April 28, 1958
Los Angeles

As The Times noted in November 1957, NBC planned to introduce videotaped programs with the switch to daylight saving time.

Although the time switch didn’t occur until April 27 in 1958, we have already rolled the clocks ahead, so this seems to be a good time to focus on the technology that revolutionized television.

Arye Michael Bender (who worked under the name Leslie Michael Bender) worked at WBKB-TV in Chicago at a young age as mail room clerk, freelance publicity photographer and entrepreneur filmmaker.  He attended Columbia College of Broadcasting while in high school in 1959.  From 1960 to ’63, he worked his way through college as a staff director for WSIU-TV in Carbondale, Ill.
He began working with videotape at ABC in Los Angeles in 1963. He shares his recollections of the early days:

Got into editing when a microscope was added to the razor blade and mylar tape system. 

1958_0428_videotapeAt first, at ABC Hollywood, it was the old radio engineers who practiced the "art" of editing. This was because they had been working with audio tape in the late days of network radio. Engineers tend to be better at dealing with mechanical things than they are people and the arts.

The first show to expand editing into an attempted art was "The Ernie Kovacs Show." He was a pioneer in using the developing techniques of television to illuminate comedy — in much the same way Buster Keaton did 40 years before.

The editing was very stilted because the engineers believed that you edited on pauses, rather than action.  Sixty years of the motion picture art of editing had been thrown out the window.

Ernie Kovacs had died in a grisly accident [1962–lrh] the year before I came to work for ABC. So editing was stopped in its tracks with his death, there being no one to explore what it could do.

I had just turned 21 when I was hired. I didn’t connect the dots, so never mentioned my forays in Chicago television. I got the job because I had worked as a paid staff director at my college television station in Southern Illinois.

They purchased the two videotape machines used for the Adolf Eichmann trial in Israel, when the trial was over. My curiosity demanded that I learn all working TV positions, so I learned how to operate those pot metal and tube behemoths.

Since 20-year-old would-be directors from the sticks were a dime a dozen, but people who could operate a VTR were still rare, I got hired.

I was assigned as the lowest level "engineer" in the tape room.  t was called The Submarine because of the narrow passageways between VTRs, that never saw daylight and was kept cold as a tomb to keep the tubes cool.

It was a strange and wonderful place.

At NBC in the era, they handled the aesthetics of tape editing with a unique approach.

They kinescoped the raw tape footage, then assigned the editing to a film editor.

Art Schneider was NBC’s top West Coast editor.  He cut the 16-millimeter film in the traditional fashion, then an another engineer (I believe) was assigned the daunting and repetitive task of conforming the videotape with scissors and mylar.

Keep in mind that no image was on the tape itself, only vertical lines of electronic information.  In order to see if the splices worked, the edited tape would have to be played back, one splice at a time, on those giant machines. Since the mylar splices would deteriorate quickly, only a very limited number of passes could be attempted.

Each time a master tape was physically handled to see image, damage was done.  It was a very hair-raising process.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in broadcasting, Hollywood, Television and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Videotape

  1. R Greene says:

    The name is spelled Kovacs.


  2. zabadu says:

    Thank God someone else saw that Kovacs was misspelled. Kovacs lovers unite!!


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