My dream of owning an antique RCA TK-41 color television camera came true in July 2002. After years of searching to no avail, as a last resort I contacted Chuck Pharis, a prominent Los Angeles-area collector of antique TV broadcast equipment. After considerable thought, Chuck agreed to part with one of the three TK-41 cameras in his collection. Most TK-41's had been scrapped by broadcast facilities long ago because the huge heavy beasts with their power-hungry racks of vacuum tubes and hand-wired circuitry were difficult and expensive to maintain. So finding one, working or not, had been a difficult quest. I had given up numerous times, but my persistence finally paid off and an eye-popping TK-41 color television camera is now proudly displayed in my home.

RCA's TK-40 and 41 series color television cameras had been the exclusive workhorses of the early days of color TV starting in 1953, and were still in limited use as late as the early 1970's in some facilities including the NBC network studios in Burbank, California. But newer more compact cameras requiring much less light and more reliable solid state circuitry had virtually obsoleted the historic giants by the mid 1970's.

My camera when it was new in 1962
Many TK-41's and their associated rack-mounted power supplies, amplifiers, and control consoles were either hauled to scrapyards or put in storage. But many were donated to colleges and broadcast training schools. Such was the case with my TK-41. In 2003, a fellow in Florida named Ed Allen found my website, and contacted me with more information about the camera's history after it was retired from KSTP-TV, Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1968. He graciously sent photos along with the story. Coupled with a 1962 story in the trade magazine "RCA Broadcast News" (see the link below), the history of my camera is fairly complete. The power of the internet continues to amaze me, and I'm lucky that Ed found me with his Google search and shared his story and photos.

Kris,

Just surfing the net when I came upon your great website with information on your TK-41C. It certainly is a small world. I was the one who traded the TK41 to Chuck Pharis in exchange for a Norelco PC-70. I thought you might like a little history on that camera and how it got from KSTP to Chuck.

Back in late 1968, Hubbard Broadcasting, owner of KSTP, built WTOG-TV in St. Petersburg, Florida. They equipped that station with two RCA TK-44 cameras. At some point KSTP sent two TK-41C cameras to WTOG, but they didn't want them.

I began work at Manatee Junior College in 1970. The college had no budget for TV equipment, so I started making the rounds of TV broadcasters throughout Florida in an attempt to beg, borrow or steal some TV equipment. I was pretty successful, getting a bunch of old B/W GE gear from WESH-TV in Orlando, a TK-26 Color Film Chain and a Riker Production Switcher and Special Effects unit from WTVT in Tampa, and the two TK-41's from WTOG. We acquired the equipment from WTVT and WTOG in 1973.

Here are a couple of the pictures of the TK-41s while in service at MJC. As you can see, the studio was nothing more than a couple of converted classrooms, very low budget. The TK-26 film chain installation was routine and we began to use it to video tape our 16mm movie collection on 3/4" tape or to distribute them live on a new campus-wide CATV system I built. The TK-41's were another story, and took months of hard work to get them working.

After the college got into TV production, I tried to get them to purchase new equipment, but the budget wasn't there. In 1976 funds were granted by the state to build a new Library building. A new TV studio was to be part of that building, but again, my request for new cameras was turned down. Finally, I turned in a request for a complete set of new Image Orthicons for the cameras, along with a note that we could buy new cameras for the same or less money. That did it! I finally got new Sony cameras! But we kept the TK-26 film chain as it was still producing great pictures.

The college put the TK-41's up for auction. I was the only bid at $50. The college reluctantly sold me the cameras at that low price, but they kept all of the power supplies, processing amps, encoders, monitors, etc., as they could be used for spares on the TK-26. The TK-41's were stored in a friend's garage for years.

In 2000 I saw Chuck's web page and saw he was looking for a TK-41. He agreed to swap me a PC-70 for one of my TK-41 camera heads. We loaded the camera head, cable, and cradle head into my Jeep Cherokee and off I drove to California.

That's how the KSTP cameras got from St. Paul, Minnesota to Pasadena, California.

Ed Allen

My TK-41 at Manatee Junior College in Sarasota, Florida - early 1970's after being "retired" from KSTP-TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Note the "KST" letters on the camera side panel has been covered with "M J C" and the "P" is covered by a blank dot.
A 2 camera shoot in a simple classroom. The 3 Image Orthicon pickup tubes in each TK-41 required a tremendous amount of light, so this classroom studio must have had a dedicated air conditioning system to teacher from roasting.
Ed's jeep with the TK-41 camera head and cradle on it's way from Florida to California. Unfortunately the Houston-Fearless cradle head was not included when I purchased the camera from the previous owner, so I'm looking for one to complete my display. Similar cradle heads were used on other cameras, but the TK-41 is extra-large and unique.

