All posts by TedLangdell

Restoring the Earliest Known Color Quad Tape: The Dedication of WRC-TV/NBC Washington DC

The “Eisenhower Tape” or what is more accurately, The Dedication of WRC-TV/NBC Washington DC

January 6, 2015:  We’ve been advised this morning of the overnight passing of color television historian and engineer Ed Reitan, whose research and modification of an Ampex AVR-1 enabled recovery of this recording and others made using the RCA Labs color system.


Monitor Photo of Quad tape restoration to D-2 dgital tape by Ed Reitan, Don Kent, Dan Einstien, made during a July 17, 2006 visit to CBS Television City-Special Tour for Telecine Internet Group
Photo © 2006 Ted Langdell

May 22, 1958, President Eisenhower becomes the first president to be recorded in color on videotape.

The president helped dedicate NBC’s brand-new Washington, D.C. facilities housing network and WRC-TV television studios in a live afternoon broadcast fed to the NBC Television network.

Recordings were made 3,000 miles away in the new NBC Burbank Videotape Central, according to Don Kent, who helped restore the tape in 1988.

Kent’s restoration collaborator Ed Reitan believes they were recorded on Ampex VR-1000 series recorders that RCA modified to use the RCA Labs hetrodyne color method.

One source believes a recording may have been made at WRC-TV using equipment sent from RCA Labs in New Jersey.  We have not found any information to corroborate this.

This and following photo © 2006 Ted Langdell

President Eisenhower, RCA Chairman David Sarnoff and NBC President Robert Sarnoff spoke at the dedication.

It was covered by a combination of RCA Image Orthicon black and white cameras, and in monochrome by the two RCA three-I/O studio color cameras until…



Photo © 2006 Ted Langdell

Robert Sarnoff hit the big button under his right hand…
signalling an engineer to hit the color burst switch on the colorplexer (encoder) of the RCA TK-40 camera… and color suddenly came to the pictures being sent nationwide during the special broadcast.

A tape of the broadcast ended up in the Library of Congress holdings.

Another was sent to the President.

Don Kent holds the B-Copy of content for part of “An Evening with Fred Astaire,” one of the earliest color videotapes still in existence.


Frame capture by Don Kent from 1988 KTLA News videotape story about the recovery process.

Fast forward 30 years.  Kent and Reitan are in the middle of trying to restore another early NBC Burbank recording, “An Evening with Fred Astaire.”

“The effort involved historical research into the history of RCA’s development of practical Color Video Tape recording and playback,” Reitan told Quad Videotape Group’s Ted Langdell.


RCA Photo: NBC Burbank engineer adjusts tape wind direction on a pre-production RCA model VTRX” Television Tape Recorder, one of four in NBC Burbank’s “Video Tape Central.”
“I use the terminology “RCA Labs Color” for the format of the original Eisenhower, Astaire, and other NBC color tapes used on the modified Ampex machines at Burbank from early 1958 through at least April 1959,” he said.
RCA Photo, from RCA Broadcast News “I suggest the term ‘RCA Broadcast Color’ for the format of the tapes produced by the RCA TRT-1AC, the first color recorder produced by RCA Broadcast of Camden, N.J., and also used by NBC at Burbank starting in April, 1958,” Reitan advised.”These are distinguished from tapes made to the later “Low Band Color“ standard later promulgated by SMPTE.”
Don Kent slides in one of the AVR-1 circuit cards Ed Retian modified so RCA Labs color could be recovered after 30 years.


Frame capture by Don Kent from 1988 KTLA News videotape story about the recovery process.

Recovering color meant major work on the Ampex AVR-1 they were using.“The machine was the last operable 2″ that KTLA had,” Kent recalled.“Some ten AVR-1 boards were modified and replaced production boards within the standard AVR-1,” Reitan advised.Reitan did the design and mods to a spare set of boards.
All but two of the oldest known color videotapes are lined up on a cart in 1988 during the recovery of content that’s been held on them for 30 years. The tapes are now in the UCLA Archive.


Frame capture by Don Kent from 1988 KTLA News videotape story about the recovery process.

Testing and adjusting the AVR-1 required the only resources they had… the tapes from 1958.”We actually DID run the original tapes back and forth to set the machine,” Kent says about the early stages of the process.”Their dropouts were sometimes so bad (depending on the tapes we used) that we weren’t really concerned about damaging them any further.””I did do a thorough cleaning of the tape path each time I reloaded a tape, though. Once the correct deemphasis curve was set, the tapes played pretty well.”
Don Kent monitoring a transfer of RCA Labs Color on the KTLA Ampex AVR-1.


Frame capture by Don Kent from 1988 KTLA News videotape story about the recovery process.

