July 15, 2016

A Milestone in Television Broadcasting

The Ampex video recorder is unveiled at the NARTB show in Chicago, April 14, 1956.

By David Jordan

In the lobby of Stanford University’s Cecil H. Green Library – Green was a founder of Texas Instruments – two monumental achievements of technological innovation by Ampex Corporation of Redwood City are on display, symbolic of the Libraries’ commitment to collecting and preserving the history of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley.
 
Magnetic Recording and Videotaping
 
The older of the pairing is the Ampex Model 200A, the company’s first postwar product and the first professional magnetic tape recorder to go into regular broadcast service in the U.S. Its initial installation was in ABC’s radio network facility in April, 1948.
 
Recording, film, radio and television star Bing Crosby purchased 20 of the 200A machines, including the one now at Stanford, and himself advanced funds which financed the production run.

 

Bing Crosby with Ampex Model 200A
Bing Crosby with Ampex Model 200A

 

Alongside is the Ampex VRX-1000, the first practical videotape recorder, which replaced the kinescope recording of television shows on motion picture film. Development began in 1951 but was suspended; when restarted in 1954, the research team included Charles Ginsberg, Shelby Henderson, Alex Maxey, Fred Pfost, and Ray Dolby.
 
A demonstration of the VRX-1000 took place at the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters’ convention in Chicago in 1956. Orders were secured there for 100 recorders at $50,000 apiece.


The Ampex video recorder is unveiled at the NARTB show in Chicago, April 14, 1956.

The Ampex video recorder is unveiled at the NARTB show in Chicago, April 14, 1956.


In November 1956, CBS’s program “Douglas Edwards and the News” was the world’s first videotaped television broadcast. The machine on display at Stanford is the same one which was used in Hollywood for this historic program.
 
An IEEE Milestone
 
On 10 June 2016, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers designated the Ampex VRX-1000 as an IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing. A commemorative bronze plaque was installed next to the machine on exhibition in Green Library.


IEEE event at Green Library

Photo Credit: Keith I. Graham

 
Speakers at the dedication ceremony included John Vardalas, senior historian at the IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology; Thomas Coughlin, IEEE Region 6 director; Keith Graham, representing the San Francisco section of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers; and Pete Hammar of Ampex.



IEEE event at Green Library
Photo Credit: Keith I. Graham

IEEE event at Green Library

Photo Credit: Keith I. Graham


About 30 guests attended the lively event organized by David Norlander, and afterwards convened for refreshments at the Stanford Park Hotel.
 
There are many testimonies to the immediate and lasting impact of this invention; perhaps the most enduring is the following inscription on an Emmy Award statuette:
 

 

AMPEX CORPORATION
OUTSTANDING TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT 1956
DEVELOPMENT OF VIDEOTAPE RECORDER
ACADEMY OF TELEVISION ARTS & SCIENCES