NBN Television in the Field

Part 1: A Gallery of NBNTV Outside Broadcasts in the pre-colour era.

The story of NBN’s outside broadcasts (OBs) is a large part of Newcastle’s recent social history. Although the events were mostly sporting, whenever the occasion demanded it NBN’s OB crew were there to bring it to the region.  

What follows is more of a photo essay than an article. Despite the lack of descriptive detail, there's an imperative to get these pictures into the public domain. A sparsity of information accompanying the film negatives allows only a brief description and a few comments for each set. 

These slides lacked even a date of recording – so there is only what we see in them, or what some of you might remember and provide, to be added to this article. You can do so in the comments section at the end of this article, below. Or, if you wish, write to the editor. Readers are invited to clarify anything they see, such as the date, place, well-known faces, and so on. And corrections, please! 

As mentioned, OBs (Outside Broadcasts) were most often for sports events. In hundreds of outings over the decades, the OB teams covered football (of course), bowls, rodeos, tennis, water skiing, skateboarding, and, famously, SurfFest. They were often hired to complement coverage of events of national or international significance, such as Bathurst car racing, rock concerts, and even the Olympics. 

The city has seen affairs of such importance they invoked local pride and attracted international attention. The launch of ships at the State Dockyard, or the Queen’s 1977 visit. Outside broadcasts weren’t all for glory. This was a hard-working, income-generating team. 

Allied to the highly-visible large truck was an assortment of support vans used more often for smaller commercial productions due to size and flexibility. Larger commercial shoots would commonly involve the big truck and one of the smaller vans - they became known as the famous duo, OB1 (or Obi Wan) and OB2. It is worth repeating the tribute that introduced the article about NBN’s OB vehicles:

…the real “thrill seekers” were OB technicians who had to drive a mobile studio sometimes hundreds of kilometers to a remote location, cable it up, fix the unexpected faults and failures with few backup systems and fewer resources, all on an impossibly tight deadline. They carried heavy cameras weighing as much as 50 kilograms to the top of some building, or scaffolding they erected themselves, and then work in blazing heat or pouring rain and wind with high-voltage but delicate equipment connected to hundreds of meters of thick heavy cable. Those guys were real heroes.

This is their story, illustrated. We start with black and white photographs recording events before colour television, in which the original NBN logo was the number ‘3’ encircled by three arcs. At first it seems odd that so much photography was done in monochrome. That might be explained by the fact that it was all transient and for short term commercial or promotional use on air in those pre-colour days. The stills camera was high-end and large format negatives would have been expensive, colour more so. 

Another explanation could be technical. For some time before colour transmission began, NBN transmitted "colour-ready" but notched out the vital frequency that would allow colour television receivers to display it. However, that colour information was visible as a pattern, even on old 'black and white' TVs. Therefore, for transmission quality reasons, especially concerning commercials, and for simplicity's sake, promotional and commercial photography were not coloured, especially because slides and photographic 'stills' were a big part of TV advertising in those days.

Microwave Links and Recorders

A major logistical challenge in the very early days was a lack of vision recording capability in the field. Videotape recorders were still being developed, and initially were huge machines. Vision and sound were therefore beamed back to the studio for recording in real time. That introduced another problem – line of sight back to studio was required (microwave frequencies are like light beams), and if there was none, and the event was of sufficient importance, multiple links were needed (between hill tops, for example). This was an imperative before a field recorder was acquired.

Live events streamed direct to air, or were recorded, edited, and produced by a studio team for replay later in the evening. The recording matter was resolved when, as seen in the Mitre 10 commercial shoot at Merewether further below, a "portable" (luggable) RCA recorder was bought. An educated guess calls it as a TR-70, a colour-capable recorder. Earlier field recorders could record but not play back, so those recordings would be made on a wing and prayer. Apart from cost, this would be a major consideration choosing the first OB recorder. And, if you're wondering, the very early commercials were recorded at the site with cine cameras.

 And so to it. The comments that follow involve guesswork, extrapolation, and some clearly recognizable landmarks. As mentioned, please contribute via comments (below) or email.

 Bathurst 1968
This would appear to be the winding road over the Blue Mountains.
And this, the highway approaching Bathurst. Below suggests a hail storm had just passed.
Above, the watering hole. Below, Bathurst War Memorial Civic Centre

From here is where the cognoscenti can leap on my guesswork and provide much-needed facts and anecdotes. Go to it. Email Throsby at NewcastleOnHunter dot org. From the photos, it appears NBN's crew covered the coveted Forrest's Elbow, and the exit from The Dipper.

From across the track the panorama is indeed that. To the right is Conrod Straight, so named because in top gear in the early days cars would quickly reach maximum revolutions well before the end (Murray's Corner) and, well, rev further, encouraged by adrenaline. Consequently that component of an engine named the conrod would likely find its way out of the engine.