“When Ed modified the de-emphasis curve he had to do an opposite pre-emphasis in another circuit,” Kent advised.The entire process took several weeks.  We wanted to get it right the first time,” Kent said.The AVR1 designer—Al Trost—made a special trip down to help, Kent noted.
Don “Does the Dance” while threading the AVR-2 with another reel.


Frame capture by Don Kent from 1988 KTLA News videotape story about the recovery process.

Why an AVR-1?Kent said, “…basically it’s because the AVR-1 made a better picture.  It’s AGC circuits meant no-banding.The 1200 had a “non-standard” setting on it’s Colortec, so a heterodyne tape would play from it without assistance, provided that the de-emphasis circuits were modified, but it would still have banding in the picture.  Same for a VR-1000 or VR-2000.  Besides, this is all we had!”
Sony D-2 Serial # 2 records one of the Fred Astaire Quad reels.


Frame capture by Don Kent from 1988 KTLA News videotape story about the recovery process.


NEC NTC-10 TBC supplied by Ken Zin of Merlin Engineering Works, with technical assistance provided by Ken Zin.

Zin says he provided information to enable correction of both the luminance and chroma time base errors inherent in the RCA Labs color process, along with additional information relating to the pre-emphasis and de-emphasis used by the RCA Labs color scheme.

This information came from from work Zin did to make a previous transfer of the Library of Congress’ copy of the WRC-TV color studio dedication at Merlin.

Zin made a module to play this version of RCA Labs Color for the Library’s Merlinized Ampex VR-2000 and then went to Washington, DC to install the module and made another transfer of the LoC’s tape while there.

The processing was done through an NEC NTC-10 timebase corrector.  It just made a smoother picture.The machine was outputting a fairly decent picture through it’s own “buffer” (before digital timebase correctors came along), but we broke the chain and tapped out of the demod signal to feed the NEC TBC. D-2 copies of the Quad Astaire and other tapes were made.

UCLA Archivist Dan Einstein


Frame capture by Don Kent from 1988 KTLA News videotape story about the recovery process.

While this was going on, their other collaborator— UCLA film and television Archivist Dan Einstein— brought in the WRC-TV dedication tape from the Library of Congress.Kent recalled, “It wasn’t in very good shape, though.  We played the thing for them, but that had been attempted MANY times over the years and the tape was just plain ‘messed up.'”
Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abilene, Kansas


Photo from Eisenhower Presidential Library Website

The playback of the LoC tape offered an enticing tidbit when Robert Sarnoff said something about presenting a copy of the tape to President Eisenhower.”After some detective work by Einstein  we found the second copy at The Eisenhower Library.  They didn’t even know what it was!” Kent exclaimed.
“Let’s try this again”


Frame capture by Don Kent from 1988 KTLA News videotape story about the recovery process.

“They sent it to Dan, who brought it to me.  I broke the original hold-down tape on the reel which had been put there in 1958! “

“There were still some technical difficulties in the tape, though,” Kent detailed.

It was originated in Washington; recorded in Burbank; and had 5-kilocycle (bandwidth) sound that was delivered via telco on a different path than the picture.  Sound wasn’t multiplexed with the picture then. “

Kent and Ed Reitan at work on the AVR-1 at KTLA.


Frame capture by Don Kent from 1988 KTLA News videotape story about the recovery process.

“About two-thirds through the show the audio crapped out.  NBC had the backup telco line, so they switched to it (during David Sarnoff’s speech).  Sounded like a phonecall!

“I ran it through an equalizer and did what I could to match it, but there just wasn’t much there,” Kent says.

“The original sound is on one track of the D-2 and the equalized audio is on another track.”

“There’s also a video dropout in the Eisenhower tape that couldn’t be fixed because of missing frames.  I just left it.”

WRC-TV Dedication plaque as seen on NBC-TV network during the first color telecast of a US President
WRC-TV Dedication plaque as seen on NBC-TV network during the first color telecast of a US President, and also the first time a US President had been recorded on color television tape.  Monitor Photo of Quad tape restoration to D-2 dgital tape by Ed Reitan, Don Kent, Dan Einstien, July 17, 2006 visit to CBS Television City-Special Tour for Telecine Internet Group
Photo © 2006 Ted Langdell



Click here to watch the complete 29:42 broadcast.


Frame capture by Don Kent from 1988 KTLA News videotape story about the recovery process. Einstein (left), Kent (behind Bob Rosen, the Director of the UCLA Film and Televison Archive at podium) and Reitan (right) recieved an Emmy in 1989 for “Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Development (for) Restoration of the Fred Astaire Specials.”  
EdReitan-DonWestWatchWRC-TV RestorationEd Reitan (C) and Don Kent(R) at CBS Television City watching Ed’s D-2 copy of the WRC-TV dedication July 17, 2006.

