RCA TK44/TK45/TK46

The RCA TK44A was introduced in 1968. It was a three-tube Plumbicon camera. The upgraded TK44B, introduced in 1971, was a huge hit. More than 600 were produced by RCA, making the TK44 series one of its most popular and profitable cameras. Engineers and camera operators liked the TK44’s ease of maintenance, its ease of operation, and the bright and warm color images it produced. Many TK44s remained in service at TV stations into the late 1980s. Some TK44s were replaced by the TK47, which also saw service for up to 15 or even 20 years.

Just above the TK46 photos at the bottom of the page, you can see a comparison of the TK44 and TK45. The TK45 looked almost like the 44, but had a lower tally dome light, and black vent doors and trim replaced the 44’s brushed aluminum. The TK46 had a much different tan and blue scheme and featured an adjustable viewfinder that would tilt up and down. There were some interesting modifications inside these three cameras which included a steady progression of automatic setup controls, but the three-tube design and the great pictures that came from them were a staple of this series. Most photos on this page feature the TK44, as there aren’t many good images around of the TK45s and 46s. The 46 had a truncated life as the TK47 came out in 1978, just two years after the 46 was introduced.

There is a very interesting back story of how the TK44 came to be, involving a great deal of intrigue and secret funds for a stealth development program inside RCA. I’ve written the story as told to me by the RCA engineers involved, and you can read all the twists and turns of the story here.

NUP_101245_0006A beautiful 1975 shot of a 44 working on The Tonight Show with Johnny, Joan and Ed who are obviously having a party….as usual. Note how the TK44s were marked before the introduction of the “Nebraska N” in 1976.
Photo courtesy NBC Universal Photo Bank. All rights reserved. Images may not be copied, archived, sold, leased or shared.

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The above and below photos are all of the same 1978 election night set in Studio 8G at 30 Rock, but the first three were taken the day before while finishing touches were being made. In the photo above, note that while three of the four cameras have the NBC logo introduced in 1976, the one in the center of the photo still carries the old “NBC Color” signage. Photos courtesy Dennis Degan.

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It’s Election Night 1978, and here are Andrea Mitchell, John Chancellor, David Brinkley and Tom Brokaw at work on the set we saw above. Below are three great shots from Studio 8H on December 17, 1977, as Elvis Costello performs on Saturday Night Live. In the Gallery, I’ve added a special feature on these studios and the famous Chapman crane that calls 8H home. Click here to see it.
Photos courtesy NBC Universal Photo Bank. All rights reserved. Images may not be copied, archived, sold, leased or shared.

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Bob Hope at NBC Burbank on October 15, 1975 during the taping of Bob Hope’s 25 Years Of Comedy.
Photo courtesy NBC Universal Photo Bank. All rights reserved. Images may not be copied, archived, sold, leased or shared.

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Longtime NBC cameraman Sidney Chomsky with a TK44 at an Academy Awards show. Note the “Proud N” logo that replaced the “Nebraska N” and brought back the Peacock. Sid’s son Natt, an ABC tape editor, sent this to me and I thank him. For an interesting look at another multi-generational TV family, click here.

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NBC Sports’ NFL ’78 in Studio 6A at 30 Rock. Marv Albert and Bryant Gumbel discuss the Broncos-Raiders battle for the AFC West before a group of TK44s.

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In the three images above, we are at Studio 81 at Reeves Teletape for a home show called Hittin’ Home, with Chuck Woolery and Nancy Glass, in 1979. The crane is a Chapman Nike model. The image just above shows my friend Joe LoRe’ on Camera 4 of that show. He’s a tad older here than in the photo of him at ABC on the TK60 page. In the two shots below, we’re on the Sesame Street set with Reeves the same year.

Photos courtesy Dennis Degan.

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Here’s 30 Rock’s Studio 6A as home of Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow show. It also served as home for David Letterman’s morning program and Late Night through the Letterman and Conan O’Brien years. Jimmy Fallon briefly used 6A for Late Night while Studio 6B, his usual studio, was being renovated for Tonight. 6A has also hosted the syndicated Dr. Oz show and The Meredith Vieira Show, and in summer 2016 was home for Maya and Marty with Maya Rudolph and Martin Short. 6A was the first studio in 30 Rock to be equipped for high definition video.
Photo courtesy of Dennis Degan

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Above is 30-year NBC Burbank veteran Jon Olson during a Jerry Lewis Show rehearsal. He’s protecting his eyes from the crew hanging lights there in Studio 2. As it happens, just across the hall, Dean Martin is in rehearsal too. Jon was behind the camera for the first 10 years and worked mostly on specials like Hallmark Hall of Fame (“Our Town,” “Clarence Darrow,” “Gideon’s Trumpet,” etc.), some Laugh-In, Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, CPO Sharkey with Don Rickles, Phyllis Diller’s show, and Richard Pryor’s summer show. He also worked a few seasons of Flip Wilson, Andy Williams, The Hollywood Squares, Let’s Make a Deal, and many more. Boy…just look back at that list! Jon even won an Emmy for Doug Henning’s World of Magic, which was a one-camera show. He spent the next 20 years in news, and when he left was West Coast Technical Director for NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw.

