When it comes to advances in television broadcasting over the past 40 years, Bob Seidel has had a front-row seat to some of the most significant developments in our industry. From flypacks to HDTV and beyond, the CBS vice president of Engineering and Advanced Technology has helped bring television into the 21st century with an impressive legacy that earned him this year’s NAB Television Engineering Achievement Award.
I got a chance to talk with Bob recently to discuss how he got to this stage in his career and where he thinks the future of our industry lies.
Bob developed his love of broadcasting at Lehigh University, where he got his start building two campus closed-circuit TV stations. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering, he was looking for a challenge when one of his colleagues— who at the time was at ABC—told him about an engineer who was doing some brilliant work at CBS. That guy ended up being Bob’s mentor, the legendary Joe Flaherty, the network’s former senior vice president of technology and developer of many of the technical advances that today’s broadcasters take for granted.
“Back then we had CBS Labs, so I got a chance to work with Joe on a lot of projects,” Bob said. “The single-camera edit system was one of Joe’s visions and he was always pushing us to do more.”
Bob’s first project at CBS was to help develop the “Teletext” platform for U.S. television. He was also heavily involved in the early days of digital TV, where he helped put together the first public demonstration of HDTV in 1981 and helped build the country’s first over-the-air DTV station, WRAL in Raleigh, N.C.
Another of Bob’s notable accomplishments was the development of RADET in the mid-’80s. The Rapid Deployment Earth Terminal was essentially broadcasting’s first “flyaway pack,” which miniaturized satellite transmission technology down to the size a couple of easily transportable cases and allowed broadcasters to transmit live from areas of the world where such capabilities had not been available. The technology was first used to help deliver live transmissions from the 1986 Reykjavik Summit.
To hear Bob talk about RADET, it was easy to understand that the flyaway pack may be his proudest accomplishment because it represented what he likes most about broadcasting: The ability to have an impact on millions of TV viewers around the world through real-time transmission.
“You used to have to wait for film to come back from Vietnam to see what happened the day before,” Bob said, “but this brought the world’s events directly to your living room instantaneously and really united the globe; no longer could a country’s actions be ignored.”
Bob is understandably bullish on the future of broadcast. “I think broadcast TV still remains the strongest distribution system out there,” Bob said, adding that the next big challenge for broadcasters is to transition to mobile. “Young people watch a lot on tablets, computers and smartphones and I think we have to look at some technologies that enable us to distribute our signals via those systems.”
It will take a combination of technical savvy and “big-picture” thinking to bring us into the future, qualities well-evident in this year’s Engineering Achievement Award recipient. Congratulations Bob! He received his award at the NAB Technology Luncheon, April 9 in Las Vegas.