TV History Thursday: Getting In on the Ground Floor Cheaply, 70 Years Ago

 

It’s 1948. After the war, it seemed like everyone was impatient for television to reach them, but incredible as it seems now, radio station owners had a hard time deciding whether or not going into television was worth the financial risk. There were two competing, less expensive prewar experiments ready to be big time postwar realities: FM and facsimile. FM got shafted almost immediately, when the FM frequency bands were abruptly shifted upwards, making every existing prewar FM radio in the country useless. It would take until the mid-to-late Sixties before the superior quality of FM gave it most of the music audience, by then a rock audience. AM went from being “radio,” period, to something you listened to in your car.

Facsimile was a more revolutionary technology, like television. And it was no mere theory: some of the country’s largest newspapers prepared nightly fax editions, so every farmhouse could have a morning newspaper sitting and waiting for them at the breakfast table, with no intervening printing presses, unions, or delivery vehicles. Overnight radio audiences weren’t big anyway, so using the time to transmit newsprint was a shrewd way to make some money off a new medium at low additional cost. The faxes included clippable coupons for deals with advertisers. In those days, though, dense networks of steam locomotives, interurban freight, and delivery boys on bicycles did an adequate job of carrying newspapers to all but the most remote corners of the country. It’s fascinating to note, though, that mass faxing by radio almost made it.

After the War, a decision by the Federal Communications Commission “froze” TV licenses and building permits while the FCC was able to establish by practical test just how many miles had to separate stations broadcasting on the same channel. This meant incumbent stations that opened in the interim with pre-’49 permits enjoyed virtual, and sometimes actual monopolies in their local TV markets. As any capitalist worth his or her salt knows, a monopoly means you charge more—a lot more. In cities like Detroit, Houston, and Fort Worth, having the first station to achieve dominance generally meant keeping it well into the later Fifties, when real competition was entering the scene almost everywhere.

Suppose you’re not Houston. You’re not Pittsburgh. You’re not even Salt Lake City or El Paso in terms of population, and therefore, advertising revenue. Let’s look at the market realities of being present at the creation of a new medium, 65-70 years ago, of American TV as the country gradually extended TV inland from the coasts.

Let’s say you’re Longview, TX, or Casper, WY, or Binghampton, NY. Because of distance, or local topography, you’re a little outside of the clear signal of any yet-established bigger city station, so you’ve got a shot at dominating a regional advertising market. How do we know what the clear signal area is? Well paid engineering consultants determine by experiment because it’s a function of the power of the transmitter, the height of the antenna above sea level, and strangely enough, mysterious factors of ground conductivity. That gives you your map for advertisers. The dollar size of that market, not the innate interest of the locals in television, determined where stations would be built and where they would survive. By then, radio advertising had long divided the country into sales zones, each with a known economic level and population. There was only so much advertising that could be sold to such a market, TV, radio, and newspapers. That’s a major reason why stations that survived the early days were often owned by radio stations and newspapers.

So you’ve listened to RCA’s General David Sarnoff, made your bet on video, and you’re ready to take the financial plunge. Bravo! But be ready for the bottom line facts: TV stations cost about ten times as much as radio stations, cost ten times as much to keep operating, and in the Forties still only generate about five to seven times the advertising revenue of radio. In other words, an early TV license is a license to slowly lose money. But if you did it carefully enough, you and your station survived into a time when those ad revenues would double, triple, and then leap into the clouds — 20, 30 times what seemed possible back in Harry Truman’s day.

How little did it take? RCA and its main competitors, General Electric and Du Mont Laboratories, offered a basic package for $100,000 (equivalent to $1.2 million in today’s dollars) for a five-kilowatt transmitter, a minimal control room, and a telecine multiplexer, not much more than a classroom-quality 16mm film projector and a slide projector beaming into a specialized pickup tube. You sited it by looking at that bullseye radio wave coverage map and compromising an ideal antenna location with nearby road access and the local electric power company’s willingness to run a high wattage, potentially high-profit line to the middle of nowhere. The power company was often also a contractor on building an antenna mast.

For your first years in the TV business, that’s the center of your world. There’s often a daily delivery run from the airport, bringing in and out the 16mm films that make up most of the station’s programming. “The Cisco Kid,” “The Adventures of Superman,” and “I Love Lucy” could be threaded up and ready to run at 8 pm, just like it ran in New York or New Orleans. A slide-in between the shows with a prerecorded announcer on quarter-inch tape made this one-man show a more professional illusion. You weren’t a network, not yet, but you could look like it.

