Memories of Gore Hill
Athol Adams, March 2009

 

As I sit in front of my flat screen colour television set watching the A.B.C. 7.00 pm news service I marvel at the changes that have taken place in electronics and television since that day fifty one years ago when I started work as a technician in training at the A.B.C. Gore Hill studios.

I am very grateful to have been able to play my small part in the founding of the Australian Television service and I would like to pay tribute to the men and women who played a major part in making television in Australia the success it has become today.

I found working at Gore Hill to be interesting, exciting and challenging as everything was brand new and state of the art mid fifties technology. Television is show business and that was a completely new adventure for me as an eighteen year old trainee. I guess I suffered a degree of stimulus over load as so much new was happening every day.

I remember most of all the challenge to show the world that Australian artists and technicians could handle television every bit as professionally as our overseas counter parts in the U.K. and the U.S. We tried to make every show (which was all live broadcasts then) better that the previous programs we had worked on.

During 1958 there was an excellent morale among the television cast and crews and I was very proud of my co workers who I sometimes felt made super human efforts to cope with the primitive facilities we had to work with in the old Arcon Studios which were located along side the staging workshop and props store.

Our staff canteen was a fibro garage behind the studios that had seating for about ten people at a time which we called the Tea House of the Greasy Spoon, yes facilities were primitive but morale was high and we got the job done come hell or high water.

Back in 1958 there was no videotape or videodiscs and programs were recorded on a low definition 16 mm film system called Telerecorder. The quality was limited but it seemed a wonderful system at the time because there was no other way of recording television for replay or archive purposes. If memory serves me correctly Telerecorder used a flying spot suppressed field system so one field was lost every frame and the missing detail was filled in using a spot wobble technique.
The outside broadcast unit and studio 21 both used image orthicon cameras which gave good pictures but in those days of electron tube technology cameras were subject to electrical drift and needed to be checked and adjusted over the course of the working day by Camera Control Unit operators. Studio 23 used Cathode stabilized Emitron Cameras which had less resolution than the Image Othicons.

Film carried the burden of on air time and programs originated on 16 mm. film that produced a composite television signal when played on Telecine machines. The Telecine machines were either Flying Spot Scanners of Vidicon types and were subject to the same slow drift problems as the rest of the 1950s equipment.

Master control was the heart of the Television Complex, it housed the synchronization generators and main switching equipment. Master control monitored the quality and continuity of programs as well as distributing vision, sound, drives, syncs and blanking to every area of the station.

In the early days of live television there was no coaxial cable or satellite systems linking cities and films had to be flown between cities for inclusion in daily programs.

The News Department had trouble getting film to Telecine on time for the evening news service and late arrivals seemed to be routine as I recall. I remember the news journalists as always running behind time, under excessive pressure and living on their nerves.

The 7.00 p.m. news time in the control room of studio 23 was like a mad house and it was often hard to understand what was going on. Between production talkback, camera talk back, Telecine and the news journalist's directions to the vision switcher and sound, it was near impossible to think straight at times. Temper frayed and relations went down hill fast but that is show biz as they say. The news department was an ulcer factory and the journalists were a little strange to my way of thinking but it was horses for courses and some one had to do the job.

In the background on the other side of the harbor in Broadcast House the admin boys and girls struggled with problems of their own trying to keep the system functioning while subject to out-moded and restrictive public service regulations laid down for the British imperial service in the 19th century.

Public Service thinking and Show Business thinking clash at a fundamental level, much more autonomy was needed on the part of the program guys and gals but the general manager was in my opinion over controlling and possessed of a very strong personality, his military background was good in some ways but not the optimum in show business.

My memories of the 1950s at Gore Hill suggest that the Engineering Department though eccentric added a much needed touch of sanity to an other wise Mad Hatters Tea Party that ran non stop 12 to 18 hours a day and 365 days a year. It was said that you need not be mad to work at Gore Hill but it was a desirable characteristic. I think looking back with the gift of hindsight that this saying was largely correct.

In closing these memories, I would like to express my thanks to the many Engineering Staff who taught me my trade of Broadcast Engineering and who became my extended family and mentors.

My thanks also to the many people from all departments of the A.B.C. who took a kindly interest in me and guided me during those days long ago when television and I were both much younger.

To the class of 1958 Techs-in-Training, thank you for the comradeship, support and the wonderful experiences we all shared. Until we have our last reunion at that big Television Station in the sky, take care and good luck where ever you may be.

 

Athol Adams joined the ABC in January 1958 as a Technician-in-Training. After working as a Television Technician he joined the Engineering Training Section as an Instructor in 1968. Later on he was promoted as NSW Engineering Training Supervisor. He retired from the ABC in 1982.

 

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