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History: That Was Then...

From Post-Newsweek in Jacksonville (1973):  Before ENG there was 16mm film. On this film shoot in 1973, Post-Newsweek reporter Frank Beacham interviews Larry Williams, who admitted raising illegal campaign contributions for Sen. Edward Gurney (R-Fla.) The shot used three film cameras, which were edited by hand and used A,B, and C rolls for disolves on a telecine. Within two years, the first electronic ENG cameras began arriving at television stations.

As ENG entered the 1980s, the gear got more reliable but not much lighter. Sony's BVU-800 U-Matic edit deck weighed in at about 82 pounds each, not including their heavy-duty shipping cases. Two of these machines, plus monitors and associated audio gear became the defacto standard for network ENG crews for almost a decade. In this photo, made in about 1982, video editor Frank Beacham worked with producer Carol Dickman in the Television Matrix offices in Miami, which was next door to NBC News. The offices were connected by cable to the network's local affiliate across the street. The networks used private companies like this due to a shortage of their own equipment for several years after making the transition from film to video.

Modern video crews find it astounding how much gear was once necessary for a network-level ENG shoot. But in the late 1970's, video gear was heavy, unreliable and often backed up in triplicates. In this photo, gear is being taken to the airport in Cairo after a network remote. In those days, airlines took pity on news crews. Rarely were they charged excess baggage for all these cases. Crews always flew First Class and purchased a second First Class seat for tube-based television cameras. The reason was to keep the tubes in registration so the camera would be ready to use when hitting the ground...

...In this photo, the three networks set up for President Carter's trip to France in 1977. The cases are stacked up outside temporary network offices in Radio France.

It was December, 1977, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat invited Israeli Premier Menachem Begin to Egypt in their continuing effort to find peace. The meetings were not held in Cairo, but at Ismailia on the western bank of the Suez Canal. It was the middle of the desert and the television networks had to scramble to find facilities to get on the air. ABC News rented an old chicken truck from a farmer and painted it blue on the outside, covering the rest with ABC stickers. Inside, the edit equipment came from Television Matrix in Miami. The edit controller was the world’s first Sony RM-440, delivered only the day before the crew left for Egypt. Under the monitors was a Microtime Time Base Corrector. It was a huge piece of gear back then and so unreliable that several units were always brought along to protect against failure...

...In later years, it was learned why the gear was so unreliable. Microtime had no shaker table to test their gear at the factory. They built it to sit in racks, not for rough and tumble air travel. When they finally got a shaker table, they confirmed what networks crews around the world already knew. It would fail every time. Today, time base correctors are on a single chip.



Broadcast Gear as Cultural Icons

ImageYou know you're getting old when you see broadcast gear that you actually worked with on display in a museum. It happened to me in the South recently, when I visited a local museum that featured a 60s-era "vintage" RCA audio console from a broadcast station where I had worked as a kid.

There's a funny thing about broadcast equipment. It tends to become operationally obsolete very quickly. But, after a few years pass, it can take on a nostalgic quality. Some items eventually acquire the status of cultural icons.

As one with a penchant for old things, I often find myself rummaging through ancient collectibles in New York City's antique shops. Lately, I've noticed that old electronics—tube gear, consoles with huge grapefruit-sized knobs, deco-style "on the air" lights, microphones, even turret-style RCA television cameras—have begun to appear in these stores with prices that will knock your socks off.

The Early 1970s: The ENG Era is Born

ImageIt was in May 1962, when CBS used the first Ikegami black and white portable video camera to document the historic launching of the first manned space flight, the Aurora 7.  However, it would be ten years later, in 1972, when Ikegami introduced the first color hand-held camera – the HL-33 – for broadcast use.

The HL stood for "Handy Looky," a name that Ikegami still uses today for some of its camcorder models.  However, portable video cameras from the early 1970s might not be considered so portable by today's standards.  These cameras didn't even have the camera's electronics inside them, much less a VCR.  That would take another decade.

Philip's Norelco Brand Once Meant Something Other Than Electric Shavers

ImageToday, the brand name Norelco is synonymous with Philips-made electric shavers.  But in the mid-60s, when color television began to take hold in America, the Norelco PC-60 was Philip's introduction to the famed Plumbicon picture tube.

The PC-60 arrived in 1966 at a time when RCA dominated color television with its one-year-old TK 42 series combo Vidicon and Image Orthicon cameras.  The Plumbicon tube was smaller and more sensitive, but not as sharp.  Its color was often described as mushy.  Nevertheless, the Plumbicon was a major success.

Invented in 1960 as an alternative to the tubes used in RCA's studio cameras, the chief technical advantage of the Plumbicon was that it allowed true color fidelity to be seen in TV broadcasts for the first time.  Philips claimed Plumbicon tubes offered "high resolution, low lag and superior image quality" over conventional camera tubes.

RCA's Last Great Studio Camera: the TK-47

ImageIn 1978, RCA introduced the TK-47, a camera that what would become the company's last hurrah in full-size studio cameras.  The ubiquitous camera became a television industry workhorse until the era of CCDs made it obsolete.

The TK-47 series became so popular, in fact, that it won an Emmy award for its unique use of computing power in 1981. After years of time-consuming and laborious manual set-up, the TK47 was welcomed by engineers for its automatic set-up including registration and alignment of the beams on the tubes.