Camp is made.
A rare - if not unique - photo of inside the truck.
Tea and strategy session.
Camera footing were hard work. One can't just plonk the tripod down and go. Note too the ingenious camera "sun roof" that you also see on older four wheel drives. The camera is full of thermionic valves that generate much heat.
Shirts on. Cameras to the ready (posing for the stills promotional shot).
Below, a word from ATN Channel 7, to whose base NBN's truck was likely linking their live output.
Above, Rod Prout sets out for a vantage with his camera. Below, George Brown on camera.

George, who later became NBN's general manager, is readily identified by his white hat in these shots. In background, NBN's second camera covers the road emerging from the Dipper. Although George's camera couldn't see down Conrod, it was the Elbow where the drama usually occurred as vehicles tried for maximum speed entering Conrod.

It's on
Flag marshalling was a somewhat more a bushman's art in those days. They were serious professionals, but the vantages were rather precarious.
And we've come a long way from early tow trucks.

Gloucester Rodeo

George again sporting his iconic white hat. This collection will have to speak for itself. Details from readers can be entered in the comments at the end of this article (below) and might be added to captions here.

The sign on the truck is advertising this rodeo, presumably. And being at Gloucester, we assume the field recorder is somewhere in the truck.
The litter suggests these pictures are the getaway, not the arrival.

Caves Beach Surf Carnival

How easy-going things were, back in the day. Even as the lads hoisted 100kg camera heads and lens packs up onto scaffolding, people lounged beneath in its shade.  Nowadays there would be security guards and rent-a-fences everywhere. Good times.

Warwick Teece's name labelled this collection, so there's a chance he was the photographer. Btw, in the mid sixties - much to the annoyance of us who recorded songs from the radio (we had quality reel to reel recorders) - Warwick was notorious for talking over the closing bars and ruining it.

Thoughts as questions. Can kids loiter so near the action nowadays? And is that not a great place for those two gas bottles?
Never mind the OH&S.

We should be eternally grateful that the stills photographers back then made setting up of an outside broadcast the focus of their shoot, and the actual event not so much.

Invitation Stakes

Possibly the "NBN Invitation Stakes" due to the presence of the OB truck and Noel Harrison.

Mitre 10 at Merewether 

This is a very interesting collection. It was classic late sixties or early seventies. Mitre 10 was the big name in hardware. Sideburns, flairs, floral Gloweave shirts, bermuda shorts and white socks. And a classy house at Merewether Heights, just to make it hard for the OB team to drag their monstrously heavy gear around.

Three long-time NBNers are identifiable. Ian "Beat" Hill in his standard shirt, trousers, and tie - belying his defiant locks and facial hair. A lad who recently notched up what could be a Guiness Record of 50 years (or is it 55?) as a television cameraman: Trevor Busch. At least, it looks like a young Trev in white overalls and sporting his signature and equally mod hair. And Joe Brown, later to be OB supervisor if he wasn't already, attending to the field recorder in the only picture I've found that shows it. From scant evidence we surmise it's an RCA TK70. Corrections and/or comments welcome. Until this portable recorder was purchased, commercials were filmed on cine cameras, and outside broadcasts had to be sufficiently significant to warrant a microwave link to the studio from the truck, and either be recorded in the studio or go live to air.

Joe Brown has set up the recorder in the garage. This is one of the two IVC-900 series one-inch tape recorders bought by NBN circa 1970. At right in the photo is the camera control unit for the RCA TK camera on the sun deck.

You might wonder which house this is.
Hold the brush thus.

Footy with Nine (TCN9) at Newcastle Sportsground

This series of photos reveals clearly that no difficulty was too great to get the job done. Hoisting extremely heavy equipment up makeshift scaffold towers. Waterproofing high-voltage equipment and working around it in the rain. Dragging heavy camera cables, sometimes 100 meters around the oval.

The TCN truck is relaying via the microwave dish on its roof the live broadcast, likely to NBN's studio for video relay to Sydney.  

Even the talent (Gary Newman might be one of them) we find sitting in the rain with their audio gear, which also ran high voltages.

Soccer at Crystal Palace, Wallsend

This looks like a Channel Nine (TCN 9) show with NBN assisting. 

The surviving photographs in this series suggest that this is a TCN 9 OB and NBN is assisting, with either/or staff, linking, or extra cameras.
The setup is similar to OBs of this era. There might or not be video recorders in the trucks. Even so, the event might be broadcast live. Therefore the link is established via microwave. From this location (Wallsend) Mt Sugarloaf is the likely target. 
That is astonishingly difficult for the guy in white overalls. The fellow pushing from below is of limited help.

A reminder that you are welcome to add information about any event, persons, or locations in the images above.

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Additional information, anecdotes, etc., or corrections are welcome.

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