October 17, 1958…Video Tape Editing Makes It’s Debut!
All week, we have danced around this subject with the Smith Block posts, but it was only this morning that I realized that we are at the 56th Anniversary of video tape editing. The following is excerpted from Richard Wirth’s article from March, which is included in full below.
The first official broadcast use of the Editor Synch Guide (ESG) system aired on October 17th, 1958, on the NBC special ‘An Evening With Fred Astaire’. It was also one of the first programs to be recorded on color videotape.
Video tape was introduced in late 1956 and as the 50’s wore on, more shows began to record in advance, but they had to be done live – recorded in their entirety in one pass. There was no way to stop and fix mistakes. It didn’t take engineers long to begin experimenting with ways to edit the unwieldy and unforgiving two-inch wide quadruplex recordings. Audiotape had been physically edited for years using a metal guide, a razor blade and some special adhesive tape. But television signals were more complicated, particularly in the way they were recorded on the tape.
NBC Burbank engineers and editors decided they had to come up with some kind of process to edit, and eventually they did. Kinescope equipment was still in use and available so they developed a system of editing using 16mm kinescope films. After a master videotape was recorded, a 16mm film “work print” would be made of it along with 16mm magnetic sound recordings. On the cue track of the master videotape, the sound area of the kinescoped film and the cue track of the 16mm sound recording engineers would record the Editor Sync Guide (ESG), a forerunner to what we know now as Time Code.
ESG consisted of a male voice calling out the minutes and a female voice calling out the seconds. Every 24 frames, there would be a one frame “beep” tone. Art Schneider, an NBC editor involved with the system’s creation, says in his book “Jump Cut” it took three people and a week to create the seventy-three minute ESG master recording.
The kine program would then be edited with frame accuracy using standard motion picture editing techniques. When complete, the tape was “conformed” to match the 16mm sound cue track. By the time the ESG was put into use, the manual videotape splicer had become more sophisticated to include adjustment dials and a microscope to ensure accuracy. Using the Smith Block, this became known as double system or offline editing.
Because of the twenty frame difference between the location of the video heads and the audio heads on the videotape machines, the 16mm sound track was used for all subsequent sound mixing and sweetening to maintain sync. After final mixing, it was laid back to the videotape in one pass.
The word of mouth buzz from Astaire program “literally opened up the floodgates to producers and directors who wanted their shows edited at NBC.” Word of its accuracy spread quickly and for about 10 years after, NBC Color City was place to go to edit your videotaped program! The editing on the Astaire program was minimal by comparison to some of the later efforts using the ESG system.
The ESG system was eventually used on ‘Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In’…this was the first program use very quick cutting, sometimes just a few frames. For some segments, every camera take was a physical cut in the tape. It was said when the ‘Laugh-In’ master tapes were played, they had so many physical cuts they sounded like a machine gun firing as the tape passed the spinning video heads!
Many thanks to Richard Wirth for his fine work over the years. The full article, complete with videos is at this link. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
The Demise of NBC Burbank Part 2
Recently, I wrote about the beginnings of NBC’s historic lot in Burbank as the Peacock network completed its move to nearby Universal Studios. The look back on NBC Burbank’s sixty-two year history wouldn’t be complete without exploring some of the technical history NBC engine…