Richmond-Hill Switcher

The first production switcher I encountered at RTVF was a Richmond-Hill switcher that was installed in Control Room “A”.  The control panel had  16  video sources plus M/E re-entry.  However, back in Tech Center, the frame only had circuit boards enough to support 4 video inputs.  I could only assume that this was a reflection of the budget limitations at the time of the switcher’s purchase.  Here is a photo of a similar switcher.  I was able to find only one photo on the web, and it is from a page of history from a TV station in Australia.

Richmond-Hill switcher similar to U of M model

An unusual feature of this switcher involved setting up for a key.  Several switchers had “push-to-preview” key clip knobs, but this one switched the M/E monitor to “key” when you touched the key clip knob.  Very cool!  The unit had been modified with a toggle switch to turn “off” the color burst on the black/background generator.  3/4 inch machines of the day would activate their internal color processing circuitry based upon whether the video input had “burst” in the sync interval. Fading a monochrome camera to switcher black (with the burst turned on) would cause an obvious glitch upon playback.  This is demonstrated in the RTVF 440 clip when switching to the black and white film chain from the color studio cameras.

As we got VTRs up and running and added cameras to the studio, we needed to add input capability to the switcher.  Each source required a video input/proc card, and two video matrix cards.  We involved the Physics Department support team in laying out printed circuit artwork, and manufactured our own boards.  We taught RTVF interns to properly mount all the on-board components to the pre-drilled boards.  I was rather  particular, and wanted all the resistor color code bands to point the same way on the boards.  We taught the soldering skills needed to ensure quality connections.  That’s the extent of the engineering involvement in making the boards….the interns did all the assembly, and when I found the very few that did not work, the interns went over their work and corrected the problems.  Bob McCleary found the address of my component supplier to be amusing, for some reason.  I used Digi-Key, and they were located in Thief River Falls, MN.

This was an early indicator of how things would be.  The RTVF equipment budget was virtually nil at that time.  If engineering needed something, we had to either build it, or find it at the Jessup Surplus Depot.


A telephone conversation with Gene Weiss revealed the source of the Richmond Hill switcher.  The switcher was part of a horse-trade between Gene and a local production house.  Gene did not recall the name of the facility, so we will never know why it was purchased with only 4 inputs.  But the fact that it was not originally purchased by RTVF clears up one of the questions on my list.


From TK-60s to PC-60s

Once we had cameras functioning in two studios, we turned our attention to a couple of Norelco PC-60s locked away in a storage room.  There they sat, resting upon a couple of (leaky) TVP pneumatic pedestals.  At that time, the shop was a small room next door to Control “B”.  The students must have been gone for the summer, because we took over most of studio “A” with a vow to get them working and on-line. As part of writing this post,  I located Greg McMurry. He was one of the engineers who preceded me.  He told me that he had procured these cameras in hopes of “going color” after a false-start involving a couple of RCA TK-42s.

The cameras had been in the storage room for so long with irises open that an image of the storage room door was permanently captured in the pickup tubes of one of the cameras.  This set me off on a “Plumbicon collection campaign” that taught me how generous some broadcasters are when it comes to helping a fledgling educational facility. 

The above photos were taken as Bob Swanner dug elbow-deep into these cameras with some serious dedication to getting them operational.  I believe the blue chassis are after-market encoders, and that the original Norelco encoders were not part of these camera chains.  Besides the Conrac RHA monitor sitting on the floor, there is a Ball Brothers (Miratel) monitor in the background. The Mason jar manufacturer was also into video monitors and other equipment.  The cameras likely put out video when first fired up, but it is for certain that they were in need of tubes, serious tweaking, all new registration pots, and about 2 gallons of contact cleaner.

In speaking of the generosity of other broadcast engineers, our search for “gently used” (this means pin-holes smaller than .22 cal bullet holes) Plumbicon tubes took us to WJET-TV in Erie, Pennsylvania.  There, in a quonset hut on the outskirts of town…and directly under the transmitting tower, we were given at least one additional PC-60 camera chain, manuals, boxes of Plumbicons, and genuine “fellow broadcaster hospitality” that you remember for the rest of your life.

If you want to see PC-60s in overwhelming depth and detail, visit this amazing site: Eyes of a Generation.