Sunday, August 30, 2015

Here in my hand I hold...

Another Sunday flashback.

On Saturday mornings, I would wake up around 7 am and get dressed, look for some loose change around the house and get ready to go downtown. I was about 10 years old and loved going to the old radio stores that were located on Market Street in San Francisco.  The Number 7 Haight street bus would make it a short trip, the bus trip was 5 cents within 10 minutes I would be downtown getting off at 7 th or 8th street.

If I was going to the radio stores I would usually window shop at the assortment of Halicrafters Shortwave receivers, or the myriad of HeathKits  that were displayed at the stores. 

If the mood struck me I would wander up to 277 Golden Gate street which was 3 blocks up from Market. In those days, the front door was unlocked and the lobby was not staffed with the two women who were normally sitting at the phone switchboard answering and processing telephone calls. The lobby had two staircases on each side of the phone area, the stairs led to the main studio that had about 200 or 300 seats. It was in that studio later that shows like the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show would be broadcast in 1962,  couple of daytime quiz shows and later during my high school years, Al “Jazbo” Collins would have a morning show from 7 to 9 each day, at early morning variety show that sometimes I and some schoolmates would drop into  before going to first class at the high school located about 6 or 7 blocks away.

Anyway, with the door being unlocked and no “guards” at the lobby, I would sneak into the ABC Broadcast center, which housed KGO TV and KGO Radio.  The TV studios were on the 2nd floor, part of the 3rd and the offices were on the 3rd floor, along with TV Master control, floors 4 and 5 were more office and the studios of the radio station. Later, when TV got more important, TV news took over more space on the top floors.
Anyway..I would get off and wander around. It was very rare that anyone would ask me what I was doing there. If I did, they would say ok, but don’t get into trouble and walk away. That early in the morning the only people there were the engineers who were running the station, playing film, tape, the booth announcer by the name of Jay Snyder who I became friends with and a few other people.
I enjoyed looking at the TV master control which was a dimly lit room that had one full wall of TV monitors showing cameras and inputs from various locations from their studios as well as network and feeds coming from their film or tape room.
First national broadcast, CBS , Douglas Edwards and the News.

What made me think about this today is when I wandered into the Video Tape room which was in back of the master control, it was a large room with two massive Ampex Video Tape machines. The main issue was that you could not carry on an easy conversation because of how loud the video tape machines made. In order to record the bandwidth needed they had spinning tape heads which spun at very high speed to transversely record line by line of the information on a 2 inch wide tape. There were noises from vacuum motors that generated the vacuum to keep the tape against the rotating heads, and keep the tape in line.
  ( if that kind of noise level was prevalent today, the engineers would certainly be required to wear ear protection )
 The tape was rolled onto massive reels, adjoining each tape machine was two or three large racks of vacumn tube amplifiers and equipment, which were needed for each machine to work. Mind you this was even before color,  which when introduced a few years later took up even more equipment.

I would ask questions from the staff and usually they were very helpful answering and showing me how the stuff worked. I think because those people themselves were shown and learned from older engineers and staff, they were accommodating to me, the 10 year old  kid. It was a different time them where you could get jobs as assistants and apprentices and there was not hassle, more people wanted to teach and help, especially if someone showed interest in the field.( and before everyone when liability crazy)

My friend the booth announcer Jay Snyder, took  the time sometimes between his job, which was to sit there in this small 5 by 5 room with a phone and a microphone and on the half hour, say “ This is KGO Televsion, Channel 7, San Francisco.” to show me around the radio studios, since he also had a job there doing a radio program.
I don’t know if it was a union thing or not, but there haven’t been booth announcers doing stuff like that since about 1970 when Station ID’s  became pre precorded thus eliminating a position, probably one of the first positions replaced with technology. 

Off subject, in my later years, I use to shoot film news, using 16 mm film. When video came to be in the early 80’s tons of jobs were eliminated, we use to drop off all the film to the film labs for development, that lab alone had about 50 employees, gone , film editors gone, now it’s all in one handheld unit, which actually brought me to write about, the Video Tape Recorder  The Ampex VTR1000, pictured here.

I was shooting a video this morning, holding a color camera, with recording capabilities in HD, with memory of 3 hours of HD, which would equally about 12 , heavy 14 inch 2 inch video tape reels, along which were no where even close in the quality we enjoy today. 

The first Ampex units cost $50,000.00 dollars, back in 56 that could have bought you a lot of stuff.  Calculated for today's dollars, that would be about $ 450,000.00 .  And here you have that video power in a smart phone device, or even a stand alone camera with video.

How technology has changed in my lifetime, kids today have no idea of how fast and how much progress has occurred in the last 30 -40 -50 years. They don’t have a clue.

Just hold up your Iphone which includes a video recorder as part of it’s function to this, and Ampex VTR1000.
 One can only imagine what the future will bring....

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