For all practical purposes videotape just flat-out didn’t exist until 1956, even for the major networks, and even in the early Sixties, video tape recorders continued to be costly magic that was reserved (at $70,000 a pop) for the big three networks as well as the largest, most prosperous independent stations in big markets.

From 1948 onwards, 16mm newsfilm came in daily from a variety of paid sources. Even if you didn’t have a network affiliation, you could still buy a daily newsfilm subscription service from AP, UPI, and Hearst, among others that would come and go, plus the networks’ own syndication companies. In smaller markets left off of AT&T’s national coaxial TV cable grid, the film, hurriedly copied in New York, was at least a day old. But audiences back then were used to movie newsreels that were at least a week old.

In those days news announcers were usually careful to be vague about the time and date of a speech since clips would be aired for days as needed to fill time: “The President spoke at the AFL-CIO convention,” or “This week, the United States vetoed a UN resolution. Here is the statement of the US delegate”. It may not exactly have been like seeing “history written in lightning,” as that wily old racist Woodrow Wilson is said to have described The Birth of a Nation. But it was still a novel experience for most Americans, regardless of its imperfections.

Stations were also offered industrial documentaries that were basically free advertising for entities like Florida resorts, the rice industry, or the Chrysler Corporation. This is the kind of filler that might run if a promised show didn’t arrive on time.

So far, a TV schedule like the one I described could really be called Radio Movies; it’s all films, slides, and announcements. That got by in the earliest days when any kind of TV was still amazing. Daily schedules in 1948-1951 were tiny by today’s standards. Most small-market stations were in places that got up early and went to bed early, and were already covered during the morning and afternoon by local radio. Daytime TV didn’t catch on until the network line came to town sometime between about 1952 and 1956, delivering dull but free entertainment. Until then, and even long after then for stations in markets too small to win a network affiliation, many stations signed on each weekday with a women’s talk and kitchen program at 3 (shopping, cooking, fashion, advice), followed by a cheap one-hour show or syndicated film at 4. Afterschool kiddie cartoons came on at 5.

At 5:45, there might have been all of 15 minutes of national and international news on film from a network or independent news agency, generally as mentioned a day or so behind the wired-in network stations of the northeast and Midwest. From 6 pm until signoff, often no later than 9:30 or 10, they ran two rock-bottom priced 30-minute comedies followed by a feature film, ironically made affordable to TV because TV wiped out much of the theatrical market for Grade-Z movies. The small, third-rate studios that filmed westerns and East Side Kids comedies gave up and sold films to the next generation’s mom and pop television stations.

Sooner rather than later, a TV station had to have TV cameras for live broadcasts. That was really expensive, a wrenching jump; until now, a station-in-a-shack has only cost $100,000 in equipment, maybe $10,000 in land acquisition, $10,000 for a prefab building, and some operating expenses. Now, you’d be talking about a minimum additional expense of maybe $300,000 for a set of soundproof TV studios, a control room, three high-quality studio cameras and their associated electronic control racks, lots of big lights and wiring for high current, and air conditioning — lots of it. That’s the kind of big city-style TV studio that local ad salesmen could use to impress clients. Most small markets got there only in stages, though.

Instead of a spanking new building with studios that could impress Milwaukee or Detroit, most small stations took a cheaper route. They bought a mobile broadcast truck for only $100,000, equipped with two TV cameras, a tiny control room, microphones and audio gear, and a low-wattage microwave transmitter on an extendable boom that could “hit” a dish mounted at the transmitter site.

If you lived in Tyler, TX, or Waterville, ME, or Hanford, WA, there was usually only one station in most early small markets, so that station became “the TV” and tried to be seen as your friend. Nothing turned out to be more important than providing live local sports coverage. It sold tens of thousands of TV sets, and bonded particular channels to their viewers, in some cases for a generation or more of loyalty.

High school and college football, baseball, basketball, and wrestling filled up endless hours of time and were (in those days) free programming. Your one expense was juicing up extra lights for night games, and this was often informally arranged with a few phone calls and a friendly drink between the station, the electric company, and the school’s athletic director.

