vintage SF

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.

Author James Blish complains about pirated fiction — back in 1951

The digital age has spawned an ongoing literary argument between authors who fear their works are too easily being pirated and authors like Cory Doctorow who believe current copyright laws are failing to serve artists (along with a million different views on the issue.) While I personally align more with Doctorow's position, I totally understand the concern of authors who fear that the free distribution of their creative works will undercut how they earn their living.

But with that said, it's silly to be believe this is in any way a new issue for authors. For example, in the 19th century pirating was a major problem, with American publishers being notorious for the practice. This is seen easily with Uncle Tom's Cabin, which was not only the best-selling novel of the 19th century but likely also the most pirated one.

In the 20th century more rigidly enforced and standarized copyright laws helped make pirated works more rare, but it still happened. As proof of this, witness this letter from SF author James Blish to William L. Hamling, editor of Imagination: Stories of Science Fiction. The letter was published in the September 1951 edition of the magazine and is part of my continuing effort to scan and highlight forgotten correspondence of interest to genre history.

The letter is transcribed below. Readers can also download the letter as a PDF.

And I'm curious about this well-known fan who assisted with this pirating. Wonder if anyone knows who this was?



Dear Bill :

While reading the June issue of IMAGINATION I ran across the reference to Spanish-language fantasy magazines in FANDORA'S BOX. To quote: "Even if you never see these magazines and never want to, its interesting to know that your favorite authors and stories are being enjoyed by fans who can't read English.”

To which, I'm afraid, it's necessary to add: For which privilege none of the authors represented are receiving one red cent. Evidently Miss Wolf is not aware of the fact that some of these Spanish magazines print by out and out piracy. The stories which go into them are selected, it seems, by an American, an extremely well known fan who apparently is proud of his participation in this kind of literary thievery.

There seems to be little that the pirated authors can do about this condition at the moment; however, you, as editor of an American science fiction magazine which will probably be pirated by Los Cuentos Fantasticos sooner or later should at least refrain from printing what amounts to tacit approval of the practice.

Incidentally, none of my own stories have ever proven popular enough to our friends South-of-the-border to be pirated in this fashion, so I have no personal axe to grind.

James Blish
171 Pelton Ave.
Staten Island 10, N. Y.

The literary piracy practices of the Мехісат таgazine you тепtion are no secret to your editor, Jim. While I edited FANTASTIC ADVENTURES at Ziff-Davis we found that not only were some of owr stories stolen by this questionable Mexican outfit, but they also used our covers, blocking out the logo. The matter was taken up with the attorneys of AS & FA, but it seemed as if there was no legal hold we could get on this magazine. As to our personal feelings on the mαtter you can imagine how angry we wereand are that a cheap fly-by-night Mexican firm would do such a dastardly thing under some technicality of a copyright being invalid insofar as they're cоncerned. And we'll go on record right now and say that in all likelihood we won't be able to stop them from pirating stories, illustrations and covers from IMAGINATION if they choose to do so, but if we ever meet anybody cоnnected with the project well have a few choice things to say.

As to the mention in FANDORA'S BOX, we don't censor fan news. We try and be as fair as possible even to a nauseating magazine like the one mentioned. Anything in science fiction is fan news and the fans have the right to know and express their views in any manner in the proper departments of this book. And along these lines wed like to mention one other thing. Mari Wolf's husband is Rog Phillips. And I believe Rog has had some of his work pirated by this same publication you mention. Which shows that Mari is reporting the news fairly, even though she may have an axe to grind personally.

As to an American having a hand in this literary piracy, we dont know anything about that … wlh

When Marion Zimmer Bradley decried sex in SF stories

I've been wading through my grandfather's old science fiction magazines and have decided to do occasional scans of this content to illustrate forgotten aspects of the genre's history. In particular, I want to illustrate the letters to the editor which were a major way people in fandom communicated with each other before the start of the digital revolution.

My first scan is a letter to the editor from Marion Zimmer Bradley. Long before she became famous as a fiction writer and then infamous for both ignoring her husband's child molestation activities and engaging in the same herself Bradley wrote a number of letters which were published in Thrilling Wonder Stories.

The letter below comes from the June 1953 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. In it, Bradley says that her complaint about sex in a recent story in the magazine isn't the "shrieking of an outraged prude." Instead, she complains about using poor science to set up what is essential a "sex fiction" story. Bradley adds she is okay with sex in SF stories when it's integral to the story's plot, as in Philip Jose Farmer's famous story "The Lovers." Otherwise, she doesn't want it in her SF.

In light of Bradley's later abusive and criminal acts, the letter can't help but be read today in an extremely disturbing manner. That said, the letter also opens a window into her mindset at the start of her writing career while also demonstrating a good bit of insight into the gender-norms and beliefs which saturated the SF/F genre in the early 1950s.

To open the letter as a PDF, go here.