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Famous Television Myths: The Eyes of Texas

TV's Biggest Mystery:
Texas Station Signal Seen in England - Three Years After It Went Off the Air!

TV Guide, April 30-May 6, 1954

Is there an intelligence somewhere in outer space which is beaming TV signals at the earth?

Or can television signals from Texas wander around the ionosphere for more than three years and then be picked up in England?

These are two of the questions with which engineers are wrestling in Houston, Texas, and in Britain as they delve into the mystery of KLEE-TV. And these are the facts.

1. At 3:30 PM, British Summer Time, September 14, 1954, Charles W. Bratley, of London picked up the call letters KLEE-TV on his television set. Later that month, and several times since, they have been seen by engineers at Atlantic Electronics, Ltd., Lancaster, England.

2. The call letters KLEE-TV have not been transmitted since July 1950, when the Houston station changed it letters to KPRC-TV.

3. A check of the world's television stations confirms the fact that there is not now and never has been another KLEE-TV.

Paul Huhndorff, chief engineer of KPRC-TV, to whom the Britishers sent their report, has no explanation. He contends it is not unusual for signals to be received hundreds or even thousands of miles from the transmitter. KPRC-TV [and the old KLEE-TV] has been picked up at Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2000 miles away.

Such freak reception occurs when signals shoot off into space, strike an atmospheric layer known as the ionosphere, and rebound to earth. However, the reception of such pictures has been as nearly instantaneous as electronics permit. A time lapse of 30 seconds would be a cause for wonder.

Members of the old KLEE-TV staff have identified pictures of the signals as looking like the standard call-letter slide they used. Engineer Huhndorff, waiting for more information from England, reserves final opinion. Meanwhile, he offers three theories.

1. The whole business is a hoax perpetuated by some amateur TV operator. This he discounts on the grounds of his fellow engineers' integrity.

2. The signals may have rebounded from a celestial object a light year and a half away. This would be a mathematical miracle if it happened once. Several times is just too fantastic for belief.

3. Some intelligence in outer space has received the signal and has re-transmitted it in the hope of communicating with this planet.

Those are the theories. We suggest the readers take their pick or invent their own.

This story cropped up on the alt.tvdx.earlytv newsgroup on Usenet (the newsgroup section of the Internet). The tale itself is as old as the hills (naturally) but there may be some people to whom it is new. To the best of my knowledge it has never been fully proven or disproven but several points come to mind. Barry Fox, the well-known technology writer, brought it to my attention again some years back and remarked that theese television researchers invited the press to a demonstration of their amazing reception. Summoning up DX television signals to order indicates this was no mere isolated incidence of Sporadic E reception.

Apparently it was said that they managed the feat with standard unmodified (British) sets and any observant reader will by now be smelling a strong odour of rat, for any such signals would have been transmitted on the American 525-line signal, in negative modulation, whereas our sets in those days were 405-line and positive modulation. Every indication points to a hoax; only call letters were seen, never any live programmes. But even so, how on earth could British workers come up with a KLEE station ident, authenticated by the station engineers?

Easy (when you know how)! The early 1950s were a period of keen interest and experimentation in television technique. Literature on the subject was scarce but in those days imported radio/TV magazines from America were widely sold in London. The name of the company involved, Atlantic Electronics, also suggests an interest in what was going on in the USA.

It so happens that the January 1950 issue of Radio Electronics magazine has a rundown on all the television stations operational in the USA and conveniently, there on page 53, is a sharp photo of the KLEE station ident caption. To put this onto a TV screen would not need a camera; a simple home-made flying-spot scanner would be quite adequate for televising an opacity. And for my money, that’s how it was done although until someone comes forward and confirms it, we shall never know! [AE]

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