The First Videotape Machines at KRLD-TV

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Click to enlarge The most interesting of the rescued pictures show the arrival of the first videotape machine at KRLD-TV in Dallas (now KDFW).  This is just north of the KRLD studio building on Camp street, looking east.  Today Camp street is known as San Jacinto, and the building at the far left is still there.

Click to enlarge In this shot, Chief Engineer Bill Honeycutt stands beside the crate containing a new Ampex VR-1000, serial number 164.  I'm still trying to pin down the exact date of delivery, but it was probably sometime in 1960.  (The Ampex VR-1000 with serial number one was delivered to KING-TV in Seattle in 1957, according to The History of Recording Technology.)

(See update below -- it might have been 1958.)

The scene here is at the corner of Griffin and Camp streets, according to the sign at the far right, looking west.  Most of the buildings (and probably all of the cars) in the background are long gone.

Bill HoneycuttActually it's a pretty good picture of Mr. Honeycutt.

1,111 poundsClose inspection of the crate reveals that the shipping weight was 1,111 pounds.

The VR-1000 sold for $50,000, which was a lot of money in 1960.

Click to enlarge There was no freight elevator in the building at that point, so a crane was brought in to hoist the machine up to the second floor.

Click to enlarge Watch that last step!  The machine entered the building through the double doors on the second floor, on the north side of the building.  The double doors are still there, I think, but they haven't been seen in at least 25 years, because they are covered by newer layers of interior and exterior walls.

That appears to be a new 1959 Ford station wagon parked across the street, so this must have been sometime after October of 1958, because the 1959 cars didn't show up on the streets until very late in 1958.

Updated 9/9/2007:
Dick Shanklin, an expert on classic cars, says the Ford station wagon is a 1957 model, and there is also a '57 Mercury in the picture as well.

Updated 9/10/2007:
I should never have doubted Dick Shanklin, because like I said, he's an expert.  He was also one of my co-workers at both KXAS and KDFW.  But anyway I compared the 1957 models with the 1959's, and he's right, that's a 1957 Ford station wagon.  So the first VR-1000 may have been delivered in 1958 or late '57.

Now, all that aside...

Click to enlarge The VR-1000 was not just some VCR that you could use right out of the box.  Installation took a while, no doubt, since the tape transport was entirely separate from the the two racks full of relays and vacuum tubes.  (All the connections had to be soldered.  There were no crimp-on connectors back then.)  The largest of the tubes were 6080 voltage regulators which put out a lot of heat.

Mr. Honeycutt is just pretending to operate the machine, I think, since all the meters are at zero, no front panel lights are on, the monitor bridge is absent, and the tubes look cold.

Sidebar discussion of synchronizing signals:

The VR-1000 required several independent signals from the station's sync generator that seem archaic today.  The signals included "horizontal drive", "vertical drive", blanking and composite sync -- each arriving on a separate cable, of course.  The horizontal drive signal was essentially just continuous horizontal sync -- a series of pulses at 15,750 Hz.  Vertical drive was a pulsed signal at 60 Hz.  Today's machines require only one reference black signal, from which they extract what they need.

Click to enlarge
It was only a few years earlier that television was still highly experimental, and a sync generator occupied an entire rack.  A sync generator today can be as small as a single chip, and costs a lot less than the 62-tube model shown here.

This sync generator was locked to the AC power line, which must have made the engineers' lives very interesting during thunderstorms.

Click to enlarge This illustration is taken from a paper entitled, "A Precision Television Synchronizing-Signal Generator", by A. V. Bedford and John Paul Smith.  The paper describes a 441-line television system with a horizontal sweep rate of 13,230 cycles per second, as recommended by the Radio Manufacturer's Association.

Click to enlarge Here the cover over the head assembly is open, revealing the video head.  If I am not mistaken, this model used ball bearing video heads, whereas later models used air bearing heads.

Click here to see an extreme close-up of this picture, if you would like to inspect the tubes or the head assembly.  This is a 4.46 Megabyte JPG file!  Unless you have really fast internet service, this picture will take a while to load.

Now that I think about it, this photo was taken in the "new" part of the building, which wasn't built until 1963.  It could be that the picture was taken right after the machines were moved from the "old" building into the "new" building.  The "new" part of the building has a freight elevator, so if the machines had been delivered after 1963, it wouldn't have been necessary to use a crane to lift them to the second floor.

meter detail Click to enlargeAmpex tape machines included these dimensionless zero-center meters, for making adjustments where the only thing that you needed to know was whether a voltage was at zero or not.  For example, looking at a discriminator while tuning an oscillator.

Click to enlarge Here we see the monitor bridge has been added above the tape transport.  This photo also shows the assortment of vacuum tubes associated with the machine.

Click to enlarge At this point, both machines appear to be in day-to-day use.  The operator is a fellow named Hollis H. "Whit" Whittenberg, a man who took quite an interest in videotape technology when it first appeared.  Later he became an engineering supervisor; in fact, he was one of my supervisors when I began working at KDFW.  Ham radio operators knew him as W5GG.

Here is a (close-up of Mr. Whittenberg.)

