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First Colour TV sets in India: A Nazi-linked exporter, Korean stars & loudspeaker

On this day four decades ago, colour television transmission was launched in India. Here is a look at the overnight decision, the backdrop against which it was made, and the companies that shipped the first television sets to Indian companies.

April 25, 2022 / 03:25 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image

Colour television transmission in India was launched on this day -- April 25 -- four decades ago, in 1982. The arrival of colour TV sets in India was accompanied by much drama and deliberation as well as a heated debate in Parliament.

On October 11, 1982, just ahead of the Asian Games in New Delhi, an overnight decision was taken by the Indira Gandhi cabinet to allow people to bring colour TV sets from abroad for friends and relatives.

Rule tweaked overnight to import TV sets

The Janata Party government under Morarji Desai had stalled a decision to introduce colour TV in India on grounds that other public services had priority over TV before the Congress government under Indira Gandhi kickstarted the process. In June 1982, the Prime Minister’s Secretariat and the Department of Electronics decided to allow 15 percent of the components for colour TV sets to be imported while the remaining 85 percent were to be made in India.

According to Parliamentary records of the debate on the import of colour TV sets on October 16, 1982, India had 60 companies that were manufacturing black and white TVs at that time.

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The Indian government allowed companies to import colour TV sets only from three firms – one based in erstwhile West Germany and the others in South Korea. According to the government rules then, the imports had to be made from the German colour TV manufacturer International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) and Korean electronics makers Gold Star and Samsung.

Although ITT was a New York-based American communications company, it manufactured colour TV sets under its German subsidiary brand ITT Schaub-Lorenz with Heliochrom picture tubes those days.

A Nazi link to the first colour TV exporter to India

Interestingly, both ITT and its subsidiary Schaub-Lorenz were linked to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. According to Anthony Sampson’s book The Sovereign State: The Secret History of ITT, “On August 4, 1933, The New York Times reported in a small news item that the new Chancellor of Germany, Herr Hitler, had for the first time received a delegation of American businessmen at Berchtesgaden. It consisted of two men: Colonel Sosthenes Behn and his representative in Germany, Henry Mann.

The meeting was the beginning of a very special relationship between ITT and the Third Reich.”

The ITT companies were the “first foreign companies declared by the Reich to be German, and thus exempt from the Custodian of Alien Property.”

ITT’s subsidiary German brand Schaub-Lorenz was a major supplier of radars, radio sets, wire recorders, radio tubes, and an Enigma-like device – the Lorenz cipher machine – during World War II.

After the war, C. Lorenz started producing radio and television sets from Schaub’s manufacturing unit in Pforzheim in southwestern Germany. In 1954, the brand name of radios and televisions was changed to Schaub-Lorenz, and when India imported the colour TV sets from West Germany in 1982, it came under that popular brand name.

Import from “lucky” Korean stars

Like ITT Schaub-Lorenz, the other importer, Gold Star, too had undergone a few name changes. Founded as Lak Hui Chemicals, the runaway success of its earliest product, “Lucky Cream,” the first Korean facial cream, the Seoul-based company rechristened itself with phonetically similar “Lucky.”

A decade later, the company diversified its business to launch an entity called Gold Star, which had gone to make South Korea’s first radio receiver in 1958.

Subsequently, Gold Star started the mass production of 19-inch colour TVs in 1977. A year after beginning to export colour TV sets to India, the owners decided to bring their two entities of Lucky and Goldstar under a unified conglomerate called Lucky Goldstar Group in 1983. A decade later, in 1995, the company embraced its acronym of LG to rechristen itself in its present form.

The third company and the second colour TV set exporter to India in 1982 from Korea, Samsung, too got a star in its name. The name Samsung, if written in Hanja, the Korean name for Chinese characters, means three stars and the company’s logo in that era had three stars.

Boisterous BJP offensive before friendly banter

According to Lok Sabha records, 54,000 colour TV sets were to be imported from the two Korean behemoths and 40,000 from the German subsidiary of the American giant before the conclusion of the Asian Games on December 4, 1982.

In the Lok Sabha, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Narayan Krishnarao Shejwalkar came down heavily on the government’s overnight decision to import colour TV sets for the showpiece sporting event.

There was a moment of misunderstanding followed by friendly banter during the debate. After making his point about “410 out of 450 components (required to make a colour TV set)” being made in India, Shejwalkar went on to explain, “There are certain components, e.g., picture tubes and integrated circuits, which cannot be manufactured in India at the moment. But take an item like a speaker, which we are making for all radios.”

The then-Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Balram Jakhar, immediately intervened to say, “You are not referring to me, I suppose.” Shejwalkar clarified, “Loudspeaker.” “Then you should say loudspeaker,” retorted Jakhar. Even before the BJP MP could continue, opposition stalwart Madhu Dandavate, an MP from Rajapur, quipped, “In the Zero Hour, the Speaker is the loudspeaker.”

Suvam Pal is an independent media professional, author & documentary filmmaker. He tweets @suvvz.
Suvam Pal
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