Category Archives: Quad Videotape Stories

Stories from our QuadList members about their experiences when Quad was King, and now, as they recover the content contained on recordings made from 1956 through the 1990s.

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Happy 59th Anniversary of the CBS use of Quad videotape for broadcast

It was 59 years ago November 30 that viewers of the dozen CBS Television Network Pacific Coast stations saw the first widely documented on-air use of Quad videotape for presentation of a regularly scheduled program: The playback of the CBS flagship news broadcast, “Douglas Edwards with the News” as recorded live off the transcontinental network line  from New York at 4:15 p.m. Pacific time, 7:15 p.m. in the East.
Engineer John Radis monitors operation of Ampex VRX-1000 at CBS Television City in Hollywood as Douglas Edwards reports the news in New York.
Engineer John Radis monitors operation of Ampex VRX-1000 at CBS Television City in Hollywood as Douglas Edwards reports the news in New York.
Did Edwards report the first use of videotape by the network?
I say “widely documented” because this is the event Ampex promoted world-wide.
Whether there were other un-announced uses is likely known to only engineers and network officials who may have passed on without documenting those unannounced playbacks. (IE:  “Let’s briefly switch from the kinescope to the videotape to see what difference it makes in Seattle.”)
This delayed broadcast at 6:15 p.m. on November 30, 1956 originated from CBS Television City in Hollywood from one of the two handbuilt Ampex VRX-1000 Quad recorders supplied to CBS.  Both machines were recording the network feed from New York and while the Dec., 1956 edition of the “Ampex Playback” newsletter doesn’t say so, it’s likely that both machines were playing back their respective recordings as protection from a fault on the “On-Air” machine.
The on-air use followed the unveiling of Ampex’s “Mark IV” prototype at the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (NARTB, now NAB) in April of 1956, and ushered in the beginning of “Time Zone Delay” for West Coast television broadcasts, and the development of other uses for videotape in production of programs.
Ampex reported orders for 80 machines representing $4-million, according to the April 18, 1956 Billboard magazine.
CBS and NBC were to be the first recipients of the Ampex VTRs as noted in this Billboard graphic accompanying the story:
 Ampex VTR Orders-Graphic-Billboard-April-28-1956
CBS and NBC made big use of Videotape during (and after) President Dwight Eisenhower’s public second inauguration on Monday, January 21, 1957.  They replayed the ceremony several times, and “heralded the first use of videotape” according to Television Histories: Shaping Collective Memory in the Media Age, edited by Gary R. Edgerton and Peter C. Rollins.
In this way, Eisenhower became the first US President to be videotaped, and would become the first President to be videotaped in Color a little over a year later during the dedication of NBC’s then-new facility housing WRC-TV/AM/FM/NBC News, Washington, DC.
Editors Edgerton and Rollins note that CBS used videotape to pre-record “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” in late February, 1957 so the show remained on the network’s highly rated Monday night schedule while Godfrey was in Africa “on safari.”
By early 1958, CBS was operating a million-dollar videotape facility at its Grand Central Terminal technical center.  Billed as the largest of its kind, the NY center and TVC in Hollywood soon were serving recorded programs to more than half the CBS viewers, according to papers on the IEEE website.
CBS New York VR-1000 Video Tape Recorder, 1957
A CBS Engineer monitors an Ampex VR-1000 video tape recorder, one of 14 installed in the CBS-TV Grand Central Terminal facilities in 1957.  Likely CBS or Ampex photo that appears in James O’Neal’s 2006 TV Tecnology Article, “The Videotape Recorder turns 50
 CBS’s “Playhouse 90” anthology series would be one of the programs magnetically recorded for both time zone delay, and for production.
The program debuted in October, 1956 just before CBS began delaying the Edwards’ broadcast.
By 1957, the show was being time-zoned delayed on videotape instead of kinescope, and videotape was being used in production.
By the start of the 1958 television season, ad agencies were moving live TV commercials to videotape.
Ad and program production initially centered at network facilities.  In New York, CBS had 14 Ampex VTRs on line at Grand Central, NBC had two RCA Color and two Ampex monochrome recorders in Rockefeller Center and a dozen Ampex units in Burbank. ABC had six Ampex units in New York, six in Chicago and six in Hollywood.
CBS lays claim to (some of?) the first edited videotape productions, beginning with the April 19, 1958 intended colorcast of “The Red Mill,” an adaptation of Victor Herbert’s 1906 play.  Delbert Mann directed the “DuPont Show of the Month” but I can’t find any editor or editors credited.
Television historian Albert Abramson’s “History of Television, 1942-2000,” has a footnote for Chapter 5 (#52) which states that CBS Television executive Joseph Flaherty, Jr., “claims that CBS did “The Red Mill” in 1957 with 168 edits in the 90- minute program.” I haven’t found corroborating information, yet.
Connecticut newspaper “The Bridgeport Post” reported a day before the broadcast: “TAKING NO CHANCE CBS-TV is taking the unusual step of putting “The Red Mill” on videotape. It will be the first major production taped-in-advance. This will necessitate a shift from color to black and white. The move comes because of the current strike of IBEW technicians. The program is scheduled for tomorrow night and if the strike should be settled by that time the show will reach the home screens live as originally planned.”
The September 29, 1958 issue of Broadcasting Magazine explains more, in a feature about ad agencies moving live commercials to tape.
BBDO ad agency executive Al Cantwell told Broadcasting that the production was much too complicated to be handled live by network executives who suddenly found themselves manning cameras, booms and lights.  So it was taped in pieces and then edited together, a “thing never done before or since,” according to Cantwell.
