The RCA TK47 was RCA’s last full size studio camera. It was made from about 1979 to 1981, even as RCA continued to sell the TK46. Interestingly, it was the only studio camera in RCA’s long history to win an Emmy Award. (The TK76 ENG camera also won an Emmy.)
TK47s were computer controlled, keeping with the movement in the late 1970s towards the use of more and more computer technology in broadcast equipment. A station that took 90 minutes and two technicians to set up three TK44s could do the same job in 30 minutes with one technician at the TK47’s setup terminal and remote control units. Unfortunately, as TK47 cameramen tell us, the same computers that made setting up the cameras a simple and quick operation also had a huge drawback—when the computer failed, you lost the camera! TK47s were in service at NBC for 17 years, from 1979 to 1996, and even longer at some affiliates around the country. The introduction of CCD cameras to replace tube cameras made the 47s obsolete.
In both of the pictures above, you can see NBC cameraman John Pinto on the set of Saturday Night Live. John is from the original crew hired in 1975. He’s operated the camera on the famous Chapman Electra crane for many years. (If you’re a fan of SNL, the Electra, or Studio 8H, you’ll love this story elsewhere on this site.)
Photo courtesy Bob Meza
Above is our friend Bob Meza putting four brand-new TK47s into service at NBC Burbank in the KNBC studios in 1979…
…and here are the same cameras being taken out of service in 1996.
Above is a photo taken during an NBC Studio Tour at the Burbank facility. Below is Tonight Show host Jay Leno in May 1992 being shot by one of the four TK47s in Studio One, which was also Johnny Carson’s home.
Above is longtime NBC cameraman Jim Bragg on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Below, Jim is on the golf course with this TK47.
Here are a couple of TK47 images from RCA Broadcast News magazine from 1982.
Remember the Benny Hill Show? Tons of funny, physical comedy on that show, so we don’t know if it’s a gag or if he really just got clobbered with a swinging lens.
If today’s New York smoking rules had been in effect when this was taken, you may not have been able to see this camera for the crowd. City rooftops are one of the last refuges for those who need to light up.
As mentioned above, the TK47 was used until the mid-’90s by NBC and much later by local stations. But one working tape studio in Hickory, N.C. used its TK47s until early 2010, and they’re shown in the photos below. These are not just any TK47s, however! These are four of the eleven that were purchased from NBC Burbank after they were retired there, and may actually be pictured above. They were kept in perfect operating condition by their owner, Tom Long Jr., a major troubleshooting engineer for Clear Channel. If Tom had more tubes, who knows how long they would have worked?
Here’s what appears to be a European version of the TK47.