Now you were a highly visible part of the community, and everyone wanted your cameras at their event. That $100,000 remote broadcast truck was not only a cheap way to get live cameras on the air; it was great free advertising for the station anywhere it went, especially anywhere it was set up and used. Being part of a crowd for live coverage of a public event is exciting even today; it’s hard to convey how much of a high technology miracle it was in the Forties and Fifties. All the trucks had a ladder to the roof and a sturdy camera platform; the bold silhouette of the cameraman and a blocky TV camera on a tripod on top of the truck became a Fifties icon of the modern age. Two cameras didn’t get you great coverage, but it was usually adequate and people didn’t have much to compare it to.

There was little or none of today’s air of the adversarial media in those days on local radio and television. Stations strived to be part of the local and regional team, as they perceived it, and boosted local culture and industry. Erie, PA did not run muckraking news reports about the railroads. Beaumont, TX did not go out of its way to attack the energy business.

Where did live local news begin? For a lot of small stations, it started in the garage where the station parked its mobile truck. They took the two cameras out, used the tiny control room in the truck, and its microwave link to the transmitter.

The local weather map was painted on a rear wall, covered by a gray drapery for talk shows, and a painted circus drapery for the kiddie cartoon show. For the nightly fifteen minutes of local news, they dragged a desk in front of the curtain. For women’s programs in the afternoon, they brought out a couch and a coffee table. Many stations squeezed by for years with equipment like this.

Later in the Fifties, with advertising profits soaring, even many frugal small stations finally “went pro” — built the kind of modern, multi-camera studios that bigger stations had. By then they could do it with current operating revenues. But they wisely held onto the image of those trucks, your school’s sympathetic companion for a generation of home games.

What happened to small-market TV? Well, in one sense, nothing, or at least nothing bad; it’s still there all over the country. Other than isolated geographic pockets unreachable by terrestrial TV signals, the US reached television’s level of practical saturation about 60 years ago and never lost it.

But make no mistake about it. The biggest day in your town’s TV history may be the day when its first TV station covered the region; but in all likelihood, the most significant day was the one when the control room pushed a button from AT&T, and live network television appeared instantly. Local TV culture, and yes, there was some, began to fade. The homogenization of national culture, customs, and language would exact a price over the years. Your local, friendly, rural CBS affiliate didn’t just bring you “Gunsmoke” but also Edward R. Murrow and Eric Sevareid. NBC wasn’t just the company that broadcast “Victory at Sea” every Sunday afternoon at four; it was the face of live broadcasting from Selma during the civil rights revolution.

But that was all in the future in 1952, when TV finally started reaching coast to coast, and big cities in the South and the Southwest started connecting. In those days it was pretty much an unalloyed blessing for stations lucky enough to be chosen as one of the big three networks’ dance partners. It took longer for the tendrils of AT&T’s coaxial cables to reach smaller markets. Even when they did, carrying the benefits of “Dragnet” and “The Thin Man,” local stations often found that their most loyal fans stuck around for locally originated shows like “Miss Mary’s Schoolbell,” “Cowboy Bob’s Afternoon Round Up,” or the cheap midnight 1930s horror movies on “Chiller Theater.”

This is the first in a threatened series of brief monographs on TV and media history. Yes, @hankrhody does the electrical engineering better, @ejhill does TV history better, and @titustechera does culture’s Big Picture better.

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    If someone asked me why 625 line PAL and SECAM TV (almost the whole rest of the world but us, Canada, Mexico, Cuba and Japan) looked so good, I’d be tempted to say, “the number of lines”, and wouldn’t be far off. But here’s a fact: both systems traced almost exactly the same number of lines; in fact, ours traced more, at 15,750 lines a second compared to Europe’s 15,625. They put their lines into a more detailed picture; we put ours into more detailed movement, especially high speed movement. They scan 25 pictures a second because of their 50 cycle a second current, we scan 30 because our electricity runs at 60 Hz. There’s a distinct improvement in motion smoothness, and if you have very kinetic, action-packed program content, the American system handles it better.

    Of course, on the other hand if your national program content tends towards stationary shots of beautiful vistas and languid women in 18th century clothing, the investment in picture detail is the smart one.  

