NOTES ON THE EARLY DAYS OF A.B.C. TELEVISION STUDIOS
Carl Wilhelm (October 2004)
Until the introduction of television in Australia in 1956, all ABC technical services were provided by the PMG's Department. Approval was granted to the ABC to provide and operate their own television studio programme services from the commencement of television in Sydney and Melbourne. The transmitters and associated microwave links remained with the PMG's Department.
Towards the end of 1955, Mr.Lloyd Hadfield was appointed Director of Technical Services and he immediately initiated a recruitment drive, which resulted in Mr.Ken Middleton and Mr. Colin Stockbridge being appointed Supervising Engineers, Sydney and Melbourne respectively. Other early recruitment included Mr. Bob Foster and Mr. David Tapp.
In March 1956, Mr.Kevin Bourke, Mr. John Poll and Mr. Carl Wilhelm commenced employment with the ABC head office in Sydney. Kevin Bourke and Carl Wilhelm transferred from the PMG. Carl Wilhelm was given the task of attending to all matters photographic - specifically, "Telerecording".
Programme Recording on Film - Telerecording (Kinerecording)
Videotape did not exist in the 1950s, thus all studio and outside broadcast (OB) programs were recorded on motion picture film most television broadcasters choosing 16 mm. film.
The PMG's department had placed a contract for telerecording equipment prior to the ABC assuming responsibility for studio facilities. This was with Der Fernseh GMBG for two telerecorders of the suppressed field type, one each for Sydney and Melbourne. Suppressed field is where the film camera shutter is open for one field display (20 ms) and shut during the next field while the film is transported to the next picture frame, the sound being recorded on 16 mm. sprocketed magnetic tape using Siemens SEPMAG recorders synchronised to the two Arriflex film cameras operating at 25 f/s attached to each telerecorder.
The Arriflex cameras used 400 ft. (122 m.) film magazines providing just 10 minute recording. while the sound -recorders used 1.200 ft. (365 m.) rolls - so much editing was required for an hour-long show.
The vertical resolution with this recording- method is ha1ved, but fortunately the eye is not too critical to vertical resolution and 'spot wobble' concealed the coarse line structure. Anyway of the equipment available. the suppressed field system promised to be the most reliable - fast pu1ldown cameras (within 1.2 ms) were not fully developed at that time, nor have they ever been successful.
Recording the negative was one thing - processing and printing was an entirely different matter. The ABC decided to process the negative film to an industry standard so that copies could be printed by commercial film laboratories in Sydney and Melbourne. Thus when urgent exchange between ABB and ABV was required, the negative could be used directly in their telecines obviating the turnaround time of the outside laboratories. However, negative use in telecines is not good practice, due to dust showing as white spots, but the telerecorders as supplied were not capable of 'direct positive' operation.
Kodak's professional film department manager simply laughed when told of the ABC's projected film requirements. As a consequence. initial contracts were awarded to Gevaert for their ST4 sound recording film, which was found to be the most suitable for the picture negative.
It was surprising and extremely worrying to find that the Sydney and Melbourne commercial laboratories' quality (sensitometric) control over their product left a lot to be desired. Initially this was not a serious problem as only one copy (the negative) was required.
For the 1956 Melbourne Olympics both telerecorders and processing machines were temporarily installed at ABV's Elsternwick studios to cope with the continuous recording requirements of the Games. While the film recorders and their associated sound recorders operated reliably, the two 'Houston Fearless' film processors caused much difficulty. Remember, these machines were put into service only days before the Games without a proper running-in period and much film was lost. The problem was in the assembly of the hundreds of film rollers, the bottom ones of which were immersed in the processing solutions. Over two nights after the commencement of the Games, Mr. Vic Le Pla and his staff stripped the machines down roller by roller and found that many of them were assembled without their glass ball bearings! Fortunately the contract included a large number of spares.
Early in 1957 Sydney's recorder and processor that was used in Melbourne for the Games was transferred to ABN, where a well equipped processing laboratory was established to produce the negative for program exchange between Sydney and Melbourne.
However, handling negative film, as mentioned earlier, is less than desirable so additional circuitry was designed and installed which allowed a direct positive print to be produced using the same film stock as was used for negative recordings.
By the early 1960s when other capital cities went to air, multiple prints were required and, due to the turnaround time and lack of quality (sensitometric) control by commercial laboratories, it was decided to produce the copies within ABN and ABV. The laboratories were thus suitably upgraded to handle the printing and processing of multiple copies. At this time, sound was still being carried on separate 16 mm. magnetic film (SEPMAG) where occasionally the picture and sound were from different programs or out of sync! After careful consideration, a decision was made to coat (stripe) the edge of the prints with a magnetic emulsion to produce composite prints (COMAG). Considerable difficulty with quality control was experienced, 'gravel path tracks often being laid! Nevertheless the sound quality was significantly better than obtainable with 16 mm. optical sound tracks. From the early 1960s videotape, using Ampex VR1000C, 2 inch machines, was gradually introduced into all studios, but telerecordings continued to be used to distribute studio productions until the end of the decade.
Sensitometric control was essential to maintain the chemical constituents of the developer at appropriate levels. It is said that "the telerecording supervisor each morning took a tablespoon of developer and consumed it in front of a life size picture of Marilyn Monroe. The angle of dangle gave the grams per litre of potassium bromide in the developer"!
Carl Wilhelm transferred from the PMG to the ABC in March 1956 as a Senior Engineer. When he retired from the ABC in March 1988 he held the position of Controller Engineering (Corporate Sevices).