Cuts-Only Control Track Editing is New Technology.

The first “editing room”.

Even though one of the TR-22 2 inch VTRs had an “electronic splicer” option installed, the first actual videotape editing done on my watch was in the editing room that Bob Swanner. and I built.  The department already owned a CVS 504 TBC, but it had not been used to any extent.  The editing room project taught me a whole BUNCH of lessons that have stood me in good stead over the years.

I researched the VTR marketplace before purchasing the Panasonic machines. During that brief window of time, Panasonic had 3/4 inch VTRs with framing servos, and the Sony 2850 did not.  I had been hating “whip edits” for years prior to joining RTVF, and selected the machines with the framing servos.

Convergence was marketing the ECS 1 B.  It required both mechanical and electrical modification of the VTRs.  The mechanical modification was extreme.  The intent of the mod was to permit the machine to have variable speed control over the tape speed both forward and in reverse.  The Panasonic VTR had not been designed to do that, so tape guidance problems were frequent.

The capstan belts kept slipping off the flywheels of the machines.  Bob came up with a doozie of a contraption to keep the belts from popping off.

The tape position was determined by counting control track pulses, and of course the back and forth nature of editing guaranteed some slippage of the edit points.

But even with the limitations, the editing room dramatically advanced the capability of the department.  We connected the source deck to the TBC, and at last were able to use 3/4 as a source to the switcher.  Outside productions could be undertaken by renting a “good” camera and shooting on a portable 3/4 machine.  An editing class was added to the curriculum.



The Video Switchers at RTVF

Over the years, Speech/RATV/RTVF progressed through a series of video switchers, each new one having improvements over the last.  The department of 1975-83 was not the first to construct their own equipment.  Remarkably enough, this philosophy was adopted very early in the history of the department.  The year was 1964.  A switcher apparently used for live television courses was already in service, and was being updated to vertical interval switching by a University of Maryland engineer.

switcherThe above article appeared in the Diamondback on February 20, 1964.  By this time, the Speech Department had already been providing live television courses for 5 years.  Clearly, some type of production switcher had been in use prior to 1964.  This was likely some type of “glitch switcher” and may or may not have even had dissolve capability.

In the early 70s, I enrolled in RATV 340, and it was taught in Studio “B”.  I vaguely recall that at least on one occasion, the class could not use the switcher because it was non-operational.  It was a simple control panel, and nearly certainly was one of the switchers mentioned in the Diamondback. It almost surely operated with vacuum tube circuitry.

Studio “A” was equipped with a Richmond Hill switcher.  It had been modified with a front-of-sync-board “burst delete” switch so that it could operate in monochrome mode.  At the time, it had only 4 inputs.

Sometime after 1978, our budget permitted us to purchase a brand new Duca-Richardson switcher.  We purchased a very early model of what would eventually become the Ampex switcher product line.  Only one M/E.  Lots of button pushing and fiddling in order to dissolve to a key.  That became a mantra at RTVF.  Along with “does it make coffee?”, “can it dissolve to a key?” became a staple of short-cut jokes between Bob Mc Cleary and the techs.  (Last but not least…”THERE’s my baloney sandwich!”)  You had to be there.

Jim Duca personally delivered it and set it up.  He made RTVF history in two ways: First, to demonstrate how durable his Fluke digital voltmeter was, he flung his as hard as he could across Tech Center where it hit a wall and came apart into several pieces.  He put them together and it still worked.  Second, he had to come up with diode clippers on all the video inputs to keep spikes from the TR-22s lock-up “hysterics” from punching through to the line output.

After my departure, Bob Swanner. added a GVG 1600 to the Convergence Editor on-line room, and later added a GVG 200 to Studio “A”. Both purchased NEW, and both offering a dramatic improvement to the facility capabilities.

RTVF Leadership

The department that eventually included the division of Radio, Television and Film started out in 1901 as the Department of Public Speaking.  It was renamed the Department of Oratory in 1908, and was again renamed the Department of English and Public Speaking in 1914.  From 1918 to 1936, it reverted to its original “Department of Public Speaking”. 1936 brought with it a name-change to the Department of Speech.  And then, in 1948, the department was renamed the Department of Speech and Dramatic Art, which was the name of the department when I was hired.

The Chairs were Charles Richardson (1901-1940), Raymond Ehrensberger (1940-1953), Warren Strausbaugh (1953-1970), Thomas Aylward (1970-1983)*, Patti Gillespie (1983-1989)*, Edward Fink (1997-2007) and Elizabeth Toth (2007-).

During the periods marked with an asterisk, Irving Linkow, Andrew Wolvin, James Klumpp, and Martha Watson filled the position as “Acting Chair”.

I interviewed with and was hired by Tom Aylward. A contributor to my information search mentions “Dean Aylward” as  heading the department as the first tube-type 2″ quad machines were brought in. Their purpose was to provide pre-recorded classes in English and Math.