Each point where sequences were spliced together had seven seconds of black. The alternate to the black was “roll over” on home screens. Although ways were found to shorten the black somewhat, it was decided to eliminate the black and take the roll over.
Larry Weiland’s November, 1986 American Cinematographer article “The CMX 600 Belongs to History” reports that, “Even while Ampex was developing its electro-mechanical splicing system, CBS engineers were experimenting with tape editing by shooting program segments with fades at each end, and splicing the tape in the “black,” hoping the VTR would re-synchronize during the fade up for the next scene. The first show, a drama called “The Red Mill,” was edited and recorded on two separate reels, one with splices in black, the other in picture. The two VR1000’s were run back-to-back. If the splice in picture went through the VTR without a serious image breakup, it stayed on the air. …
Playhouse 90 director John Frankenheimer was beginning to use the new magnetic medium for production.
As the Wisconsin Center for Fim and Theater Research notes in webpages about the anthology seriesPlayhouse 90’s stories often called for special effects-heavy sequences that made great demands on the technology of live television. The show quietly began using the new technology of videotape, first for individual scenes but eventually for entire shows. Indeed, nearly half of the episodes were in fact broadcast “live-on-tape” rather than truly “live.”
Frankenheimer had used videotape inserts rolled into two previous Playhouse 90’s:  “Bomber’s Moon” and “The Days of Wine and Roses,” according to Bobby Elerbee’s “Eyes of a Generation” television history pages.
But the director saw editing videotape as the only way to bring together one of most difficult Playhouse 90 productions: A November, 1958 adaptation of William Faulkner’s “Old Man.”
The production involved creating a flood in TVC studios for the flood scenes, and was the first use of editing video tape to assemble a broadcast whose segments were shot at different times. See these CBS photos on the CBS Television City website:
The razor-bladed results aired on November 20, 1958, directed by John Frankenheimer (seated) and edited by Ross Murray (standing at the Ampex VR-1000 preparing an edit using a splicer.) CBS Photo (by Art Garza, according to Albert Abramson’s “ History of Television, 1942-2000,” which has another shot from the same angle showing Murray playing back an edit for Frankenheimer.)
Ross Murray Edits CBS Playhouse 90-Old Man-Nov-1958
Ross Murray slices and splices eight hours of videotape into less than 90 minutes for the CBS-TV Playhouse 90 broadcast of Faulkner’s “Old Man” in November, 1958. CBS Photo/Art Garza. This was the first use of videotape splicing to assemble material shot at separate times.
Murray was at one time or another, an extra, dancer and stand in in movies before World War II, then a pilot and bombardier trainer before joining CBS Radio editing sound effects and later writing mysteries for radio.
An unplanned move to a 6 a.m. television show led to concentrating on developing the editing department at Television City with three other engineers. That led to the collaboration with Frankenheimer on “The Old Man.”
Abramson’s book notes that “Murray volunteered to cut the show together, even though such a job had never been done before and he had nothing but the Ampex Edit Block and a can of (Edivue) to show where the edit points were.”
The show contained 61 edits, and pulled together a 90-minute broadcast from eight hours of content videotaped over four days at Television City.
Murray turned 97 on Sept. 16, 2015, and is living in the small California Coast Range town of Boonville, between Ukiah and the coastal town of Elk.
Frankenheimer talks about directing Playhouse 90 in this clip from the Archive of American Television:
The clip and other Playhouse 90 information is found here:
While CBS was developing uses for videotape beyond Time Zone Delay, NBC was also building on videotape technology to bring business into its Burbank “Color City” studios, and by 1959, had elevated production technology and techniques to include keyed titling, chroma-key and the development of a process to allow razor-blade editing of shows to be as precise as film.
That process using a combination of videotapes transferred to 16mm kinescopes, sprocketed magnetic sound, and a talking clock called “Editor’s Sync Guide.”
The “ESG” process resulted in a lot of work for NBC Burbank, and awards for the editors who crafted the shows, first on film, and then by rolling through Quad videotapes to match the video edits to the film cuts. One might call it the television version of “Negative matching.”  Examples of the end product range from 1959’s “An Evening with Fred Astaire” to “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” which made a staple of many quick cuts between short clips, often just long enough for someone to say, “Sock it to me!”
In about five months, the 60th anniversary of the unveiling of Quad videotape will have just passed as the NAB Show opens in Las Vegas April 18, 2016.
A vintage surprise may show up if restoration is successful.  Stay tuned for details as they become available.
Elsewhere, a well-regarded videotape equipment refurbisher anticipates having a restored Ampex AVR-2 working in Lower South Hall.
Other examples of the range of videotape—analog and digital—will be showcased among the increasingly smaller and higher resolution recording devices being exhibited.  Long-time NAB attendees will either fawn over the older gear (or recall favorite curses) while newer generations may ask, “What the heck is that?”
Search the NAB Show website for “Videotape” or “Museum” as NAB gets closer.
Free exhibit pass code LV3654 can now be used for registration.
The Ninth Annual Quad Videotape Group Lunch at NAB will happen at 12:30pm, Tuesday, April 19, 2016 at a location to be determined.  Last year’s venue has been eaten up by a sea of booths in Upper South.
Cheers from Chilly northern California.


