John Silva

Engineer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-and-a-half-hour Archive interview, John Silva (1920-2012) talks about his early interest in television and his desire to get into engineering. He recalls his time as a radar officer during World War II and turning down a job at NBC in New York in order to begin working at an experimental television station in Los Angeles (W6XYZ, which would become KTLA). Silva discusses his early roles as station engineer and technical director, and describes supervising early remote/mobile units. He recounts working with the legendary station manager and engineer Klaus Landsberg and the technical challenges of building the station, including the moving of the transmitter to Mt. Wilson. Silva speaks of operating mobile units and the station's eventual transition to commercial broadcasting as KTLA – as well as the entertainment programming it carried. He discusses the station's coverage of the Kathy Fiscus story, Nevada atomic bomb tests, the breaking of the Baldwin Hills dam, and other station remotes. He then outlines several of his inventions for the mobile units and details the invention for which he is best known, the Telecopter - an airborne mobile unit on a helicopter. He explains how he got the idea for the Telecopter, how it was developed and tested, and its early uses. He then comments on Telecopter usage in the 2000s and what he sees for the future of helicopter news reporting. B-roll includes photos of original KTLA employees as well as early mobile unit trucks and telecopter photos. Karen Herman conducted the interview on October 22, 2002 in Studio City, CA.

"I got the idea one day driving in on the Hollywood freeway and then it came to me all of a sudden. 'How can we beat the competition?  Why, of course. If we could build a news mobile unit in a helicopter we could get over it all, get there first, avoid the traffic, and get to all the stories before anybody in the competition. It'd be a wonderful thing.'"

Highlights
John Silva on KTLA's first commercial broadcast in January 1947 with Emcee Bob Hope
00:51
John Silva on inventing the Telecopter (an airborne helicopter remote)
02:11
John Silva on how the Telecopter got its name
00:44
John Silva on KTLA's transition to color television
04:42
John Silva on winning Emmys for creating the Telecopter
01:58
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and early influences; on learning of television and knowing he wanted to work in it
On becoming a radar office in World War II; on his first jobs out of the war; on almost joining NBC in New York, but joining Klaus Landsberg in an experimental television station in Los Angeles, which became KTLA
On his first job as a station engineer; on experimental television and KTLA's early facilities and equipment
On the number of TV sets in use in the LA area in the 1940s; on signal strength and Klaus Landsberg coming to America from Germany

Chapter 2

On KTLA chief engineer Klaus Landsberg's strategy for the station; on becoming remote supervisor, technical director, and director of sporting events
On working on The Lawrence Welk Show and The Spade Cooley Show
On KTLA's first commercial broadcast in January 1947 with Emcee Bob Hope; on how commercial television differed from experimental television; on news broadcasts

Chapter 3

On early remote broadcasts; on using remote units for news stories; on his inventions for mobile units
On KTLA covering the atomic bomb test in Nevada in 1952; on other breaking stories he covered
On inventing the Telecopter (an airborne helicopter remote)

Chapter 4

On the helical antenna and other technological innovations for the Telecopter; on getting the Telecopter approved by management and documenting his invention; on his engineering team
On the actual construction and development of the Telecopter
On testing the Telecopter and the first transmitted image

Chapter 5

On the Telecopter's pre-show broadcast over City Hall on July 24, 1958; on helicopter use in the 1950s and FAA rules
On cameras used on the Telecopter and how to keep the cameras steady; on creating a second Telecopter
On how the Telecopter got its name; on news stories covered with the Telecopter in its early years
On Gene Autry buying KTLA from Paramount in 1964; on his innovations under Autry's years

Chapter 6

On Gene Autry's support of his inventions, contd.; on winning Emmys for creating the Telecopter; on then-current (2002) Telecopter broadcasts; on the impact of Telecopters on television news
On the future of helicopters for broadcasting; on becoming KTLA's director of engineering and research
On technological innovations that occurred during his tenure at KTLA, including the advent of videotape and video editing
On KTLA's transition to color television

Chapter 7

On white balancing for color television; on leaving KTLA and KTLA's legacy in Los Angeles
On working for Hoffman Video Systems; on then-current projects and the future of television
On advice to aspiring television engineers and the highlight of his career
B-roll photos from his career: of the Kathy Fiscus rescue, early mobile units and transmitters, and the Telecopter
Shows

