How The Ultra Rare 3M ’20 Years Of Video Tape’ Survived…
A few days ago, I heard from Neil Gjere who told me a very interesting story and today, we get part one of the story in the form of the historic video in today’s first post and this…the backstory of how it is that this rare video survived and is seen here for the first time since the 1976 NAB convention. Below the line is Neil’s account. Many thanks to him for the rare video and for more photos and videotape history he is sending soon. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
“Back in ’79, and fresh out of school I was given the opportunity to work in the television studios of the public relations department for a “small” company known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing what we all know today as the 3M Company. The division at that time was basically responsible for providing video services to all of the various corporate sales divisions and the products they were responsible for.
One of my primary duties assigned to me was to duplicate completed programs that had been created in the studio with the intention of distribution to the corporate sales forces worldwide. One evening, I was approached by a department head clutching a two inch quad reel and a 3/4″ umatic tape and a request to dub the program for a corporate client he was wooing to get some work out of.
The title on the quad reel? ’20 Years of Videotape’ Being fresh out of school and absorbing everything television related I could find to expand my future career chances in the business, I asked the department head If he wouldn’t mind If I made a copy for myself to watch later. “Sure!” he said. “I’d like to hear your opinion, what you think of the program!”
From that moment, the request took the priority of “Rush Job” not only because it was needed for a breakfast meeting the following morning, but because I was excited to see for myself what exactly took up twenty minutes of quad tape space and had clearly taken up a large amount of studio time to produce. I grabbed a nearby 3/4″ umatic tape, shoved it into a nearby machine, and pushed record.
Well, for whatever reason, I was unable to get around to actually viewing the tape until much, much, later and I ended up carrying it around with me in the hopes that my viewing time would coincide with the availability of a 3/4″ playback deck. Once I was able to actually watch the program, I determined that it was a sales presentation used at 3M’s 1976 NAB convention sales booth to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the creation of video tape recording.
I enjoyed watching it, but clearly it was a sales presentation so technical in nature, my 19 year old brain just couldn’t appreciate the historical significance it was trying to convey. It came out of the deck and into the void that was my life at the time, never to be seen again. Until one day, 30 years later, a conversation with my high school radio/tv teacher came about. “I have a number of old video tapes from my teaching days and I’d like to see if you can tell me what’s on any of them.” These were old black and white reels in the old JEDEC helical format that was popular back in the day for educational and industrial uses. I have yet to find a deck to play these on to determine if there’s anything useful I can give back to him.
We met for lunch and he gave me a large bag of tapes that upon seeing brought me right back to his classroom in the late 70s. I told him I would see what I could do bluffing my way through lunch without the slightest idea how in fact I was going to view these things. A couple of weeks go by and I figured I’d ignored my requested missive long enough. So I began to go through the stack of now “vintage” recorded material.
After digging through case after case of 7 inch reels, I reach to bottom of the bag and discover a differently shaped case. As I go to pull it out, the label reveals: ’20 Years of Videotape’. Really.
Apparently, without truly remembering the moment, I had given the tape I’d dubbed so many years ago to my teacher who, was still teaching at the time with the thinking that maybe he could use it in one of his lectures back in the day. After he left teaching, it became another item in his career archive pile. And like some sort of time travelling boomerang, Here it ends back up on my doorstep. Weird.
As I look at the 3/4″ Umatic tape in my hand, I began to reminisce of the moment all those years ago, THIRTY years ago when I had shoved that very tape into one of the twenty five duplicating machines we had on hand to record the material that I now realize may be the only surviving recording of a Master that may have been a victim of decades of cast off departmental records purges.
A very real possibility after hearing of many of my colleagues in the department being let go shortly after my departure in 1980. And I realize, “How the HELL am I going to play this thing back?”
Considering our facility was paring back the number of 1″ machines in our inventory with the goal of eliminating all of them within a years time, and knowing the LAST 3/4″ machine departed with the parade of analog Beta machines that had just been emptied from our racks a year earlier, the likelihood of ever being reminded what was on that tape was fading quickly.
Back into the bag it went. By some divine archival intervention a few months later I overhear a conversation between a couple of colleagues regarding a freshly purchased 3/4″ machine and who was going to install it. As it turns out, a program project had paid to purchase a machine to dub needed material that was ONLY available on 3/4″ and the school had gotten rid of their machines ten years prior with no one giving any thought to future access of their programming.
It was only several weeks after that I spied the now dark machine in the equipment rack that I was reminded of my own recovery project. Out of the bag it comes. I decided if I was going to run this thing through a machine of that vintage, with a tape of that vintage, it would probably be a good idea to get it recorded on as many various digital devices that I could get stock for with the thinking I may only get one chance.
By the time I rolled tape for that pivotal moment, I had ones and zeroes flowing to no less than seven different recording devices. It played perfectly. Not one clog, not one dropout, and little if any evidence of degradation despite sitting on a reel for the better part of thirty years without so much as an inch of movement in that time.
And as I sat and watched the clearly 1976 production, I was reminded how much we gained not only in technical abilities, but in production values and capabilities as well. And the names: Ginsburg, Wetzel, Sater. Mel Sater to be exact. Mr. Sater played a prominent part in this story as you will soon discover in my next chapter.” -Neil Gjere