The Mother of Invention of Videotape
One More Time for the West Coast
By Richard Wirth | July 28, 2013
In our file based acquisition world of 2013 where the editing process can begin immediately right there on the set, it can be difficult to relate to a time when just getting the program recorded was a Herculean effort requiring considerable engineering manpower and over a ton of equipment.
On November 30th, 1956, the first broadcast use of videotape took place at CBS Television City in Hollywood. “Douglas Edwards with the News” was the first “tape delay” to the west coast of the United States. The program was broadcast live to the eastern U.S. from New York. At the same time, it was fed to Los Angeles where it was recorded and played back exactly three hours later.
"Douglas Edwards with the News"- The first broadcast use of videotape from CBS Television City in Hollywood on 11/30/56. Courtesy Ampex Corporation
West Coast Delay was a practice established in radio and now it carried forward into television. The western United States is three hours behind New York. Advertisers buying programs meant for prime time wanted those ads to be heard/seen in prime time. Central time was the exception as the Midwest, with only a one-hour difference, was already established as having a prime time one hour earlier than the rest of the country.
This meant a live program either had to be completely redone a second time or somehow recorded and played back. Redoing shows “one more time for the West Coast” was common in radio. It is one of the reasons Bing Crosby contributed to the process of audio tape recording. If he could provide ABC Radio with a recording indistinguishable from a live feed, the network wouldn’t require him to do his show twice each week and he could spend a lot more time on his golf game. His investment in Ampex Corporation after the end of World War II led to the invention of audiotape recording and changed the face of radio broadcasting (see this overview of the company on the occasion of their receiving the 2008 Technical Grammy Award)
Redoing a television show a second time was not practical and would be much more expensive then redoing radio programs. However, recording television programs on tape was not as simple as with audio recording. Video signals conveyed a lot more electrical information and had a wider bandwidth. In short, a bigger pipe was needed.
First came the kinescope. In the fall of 1947, Eastman Kodak Company with NBC and the DuMont network developed the first viable method of distributing copies of live television programs by converting them to 16mm or 35mm film. The simple explanation of a kinescope is a motion picture camera photographing a television screen.
Very early kinescope samples. Kinescope Equipment is shown and explained at about 3:55.
The quality of kinescopes had nowhere near the resolution of live television and they were cumbersome and time consuming. The film had to be unloaded from the camera then rushed off to be processed and printed. Some editing had to be done to add leaders and the sound track added.
As more television stations went on the air, use of the kinescope became common, particularly by the networks. Even though the quality was inferior, they were still obligated to provide program delivery to their affiliates no matter their location.
Construction of the system interconnecting stations via transcontinental microwave and cable was just underway and wouldn’t be complete until Fall, 1951. As construction crept westward, a station’s distance from New York determined whether it received a show live or via kinescope (Not all shows seen on the west coast were kinescoped. The Ed Wynn show originated at CBS’ Columbia Square studios in Hollywood beginning in 1949. The show was live to the western affiliates but was seen via kinescope on the east coast two weeks later).
The Ed Wynn show was the first network series to be aired live on the west coast and have the kinescopes shipped east, where they would air a couple weeks later. This program was live to the west coast on March 11, 1950 and aired to the east and midwest on March 25, 1950 via kinescope.
Even with the completion of a live transcontinental feed, programs in the west would still have to contend with the three hour time difference. So in 1952, the “Hot Kine” was born. CBS and NBC began a process where a live show was recorded as it went out to the east live but was recorded in Los Angeles on 35mm film, rushed to a local film laboratory by courier, processed, dried and returned to the network in time to be threaded onto a film chain and transmitted to the western affiliates. The term "Hot Kine" was coined because as the film was being loaded onto the projector, it was still warm from the processor's dryer.
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