State-of-the-art TV news technology, circa 1952

I'm still combing through my grandfather's old SF magazines. Here's a short article which caught my eye about the technology used to broadcast election results in November 1952.

The 1952 presidential contest between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson was the first election to see extensive use of TV coverage, with eventual winner Eisenhower famously using short TV ads to enhance his image. But the election was also significant in how the networks used then state-of-the-art technology to both cover the election and predict its outcome as results came in.

The short article below comes from the February 1953 issue of Startling Stories, and reports on how one the biggest challenges in broadcasting TV news of the election was in quickly developing film. It's also amusing that in 1952 the cutting-edge in computers were being built by the National Cash Register Company and the American Totalizer Company.

The article's copy is below. People can also download the article as a PDF scan.

Video-Technics by Pat Jones

On-the-Spot News

WE'RE NOT going in for any political rehashing. The elections are over, and for the most part, the fever has subsided. Some of the improvements in tv techniques which brought the election results quickly and accurately before the public will continue to make news.

To get the story, we talked to NBCs Charles H. Colledge. Newsman and engineer combined, "Joe" Colledge works son the theory that news, like ice cream, "is best when its a scoop."

In getting facts and figures rapidly to the public, two items struck us as being of special interest. One was the way statistics were handled, the other how human interest highlighted the evening.

Special computers were built by the National Cash Register Co. and the American Totalizer Co, each of which had the equivalent of 27 mechanical memories. Thus it was possible to flash up-to-the-minute results of the nations balloting.

The six unique tabulators broke down the results into states and electoral districts, popular and electoral votes, enabling commentators to analyze trends as fast as they developed.

To secure news scoops of human interest from out of the way sources, 16mm movie cameras were often useful. Having the advantage of complete mobility, only one major drawback had prevented their extensive use: the slowness of ordinary film developing processes.

In conjunction with professors from MIT and two NBC cameramen, Colledge conceived and constructed a radically new developing unit for preparing 16mm film.

Unlike other film developers used by networks (some of which occupy an entire room) the hot developer is contained in a box about half the size of a home refrigerator. Weighing 225 pounds, it is portable, and film can be developed en route from its source.

The unit can turn out 1,220 feet of negative film an hour. Only 67 feet pass over its flock of rollers at a given moment, taking roughly two minutes to develop one minutes worth of film. Though spray developers have been built which are faster, commercial immersion developers of this type are larger, and take almost six times as long to develop film.

The trick is the developing formula: it utilizes a 20 second developer, a 15 second shortstop (the bath between the developer and the hypo) and a 55 second fixing agent. Operating at room temperature (6580), a thermometer within the machine rigidly regulates its temperature. Plugged into an ordinary wall socket, it operates with or without running water. Film made this way can be aired in 15 minutes.

Having taken every conceivable feature into consideration, the unit was found to have one flaw: ordinary steel disintegrated in the solution. The roller chains in the experimental model had to be greased carefully to keep it in working order

Future models will eliminate the necessity for elbow grease in getting on-the-spot news Scoops to your tv screens.