Visual/Allen, Quad VTRs and the Bosch connection

Visual/Allen, Quad VTRs and the Bosch connection

Al Sturm at the Reel Thing 22, August 21, 2009
Al Sturm at the Reel Thing 22, August 21, 2009

As told by Al Sturm, June 2009 in a series of e-mails to Quad Videotape Group Secretary Ted Langdell

I’ll try to do a chronology of Allen/Visual/Fernseh (Bosch) association from the period of 1965-1970.

Steve Allen was a sharp video entrepreneur who from the early days of Quad was able to come up with accessories to improve the operation of the Quad machines.

Among some of the products were:

A very early manual Amtec. This was a time in electronic state of the art when transistors were first being used in video design.
They built a solid state switcher, and an improved limiter low band demod. This was about the time of the VR-1000B.
Their next project was to replace the tube servo.

Steve had two sharp engineers working with him, Clarence Boice (ex Philco), and Dick Silver (Stanford student) who were the “power behind the throne.” They were very innovative for the time.

Steve had friends at Ampex, and learned of a problem that it was difficult to obtain quality variable delay lines for Amtecs. It was very difficult matching the varicaps and holding tolerance on the wound inductors. They then started building and selling them to Ampex.

They also built balanced output filters for the VR-1000C demod, which Ampex used.

Simultaneously, Visual Electronics was a primarily a rep company for broadcast TV equipment.

Jim Tharpe—Visual’s president—was involved in TV all the way back to the DuMont days.

One of his coups was to become the sole US importer for the Philips Plumbicon cameras. This was about the time when color hit so they were the “only show in town.” Among products Visual sold were the accessories from Allen Electronics.

In 1964 when the VR-2000 was introduced. High Band became the standard for broadcasters.

Jim Tharpe was intrigued with Allen and thought they could build a competing high band system due to their experience with signal systems. He then bought Steve Allen out.

The problem turned out to much harder to solve than Visual was led to believe.  Among the problems were:

Number 1: Understanding Charlie Ginsburg’s high band patent, and
Number 2. Designing a high band signal system that didn’t infringe the Ampex patent.

Along with Clarence Boice and Steve Allen, Visual brought in engineers from France, Germany, and New York to solve the problems.

