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.