Duca-Richardson Production Switcher Redux

I told a story about Jim Duca and his flying Fluke in a previous post.  Recalling the pleasant evening Bob and I spent with Jim as he tweaked our new switcher made me wonder about the history of the Duca-Richardson Corporation.  We knew that we had purchased an early model.  Could we have purchased Serial Number 1?  The answer is “no”.  But close.  I tracked Jim down and sent him an email asking him if he could tell me a little about his recollection (if any) of our University of Maryland purchase after all these years.  Jim is a very gracious person, and penned a story about how he came to start the Duca-Richardson Corporation.  He has allowed me to post it here.  The story speaks volumes about American ingenuity, and the value/effect of small business in our economy.  Here are Jim’s comments about a very interesting time in his life, and about a product that helped move RTVF closer to our desire to be in line with the industry of the times.

Jim Duca:

“For a long time I had wanted to have my own company to build broadcast products that I felt offered more capabilities and at a much more favorable price than was currently available. I had two of the ingredients needed to do so, an empty basement and a willing partner to take care of the business end of the venture. That was Bob Richardson, the “R” in DRC. So with blind enthusiasm I began to design and develop broadcast switching equipment. Our first customer was a local television station who saw our first prototype product in our small booth at NAB. That was the good news …the bad news was that he wanted the largest switcher in our catalog, one that we had not yet envisioned would be the first out of the pipeline. None the less, it was time to move out of the basement and into a facility in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, large enough to accomplish our mission. That brings us to the University of Maryland’s order, it must have been only about serial number 5 or 6 as I recall. Now I had a few engineers to help design in the features specific to each customer and it seemed that each order was still unique. What I didn’t have was a Service Department to take care of the installations, so I did that part myself. I would schedule the installation to occur on a weekend so could be “in and out” and be back in the office on Monday. You do these things when you get started in business, besides we were grateful for our customers and with a small staff it didn’t seem unusual to be involved in all aspects of the operation. Besides it gave us good feedback on product reliability. We fortunately continued to be successful and after about a year, we were approached by the Ampex Corp. to supply switching products that they in turn would market. Before that even got started they wanted us to label our products with the Ampex name, but before even that happened they decided to buy the company outright, so that was the last of DRC. The University of Maryland was unique in the fact they had one of the few switchers labeled “DRC.” “

THANKS Jim, for a most interesting contribution to the tech history of RTVF.

Recycling before we went “green”.

Funding for RTVF equipment was always scarce.  Even if an annual budget included funds earmarked for equipment purchases, one never knew if the Maryland Legislature would engage in some kind of budget tom-foolery and interfere with our plans.  We wanted to expand the department’s equipment resources, and had no sure source of money.  But we did have a secret weapon…

Gene Weiss

Gene was second to none when it came to gathering up still-decent “stuff” from far and wide.  He kept his students well stocked in short-ends of film gleaned from his contacts in the local media.  Somehow, he got the entire IATSE-built Soviet Arms Limitation Talks TV set delivered to the TV studios. Production houses and studios all over DC knew to contact him with “give-aways”, and all this spoke to the  respect the RTVF department had accrued within the media community.

But the ace up Gene’s sleeve was the Maryland Surplus Property Disposal Unit in Jessup.

Source of Supply for Shoe-String Operation

This facility received both State and Federal surplus property and housed it for distribution both to authorized users (Gene among them) as well as direct sale to the public.  Gene would hear about a load of (say) Crown model 800 reel-to-reel machines on its way to Jessup, and he would swoop in and snatch them up.  In this way, the RTVF department could go from one radio studio with a couple of reel-to-reel machines to a facilty with a quarter-inch editing room consisting of 8 machines, three radio studios each with a pair of quarter inch machines, 2 TV control rooms with a reel-to reel, and a shop-full of less desirable machines from which to pick spare parts.

There is an endless list of projectors, film cameras, amplifiers, monitors, recorders, test equipment, and so on that were the underpinnings of a very vibrant RTVF department.  A truck known to all TV interns of a certain period as “The “Blue Bomber” was yet another Jessup procurement.  Bob Swanner. drove the thing back from Jessup (sort of).  The gas tank had plenty of water in it, because at some time during its storage, the gas cap had been removed.  We simply coasted to the side of the road when it died, took off the cover on the carb, splashed the contents (water) out of the bowl, and continued on our way.  When Bob made an engine-sputtering hard left turn into Campus Drive, the entire exhaust system became disconnected and slid all the way across University Boulevard.  (You had to see this with your own eyes to appreciate it.)  And does anyone remember that the State of Maryland had a film censor board?  When the board ended it’s oversight of films exhibited in Maryland, Gene managed to snap up the two Simplex 35mm projectors that had been in the screening facility. He then could screen 35mm prints for his students.

There is absolutely no way that the department could have grown to its eventual size without the continuous efforts of Gene and others to obtain useful items at low or no cost.