This is when I went to work for Visual because of my field engineering background with Ampex. My job title was “Jack of all trades” trying to be a go between with Visual, Allen, and customers. I ended up being somewhat of a “fire fighter”.

They had some success. As a result Visual put together a VTR using the VR-1000 console and monitor rack with a solid state H-locked servo, signal system utilizing the MK10 head, Amtec, and Colortec.

Al Sturm at Visual Elevtronics, Sunnyvale, CA, (Circa 1968), testing a Visual/Allen  VA-1000.
Al Sturm at Visual Elevtronics, Sunnyvale, CA, (Circa 1968), testing a Visual/Allen VA-1000.

That’s me with my “AJ squared away” crew cut.

Because of the buyout of all the Ampex equipment, Ampex wasn’t too concerned with the competition.

A number of the “Allenized” machines were sold by Visual Electronics.

Some customers were: Corinthian Broadcasting (then a subsidiary of Dun and Bradstreet,) NBC New York for their time delay, and a number of educational and religious broadcasters.

(Quad Videotape Group Secretary Ted Langdell notes that in 1977, an Allenized VR-1000 was still in use at Corinthinan’s KXTV, 10, Sacramento, often recording the first feed of CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite for “cherry-picking” stories, and other feed duties.)

The Visual/Allen machine at KXTV was from a purchase made by George Jacobs, Director of Engineering for the Corinthian stations. KOTV Tulsa was another. The president of Visual Electronics Jim Tharpe and George were good friend from their past DuMont days.

The next step by Visual was to build their own VTR.

Tharpe had contacts in Germany with Fernseh who had a monochrome VTR with their own air bearing heads.

Bosch Fernseh BM-20 Monochrome Tube Type Quadruplex VTR--Deutsches Fernsehmuseum Wiesbadenwebsite
Bosch Fernseh BM-20 Monochrome Tube Type Quadruplex VTR–Deutsches Fernsehmuseum Wiesbadenwebsite

An association was formed between Fernseh and Visual.

Fernseh supplied frame, transport, and heads to Visual who built a high band signal system, motor controls, and servo from the Allen electronics to compete with Ampex.

I was in Darmstadt, Germany many times during the development and know quite a bit about their products.

Bosch Fernseh Quad Video Recorder head (Al Sturm Collection)
Bosch Fernseh Quad Video Recorder head (Al Sturm Collection)

The Fernsh head was very good. It had some good features, one of which was linear bearings for the guide.

It was very repeatable and positive.


Visual then made and marketed a machine called the VA50.

Visual Electronics VA-50 Quad at KHOF-TV, San Bernardino (Bruce Braun Collection)
Visual Electronics VA-50 Quad at KHOF-TV, San Bernardino (Bruce Braun Collection)

The VA-50 was a striped down version of the VA-100.

I frankly can’t remember what was left off.


Visual-Allen-VA-50 Quads-Likely at KHOF-TV. (From the Joe Snelson collection)
Visual-Allen-VA-50 Quads-Likely at KHOF-TV. (From the Joe Snelson collection)

It had limited success.

The problem was with all the design engineering, field engineering, and buyout items from Ampex and Fernseh costs, profit margins were very slim.


Pricing was around $45,000.00 for the VA-50 and $55,000.00 for the VA-100.

Video Recorder Sales Sheet from April, 1966, (NAB?) (From the Don Norwood Collection)
Visual/Allen Quad Video Recorder Sales Sheet from April, 1966, (NAB?) (From the Don Norwood Collection)

Visual was having other financial problems so they shut the VTR project down.

This is when John Streets and I started Merlin (Merlin Engineering Works) by buying out all the excess inventory from Visual.

We then started refurbishing and reselling VR-2000’s , VR-1200’s, building our own high band signal system and offered high band kits for older machines.

This is the story to the best of my recollection.

Al Sturm

Sturm passed away April 22, 2013 at his home in San Jose, California.   Al was 78, and had been working on a new TBC project until shortly before his passing.

TL notes that Visual/Allen’s 1966 catalog advised that it could convert RCA TRT series tube-type machines to all solid-state high band/all band versions, and could do the same for RCA’s TR-22 solid state machines, which were initially low-band only when introduced before Ampex introduced high band in 1964.

It rebuilt Ampex’s tube-based VR-1000s as transistorized High Band units, and used the VR-1000 transport in a new housing to offer most of the high-end features offered by uThe Visual/Allen 100G “Master Color Video Tape Recorder.”

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.