The filthy beast shortly after arrival in California after years of storage in a garage in Florida. The camera was part of the Chuck Pharis collection in Southern California for a couple of years until I bought it in July 2002.
A little elbow grease and plenty of Simple Green cleaner shows there may be hope for the old TK-41. Unfortunately the big "5" sticker is missing (KSTP-TV broadcasts on channel 5). The small black square to the left of the RCA emblem is an NBC "snake" logo (KSTP is now an ABC affiliate).
Here's a photo taken shortly after I purchased the camera. Unfortunately the original Houston-Fearless cradle was not included with my purchase of the camera, but at least it sits on an authentic RCA tripod, the same type that would have been used on a "remote" out of the studio.
The front view showing the twin "on air" tally lights in front as well as the tally on top of the viewfinder near the rear of the camera. The left photo clearly shows the taper of the TK-41. Imagine being Dinah Shore and seeing this massive beast dollying in for a fast closeup - a good operator could stop it on a dime, or so Dinah must have hoped! No zoom lens on this baby!
The sides fold down for easy adjustment and service.
The viewfinder cover hinges upward for easy service access. After releasing a lever, the viewfinder slides off the rear of the camera. Electrical and video connection to the camera body occurs via a "quick disconnect at the front of the viewfinder assembly.
RCA offered a snout-shaped option viewing hood to shield the viewfinder CRT from extraneous light. Some cameramen preferred to operate the TK-41 without this hood. Several photos of this camera in use at KSTP-TV in 1962 show the camera without the viewing hood as you see here. Some facilities designed their own hoods which may have been more practical than the RCA hood. Also seen in the rear view are two exhaust vents for the image orthicon fans (the third vent is on the left side of the camera, not visible in this shot). In the center is a control handle which allowed the camera operator to rotate the lens turret to switch to different focal length lenses. Jacks for a headset and program audio are on the lower panel.
There are hinged doors on each side of the rear panel revealing setup controls for electrical registration of the red, green, and blue images. Height controls are on the left side, width controls on the right side.
To rotate the lens turret to select a different focal length lens, the cameraman squeezed the handle to unlock the turret, then rotated the handle to the desired lens. The turret could accommodate up to four lenses of different focal lengths, but in many installations one or more of the lens mounts contained a blank metal cap. A zoom lens was available in the 1960's - called a "Zoomar," it replaced the separate lenses and turret. The mechanical action was controlled by a plunger in the center of this turret handle. The operator pushed the plunger IN to zoom out, and pulled the plunger OUT to zoom in - not very intuitive! The toggle switch above the turret handle showed and underscanned image in the viewfinder. The toggle switch below the turret handle operates the image orthicon tube blower fans.
The TK-40/41 for studio operation was typically mounted on a cradle-type pan and tilt head on a heavy-duty Houston-Fearless TD-1A pedestal. Unfortunately I was not able to acquire one of these heads and pedestal, however the tripod seen here is an authentic RCA tripod which would have been used at a remote location away from the studio. Wheels were not included with my tripod, so I built a temporary platform using 3/4" plywood with heavy-duty casters. I hope to someday acquire either the correct cradle head and pedestal, or at least the correct wheel assembly for this tripod.

Please email me if you have leads on these items - THANKS!


Visit my Color Television Home Page

Learn more about the Color Television Revolution

See videos of the original NBC peacocks and ABC and CBS color presentation logos

See photos from my boyhood tour of KARD-TV in 1964

See photos of NBC Color City Studios in Burbank, California in 1955

Take a tour of KSTP-TV in 1962 and see my TK-41 camera in service when it was new

See an RCA 2" Color Television Tape Recorder

Watch the oldest surviving color videotape...the dedication of NBC's Washington, DC color studios in 1958

Watch An Evening With Fred Astaire the oldest surviving color videotape entertainment program - November 1958

Watch the oldest surviving videotape recording The Edsel Show - October 1957


Want to read more about early color television? Check out these links:

Read NPR's coverage of color TV's 50th anniversary

visit the late Ed Reitan's website - a very informative site about early color TV

visit Bobby Ellerbee's fascinating and compreshensive television history website Eyes Of A Generation

visit Chuck Pharis's site to see his collection of antique TV cameras and other early broadcast equipment

visit Barry Mishkind's website to see the RCA Television Equipment Archive

visit Steve Dichter's CT-100 website to see Steve's vintage color television page


comments? send me an email


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