    • #61
  2. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    If someone asked me why 625 line PAL and SECAM TV (almost the whole rest of the world but us, Canada, Mexico, Cuba and Japan) looked so good, I’d be tempted to say, “the number of lines”, and wouldn’t be far off. But here’s a fact: both systems traced almost exactly the same number of lines; in fact, ours traced more, at 15,750 lines a second compared to Europe’s 15,625. They put their lines into a more detailed picture; we put ours into more detailed movement, especially high speed movement. They scan 25 pictures a second because of their 50 cycle a second current, we scan 30 because our electricity runs at 60 Hz. There’s a distinct improvement in motion smoothness, and if you have very kinetic, action-packed program content, the American system handles it better.

    Of course, on the other hand if your national program content tends towards stationary shots of beautiful vistas and languid women in 18th century clothing, the investment in picture detail is the smart one.

    True. Sports on PAL look jumpy.

    • #62
  3. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Of course, on the other hand if your national program content tends towards stationary shots of beautiful vistas and languid women in 18th century clothing, the investment in picture detail is the smart one.

     

    • #63
  4. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Great post!

    I had a summer job as a TV news film cameraman for the local station in Marquette, Michigan in 1980.  We drove all over the UP filming local stories to support a 30 minute local news show.  It was very much part of the community.  Where else would you see the Iron Mountain City Council in action on a contentious local issue?

    One of the stories that was the most fun was accompanying two census workers who  were paddling down the Taquamenon River from Taquamenon Falls to Paradise on Whitefish Bay.  The UP was a 100% canvas region that census so everything was counted. That was a great local story.

    There was also the police chief in Sault Ste Marie Michigan who tried to shut a brothel by enforcing tax withholding laws.  But the madame of the house paid up.  As he said on camera, it seemed like a better idea than it turned out to be.

    This was the last year the station used film.  For real news stories, we had to get back in time to process the film (that was a cool machine) and then physically edit the film for playout.

    Good times.

    • #64
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Was that single system 16mm? (For the audience: the film had a thin magnetic stripe and recorded the sound all by itself, not separately with a synchronized tape recorder). We had a couple of self-blimped single system Auricons in film school to teach news technique, but they were usually scorned in comparison to the double system cameras, which were more like motion picture tradition. 

    • #65
  6. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Was that single system 16mm? (For the audience: the film had a thin magnetic stripe and recorded the sound all by itself, not separately with a synchronized tape recorder). We had a couple of self-blimped single system Auricons in film school to teach news technique, but they were usually scorned in comparison to the double system cameras, which were more like motion picture tradition.

    Yes, it was single system 16mm.  If I remember correctly, there was a several frame offset between where the sound was physically relative to the picture it was for, so there was a brief blip (silent) at each edit.

    • #66
  7. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Was that single system 16mm? (For the audience: the film had a thin magnetic stripe and recorded the sound all by itself, not separately with a synchronized tape recorder). We had a couple of self-blimped single system Auricons in film school to teach news technique, but they were usually scorned in comparison to the double system cameras, which were more like motion picture tradition.

    Yes, it was single system 16mm. If I remember correctly, there was a several frame offset between where the sound was physically relative to the picture it was for, so there was a brief blip (silent) at each edit.

    Or perhaps it was the two frames of silence from the splicing tape.

    • #67
  8. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    In most European countries, the Post Office was traditionally in charge of radio and television transmitters and other national distribution equipment. A private company could, in most of Europe, produce shows or even whole segments of the broadcasting day, but they couldn’t own the antennas. It’s a strange concept to Americans. At one time, if you were unopposed for a license, a radio station could be built by anybody–a department store; the owner of a chain of gas stations; an ambitious preacher; a patent medicine salesman. Just wire the money to Western Electric or RCA and they’d send you a transmitter via Railway Express.

    The inspiring story of Goat-Gland Brinkley, the inventor of Mexican border blaster radio.

    • #68
  9. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Fascinating. Thanks. 

    As an example of today’s shifting media markets: Fox News currently leads TV broadcasters with 1.6 million daily viewers in the US, which amounts to about 48 million viewers monthly. Meanwhile, the virtual construction and exploration game Minecraft — available on smartphones, tablets, PCs, and gaming consoles — boasts 91 million monthly players. Another multi-platform game, Fortnite, is not far behind with 78 million players. 

    World of Warcraft has averaged around 10 million Western subscribers (not counting millions in Asia) for over a decade. Whereas TV channels are bundled into subscription packages, WoW has been able to charge $15 per month by itself. 

