Tag Archives: RCA

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.

Scotch Helical Tape Catalog Sheets From 1970

Here are catalog sheets for 3M Scotch brand Helical Scan tape from 1970.

When playing Videotape Detective, these types of sheets are useful for cross-referencing the manufacturer’s label on the bottom of the reel with what type of VTR it may have been used on.

Scotch Helical Tape Sheet-MV21B-Aug-1970.

Shows Scotch 360 1″ and 2″ Helical Scan Tape.

1″ for Ampex VR-4000, 5000, 6000 and 7000 series,  Sony EV 200 and 300 series, 2″ tape for Ampex VR-1500 Series, 660B, Sony PV 100 and 120 series.

Click here to view: Scotch Helical Tape Sheet-MV21B-Aug-1970-

 Scotch Helical Tape Sheet-MV22-A-Aug-1970.

Shows Scotch 361 and 363 1/4″, 1/2″ and 1″ Helical Scan Tape.

1/4″ for Roberts VTR-1000 Series, 1/2″ for Sony, Panasonic, Concord, Norelco, Apeco, Shibaden, GE, Bell and Howell, Craig, Diamond Power, 1″ for IVC, Bell and Howell, RCA, GPL, Chester, Panasonic, Craig, Diamond Power and Shibaden.

Click here to view: Scotch Helical Tape Sheet-M-V-22A-Aug-1970

How to Share Your Experience and Knowledge

one of the two tapes of oldest known entertainment program recorded on Quad: The Edsel Show from October 13, 1957
David Keleshian holds one of the two tapes of oldest known entertainment program recorded on Quad: The Edsel Show from October 13, 1957

The content you may have helped record decades ago may not be seen again if the equipment can’t be kept operational and people trained how to safely transfer the content to new media.

Sometimes knowing when and where to tap, tweak or whack got the job done. Knowing the idiosyncracies of equipment shortened the time to find and fix a problem.

RCA TR-70s collected from an institution, prior to restoration to service.
RCA TR-70s collected from an institution, prior to restoration to service. ©Guy Spiller 2009

Your knowledge and expertise in operating and maintaining Quad video tape equipment is invaluable and may be lost forever if not preserved.

Kent playing Astaire show
Don Kent playing a 1959 Fred Astaire program recorded at NBC Burbank in an early and non-compatible RCA Color format on a modified Ampex AVR-1. Image capture from KTLA News story via Don Kent

If you can write, record or demonstrate those kinds of things, we’d like to help preserve them to train future generations of tape operators and maintenence engineers.

There are a number of ways to share what you have.

Some you may be able to do on your own, using your computer to document the things you did or do to keep Quad’s purring along.

If you have access to working Quad decks and a camcorder, it may be possible for you to record specific tips, procedures and techniques.

If you’d be happy to demonstrate or be recorded but don’t have equipment, we may be able to arrange a time and location.

Condensed Ampex Intersync Checkout Procedure Manual
Condensed Ampex Intersync Checkout Procedure Manual found at Ham swap meet.

If you have physical items like manuals, documentation, alignment and training tapes, programs recorded on Quad and other materials related to Quad videotape, please contact our webmaster to see what would be the most effective way of sharing them.

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.

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.

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

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.

RobtSarnoff-WRC-TV-Monochrome
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…

RobtSarnoff-WRC-TV-InColor

 

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.