The Inspiration

1954 Rose Parade
1954 Tournament of Roses Parade courtesy Jordan Smith

When a ten year old boy saw his first television colorcast in 1954, it changed his world.


Ed Reitan writes: “Sonny had been allowed to stay up late on New Year’s Eve for all the celebrating a ten year old could do. Instead of sleeping-in that next cold New Year’s Day, Sonny was tossed out of bed by the “old man”. The entire family was loaded into the family Studebaker and headed downtown. The gray streets and sidewalks were covered with snow. Not even the marquee of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” playing at the State Theater brightened the dull skies. That cold and overcast day in Omaha did look black and white.

Poppa guided the family into the lobby of the Paxton Hotel, past a placard with General Sarnoff’s picture welcoming everybody for some type of event. The kids were hushed, and the family quietly slipped into a very dark and mysterious grand ballroom filled with people. Across the side wall of the pitch black ballroom were five flickering television receivers. Three were conventional 21-inch black and white sets. But between them were two bulky red-mahogany cabinets with small but incredibly beautiful COLOR pictures on them! The cabinets only had 12-inch screens, so tiny and blurry that you had to look at the larger black and white screens to recognize detail. But it was color and it was gorgeous! – rich Technicolor reds, greens, and blues, from the Tournament of Rose Parade in sunny and bright Pasadena, California.

Decades later, Sonny would remember the rich velvet purples, on the cape of a horseman riding past the NBC camera. Suddenly it was no longer a dull black and white world – just like Dorothy opening the door to Oz, the world was now in Living Color! Sonny was in awe, and could not comprehend how they could send colors thru the air! They had to pull the kid from the ballroom. Poor Dad had to endure all Sonny’s excitement and questions during the drive home. The pestering lasted for years after, until the family got their first color receiver in 1959. Sonny’s curiosity of how they could send color though the air would lead to his career in air traffic control system and radar display development. In 1989 he would receive a technical Emmy Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Development” for his restoration of the earliest color videotapes. (Sonny, was probably just trying to recapture the thrill of that cold January 1, 1954 day).

The Rose Parade Colorcast was indeed a historical and memorable event, well covered by the media including the Omaha World-Herald, the New York Times, and a mention of WOW-TV in Broadcasting Magazine. Certainly, even high definition television does not compare to the thrill of the addition of color to black and white television.”

Courtesy Ed Reitan and the Early Television Foundation.

That boy (Sonny) was Ed Reitan. Read more.

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