The first broadcast use of videotape took place 60 years ago today. At 6:15PM ET on Friday, November 30th, 1956, CBS recorded the live East Coast broadcast of Douglas Edwards and the News. The network used a black-and-white Ampex videotape recorder located at its Television City facility in Hollywood. CBS then played back the quarter-hour news program three hours later for stations on the West Coast. Specifically, KNXT in Los Angeles fed the program to nine stations of the Columbia Television Pacific Network (CTPN).
Ampex unveiled its 2-inch quadruplex videotape recorder in April 1956. CBS was the first network to place orders for machines and thus the first to receive any. It considered its use of videotape for Douglas Edwards and the News a technical test and made no public announcement prior to the initial November 30th broadcast.
How Did It Look?
Here’s how to Broadcasting*Telecasting described the videotape broadcasts of Douglas Edwards and the News in its December 10th, 1956 issue:
West coast television engineers watching the Doug Edwards tapes last week noted on Monday that about five minutes of the program was marked by fine white lines due to “tape dropout,” but that the condition was less noticeable Tuesday and almost eliminated on the Wednesday show. These fine white tracings were noted by a non-technical observer on the secret test Nov. 30 for the first minute of the program but otherwise the picture quality was far superior to normal film kinescope and to other observes appeared to be as natural as a live local origination on that particular receiver.
Last week’s “tape-casts” were described by engineers to have the quality of the best 35 mm film programs now turned out by top Hollywood producers for network use and in addition had advantages over 35 mm film quality. They explained the contrast range of the tape is far superior to film and very much like tv [sic] in that the tape reproduces well the full range from black through the greys to white without the bloom and flare often found in even the finer films.
In other words, the videotaped episodes looked pretty good!
Where Are The Tapes?
The earliest surviving videotape is a recording of “The Edsel Show,” a CBS special broadcast October 13th, 1957. What happened to the videotape(s) used to record Douglas Edwards and the News six decades ago? They were likely reused until they wore out, then tossed. Remember, videotape was in its infancy in 1956. The recorders were huge, complicated, expensive machines. Reels of videotape were large and costly, too.
It’s unlikely anyone at CBS considered saving the historic November 30th videotape for posterity. If any of these tapes are found, it will probably be very difficult to recover the programs–but hopefully not impossible.
Adams, Val. “TV-Radio News and Notes: Tape.” New York Times. 9 Dec. 1956: 159.
“Closed Circuit.” Broadcasting*Telecasting. 3 Dec. 1956: 5.
“NBC Acts to Expedite Delivery of Ampex Video Tape Recorders.” Broadcasting*Telecasting. 10 Dec. 1956: 96.