    Minecraft is currently $7 for purchase in the Google Play store. The IP (intellectual property) was bought by Microsoft for over a billion dollars. It was initially designed by a single programmer. 

    Fortnite employs the free-to-play revenue model. That means it is available to play for free and makes all of its money off the 5-15% of players willing to pay for non-competitive cosmetic options, like a cool character victory animation. Many others have jumped on the free-to-play bandwagon and failed. 

    • #69
  10. John Hanson Thatcher
    John Hanson
    @JohnHanson

    EJHill (View Comment):

    The first practical video tape machine was the Ampex VR-1000. The thing was huuuuge. And it sold for a modest $45,000. (A cool $423,800 in today’s dollars.) Ampex solved the bandwidth problem with a rotating read/record head that actually had 4 separate heads built into it.

     

    Of some note early recorders were really tricky beasts, and tolerances and tape positioning not absolutely great, so to make it all work, for a few years until the engineers got the bugs out, they used to ship the scanners with the tapes, because interchange of tapes was unreliable,  Briefly, if you wanted to play a video tape,  your needed the tape, the heads and an engineer!  One made a tape copy by connecting one recorder to another, and as this was analogue recording the quality got worse with each generation. By the forth generation or so, really bad.   So the network would take the master, and copy some number of tapes, send the tapes (and the scanners) to a region, that could dup more copies.  Clunky terribly expensive, and quality not great by 3rd gen, really bad at the forth, So by late 50s, most of these issues had been solved.    

    • #70
  11. Duane Oyen Member
    Duane Oyen
    @DuaneOyen

    Keep it going, Gary. I love this kind of stuff. Soon to be a Kindle book…..?

    • #71
  12. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Traditional linear television still rules, just not the way it used to. The individual numbers will never be what they were. This past Tuesday the combined viewers for the 5 broadcast networks at the 8pm hour was 35M. The top 5 shows on cable another 10.7M. And that was just for programming that started at 8, there was another 5M watching the Red Sox-Astros game in progress. 

    That’s 51M starting out their evening with television. 

    The networks no longer try to sell individual shows the way they used to outside of a handful of events like the Super Bowl. Now they sell platforms, the entirety of the output of the entertainment behemoths. You don’t just buy on ABC, you get Disney. It’s not NBC, it’s NBCUNIVERSAL (and bigger with Comcast.) And in sports you can now buy across the behemoths by working with the leagues, hence a presenting sponsorship for the first round of the baseball playoffs this year got you ESPN, TBS and FS1. 

    Long gone are the days when a series like M*A*S*H will pull in 106M for a single episode (which it did for the series finale in 1983.)

    • #72
  13. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    John Hanson: Of some note early recorders were really tricky beasts…

    They still are. I have a friend who makes his living transferring 2” tapes to digital media for archiving purposes. Depending on the storage history it can take days just to prepare the tape. But to achieve maximum picture quality on playback it can take an hour to set up each machine for each show. And, of course, duplication is all done in real time.

    CBS used to have 10 of these monsters at Television City. Six were on line and the other four were cadavers harvested for parts. The clock is definitely ticking on our heritage. The last I heard there was one retired engineer in Colorado who refurbished the heads for these machines.

    • #73
  14. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    EJHill (View Comment):

    John Hanson: Of some note early recorders were really tricky beasts…

    They still are. I have a friend who makes his living transferring 2” tapes to digital media for archiving purposes. Depending on the storage history it can take days just to prepare the tape. But to achieve maximum picture quality on playback it can take an hour to set up each machine for each show. And, of course, duplication is all done in real time.

    CBS used to have 10 of these monsters at Television City. Six were on line and the other four were cadavers harvested for parts. The clock is definitely ticking on our heritage. The last I heard there was one retired engineer in Colorado who refurbished the heads for these machines.

    At least they aren’t flammable like old film stock.

    • #74
  15. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    I used to draw pictures of rockets when I was little (I know, big surprise, right?).

    Knowing about Apollo 1, I wrote “INFLAMMABLE” on the side of one of the rockets I drew while I spent a summer day with my dad at his job at the Weapons Lab.

    When my dad saw the picture, he said, “That word doesn’t mean what you think it does.”

    • #75
  16. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    By the way, did that commercially fateful 1948-1952 FCC license freeze make technical sense in retrospect? It did establish important standards on avoiding cross-country co-channel interference.