Mysterious Artifact Found Under Film 11

Who might these people be?  Could they have imagined an internet that would one day make their cement work available to a global audience? Did they wonder if anyone would see their names one day?   I make the names out to be Burton, Matekjo, and Matthews.

UPDATE: As reported by Steve Howard and others, Tom Burton, John Matekjo, and Jeff Matthews were early engineers at what would have been called RATV at the time.  Steve took up the reigns following them.  This cement pour was likely done as equipment moved from its original location to Tawes.



RTVF-440 was the make-or-break hands-on class.  It was a TV directing class that started with simple table-top demonstrations with two cameras, and worked its way up to a three camera news program with the various source material of the day.

Bob McCleary taught the class, and was…how shall I say…a rather vocal instructor.  His course was a rite of passage, and many students “passed” through the portals of studio “A” while I worked there.

The 30 minute news program was scripted, and included elements from two different film chains, up to three 2″ quad VTRs, a really awful mechanical “crawl”, audio carts, and a segment that involved a simul-roll of two film chains. If memory serves me,  one film chain was threaded up with the “A” roll including a mag stripe audio track, while the other chain had the “B” roll on silent double-sprocketed film.

Interns and TAs rather mechanically staffed the camera positions, read the news, pointed at the weather chart, TD’d and ran audio.  Their job was to respond to the commands of the student crew.  The student crew consisted of a Producer, a Director, and an AD.  The Producer could jockey storys and other elements around to make the show come out on time.  The Director called the shots, and the AD kept the time on the stopwatch. Three second pre-roll on film, five seconds on tape.  Plus the A/B roll timekeeping.

At the time of the recording featured below, the facility did not yet own a CG…or if we did, it was not used for RTVF-440.  Yes….there is a mix of monochrome and color sources.  At the time of this recording, we had not yet scrounged enough color gear to have two color film chains.  We were still using a Sony DXC-3800 3/4 inch porta-pak to do field recording. The exercise was not intended to provide an audition tape.

Unknown Student 440 Exam

The Greenstamp Project


Ann has time code on the brain.

Through means that I don’t recall, we were approached by a party who was interested in developing a new-fangled way to handle retail merchandise.  They wanted to develop a self-service kiosk for the S and H Green Stamps organization.  The customer would count up all his books of Green Stamps, go to the redemption center, and select his reward using a CRT and a keyboard. Pretty advanced for the time.

Our job was to master a 1 inch tape with individual frames of each and every article that was presented in the Green Stamp catalog.  But how to do it?  We did not have a one inch machine at the time, but Bill Weston (then of 3M, now of Evertz) treated us like royalty.  Even though he knew we did not have the budget for a 1 inch machine at that time, he provided us a demo-loan of a Hitachi HR-200.  Bill’s a good guy in the video business and very active in the SMPTE, by the way.

Willie drives the Duca-Richardson while Dee types like crazy.

Next problem was that by my calculation, we would put a minimum of 150 passes on the tape just by doing single frame edits with a five second pre-roll.  Would the tape hold up?  It did!

We ripped the switcher control panel out of the control room, rolled a camera into tech center, set up the Quantafont Q-7A, dragged in a couch and table (for the pizza) and had at it.

Bob spins the trusty shuttle knob.

Bob Swanner and Willie Heinz took an active roll in the project, but Dee and Ann really put in the hours typing the text from the catalog and setting up for the seemingly endless single-frame edits. I contributed by pointing at things.

Working hard.

We delivered the one-inch master to the end user…and what became of it, no one knows. Here’s what it looked like, complete with the 16mm product demonstrations.

S and H Greenstamp Production

Beginning in 1977

I accepted a position of technician at the University of Maryland RTVF department in 1977, and worked there until 1983.  It would be easy to chalk up to nostalgia my interest in preserving the RTVF Tech Center history. But I continue to run into media professionals in the Washington D. C. area who also enjoy reflecting on their time spent at RTVF.  One, a PBS Master Control operator (upon hearing my name in the headset traffic) asked the producer to take a quick look at me and tell her if I was an “old guy”…surprised I suppose that I’m still kicking around D.C.

I had been a night student in RTVF for several years prior to accepting a position in TV Engineering.  I had seen RCA quad machines (vacuum tube type) in Tech Center, as well as a small (sometimes “touchy”) video switcher in Control B.  When I interviewed, these items were gone.  During my first year, I stumbled upon a pair of RCA TK-42 color cameras, an RCA monoscope test pattern generator, an RCA TK 41 4 tube color camera, and so much other gear that I drew certain conclusions about the past operation of the facility.  “Lore” from various people suggested that programming had been produced for PBS in the past.  Commercial stations played programming from our facility (in the past).  But I never followed up with those truly in the know about such things.,

So there you have it.  As I learn things about the former RTVF TV facility, I’ll post it here.