Early Television in Italy

by Andy Emmerson

Television for the general public in Italy was officially inaugurated only a few weeks before war broke out. Definition was the same as in this country - 405 - and reception was reasonably good up to twenty miles from Rome. Stations planned for Milan and Turin apparently did not go into service because of the war.
[Swift is mistaken; the line standard was 441, not 405].

It is stated that the Pope intends to install a television station in the Vatican for experimental purposes, and that Senatore Marconi has been approached as to which system should be adopted. The present Vatican short-wave radio station and the ultra-short-wave station at the Popeís villa at Castel Gandolfo and in the Vatican were installed under the direction of Senatore Marconi.
Practical Wireless, 19th September 1936.

The first serious television experiments undertaken in Italy were started by purchasing both transmitting and receiving equipment from Fernseh A.G. of Berlin. This was on a standard of 90-line definition, both spotlight and telecine scanners being employed, while discs with a spiral trace of apertures were used as the scanning media at both ends: By using a new type of light source and a good quality optical system the pictures obtained were outstandingly good. This early work inspired the Italians to make further effort, and on the transmitting side it is now known that cameras working on a somewhat similar principle to the Iconoscope are being used. All the receivers now use cathode-ray tubes as the picture reproducer, and one of the most prominent and efficient of these is marketed under the name of Safar. The picture standard is 375 lines interlaced to give 50 frames and 25 pictures per second. The tube is mounted vertically so that the pictures are viewed as reflections in an inclined mirror, while it is claimed that the controls are extremely simple to handle. Radio receiver practice has been followed by allowing one knob to perform multiple functions, but by combining the sound and vision sets into one superheterodyne receiver the total number of valves has been reduced to fifteen.
Practical Wireless, 27th March 1937.

The first ultra short-wave broadcasting station is now working daily at Monte Mario, Italy, between 6pm and 9.30pm on 6.9 metres with a power of 2kW; the aerial, shown here, can be adapted for experimental television transmissions.
Wireless World, 20th January 1938.

ULTRA-SHORT WAVES IN ITALY Italy's second ultra-short-wave transmitter has recently been installed by the EIAR in Milan, where use has been made of an existing tower, known as the Littoria Tower, in the North Park. The most interesting feature of the station is that the transmitter has been installed in a building erected at the top of the tower. This, of course, avoids the losses encountered when using a long transmission line from the transmitter to the aerial.
The aerial, which consists of six vertical aluminium tubular di-poles of a quarter wavelength, surmounts the transmitter building. The station, which is at present transmitting the second Italian programme, from 4 to 6.30pm GMT on 43.79Mc/s (6.85 metres) with a power of 400 watts, will ultimately be used for television. It is with this in view that the present experimental transmissions are directed.
Caption: Up aloft. The Transmitter of the Milan ultra-short-wave station is installed at the top of the Littoria Tower.
Wireless World, 18th May 1939.

German 441-line television apparatus, including camera, film-scanner and amplifying equipment, has been installed at Monte Mario, Rome, in readiness for the opening of a television service. Similar equipment has been ordered for Milan. [with photos]
Wireless World, 20th July 1939

ITALO-GERMAN TELEVISION The German Post Office Television Company, which was formed some months ago, has taken over the complete technical operation of the studio equipment of the Italian television service., which opened on July 22nd, using a frequency of 44Mc/s for vision and 40.5Mc/s for sound.

ROME TELEVISION RECEPTION Mr F.T. Bennett, a radio engineer of St Peter Port, Guernsey, reports the reception of the Rome television transmission. Although over 900 miles from the transmitter at Monte Mario, he clearly saw the letters EIAR on the announcement board. We published in out issue of March 30th this year a photograph of Mr Bennettís aerial with which he receives the BBC television transmissions.
Wireless World, 10th August 1939

Television has at last started in Italy and the first public television performance under the control of ERAR was given before an audience of specially invited guests including Italian and foreign journalists. Public are to be admitted free to the television shows which are to be given each evening at the Circus Maximus. The station situated at Monte Mario has a range of 30 miles and uses 7.40 metres for sound and 6.8 metres for vision.
TV&SWW, September 1939
[44.12MHz vision, 40.54MHz sound]