Click to enlarge This picture shows one of the VR-1000's, apparently after it had been in use for a while.  Notice the ashtray next to the tape storage area!  Apparently those few shelves held the entire tape library.  Also it is a little hard to tell, but apparently most or all of the videotape reels were made of aluminum.  Cheap plastic reels (and aluminum recycling) would become popular later.  A glass shelf is mounted on the front of the machine, and there we see a splicing block.  Just to the left is a lighted magnifier to help the operator find the right place to slice the tape when making an edit.  The process involved finding framing pulses by putting a dab of Edivue fluid on the tape and carefully cutting the tape in just the right place.  (I've never had to do a razor blade splice with videotape, so I can't tell you if it's difficult, but the eye strain alone sounds like a real pain.)  The machine is in mint condition at this point.  The only VR-1000 I've ever operated was a little scuffed up on the edges and showed years of wear and tear on the controls.

Remember, this was back when television was in black and white.  Later there was a modification available for the VR-1000 to make it tolerate color, but it was Low Band color and the performance was not great.

Click to enlarge This is the same machine from a slightly different angle.  Note the ID slide shown on the monitor, which says, "KRLD-TV Fort Worth / Dallas."  Apparently this was before the FCC rules required that the city of license be stated immediately after the callsign, e.g., KRLD-TV Dallas / Fort Worth.

Click to enlarge The station later put together a remote unit which held these two machines.  I'm told (by Tim Stoffel of Quadruplex Park) that these machines are VR-1001's.  They have an upright tape transport, obviously, and a slightly different control panel.

Notice the tape was that old light brown variety (probably Scotch 179) that got rather brittle after a few years of storage.  Videotape quality improved rapidly in the early 1970's.

Click to enlarge Later, the VR-1000's were replaced with VR-2000's.  Electronic editing using Editec edit pulses replaced razor blade edits.  I think this picture is from about 1968.  All four film chains used four-tube GE cameras and Eastman projectors which were very difficult to thread.  This station would have been much better off with an RCA film chain, but somehow the company had a strong preference for GE equipment.  The slide projectors were made by RCA.

(This is the only color photo scanned so far.)

Detail 1Zooming in on this picture, it's safe to say the fellow who is wearing a really thin tie is Mr. Whittenberg, and I think the man on the left might be Fred Eberle.

Updated 7/8/2006:
KRLD-TV "Old timer" Charley Dobkins recognizes the man on the left.  It's Harold Haney.

And they're still using the old brown videotape.  If you're younger than 30, you may be surprised to learn that in the old days, you'd record on the dull side of the tape and keep the shiny side out.  In later years, the reverse was true.  These days, you never touch the tape at all, and before long there won't be any more tape, except for archives.

Detail 2I'm told the lady was the Engineering Department secretary at the time, but I haven't come up with a name yet.  The other fellow looks a lot like Horace Liles.

I have the TIFF files for all these pictures, of course, so if you would like to see the extremely large version of one of them, please with the file name of the photo and I'll add a link on this page.

More information about the VR-1000 (with pictures) can be found on this page.

Click to enlarge 274 k-bytes Another picture of Mr. Honeycutt, I presume.  But who is the man on the right?

Updated 4/18/2006:
A few days ago, Bill Ceverha wrote to say the man on the right was "our sales manager, Bill ______ ?"  And just today, an email from Eddie Barker includes the answer — it is believed to be a young I. W. "Bill" Baker, the Sales Manager at KRLD-TV, who became the station's General Manager upon the departure of John McKay, back in about 1982.

Click to enlargeAnother view of the videotape room.  This is a surprisingly clear picture of the VR-1000's.

The old quad machines used two-inch tape, running at 15 inches per second.  That's 30 square inches per second, which is a lot more than modern tape machines use.  For what it's worth, if anything, I cooked up this chart showing the quantity of tape consumed (in square inches per second) by the old two-inch quadruplex machines, compared to modern videotape formats.

Click to enlargeClose-up shows the outboard reel motor — and a second take-up reel — for use in razor-blade editing.  Notice that all the reels are aluminum, and the machine is threaded with Scotch timing leader tape, which has a plaid pattern across the tape every 7½ inches.  I've heard that this leader tape wasn't too good for the video heads.  I imagine the head life was reduced considerably by splices, too.

The quad format included a "cue track" which was used for beeps and voice announcements to cue the master control switcher.  SMPTE time code took over the cue track when it came into widespread use in the early 1970's.

Click to enlarge I'm sure there must have been a legitimate reason for this behavior.

What other tape machine could two people sit on?

Updated 7/8/2006:
Charley Dobkins says the lady on the right is Mr. Honeycutt's secretary, Frances "Peanuts" Wood.

Click to enlarge Another overview of a VR-1000 being used to edit tape.  (4.04 Megabytes)

Click to enlarge Close up of the monitor shows (faintly) what was on the air at that moment.

Updated 12/13/2010:
Norm Hurst did some work on the monitor shot and came up with this enhanced version.

Other photos pertaining to KRLD-TV engineering:

Click to enlargeAt some point there was a Scotch tape display at Whittle Music Company, featuring the new KRLD-TV videotape equipment and the wonderful Scotch 179 tape used there.  At the far left is a sample of "Rocket Tape -- used in all satellite and missiles (sic) recording."

Click to enlarge This could be the basis for a caption contest.

Updated 5/13/2006:
Click to enlarge Horace Liles at the controls of the VR-1000.

Updated 10/19/2006:
Eddie Walker wrote to say that it appears Horace Liles was watching "To Tell The Truth".

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Created October 31, 2005.
Updated December 13, 2010.
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