Kilgore’s Texas Broadcast Museum displays piece of TV test pattern history

Original test pattern artwork now on display inside KIlgore museum
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Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 6:52 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 30, 2021 at 7:20 PM CST
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KILGORE, Texas (KLTV) - If you remember the days of black and white television, what’s known as the Indian Head test pattern is likely burned into your memory and your old TV set.

Believe it or not, the original 1938 artwork used for the Indian Head is now on display at the Texas Broadcast Museum in Kilgore.

“The Indian Head test pattern was developed by RCA and is the standard that every TV station used for setting up their cameras and setting up their monitors,” said Chuck Conrad, founder and executive director of the Texas Broadcast Museum.

Conrad said the artwork was found in a dumpster after the clearing of the old RCA building in Camden, New Jersey. The artwork eventually became a part of someone’s personal collection and was eventually sold to one of the broadcast museum’s benefactors in Houston.

The original artwork is dated Aug. 23, 1938 and says, "done by Brooks."
The original artwork is dated Aug. 23, 1938 and says, "done by Brooks."(Blake Holland/KLTV)

“And this is the original artwork,” Conrad said. “It’s not a copy.”

Conrad said many people have asked him about the purpose of the test pattern and the Indian Head. He explained black and white TV was basically made up of 10 shades of gray, and all shades could be found in the Indian’s headdress. The shades were used to correctly set contract and brightness on TV sets.

Inside the museum, the artwork has been paired with vintage TV equipment from the 1940s showing the famous test pattern.

The test pattern is displayed on this monitor inside the Texas Broadcast Museum.
The test pattern is displayed on this monitor inside the Texas Broadcast Museum.(Blake Holland/KLTV)

“It has taken quite a bit of time and effort to get it running and to keep it running,” Conrad said.

And while test patterns became obsolete as color TV took over and stations started broadcasting 24 hours a day, the image is one that can quickly bring back memories from days gone by.

“I remember as a kid sitting there in front of our 10-inch RCA TV waiting for Howdy Doody to come on,” Conrad said. “And there would be the test pattern and a tone. And then all of a sudden the picture would roll a couple of times, and the new test pattern came up with a picture of Howdy Doody’s face in place of the Indian and they’d say, ‘Hey, kids, what time is it?’ And the answer was, ‘it’s Howdy Doody time!’”

Memories triggered by a piece of television history, now living in an East Texas museum.


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