating characteristics of which drifted throughout each broadcast day. The grid and circles were used for perspective, framing and linearity (I know this is technical, but hang in there!) -- and the gray bands emerging from the center off to the lower right and upper left were for differential gain, contrast and white level. (Don't worry, there won't be a quiz in the morning!)  Unfortunately, the Indian Chief Test Pattern has gone the way of the buffalo and the typewriter -- but it certainly caused many a kid and adult to stare at it in wonderment way back when and try to unlock its artistic and mystical secrets.  And you know how we love mystical secrets here at Studio of Style!