Changing Technology – Television

The dominant camera of the ’50s and ’60s was the silent, 35 mm spring-wound news camera, to be followed by the 16 mm camera because it cost less. One could have a one-man reporter/cameraman in the field, who would shoot the film and bring it back to a studio for developing, editing and scripting the voice-over report.

As technology developed, things became more complex with synchronized sound. So the single reporter-cameraman had to be replaced by the three-person crew where the reporter would hold a microphone, to either conduct an interview or do a “stand-up” report, but the cameraman would lug more than 40 pounds of equipment and the soundman another 20-odd pounds of recording hardware.

Developing film was quite a process in most TV stations. Some would use an in-house laboratory while others would use a contracted facility. Regardless, it took time to process and in many cases, processing took place only once per day. So if the film arrived too late that day, it could not be used the same evening but was usually held over to the next day.

Thus, even on the local scene, as was the case with film material from news services overseas or elsewhere in North America, the film frequently was actually seen by viewers a day or two after the event.

Technological innovation brought about videotape and video cameras (Electronic News Gathering) in 1976 that increased flexibility, particularly for editing. But with videotape, stories of the day, at least locally and where there were adequate transmission facilities, could go to air the same day.

In recent years, very small portable videotape cameras have come into use, and in many cases, particularly at the local level, the reporter-cameraman has come back into use, eliminating the need for the camera and soundman crew. (see audio below).

Before the days of satellite transmissions, much television news video would be carried from the scene of an event to studios by aircraft, bus or messengers, to a lab for processing and then to the news editors, often arriving hours, if not days, after the event.

Microwave and satellite transmission revolutionized the industry, with not only rapidly supplied reports from the field, but the introduction of much live broadcasting of news events.

In Canadian broadcasting, Nick Aramis of CJOH Ottawa and Alphee Moreau on Parliament Hill in 1976 were among the first cameramen to switch from film to ENG. (see audio below)

With the permanent assignment by the Department of Communications of microwave frequencies devoted strictly to television in the mid ’80s, trucks were being equipped to become transmission studios on wheels. Coupled with a cellular telephone, a technician could drive to the scene of an event, and within 10 or 15 minutes, could line up a feed. This compared to an hour when microwave first became accessible. (see audio below)

In studio, it is said that the greatest technological advance was the Teleprompter, which enabled newsreaders to improve their presentation so that they no longer had to constantly look down at a script, but could look toward the cameras (and theoretically directly at the viewer).

The introduction of computer graphics was another step forward for television news.

Starting in 2001, the newest technology to be installed involved digital video. Tapes from the field began being dumped onto a server in house and edited electronically, allowing numerous people to work on the same piece of video at the same time, with no more tape losses or arguments over who should have first access.

Sidney Margles – February, 2005

Audio Clips:

1 Mike Duffy describes how style joined substance with the arrival of portable videotape in 1976

2 Alphee Moreau talks about the advantages of using his new ENG equipment to cover Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s 1977 visit to NORAD in Colorado

3 Alphee Moreau talks about how instantaneous reporting became possible with the advent of lightweight ENG equipment