April, 2012

Submitted by David Horowitz who received it from Charles Higgins. Written by Ted Langdell.

Videotape Beginnings:

While on the road from Denver back to home base last Friday, I managed to forget to observe the start of videotape’s use in broadcast television.

55 years ago last week, CBS made broadcast (and videotape) history when it replayed the Nov. 30, 1956 evening news broadcast with Douglas Edwards from an Ampex Quad VTR at CBS Television City in Hollywood.After recording the live feed coming down the network line from New York at 4 p.m. Pacific time, the program was played back three hours later and fed to the dozen West Coast CBS affiliates.

CBS Engineer John Radis supervised the process on this VRX-1000. Jim Morrison is on the phone to the right of VRX-1000 transport, one of only 16 hand-built machines Ampex rushed to produce after debuting the VTR eight months before. The two racks of tube equipment to the left contain the electronics for the recorder.

CBS created a videotape room that was kept busy recording network feeds for time-zone delay and eventually, programs produced in the studios at Television City.

Here’s the prototype VTR called “Mark IV” that started the revolution on April 14, 1956 at the NARTB show in Chicago, when a group of CBS television affiliates saw remarks by CBS’s Bill Lodge miraculously repeat themselves on three television monitors. (See page 10 of the “History of The Early Days of Ampex Corporation” at http://bit.ly/oLtUoO )

Ampex quad demo 1956

The Mark IV was one of the machines Ampex sold to CBS, shown here 23 years later during the week it was retired from service.

In this photo taken (in 1979?) by Donna Foster-Rozien, her husband Joe Rozien of Telegen and Charles Mesak, Television City’s manager of videotape recording pose with the Mark IV, which at some point had been equipped with modules to enable color recording and playback.

The photo accompanied a May, 1981 Broadcast Engineering article by Ampex’s Charles P. Ginsburg on the 25th anniversary of Videotape™ recording. Ginsburg recounted the lengthy story behind the development of the Quadruplex VTR, and how it ended up causing gasps of surprise at the 1956 unveiling in Chicago.

(The VT Oldboys website reports it was 22 years and was replaced by a Sony BVH-1000. See http://www.vtoldboys.com/mont87.htm)

First Instant Replay:

An Ampex VR-1000 helped make broadcast history on December 7, 1963.
CBS Director Tony Verna (from WCAU-TV originally) had been pushing the sports television envelope in an effort to bring more of the game to viewers. He was hired by then-CBS executive Tex Schramm, before Schramm became the first president and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys.
Verna had worked with tape during the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy.  CBS aired the Games via tape delay… recording the tapes in Rome, and flying them to New York for playback.
In his book “Instant Replay” Verna recalls working around the bureaucracy at CBS to let him take one of the 14 Ampex VR-1000s from the tape room at Grand Central Terminal and haul it to the era’s college football showcase, the Army-Navy Game in relatively nearby Philadelphia.
He recounted the story for Bill Bode (of WCAU) on Page 3 of the PDF here: http://www.tonyvernatv.com/links/instantreplay.pdf
Millions would be watching the game… delayed more than two weeks by the assassination of President Kennedy.  The game pitted Navy’s Roger Staubach against Army Quarterback Rollie Stichweh.
Its not clear from Verna’s book or other re-tellings which model of VR-1000 was used, but given that the VR-1000’s in Grand Central were put into service in 1958, that meant pulling the transport and two racks of electronics out of the building and into a truck.
On location, Verna planned to use the cue track to overcome two problems:  Finding the right place to start playback, and overcome the long, often ten second lock-up time machines required before showing a clean picture.
He told audio man Dick Livingston to record one beep on the cue track as a team broke a huddle, and a pair of beeps when the ball was snapped.
The timing process worked in run-throughs… but the VR-1000 didn’t always lock up in time to be put on the line.
That was partly due to the piece of tape being used: A spliced five minute hunk of what Verna recalls was Scotch 179.  It had previously been used to record a Lucy Show and still had content on it that would appear when least expected.
It finally worked.  CBS’s George Drago was on the isolated camera patched into the VR-1000 John Wells was operating.
What happened is recounted by ESPN’s Beano Cook in the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia:

For three nervous quarters, Verna peered into his monitor and studied his two guinea pigs, Navy quarterback Roger Staubach and Army counterpart Rollie Stichweh. Verna had assigned one camera to follow only the two signal-callers, primarily because Staubach was so skilled with his ball-handling and fakes that most cameramen couldn’t keep up with him.

Although Staubach was the winner of the 1963 Heisman Trophy, it was Stichweh who made television history that day. Stichweh faked to an Army halfback before running into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown, Army’s last in a 21-15 loss.

The requisite beeps sounded in the production truck. Words passed through cables and into headsets. Seconds later, a clear image of Stichweh and the Army offense appeared on the monitor. Verna pulled the trigger and threw the picture on air.

“Here it comes,” he warned play-by-play announcer Lindsey Nelson, to whom he had revealed his intentions only hours earlier, during the taxicab ride to Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium.

Nelson didn’t even have time to forewarn his audience that they would be witnessing television history. Most important, though, Stichweh “re- scampered” into the end zone and the very first instant replay went off without a technical hitch.

So as not to confuse viewers, Nelson alerted his audience to what they’d just seen: “This is not live! Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!”

During the game, Schramm phoned Verna in the truck. “My boy,” Schramm told Verna, “what you have done here will have such far-reaching implications, we can’t begin to imagine them today.”

Verna’s role in the development of Instant Replay is profiled here (unknown source):
He tells more in this profile by (then CBS’s O&O) WCAU-10, Philadelphia
So there’s your December 7 connections to Quad Videotape, Football and “The Day That Will Live in Infamy”.
Share your Quad Videotape experiences and pictures as you are able.
Ted Langdell
Secretary for the QuadVideotapeGroup.comPreserving Tape, Equipment and the Knowledge to use them, in conjunction with the Library of Congress


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