Klaus Landsberg: German engineering genius and TV pioneer

Klaus Landsberg KTLA publicity photo

Klaus Landsberg was hired by Paramount Pictures to develop experimental W6XYZ that would become KTLA-TV, the first television station west of the Mississippi.

Klaus Landsberg is one of the heroes of my book Inventing TV News, Live and Local in Los Angeles. The groundbreaking general manager of KTLA-TV in Los Angeles is credited with the first live, on-the-scene TV broadcasts of breaking news and the first live telecast of an atomic bomb detonation. But when I went to Germany as a RIAS fellow in 2001 to research his early life and work in Germany, it was difficult to find any trace of him.

Klaus Landsberg Hollywood Walk of Fame

Klaus Landsberg was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1985.

Here is a timeline:

Early life: Landsberg was born in Berlin on July 17, 1916. His parents took pride in their Jewish heritage but described themselves as agnostic. Family members say young Klaus began tinkering with radio as a teenager. At age 20 he worked on the telecast of the 1936 Olympics and studied with Professor Arthur Korn.* Landsberg developed a type of radio wave that would make it easier to land airplanes safely in bad weather. The German patent office requested the designs. Knowing this could be a game-changer for the Hitler’s war machine, his family urged him to leave Germany. He took his invention to the US Embassy and was able to obtain an immigration visa.

October 13, 1937 Landsberg arrives in New York.

1938: Hired by American TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth in Philadelphia.

1939: Took part in the first public demonstration of television in America by NBC at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Worked for the Alan B. DuMont Laboratories, developing television for the US Army and experimental TV station WABD (today’s WNYW). Paramount Pictures was a major stakeholder in DuMont broadcasting.

Klaus Landsberg

Klaus Landsberg, KTLA publicity photo.

1941: Paramount hires Landsberg to start an experimental TV station in Los Angeles.

1942: Experimental station W6XYZ begins broadcasting from a garage in the back lot of the Paramount movie studio.

January 22, 1947: Paramount’s KTLA signs on the air as the first commercial TV station west of the Mississippi. Under Landsberg’s direction, it mostly broadcasts studio-based programming with some remotes from planned events.

February 20, 1947: KTLA’s first live remote news broadcast. Aftermath of a factory explosion that killed 17 and injured 150 people.

Klaus Landsberg in a W6XYZ remote van, capable of transmitting live pictures on a line of sight to a TV transmitter atop Mount Wilson. At the time, it was one of the world’s most powerful transmitters, with a signal that reached from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

Kathy Fiscus

Kathy Fiscus, the child who was trapped in an abandoned well pipe in San Marino California.

April 9-10, 1949: KTLA and KTTV (owned by the Los Angeles Times) provide continuous on-scene TV coverage of a live breaking news event, the attempted rescue of 3 year-old Kathy Fiscus from an abandoned well pipe. The 27 hours of continuous live coverage is credited with the sale of more than 100,000 television receivers in Los Angeles. Previously, the TV cameras had never been operated for more than a few hours a day.

Kathy Fiscus Los Angeles Times

The attempted rescue was front page news around the world, but the live TV coverage could only be seen in Southern California.

May 1951: Live KTLA and KTTV coverage of the investigation into the murder of 10 year-old Patty Jean Hull raises ethical questions about the content of early TV news. KTTV was first with the story. Landsberg sends a KTLA crew after he is convinced the coverage would serve the higher purpose of demonstrating the need for new laws to protect children.

September 4, 1951: A speech by President Truman is the first use of the transcontinental relay for US network television. FCC begins to lift its freeze on new TV licenses and most TV stations become network affiliates. KTLA continues to provide popular entertainment programming for independent stations nationwide and continues innovation of live, remote local news coverage in Los Angeles.

April 22, 1952: Landsberg and KTLA his team install a complicated microwave relay to broadcast a live atomic bomb detonation in the Nevada desert to America’s living rooms, after the New York-based networks and the phone company said it was impossible.

KTLA atomic bomb telecast

KTLA’s live broadcast of an atomic bomb

September 16, 1956: Landsberg dies of cancer at age 40.

July 29, 1958: Landsberg’s chief engineer, John Silva, launches the KTLA Telecopter. It was the world’s only helicopter capable of transmitting live television images until KTLA sold it to a rival station in 1974.

KTLA Telecopter

KTLA Telecopter


In this book trailer for Inventing TV News, KTLA’s Stan Chambers recalls the coverage of the Kathy Fiscus story.

KTLA remembers Klaus Landsberg:

The book, Inventing TV News, Live and Local in Los Angeles is available on Amazon and all major ebook platforms. Link to Amazon Germany.

Get a FREE audiobook download on Audible: I have a limited number of free downloads available for anyone who will commit to reviewing “Inventing TV News: Live and Local in Los Angeles.” Please email me at to get a code that can only be used on Amazon’s Audible.

*Korn was also a German Jew, credited with developing early fax machine and mechanical television technology (transmission of film recordings). He was dismissed from his position at the Berlin Institute of Technology and left Germany in 1939 for the United States.

Please note that I do not own the rights to the photos. Fair use for commentary and educational purposes only.

More about the book on Terry’s FREE monthly travel newsletter on Substack, Strangers in the Living Room.

KTLA billboard Terry Anzur

Hal Fishman, Terry Anzur, Roland Galvan and Tony Hernandez on billboard for KTLA News at Ten.

RIAS on the Red Carpet at the Oscars.

RIAS at Entertainment Tonight

RIAS Burkhard and Katya

Burkard Mueller-Ulrich and Katya Luekert RIAS fellows cooking in Florida.

Burkhard at Kontrafunk in Switzerland.