    This was a particularly sensitive issue for NBC, whose laboratories and manufacturing plants were roughly halfway between two of their own channel 4 stations, which interfered with each other’s signals.

    Basically, they learned to shift competing cities’ stations very very slightly up or down to offset the problem. The bandwidth for Channel 4 starts at 67,500,000 Hz, so WNBC 4 New York is offset to 67,475,000 and NBC’s WRC 4 Washington broadcasts its own “flavor” of channel 4 on 67,525,000.

    Problem solved.

    Vanguard 1, launched on 3/17/58,  had two transmitters.  They varied the frequency slightly based on the temperature readings inside and outside the satellite.  Thus, the temperature information was sent to the people tracking the satellite.  Here’s the sister satellite to Vanguard 1 which was on the rocket that exploded on 12/6/57.

    Here’s Vanguard 1 a week or two before its launch.

    • #76
  17. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    WTOP in Washington was still signing off for the night in 1973.  I think it was at 12:30 am.  But I remember getting up around 4:00 am for the landing of Apollo 12 (or maybe it was the moonwalk).  When did TV stations go to round the clock broadcasting?

    • #77
  18. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    WTOP in Washington was still signing off for the night in 1973. I think it was at 12:30 am. But I remember getting up around 4:00 am for the landing of Apollo 12 (or maybe it was the moonwalk). When did TV stations go to round the clock broadcasting?

    It depended on the market. WCIA in Champaign, Illinois was still calling it a day at 1:00 AM when I lived there last. Now that the infomercials have truly arrived and the station no longer has to provide content, they have incentive to stay on.

    • #78
  19. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    WTOP in Washington was still signing off for the night in 1973. I think it was at 12:30 am. But I remember getting up around 4:00 am for the landing of Apollo 12 (or maybe it was the moonwalk). When did TV stations go to round the clock broadcasting?

    It varied. Big city markets with shift workers tended to go late even in the late Fifties. New Yorkers had the luxury of seven local stations, most of which ran all night or close to it. When I was in my twenties I visited friends in a quieter area whose TV went off the air at midnight, which seemed spooky and weird to me. 

    Any New Yorker of a certain age remembers WCBS’s The Early Show, their late afternoon movie, and its theme, “The Syncopated Clock”. The same courtly, graceful musical theme was used for The Late Show at 11:30 and The Late Late Show at 1:30 am. At 11:30, the music accompanied a still shot of Manhattan at night, and the lights “went on” in the windows to the rhythm of the tick-tock. At 1:30, each light went back off rhythmically until there was only one left on, presumably yours. 

    • #79
  20. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Was that single system 16mm? (For the audience: the film had a thin magnetic stripe and recorded the sound all by itself, not separately with a synchronized tape recorder). We had a couple of self-blimped single system Auricons in film school to teach news technique, but they were usually scorned in comparison to the double system cameras, which were more like motion picture tradition.

    Yes, it was single system 16mm. If I remember correctly, there was a several frame offset between where the sound was physically relative to the picture it was for, so there was a brief blip (silent) at each edit.

    Or perhaps it was the two frames of silence from the splicing tape.

    You had it right. The offset was 28 frames, 1 and 1/6th of a second. The Auricon company was famous in cinematographer circles for their advertising, which was almost comically primitive. Even as late as 1970, they’d show their camera set up at an airfield with a cartoon voice bubble, “Here they come!”, with an accompanying TV set, a big cabinet with a little round picture and a speaker–“Here they come!”

    Other, more modern camera manufacturers like Arriflex, Eclair and Aaton made an inside gag out of it, frequently finding ways of inserting “Here they come!” into their own ads. 

    • #80
  21. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Any New Yorker of a certain age remembers WCBS’s The Early Show, their late afternoon movie, and its theme, “The Syncopated Clock”. The same courtly, graceful musical theme was used for The Late Show at 11:30 and The Late Late Show at 1:30 am. At 11:30, the music accompanied a still shot of Manhattan at night, and the lights “went on” in the windows to the rhythm of the tick-tock. At 1:30, each light went back off rhythmically until there was only one left on, presumably yours. 

    About one minute in you get the theme song I remember for the local Early Show.  This guy was a local jazz musician picking up some spare cash.

