In 1955, RCA and General Electric were primary suppliers of studio equipment. NBC affiliates tended to favor equipment manufactured by RCA. This seems logical since the network was owned by RCA at the time (ironically, NBC is now owned by G.E.!).
The CBS network leaned towards GE cameras, and you would assume that CBS affiliates would follow their network's lead and buy G.E. cameras; but that wasn't the case. RCA cameras were just as popular with CBS and ABC affiliates. Channel 13's chief engineer Daniel H. Smith opted to start operations with two RCA-TK11A cameras, and two TK-31A field versions in their remote truck.
In Channel 13's single studio, Camera 1 was mounted on a standard Houston Fearless pedestal. The H/F pedestal was a rather heavy, clunky device, but it did allow the operator to steer and dolly in a professional manner. Increasing or decreasing the height was accomplished by rotating a circular wheel attached to the base of the pedestal. It was practically impossible to do this smoothly while on the air.
The camera was equipped with four fixed-focal length lenses mounted on a turret. The lenses ranged from wide angle to telephoto. One of the challenges of this arrangement is that changing lenses required the operator to remove his hand from the focus control and turn a handle mounted beneath the viewfinder. As the handle rotates the turret the camera's image is blanked out as one lens passes out of view and another racks into place. Then, the operator must re-focus using the control on the camera's starboard side. Often, the camera would end up on-air during the rotation.
Camera 2 was mounted on a tripod, preventing any on-air changes in height. Normally, tripods are used in field operations, but it's possible that 13 did not want to invest in the cost of two pedestals. Camera 2 had a Zoomar, which was a primitive version of our modern day zoom lens. Compared to the focal lengths of Camera 1's lenses, the Zoomar could not provide the same wide angle or telephoto shots. Zoom lenses of the period tended to be medium-wide and medium-telephoto, with a 4 to 1 zoom range. The advantage, however, was that the shot could be changed smoothly from wide angle to telephoto (or reverse) without racking a turret.*
These mid-50's style cameras used image orthicon tubes to create NTSC television pictures. The I.O. tube was a workhorse of the broadcast industry for twenty years, but early versions suffered from image retention. If you left the camera aimed at static image for too long, it would 'burn in' to the I.O. tube. The image would be retained for a moment once the camera was repositioned. Production manager Dan Boger recalled the use of 'orbiters' to prevent the burn in. Apparently, the orbiter was a mechanical device placed on the lens turret that moved the image in a subtle manner, and thus preventing a burn in. The cameras typically required about 150 foot candles to produce an acceptable picture.
This rare color slide from 1959 shows the crew preparing for Roy Leep's weather segment. Notice the "Radar Weather" logo and the brightly colored weather map that translated to shades of gray on monochrome receivers
Audio equipment consisted of the standard desk top, boom, and lavalier microphones of the period. Studio lighting consisted of 'scoops' supplemented by 1K and 2K focusing lights from the Century Lighting company.
A 16mm film chain was installed in the master control room. Through a system of mirrors, 35mm slides could be used for station I.D.s or commercial announcements. Unlike the studio cameras, the film chain did not use image orthicon tubes. Vidicon tubes, invented in the early 50's, were used instead of I.O.'s because of their longer life and stability. The vidicons required much more light then the I.O.'s, but were cheaper and less prone to 'burn in.'
Color came to Channel 13 in June, 1966. The delivery of four RCA TK-42 color cameras began a new era of local, live color.
Engineer Adrian Snow adjusts the RCA-TK 42. Note built-in zoom lens.
The WTVT engineers had spent several weeks studying the engineering requirements of the new cameras. The TK-42 was an entirely new design, combining three vidicon tubes (red, blue, and green) with an image orthicon (monochrome channel). Lighter in weight and more transistorized than its TK-41 predecessor, the new TK-42 came with a built in 10 to 1 zoom lens.
Inside a TK-42...3 vidicons and 1 image orthicon. Note rear zoom control (left handle) and focus control (right handle)
The camera would fit onto the standard Houston Fearless electric pedestals, but a new, larger control ring was needed for steering. The TK-42 required almost twice as much light as the older black and white models. 250 foot candles was the norm, and in some situations, even more lighting was required.
13 also ordered color film chains and color video tape recording equipment, to make the conversion to color complete.
By 1971, the RCA TK-42s had been in use for five years. Their zoom and focus controls had been modified early on when the crew realized the original rear control design was not practical. The zoom and focus were run via cables to controls on the starboard and port pan handles. This solved the operator's problems, but affected the zoom mechanism's movement. The cables had a tendency to crimp, and this would cause the zoom mechanism to stick, or 'chatter.'
It was also apparent from the start that the vidicon tubes in the TK-42 produced a somewhat plastic color picture.
Plumbicon tubes, such as those used in the Norelco PC-70, were superior in detail and color rendition. Because of the favorable performance of the G.E. color cameras on the their mobile unit, WTVT chose to replace the TK-42s with General Electric PC-400s, which used 4 Plumbicons; three dedicated to the color signals and one for monochrome.
G.E. PE-400 color camera
Richard Bozeman operates a G.E. PE-400 during 1972 election coverage.
Although large and heavy like the TK-42s, the PE-400s had a very smooth zoom lens, because the zoom control on the camera's starboard side was linked directly to the lens, with no cabling to cause lens 'chatter'. New Houston Fearless counterweight pedestals were ordered for use with PE-400s, providing a smooth way to increase or decrease camera height. The only disadvantage is that the weight of the camera and pedestal was approaching 500 pounds. This meant that the camera required a good shove to move across the studio floor.
Todd DeBonis with a Norelco PC-70
Channel 13's color mobile unit was originally equipped with G.E. PE-250s, and then for the bulk of the 1970's, Norelco PC-70s. Around 1978, Philips LDK-25s were installed.
The studio's PE-400's were replaced in 1980 by the mobile unit's LDK-25s, which were then equipped with permanently installed Teleprompters.
*A Zoomar lens is operated from the rear of the camera using a slim metal dowel. Pull back on the dowel, and the camera 'zooms' in. Push in on dowel, and the camera 'zooms' out to a wider angle. Focusing was accomplished by a disk attached to the cameraman's end of dowel. Twisting the disk left or right would focus the lens when it was in the telephoto position.