Photo © 2006 Ted Langdell

Reitan, (center) and Kent (right) watch the playback of their digital restoration inside CBS Television City’s “Jurassic Park” during a tour on July 17, 2006 arranged by CBS engineer/colorist David Keleshian for members of the Telecine Internet Group
Photo © 2006 Ted Langdell

“Jurassic Park” is the lower-level facilty at TVC that houses multiple 2″ Quadruplex machines, 1″ Type C, BetacamSP, Digital Betacam, D-1, D-2 and machines for other broadcast tape formats.

This picture shows the interformat racks with rack-mountable analog and digital decks, routing and patch facilities, picture and QC monitoring.

Tapes can be fed world-wide from here, and there’s at least one in a deck about to hit a bird.

Thousands of hours of Goodson-Todman game show Quad tapes were re-mastered here for use on the Game Show Network.




Quad Videotape Group History

The Quad Videotape Group began as a purely social event at NAB 2008: An informal lunch of people who use, used, maintained, designed or collected Old VTR’s, Editors or Telecine equipment.

Due to several coincidences, the group was invited to help preserve for future use and access, the operating, maintenance, design and modification knowledge relating to Quad tape.

While the tapes sit on shelves getting older, so are the decks that exist to play them on, and the people who retain the know-how to get the best reproduction possible. As the people retire and pass from the scene, that knowledge goes with them.

Steve Nese
Stephen W. Nease, Jr.,  Chief Technology Officer,  Library of Congress  National Audio Visual  Conservation Center, Culpeper, VA

This unexpected invitation came during comments (passionate plea, actually) of Stephen Nease, the Chief Technology Officer at the Library of Congress’ new National Audio Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, VA. Nease heard about the lunch during a morning business breakfast and cancelled an appointment to attend.

Steve explained about the HUGE amount of Quad video content the LoC is sitting on, the equipment that’s available for the task and need for the experience and knowledge of people like in this group to be passed on to younger people so that the knowledge of how to recover the content is not lost.

(Take “this group” to mean both those at the lunch and others who have Quad operating, maintenance and design experience.)

He noted that other archives across the country are in similar situations: Lots of reels on the shelves, and little or no ability to migrate the content for access and preservation.

There are many more hours of tape to be transferred or re-mastered that the NAVCC won’t be able to handle all the work.

That means opportunities for experienced people with well maintained Quad decks to share the task of transfers, and to bring a new generation of Quad-trained videotape specialists into being.

LoC may have funding available for travel expenses for those interested in presenting at workshops hosted at the new Culpeper facility.

Attending the informal lunch:
David Crosthwait
•David Crosthwait of DC Video Archival Videotape Remastering, in Burbank, CA, linear and non-linear editor, formerly at Modern Film, NBC, Burbank, etc.,



Bill Clark
•William “Bill” Clark, Boulder City, NV, Long-time Quad VT engineer, NBC, Burbank, Metromedia, Hollywood, CA, etc.

C. Park Seward
•C. Park Seward of Video Park, Irvine, CA, long time editor, production co. owner, equipment collector/restorer


James Snyder
•James Snyder, Senior Design Engineer, Communications Engineering, Inc, Newington, VA, which has contract with LoC (Quad collector, donated machines to LoC)

Eduardo Zanetta
•Eduardo “Lalo” Zanetta, “The Quad Guy” precision head builder at Video Magnetics in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Tim Stoffel
Tim Stoffel, Asst. Chief Engineer, KNPB, Reno, NV, long time Quad user/maintainer/collector/restorer:  Visit”Quadruplex Park


•Kenneth S. Weissman, Head, Motion Picture Conservation Center, Library of Congress, Dayton, OH and Culpeper, VASlipped away before we could get his picture! Bob Campbell•Bob Campbell, Colorist, Walnut Creek, CA, long-time telecine going back to Quad at locations including Optimus, Chicago, One Pass, San Francisco, Editel, SF, LA, etc., 


•Ted Langdell, Ted Langdell Creative Broadcast Services, Marysville, CA, prod. co. owner, film, tape and non-linear editor, telecine and 1″ Type C machine, film and videotape content collector.
Member, AMIATaking these pictures, not appearing in them!

James Snyder explains an oral history project that involves videotaping television engineers i the Washington, D. C. area as they relate their experiences with video recording and television production, equipment maintenence and humorous anectotes.

Clark-Stoffel Circuit Debate
Bill Clark and Tim Stoffel hash out the design of a simple amplifier circuit.