     

    • #81
  22. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    WTOP in Washington was still signing off for the night in 1973. I think it was at 12:30 am. But I remember getting up around 4:00 am for the landing of Apollo 12 (or maybe it was the moonwalk). When did TV stations go to round the clock broadcasting?

    It varied. Big city markets with shift workers tended to go late even in the late Fifties. New Yorkers had the luxury of seven local stations, most of which ran all night or close to it. When I was in my twenties I visited friends in a quieter area whose TV went off the air at midnight, which seemed spooky and weird to me.

    Any New Yorker of a certain age remembers WCBS’s The Early Show, their late afternoon movie, and its theme, “The Syncopated Clock”. The same courtly, graceful musical theme was used for The Late Show at 11:30 and The Late Late Show at 1:30 am. At 11:30, the music accompanied a still shot of Manhattan at night, and the lights “went on” in the windows to the rhythm of the tick-tock. At 1:30, each light went back off rhythmically until there was only one left on, presumably yours.

    Broadcast stations here in ABQ were signing off at 1:00 am, I think, until I graduated high school in 1988.

    • #82
  23. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    By the way, did that commercially fateful 1948-1952 FCC license freeze make technical sense in retrospect? It did establish important standards on avoiding cross-country co-channel interference.

    This was a particularly sensitive issue for NBC, whose laboratories and manufacturing plants were roughly halfway between two of their own channel 4 stations, which interfered with each other’s signals.

    Basically, they learned to shift competing cities’ stations very very slightly up or down to offset the problem. The bandwidth for Channel 4 starts at 67,500,000 Hz, so WNBC 4 New York is offset to 67,475,000 and NBC’s WRC 4 Washington broadcasts its own “flavor” of channel 4 on 67,525,000.

    Problem solved.

    Vanguard 1, launched on 3/17/58, had two transmitters. They varied the frequency slightly based on the temperature readings inside and outside the satellite. Thus, the temperature information was sent to the people tracking the satellite. Here’s the sister satellite to Vanguard 1 which was on the rocket that exploded on 12/6/57.

    Here’s Vanguard 1 a week or two before its launch.

    Gee, at the time I thought I was the one with the expensive toy—

     

    • #83
  24. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Any New Yorker of a certain age remembers WCBS’s The Early Show, their late afternoon movie, and its theme, “The Syncopated Clock”. The same courtly, graceful musical theme was used for The Late Show at 11:30 and The Late Late Show at 1:30 am. At 11:30, the music accompanied a still shot of Manhattan at night, and the lights “went on” in the windows to the rhythm of the tick-tock. At 1:30, each light went back off rhythmically until there was only one left on, presumably yours. 

    All true. I’ll never hear that tune without thinking of those shows. But being a kid, my fondest memories are of: CPT Jack McCarthy, Officer Joe Bolton, Sony Fox, Sandy Becker, Soupy Sales and the very talented and under appreciated Chuck McCann. Who just died recently.

    My brother and I were in the audience of his weekday afternoon show. I was,  maybe 8. It was quite an adventure taking the bus into the city. We got to meet him in his dressing room. My mom had gone to school with the wife of a WPIX macher. He gave us each an autographed photo of him as Little Orphan Annie. Wish I could find it.

     

    • #84
  25. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Any New Yorker of a certain age remembers WCBS’s The Early Show, their late afternoon movie, and its theme, “The Syncopated Clock”. The same courtly, graceful musical theme was used for The Late Show at 11:30 and The Late Late Show at 1:30 am. At 11:30, the music accompanied a still shot of Manhattan at night, and the lights “went on” in the windows to the rhythm of the tick-tock. At 1:30, each light went back off rhythmically until there was only one left on, presumably yours.

    About one minute in you get the theme song I remember for the local Early Show. This guy was a local jazz musician picking up some spare cash.

    Flippo was the bomb. I only got to see him when I visited family in Ohio.

     

     

    • #85
  26. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    WTOP in Washington was still signing off for the night in 1973. I think it was at 12:30 am. But I remember getting up around 4:00 am for the landing of Apollo 12 (or maybe it was the moonwalk). When did TV stations go to round the clock broadcasting?

    It varied. Big city markets with shift workers tended to go late even in the late Fifties. New Yorkers had the luxury of seven local stations, most of which ran all night or close to it. When I was in my twenties I visited friends in a quieter area whose TV went off the air at midnight, which seemed spooky and weird to me.