The immediate cessation of the BBC television service on the outbreak of war came as a bitter blow to all those families who had installed receiving sets in their homes and taken advantage of the entertaining programmes radiated from Alexandra Palace. As far as Europe is concerned the only known signals now being radiated are those provided by the equipment at Monte Mario, Rome. Although far distant, it has been established that in certain parts of the country, particularly on high ground, the signals have been received with sufficient strength to enable the cathode ray tube to be modulated. There are certain differences in the nature of the signal that must be allowed for. Intensity modulation is employed and the signal direction is the same as the BBC, that is to say an increase in modulation corresponds to an increase in picture brightness. There is a slight difference in the percentage of the modulation allocated to the synchronising pulses but 50 frames per second to give 25 pictures per second is identical and the main feature to be catered for is the difference of line definition, namely, 441 lines in lieu of 405. In many television receivers it is possible to increase the line speed of the time-base generator to take cognisance of this change, while in addition since the carrier frequency is not yet settled it will also be necessary to change this slightly from the British standard of 45 megacycles for vision. Where these controls are available for individual adjustment, and still better where there is a reflector aerial capable of being beamed in the direction of Rome, the experimenter can make an effort to pick up the Rome transmissions. It is easily possible to recognise the station for the caption card reads EIAR, TRASMISSIONI, SPERIMENTALI, RADIOVISIONE. The camera employed for transmission purposes by the Italians in their studio is shown in the accompanying illustration. It incorporates a modern storage tube based on the Iconoscope principles and is provided with the usual dolly truck facilities, panning head handle and adjustments. Two lenses are used, one mounted above the other and operated by a single control. One lens focuses the scene to be televised onto the mosaic signal plate, while the second lens focuses the same scene onto an observation plate at the rear of the camera housing, so that the camera man can be sure of keeping the picture in exact focus and within the plate area limits.

Caption: A storage type television camera as used by the Italians.
Practical Wireless, 28th October 1939

About the beginning of transmission in Rome, a local newspaper on July 15, 1939 announced the start of an 'experimental' service for the 22nd of the same month, in connection with the annual 'Radio Fair' held in Circus Maximus. This looks exactly what is reported in the magazine you quote, so July 22 1939 should be the starting date. However at the moment I do not have a confirmation from subsequent issues of the newspaper. I will try to check the library of RAI-TV when I have time. According to a book written in 1951, the transmitter in Rome was dismantled by the Germans at the end of 1943, after Italy surrendered to the Allies on Sept. 8.
Concerning Milan, I have a book written in 1941 where it looks like a xmtr was operating there (the values for frequencies I quote are taken from this book). This seems to be confirmed by a post by M. Berti on the newsgroup. I will investigate further.
The reception of the Rome station on 45MHz in England looks a really amazing TV-DX. Perhaps not impossible with special atmospheric conditions (troposcatter?). No, SpE
I will keep you informed. Best regards, Giovanni
e-mail from Giovanni Carboni

About the stations.
1) the M. Mario TX began its 'public' service on July 22, 1939. This is what appears on the Rome newspaper Il Messaggero. I went through all the 1939 issues but I could not find any further news. I noticed that in September 1939 the mood changed considerably after Hitler attacked Poland, so maybe experimenting with TV was considered too frivolous and the transmission were stopped before the end of the year. But at the moment I do not have more accurate informations.
2) about Milan: I checked Corriere della Sera 1939 issues. In September they say that after Rome the E.I.A.R. was setting up the Torre Littoria TX. On another issue the title says: "Television tests started at the Torre Littoria station". But very little details. I wonder if it is was not a closed-circuit system. About the RAI library, I never had time to visit it. I will give you their address (I do not have it here).
e-mail from Giovanni Carboni, 25.6.97

By the way, I am pretty sure that the Italian apparatus in Monte Mario is not of German origin as stated in an article you quoted. The 441 lines system was loosely referred in a book I have as 'German system' but the apparatus (TX and receivers) was supplied by S.A.F.A.R. (Societa' Anonima Fabbricazione Apparecch Radiofonici) and they had also a number of patents, so the system apparently was not built under a foreign license. I could send you a scanned picture of the SAFAR TV receiver.
e-mail from Giovanni Carboni, 26.6.97

I will do what you require but, according to my experience, you will not get an answer. It would be much better to write to some "expert" like Prof.Soresini in Milan.

According to my books TV transmission in Italy started in 1938 ONLY on a experimental basis and finished in 1939 but only a few hundred of sets were involved in the project. You might like to have a look at the enclosed picture which shows a crowd of curios people in front of a shop in Milan showing this experiments in 1939.

I remember seeing a mirror-lid TV working in a shop in Via Flaminia, ROME, with a similar crowd in front of the shop, but I could not tell you the date. As I was born in 1939 it could not have been in that year but I am pretty sure that it had nothing to do with the official beginning of the post war transmission which started in 1954(!). So it could have been when I was 6 or 7 just AFTER the end of the war.

An even better way to find out about this would be to write to the RAI Museum in Torino, as for what I can remember, the RAI has always been based in Turin and NOT in Rome.
e-mail from Enrico Tedeschi

Rome (Monte Mario) 40.50 44.00
Milan (Torre del
Parco Nord) 42.00 45.50

Note: the Rome station had a power of 2kW and a range of 30 miles. It opened in August 1939 and was still transmitting in October of that year. It is not clear if the Milan station went on the air before the war.

1. When did television transmissions from the Rome station finish? The evidence is that this was some time after October 1939.

2. According to a book written in 1951, the transmitter in Rome was dismantled by the Germans at the end of 1943, after Italy surrendered to the Allies on Sept. 8. Is this correct?

3. Did the television station at Milan (Torre del Parco Nord) actually go on the air? What are the dates?

If you have an answer for the above questions or any more info please send them to: Andy Emmerson MIDSHIRES@CIX.COMPULINK.CO.UK. This will form the base for a proper article on the subject. Thank you.

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