Carl Wilhelm Remembers the Early Television Days

(Interviewed by Bob Sitsky and Doug Grant in February 2008)

I obtained my engineering qualification in Melbourne at the Melbourne Technical College. In late 1947 I came from Melbourne to Sydney to take on a radio transmitter technician job with 2GB. As a consequence of this I got a BOCP.

In 1949 I applied and got a position in the EMI Research Laboratory in England. Another successful applicant was Colin Stockbridge. I finished up in the television studio equipment laboratory. I was over there for 3 years. In 1952 I joined the PMG Research Laboratory. I was involved in the development of video test equipment.

At the end of 1955 Lloyd Hadfield visited the PMG Research Labs - Lloyd had just been appointed as Controller of Technical Services. I knew him from my days in the UK - he was working there on Telecine. He suggested that I apply for some forthcoming jobs in the ABC. I did not get the Supervising Engineer jobs, but in January 1956, some Grade 3 Engineer positions were advertised, and I got one of those positions. I started on 5 March 1956.

There was a lot of antagonism from other parts of the Public Service against people joining the ABC and retaining their Commonwealth Public Service conditions.

The ABC Head Office then was in Pitt Street (near the corner of Park Street), Sydney. The Engineers (Lloyd Hadfield, John Poll, Kevin Bourke, David Prichard and myself) were located together with Stan Darling & Warwick Mehaffy. In the very early days Engineering had an excellent relationship with Senior ABC Management.

The PMG had already placed contracts for a lot of the studio television equipment - when Lloyd Hadfield arrived on the scene he vetted the PMG plans and made some changes.

Within 6 weeks I was away overseas. I was given the job to do some research on the recording of television programs - it was the most problematic area. I visited Ampex in Redwood City and saw the first 2 inch videotape machines in development. I spent a couple days at the Fernseh labs in Darmstadt to have a look at their telerecording (suppressed field) equipment - the PMG had already placed a contract with Fernseh for this equipment.

There was no Film Department at that time. I arranged contracts for Arriflex and Bell &Howell cameras so that when the film staff arrived they would have something to go with. We also ordered some Steenbeck film editing equipment. (That caused some problems as the film people we recruited were not familiar with horizontal film platter equipment, as their experience was with vertical reel Moviolas.)

All the agencies for film equipment had two prices - the retail price and the professional price, being retail price less sales tax - a very expensive way to buy equipment. There was no wholesale price for people like the ABC. We had to buy a lot of equipment, so the ABC threatened to buy direct from the manufacturer. It took about one year but we finally broke the monopoly of these agencies.

I remember one afternoon meeting Wally Hamilton (The ABC's director of News) at the Alderson Building at St. Leonards - the whole basement area was vacant in 1956. So there and then we made an accommodation plan for the Film Department. They were stuck with it for a few years until they moved to Gore Hill.

The Engineering people moved to the cottage at Gore Hill at the end of 1956.

We came to the conclusion that we had to have our own telerecord film processing laboratory as commercial processing labs in Sydney did not have sensitometric control monitoring which our system demanded.

Vic le Pla was absolutely wonderful in getting all the film processing facility working at Gore Hill. He had empirical knowledge of processing solutions, and he worked out the right developer we needed in the ABC processors. Vic Zeleny and his staff kept the laboratory going after that.

We had to order film for the News Dept. and also for Telerecording. We used reversal film for News, and negative film in the Telerecorders. I went to the Kodak Professional Film Department in Sydney, and saw the local Manager. I spelt out to him the amount of film we would require, and he just sat there and laughed at me! (I guess he did not believe me about the quantity of film that we needed.) So the News Dept got Kodak reversal film and our order at that time went out to Gevaert for the Telerecording Dept.

I had a great deal of respect for Lloyd Hadfield. He had an excellent understanding of engineering with his science and electrical engineering degrees. He was able to sit down and do a complete planning job, do financial estimates which usually came up spot-on. He could do a complete job in 3-4 hours which many of us took much longer to do. I know that he was not a very popular person - in fact you would not find many people who liked him. He did not mind openly saying that he was right and many people disliked that. He was the only person I know who could call into his office a typist with a typewriter and dictate a complete report with very few corrections directly into a typewriter. However, with his attitude of always being right, he fell out with senior management and the Commission. He left in 1960 after 4 years of service. Without Lloyd Hadfield the new Technical services Division would never have gotten off the ground in the time-scale we had.

We had very nice offices in The Cottage; beautiful high ceilings; lino in the corridors polished every day. Lloyd had his office in the front. Stan Darling and Warwick Mehaffy had their offices along one side. In the early days Vic le Pla, Dennis Andrew and myself shared an office.

Having the responsibility of getting the telerecording and processing equipment going, put me into difficult circumstances on a number of occasions. The senior ABN engineering people were not interested in that area of operation, so I was working with Frank Brogan, then a Grade 2 engineer. This made it difficult for Frank and his relationship with Ken Middleton, the Supervising Engineer. Over a weekend at home I drew up a series of three dimensional sketches showing the pipes and brackets to get the TR processing equipment all installed. I came in and gave the drawings to Frank, and we agreed that this was the way to go. We went down to the Workshop to see Merv Somers to get the brackets made. During their mounting on the wall and installation of pipes, tanks, etc, John Poll walked into TR and saw the work in progress. "What's all this" he said, so I showed him my drawings. "It all has to be done by our Drafting Officers and properly planned and drawn up!" was John's response. Anyway the drawings were done later, but this shows how we had to cut corners to get the job done.

The Fernseh Telerecorder required 4 volt pulse drives. All the Marconi equipment only required 2 volts. I remember one day going to see Grahame Sibley in Master Control, but all he had was the Marconi PDAs of a particular model number which gave out 2 volt drives. I got the Marconi Handbook, and within a few minutes saw that if we removed the termination at the sending end one could, with a pair of side cutters, convert it to a different Marconi model PDA and obtain 4 volt drives. So I went back to Master Control with my side cutters, and within minutes we had a 4 volt output.

At ABN the Engineering Department undertook to provide sound recording people to the Film Department for the News service. The Film people had Nagra recorders purchased for this function, but they didn't have sound technicians. Time after time Ken Middleton used to say that we didn't have Technicians to spare to send over to the Film Dept. So that was the trigger for the Film Dept to set up their own separate Sound Department.

Carl Wilhelm began his ABC service in March 1956 as a Grade 3 Engineer.
When he retired in March 1988 he was Controller of Engineering (Corporate Services).


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