    Any New Yorker of a certain age remembers WCBS’s The Early Show, their late afternoon movie, and its theme, “The Syncopated Clock”. The same courtly, graceful musical theme was used for The Late Show at 11:30 and The Late Late Show at 1:30 am. At 11:30, the music accompanied a still shot of Manhattan at night, and the lights “went on” in the windows to the rhythm of the tick-tock. At 1:30, each light went back off rhythmically until there was only one left on, presumably yours.

    Thanks a lot for putting that song in my head for the rest of the day. daaaDUM dum dum dum DUM da dum, da dum dum dum dum DUMdeadda DUM

    • #86
  27. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Any New Yorker of a certain age remembers WCBS’s The Early Show, their late afternoon movie, and its theme, “The Syncopated Clock”. The same courtly, graceful musical theme was used for The Late Show at 11:30 and The Late Late Show at 1:30 am. At 11:30, the music accompanied a still shot of Manhattan at night, and the lights “went on” in the windows to the rhythm of the tick-tock. At 1:30, each light went back off rhythmically until there was only one left on, presumably yours.

    All true. I’ll never hear that tune without thinking of those shows. But being a kid, my fondest memories are of: CPT Jack McCarthy, Officer Joe Bolton, Sony Fox, Sandy Becker, Soupy Sales and the very talented and under appreciated Chuck McCann. Who just died recently.

    My brother and I were in the audience of his weekday afternoon show. I was, maybe 8. It was quite an adventure taking the bus into the city. We got to meet him in his dressing room. My mom had gone to school with the wife of a WPIX macher. He gave us each an autographed photo of him as Little Orphan Annie. Wish I could find it.

    WPIX-11 was informally “the Catholic station” and WNEW-5 was “the Jewish station”. WPIX went all out for St. Patrick’s Day, carried ads for Aer Lingus, and laid on a thick brogue. Not to mention its main character on children’s TV was a policeman. Sonny Fox, on 5, was witty and quick; his station carried Meet the Goldbergs and then later, The David Susskind Show

    Gloria Okon, the WPIX weather-woman, went to our parish, St. Luke’s in Whitestone. She was as big a celebrity as I ever expected to meet in life. 

    • #87
  28. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    In the mid-Fifties, we already had the first interactive TV show…of a sort. Winky Dink and You was a puppet and animation show for kids. Your parents were supposed to send in for a Winky Dink kit of special crayons and a plastic sheet that used static electricity to cling to the face of the TV. Cartoon Winky would get into situations where the kids at home could help him–say, by crossing a canyon. You were told to draw a line between the two points, and after suitable delay, Winky would “walk” across the “bridge” you made for him. It was a tremendous, brief lived fad. 

    Brief lived largely because a lot of kids never bothered to get the kit; they just drew lines on the family TV. Today, it would be Lawsuit City. 

    • #88
  29. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    In the mid-Fifties, we already had the first interactive TV show…of a sort. Winky Dink and You was a puppet and animation show for kids. Your parents were supposed to send in for a Winky Dink kit of special crayons and a plastic sheet that used static electricity to cling to the face of the TV. Cartoon Winky would get into situations where the kids at home could help him–say, by crossing a canyon. You were told to draw a line between the two points, and after suitable delay, Winky would “walk” across the “bridge” you made for him. It was a tremendous, brief lived fad.

    Brief lived largely because a lot of kids never bothered to get the kit; they just drew lines on the family TV. Today, it would be Lawsuit City.

    My dad told me about that.

    Pretty sure he drew right on the TV, and that was the end of that.

    • #89
  30. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    dnewlander (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    In the mid-Fifties, we already had the first interactive TV show…of a sort. Winky Dink and You was a puppet and animation show for kids. Your parents were supposed to send in for a Winky Dink kit of special crayons and a plastic sheet that used static electricity to cling to the face of the TV. Cartoon Winky would get into situations where the kids at home could help him–say, by crossing a canyon. You were told to draw a line between the two points, and after suitable delay, Winky would “walk” across the “bridge” you made for him. It was a tremendous, brief lived fad.

    Brief lived largely because a lot of kids never bothered to get the kit; they just drew lines on the family TV. Today, it would be Lawsuit City.

    My dad told me about that.

    Pretty sure he drew right on the TV, and that was the end of that.

    We had the kit and also drew right on the TV screen haha. I can still hear my mom’s screams.

    • #90
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