Tag Archives: Quad Videotape Recorders

Quad History: From the Debut in 1956 Through the Third Generation of Machines

In the Beginning…

Wildly successful at introducing a line of high quality audiotape recorders, Ampex Corporation had been working on and off getting much wider-bandwidth, broadcast video signal onto magnetic tape.

After trying audio recorder-like “run the tape across the record/play head” designs like RCA, Bing Crosby Enterprises, the BBC and several others were attempting, Ampex engineers tried running the head across the tape.

Early trials with three heads on a spinning disc, then further thinking and experimentation lead to mounting  four heads on a disc, rotating them vertically across the two-inch tape, as the tape moved horizontally past the spinning head.

Ampex Mark X Video head showing curved headwheel and one of four head tips.
Ampex Mark X Video head showing curved headwheel and one of four head tips.

The story of the development of “transverse” scanning is outlined by Fred Pfost, one of the six engineers working on the project.

By March of 1955, results from this approach and improved signal systems were good enough for the team to tell executives they could have a working system in a year.

By April of 1956, there were two prototypes ready for a public debut:

  • The Mark III was an engineering model, in a functional housing.
  • The Mark IV was the “presentation” model, housed in a sleek console with its two racks of tube-type circuitry nearby.

The Mark IV was shipped to Chicago for a surprise showing to CBS network and affiliated station personnel.

The Ampex Mark IV prototype Quad Videotape Recorder is demonstrated to CBS television network affiliate representatives at the Conrad Hilton Hotel, Chicago, April 1956
The Ampex MarkIV 2″ Quadruplex recorder prorotype as it was unveiled to a select group of CBS network people and affiliates and during a private showing at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Chicago in April of 1956. A thunderous round of applause from convention goers several days later greeted the machine’s public debut.

 

Fred Pfost was one of the Ampex Engineers sent with the machine to set up and operate it.

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?

CBS was the first on-air user of the machine, to tape-delay the evening CBS News broadcast with Douglas Edwards on Nov. 30, 1956.The historic recording and playback happened inside CBS Television City in Hollywood, which figures into some significant Quad tape restorations.

Click here to see more about CBS’s early use of videotape.

RCA owned NBC had ordered three of the Ampex machines. Two went to NBC, Burbank.  One was sent to RCA Labs in Camden, New Jersey, where RCA engineers designed a method of recording and playing color, an important aspect of RCA’s drive to sell color sets.

RCA’s demonstration of the “colorized” Ampex to Ampex engineers and executives led to a patent cross-licensing deal, which enabled RCA to use Ampex’s technology and make its own video recorders.

NBC Burbank's eight Ampex VR-1000 Quad VTRs
Eight Ampex VR-1000 series machines were modified to record and play color using RCA Labs color electronics.

NBC’s Videotape Central debuted on Tuesday, April 28, 1958 inside NBC’s “Color City” at 3000 West Alameda (at Olive Ave.) in Burbank.  The $1.5 Million facility sported eight RCA modified Ampex VR-1000 recorders and one RCA TRT-1C color recorder.

RCA TRT1-01-B
RCA TRT-1-C Television Tape recorders at NBC Burbank, performing time-zone delay

By 1959, there were more RCA machines in place, and NBC Burbank was pioneering the art of videotape editing, making it a “go-to” location for television production.

Click here to see more about the RCA Television Tape installations in Burbank, New York and WBTV.

Another Quad Tape milestone:

President Eisenhower at WRC-TV Dedication. This is the oldest COLOR Quad recording known to exist.
Restored RCA Labs Color Tape playback of President Dwight Eisenhower during 1958 dedication of WRC-TV/NBC Studios in Washington, DC. This is the oldest COLOR Quad recording known to exist. It was recorded at NBC, Burbank during the live broadcast on the NBC television network. Monitor photo from Ed Reitan’s D-2 Digital Master, at CBS Television City, July, 2006. Photo © 2006 Ted Langdell

May 22, 1958, President Eisenhower became the first president to be recorded in color on videotape.  The president helped dedicate NBC’s brand-new Washington, D.C. facilities housing NBC network and WRC-TV television studios.

A recording given by RCA to the Library of Congress and a perhaps never played Quad tape of this event was located at the Eisenhower Library in Kansas, and is the earliest known color recording discovered to date.

Learn more about the recovery and restoration, here:

http://www.quadvideotapegroup.com/restoring-the-earliest-known-color-quad-tape-the-dedication-of-wrc-tvnbc-washington-dc/

 

RCA TRT-1 Production recorder.  RCA photo: Presentation to NAB, 1958
RCA TRT-1 Production recorder. RCA photo: Presentation to NAB, 1958

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the years, the equipment shrank from the six racks used by the RCA TRT-1s (three of the racks shown here)…

 

 

 

Ampex VR-2000B brochure
Ampex VR-2000 introduced High Band recording in 1964. This set a new standard for recording quality, allowing more generations of videotape copying without significant degradation. This brochure details the 1967 introduction of the VR-200B

… to three-rack wide self contained systems, with rollers for ease of maintenance or mobility.

The newer recorders offered High Band recording, electronic editing and a host of electronic circuits to record and play the highest quality pictures possible.

