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Celebrating TV Technology’s 30th Anniversary

The author’s first article in TV Technology, 1986.

JOHNSTON, IOWA—The 30th anniversary of the launch of TV Technology has really given me pause. In 1983, I had just completed a one year adventure having been recruited to move to Hawaii as the chief engineer for Mauna Kea Broadcasting which owned an FM radio station in Honolulu (KSHO) and a construction permit for a full-power UHF television station, Hawaii’s first full power UHF.

My family and I were preparing to move back to the mainland as soon as I could find another job when I was offered an engineering position at KHON TV which at that time was the NBC affiliate. I figured if I was going to actually stay in television I needed to get educated so I joined organizations and subscribed to journals and magazines. I am guessing that I started reading TV Technology with its first issue and it rapidly became my most valuable resource.

One of my favorite parts of reading the magazine was the User Report section. Being a self-taught engineer in radio and now trying to teach myself television technology, reading how other station engineers were implementing technologies was a tremendous value. One of the articles I read was on using 8281 coaxial cable to create delay lines and time video and I remember doing a few experiments to check the accuracy of my calculations for timing and the impact of progressively longer and longer lengths of cable.

Timing became a huge issue at KHON as NBC rolled out its Ku-band satellite distribution service and we replaced bicycling tapes from the mainland with recording live east coast satellite feeds for our 5 or 6 hour delay. Hawaii doesn’t observe daylight savings time so there is a one hour shift twice a year. To join network live during sporting events and live presidential speeches we initially locked all of our timing to the satellite feed but the glitches that happened during the satellite feed would disrupt the recordings being made and the playback on the air so we went back to local sync.

TV Technology helped me with that project as well, as we needed to purchase a frame synchronizer and at the time the only one any of us was familiar with was the ADDA VW-2 which was quite expensive. However, in TV Technology I read a user report on a relatively new frame synchronizer from a Canadian manufacturer that was reasonably priced and worked well. I made the recommendation to the chief engineer based on my research and we brought one in. It worked so well we purchased several more for our ENG microwave feed system and our ancillary satellite service.

I always had a sense of humor so using the knowledge I gained from reading TV Technology, I did the math and the expense budget for building a six hour time delay using 1,000-foot spools of 8281 and frame synchronizer to act as equalizers. I did a complete report and submitted to my boss, Ken Erickson. Ken and I got along very well and he was a huge do-it-yourself kind of engineer so when he called me in to talk about the proposal he wasn’t absolutely sure I was kidding until I presented the follow-up documentation regarding the housing all of the spools of cable and the cooling requirements for the thousands of frame synchronizers.

One of the moments where I felt like I had arrived occurred with my first piece published in TV Technology. NBC was in the process of implementing stereo and we had cobbled together a stereo audio router to work with our Grass Valley Group 1400 master control switcher through some clever engineering. We had also modified the input of our RCA F line transmitter to handle the wideband stereo signal. Our biggest concern was how we could install stereo generator and audio processing at the studios. More than 98 percent of our viewers watched us via cable and we had a direct feed to the cable headend. The only way the cable company would be able to use our stereo service would be to take our off-air feed.

However, KHON had a single F-line transmitter which, when it was off the air, didn’t really generate too many viewer calls. I had an idea and worked with the company that had supplied the wideband subcarriers generators for our studio-to-transmitter link to see if they could manufacture one at 4.5 MHz that I could put on the video that fed the cable modulator. A couple of phone calls back and forth and I was able to modify one of the units and use common audio processing and stereo generator for both services. I sent my write up in to TV Technology and was very happy when I got a note back saying it would be published.

Through the 1980’s and 1990’s I had written sporadically for TV Technology and did pieces for NAB issues and the like. In 1999, not long after I came to Iowa Public Television, the folks at TV Technology asked me if I would consider writing about IPTV’s digital conversion and thus the Digital Journal was born. In the early days of writing the Journal I had the opportunity to share some of the problems and pitfalls of the huge and complex transition. On a number of occasions I shared some less than complementary observations about companies I was working with. I also had many more occasions to share how companies and people responded to issues resolved problems. For the future, I see the Journal continuing to observe and point out how digital technology is being implemented in and changing broadcasting. There is, in the minds of many, the idea that the DTV transition ended in 2009 with the shutting off of full-power analog television transmitters. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Digital technology is constantly in transition and therefore, for the services that rely on it and the people who use it, the transition is unending.

So thank you to Steve Dana for the vision. Thank you to Carmel King for printing my first article. Thank you to Marlene Lane, Susan Ashworth, and Bob Kappler for giving me the opportunity to write the Digital Journal. Thanks to Tom Butts for allowing me to continue to share the experience I am having in the endless transition. Most of all, thanks to the people who have read these columns. I am not sure if I am the longest running TV Technology columnist or not, nevertheless, I figure I am pretty high on the list. Thanks to the people who have let me know when a column has hit home.

It sure doesn’t feel like 30 years.