Lawrence Welk Show, The

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John Silva on working on The Lawrence Welk Show and The Spade Cooley Show
08:28
Topics

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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John Silva on first learning about television and knowing he wanted to work in it
01:25

Emmy Awards

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John Silva on winning Emmys for creating the Telecopter
01:58
John Silva on receiving an Emmy, handed to him by Mary Tyler Moore
00:20

Memorable Moments on Television

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John Silva on early KTLA news broadcasts, including the Kathy Fiscus story
08:49

Technological Innovation

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John Silva on the technological innovations he learned about as a a radar officer in World War II
01:14
John Silva on KTLA's early equipment and facilities; on the first mobile unit
03:50
John Silva on his inventions for mobile units
02:25
John Silva on inventing the Telecopter (an airborne helicopter remote)
11:36
John Silva on the actual construction and development of the Telecopter, his team, and testing
26:28
John Silva on creating a second Telecopter (Telecopter 2)
04:49
John Silva on technological innovations that occurred during his tenure at KTLA, including the advent of videotape and video editing
08:27
John Silva on KTLA's transition to color television
04:42
John Silva on white balancing for color television
04:05

Television Industry

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John Silva on the future of television
03:41

War

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John Silva on how World War II affected his family; on becoming a radar officer in World War II
06:58
John Silva on the technological innovations he learned about as a a radar officer in World War II
01:14

World War II

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John Silva on how World War II affected his family; on becoming a radar officer in World War II
06:58
John Silva on the technological innovations he learned about as a a radar officer in World War II
01:14
Professions

Engineer

View Profession
John Silva on first learning about television and knowing he wanted to work in it
01:25
John Silva on his first job as a television station engineer
01:36
John Silva on becoming KTLA's director of engineering and research
04:00
John Silva on the main duties of a chief television engineer
01:48
John Silva on advice to aspiring television engineers
01:45

Technology Innovators

View Profession
John Silva on first learning about television and knowing he wanted to work in it
01:25
John Silva on his first job as a television station engineer
01:36
John Silva on becoming KTLA's director of engineering and research
04:00
John Silva on the main duties of a chief television engineer
01:48
John Silva on advice to aspiring television engineers
01:45
Genres

Commercials

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John Silva on introducing Lawrence Welk to the ten-minute interval between commercials
04:08

News and Documentary

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John Silva on early KTLA news broadcasts, including the Kathy Fiscus story
08:49
John Silva on deciding to use remote units on news stories and his inventions for mobile units
04:00
John Silva on KTLA covering the atomic bomb test in Nevada in 1952
06:26
John Silva on news stories covered with the Telecopter in its early years
03:39
John Silva on the impact of Telecopters on television news
04:01
John Silva on photos of the first Telecopter
03:09
People

Gene Autry

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John Silva on Gene Autry buying KTLA from Paramount in 1964
08:47
John Silva on a photo of Gene Autry's airborne units
00:13

Walter Cronkite

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John Silva on introducing Walter Cronkite to Klaus Landsberg
01:25

Bob Hope

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John Silva on KTLA's first commercial broadcast in January 1947 with Emcee Bob Hope
00:51

Klaus Landsberg

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John Silva on almost joining NBC in New York, but instead joining Klaus Landsberg in an experimental television station in Los Angeles, KTLA
03:38
John Silva on Klaus Landsberg coming to America from Germany
01:18
John Silva on KTLA chief engineer Klaus Landsberg's strategy for the station
02:45
John Silva on introducing Lawrence Welk to the ten-minute interval between commercials
03:44
John Silva on KTLA covering the atomic bomb test in Nevada in 1952
05:00
John Silva on introducing Walter Cronkite to Klaus Landsberg
01:25
John Silva on KTLA's transition to color television
04:42
John Silva on what Klaus Landsberg would think of then-current KTLA
01:04

Mary Tyler Moore

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John Silva on winning Emmys for creating the Telecopter, and Mary Tyler Moore handing him his Emmy
00:46

Lawrence Welk

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John Silva on working with Lawrence Welk
01:46
John Silva on introducing Lawrence Welk to the ten-minute interval between commercials
03:44

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