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TK44s on the KNBC Los Angeles news set. The News 4 tri flip panel used to be the Johnny Carson flip panel.
Photo courtesy of Bob Meza.

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Above and below, our friend Bob Meza with TK44s at NBC Burbank. He’s the last engineer there with experience on the 44s.
Top photo courtesy of Bob Meza. Bottom photo courtesy NBC Universal Photo Bank. All rights reserved. Images may not be copied, archived, sold, leased or shared.

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Times, “they are a changing”…literally. As the TK47s start to arrive in Burbank, the 44s start being retired. Five of these cameras came my way.
Photo courtesy of Bob Meza.

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This 1989 photo shows NBC cameraman Jag Gyanor in Studio 5 at NBC Burbank with a TK44, freshly adorned with the new peacock logo panels. Notice the fan on top?
Photo courtesy of Bob Meza.

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Photo courtesy NBC Universal Photo Bank. All rights reserved. Images may not be copied, archived, sold, leased or shared.

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From 1965 to 1974 Burbank was busy with The Dean Martin Show and cranked out 264 episodes. Above (color, top) is a photo from the 1972 Martin Christmas special and below that is a black-and-white shot from a 1971 episode of the show. One of the many running gags was the knock from the “closet” door. Each week when Dean opened it, there was a celebrity guest, but most people never knew that Dean usually didn’t know who was going to be there, and he didn’t want to know so his reaction would be spontaneous.

Photo courtesy of Old Radio.com

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TK44s in the studio at KCET-TV in Los Angeles. KCET replaced its TK44s with TK47s in 1978.
Photo courtesy of Old Radio.com

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One great thing about the TK44s was the flat door. Finally, “camera art” had a place to live, and both local stations (like San Diego’s KOGO-TV) and networks used that big panel as a canvas for colorful adhesive graphics.
Photo courtesy of Old Radio.com

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TK44s in the field for major league baseball (above) and college football (below). This line was considered the first truly portable color camera. Even though the camera heads weighed over 120 pounds and required two men to lift onto a tripod, that was hundreds less than the 41s or 42s weighed. (Can you say “hernia”?)
Photos courtesy RCA Broadcast News

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At 30 Rock to promote his NBC series The Devlin Connection, Rock Hudson goofs around with a TK44 outside Studio 6B in the early 1980s.

Photos courtesy Life Magazine

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Hello Mr. Ellerbee, I absolutely love your website and your incredible camera collection. For me, browsing your website is like going to Disneyland. I thought I’d send you a picture I scanned out of the June, 1970 RCA Broadcast News. This is a picture of seven TK-44A cameras at the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting. This is now known as Maryland Public Television. I have worked at MPT for 35 years in Videotape and Master Control. — Lou Goldberg

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Courtesy of RCA Broadcast News, we’re on the set of The Tonight Show in December 1969. Here are Johnny and Ed holding court in Studio 6B above, and a rehearsal shot below. By the way, I’ve put a very special look at Tonight‘s history in the Gallery…please take a look.

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In these three images (above and below), we see longtime NBC Burbank cameraman Jim Bragg working with TK44s. Above is a very interesting moment, as it’s the only time a “snorkel lens” was used for television. One look at the special apparatus and rigging will probably explain why. The effect is to give a “from the ground up” kind of image. The lens was on loan for NBC to try out, but they didn’t bite. It’s a unique perspective, but you can see Jim had to work pretty hard under the Chapman for this shot. Below, Jim is in under less stress as he prepares his 44s for baseball and golf.

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TK44s brought us the famous interviews David Frost conducted with former president Richard Nixon in 1977.
Photo courtesy Howard Foster Keller.

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This is the perfect way to show the difference in the look of the TK44s and TK45s. The center camera above is a TK45 and the other two are TK44s. Notice the black vent doors and trim and a lower tally dome light. Below are the TK46s in their characteristic tan and blue.

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In the three photos above, we see RCA TK46 cameras set to record Elton John in Central Park in September 1980. I never much cared for the camera’s colors, but this is the first RCA camera that had a tilting viewfinder. For that convenience, you can come to love the tan and blue. At least these cameras had a lens housing that looked more normal than the original molded, hard plastic cowls that came on the very early TK46 versions. They looked similar to the GE 350 lens cowls.
Photos courtesy Dennis Degan.

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