Machines like these second generation recorders, and

Don Kent operates Ampex AVR-1 donated to UCLA by KTLA, Los Angeles during 1988 transfer of very early color videotapes recorded at NBC, Burbank in 1958-1960 with the RCA Labs color process. These Quad Tapes were transferred to D-2 digital tapes and then edited into digital master tapes. Image capture via Don Kent from KTLA News videotape.
Don Kent operates Ampex AVR-1 donated to UCLA by KTLA, Los Angeles during 1988 transfer of very early color videotapes recorded at NBC, Burbank in 1958-1960 with the RCA Labs color process. These Quad Tapes were transferred to D-2 digital tapes and then edited into digital master tapes. Image capture via Don Kent from KTLA News videotape.

the third-generation units—like this AVR-1 that was used in 1987-88 to recover the earliest color Quad tapes from 1958 and 1959— continue to be used on a daily basis for transfer of Quad video recordings to other media.

Early Ampex and RCA Quads at NBC Burbank and RCA TRT-1s at WBTV, Charlotte

Quad History at NBC, Burbank

NBC Burbank Television Studios-Postcard

Postcard: Hubert A. Lowman photo #LS-110 in a Series
Mirro-Krome Card by H.S. Crocker Co., Inc., San Francisco Manufactured for Longshaw Card Co., Los Angeles.

NBC Burbank was dedicated on March 27, 1955. It was completed in 1962. It is scheduled to be replaced by facilities the NBC Universal is building on the Universal lot. The Olive Ave. property will be sold.

Tuesday, April 28, 1958 is the anniversary of the dedication of Videotape Central at NBC Burbank. The tape facility inside 3000 West Alameda (at Olive Ave.) cost $1.5 million when it was started.

The first recorders were a pair of Ampex VRX-1000’s, two of three units ordered for NBC in 1956 after Ampex unveiled the Mark IV prototype at the NAB convention in April.

The third was shipped to RCA’s labs in New Jersey, taken apart to see how it worked, and used as the basis for a successful color recording system.

NBC began time-zone delay from the Burbank tape facility when Daylight Savings Time began in 1958.

RCA:Leftmost of three racks for NBC, Burbank pre-production VTRXRCA-TRT-1AC-smalelrRCA: Rightmost racks of Burbank’s pre-production VTRX
From A. H. Lind presentation at NAB Convention, April 28, 1958, Los Angeles

At that time, the facility included one RCA “VTRX” Color Video Tape Recorder, pictured here.

This pre-production model was laid out differently than production models due to Burbank’s plant needs, according to RCA’s A. H. Lind in a 1958 NAB presentation.

In the top photo, the left-most rack had power supplies. Second from left had head wheel servos, motor driver amps and capstan driver amps. The third from left had the capstan servo control chassis, tone wheel amp and 240 cycle refference signal.

Partially pictured in both photos is a rack with monochrome picture monitor, Cathode Ray Oscilloscope, and selector panel for both monitors.

The bottom picture, left rack has the color signal processing equipment.

Center rack has a video frequency modulator, four channel RF recording amp, four channel RF playback amp, four channel RF equalizer, channel combining amp, frequency demod and master control panel.

The right had rack had the transport, erase power source and audio amps.

NBC Burbank's eight Ampex VR-1000 Quad VTRs
Eight Ampex VR-1000 series machines were modified to record and play color using RCA Labs color electronics.

Burbank had eight Ampex black-and-white machines that could record color using with RCA Labs electronics.

Soon, three more RCA Recorders were at work.

March-1959 RCA Cover In March of 1959, RCA profiled the NBC and WBTV installations in its widely circulated “RCA Broadcast News.”Click on the pages for readable size pages in a new window.

RCA Production Recorders

Click here for larger photo of equipment.

NBC and WBTV Installations

Click here to see larger photo of NBC, Burbank installation at top.

Click here to see larger photo of NBC, New York installation at center.

Click here to see larger photo of WBTV, Charlotte installation at bottom.
How the TRT-1AC works

Click here to see larger photo of Control Panel.

Click here to see larger photo of Track Layout.

Click here to see larger photo of Tape Erase Head area.
Click here to see larger photo of the Monitoring Panel.
Click here to see larger photo of the control panel.

Click here to see larger photo of Quadurature control panels

Click here to see larger photo of the tonewheel assembly.

Another Quad TapeMilestone:

PresEisenhowerOnRCAColorVideotape-May22-1958-WRC-TV-NBC-Wash-DC

Monitor Photo of dgital tape restoration by Ed Reitan, Don Kent, Dan Einstien
Photos by Ted Langdell, July 17, 2006 visit to CBS Television City-Special Tour for Telecine Internet Group

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.

The Quad recording was made 3,000 miles away on one of the recorders in Burbank, using the RCA Labs color recording method.

The Quad tape of this event was located at the Eisenhower Library in Kansas, and is the earliest known color recording discovered to date.

The story of its restoration can be found here:


Capture by Don Kent from KTLA Videotape

Pre-recording programs in Burbank happened later. http://www.novia.net/~ereitan/rca-nbc_firsts.html


Capture by Don Kent from KTLA Videotape

During the process of trying to recover some of the earliest entertainment programs recorded at NBC Burbank—programs that used the RCA Labs heterodyne color method—the technology to also recover the Eisenhower tape was developed.


Capture by Don Kent from KTLA Videotape
There was a lot of dancing going on in order to recover those early entertainment tapes.But that’s another story, to be described on the “Fred Astaire” pages, yet to come.