NBNTV ~ The Heydays

It was the best of times. 

NBN's most productive and prosperous years had begun. Business was booming, production was surging, and optimism prevailed.  Well, that’s how it seemed in what felt like the golden age of colour TV. And it probably was.

The television industry had matured. Staff were confident and experienced. After a decade of learning, this was the time of knowing. No problem couldn't be overcome and every new challenge was met with enthusiasm.

This photo essay describes a glamorous interlude when NBN Television operated under its second station logo, when it seemed that its final perfect form had been reached, that television would go on like this forever. Carpet tiles, soft lighting, and sleek glowing facades had replaced grey vinyl flooring arrayed with valve-laden factory-like equipment.

Then, after twenty fertile years of peak television, it began to fade in the shadow of an emergent Internet that would slowly crush terrestrial broadcasting and sweep away that phosphorescent town square we fondly called Newcastle television.



  These forgotten images of NBN Television - formerly at 11-17 Mosbri Crescent, Newcastle, NSW, Australia - were taken circa 1975 to 1995. Being neither dated nor annotated in their original collection, they are strung together with some memories, anecdotes, and a few historical notes.

  All articles in our NBN series need input from veterans who can expand or clarify important points in the company's history, or add specificity to timelines related by the images below. You may do so by adding recollections - or corrections - in the comments section at the bottom of this (very long) page. Young readers and social historians who visit here will value your remarks.

  For us who lived through this era, the photos on their own tell the story of this flourishing stage of the Hunter region’s most famous issue of technology, it’s “very own” TV station.

NOTE: Only negatives that were a physical part of this collection are watermarked "Newcastle on Hunter" and only to signify that. All such images are Creative Commons, share with attribution, non-commercial. Unmarked copies can be supplied. If you have prints or negatives that can add to this collection (or ye gads! to request a take-down) write to throsby at newcastleonhunter dot org

Management 

In prelude, it's interesting to outline the forces that shaped the company shown in the photos that follow. Although technology, commerce, and regulations were at work, ultimately ownership had the greatest effect. 

During these two decades, despite heavy costs of colour conversion in the early 70s and aggregation in the early 90s, three profitable periods stand out.

After colour television was introduced in 1975, NBN underwent a revolution in local content and commercial production, an expansion measured by the number of Sydney newspaper classifieds seeking staff, and national advertisements promoting NBN as a (newly classified) metropolitan market. This growth forced the doubling of both studio and office space at Mosbri Crescent. 

Then, in the mid 1980s as business settled after Parry corporation’s acquisition, prosperity's measure was by reference to NBN as “Parry’s cash cow.” By 1984, NBN supplied 60% of Parry’s profits, signalling to investors how successful the station was, and how asset rich yet revenue poor was his extensive portfolio of companies. 

The third phase arrived in the mid 1990s after the steady vessel W. H. Soul Pattinson acquired NBN upon Parry’s demise. But it came at cost to our spendthrift ways: 

We flew to Sydney in the helicopter ready to explain television to them. Instead (metaphorically) they took our toys, spanked us, said 'get a haircut' and made us hitchhike home. Well, not quite. But that was the feel of it, being ushered into those timeless chambers of dark timber panelling and worn leather chairs, where some very staid old gentlemen looked us over, then laid down the law - their business lore.

 The Chemists worked the magic of austerity and again NBN’s profitability returned, to the point where, in 1993 it supplied almost a quarter of Soul’s profits - remarkable, considering the magnitude of their portfolio.

Mention of "those timeless chambers" evokes memories of NBN's corporate culture at the start of this period under review, and practices that passed into history along with the original ownership. An 'on-air' staff member reminisces about NBN 'in the old days,' before the boardroom battles and modernity changed the company forever:

I've had many jobs, but no company had ever treated me like NBN when I joined it in the 70s. In the first week a most courteous person - Liz Ball, I think - sought me out downstairs in the bedlam to present me with a letter of welcome and an expensive Parker ballpoint pen with my name engraved on it!

Later, I was astonished when a woman rolled into our office with a cleaning kit and, yes, cleaned the telephones. A telephone sanitizer! But that wasn't all. Each day there was a tinkling noise around 10 in the morning as a trolley approached laden with hot tea, milk, sugar, and there might have been biscuits but I'm starting to think I even imagined the trolley.

Just how much NBN valued employees came when we were on duty Christmas eve. Hot food was delivered to the station by an executive quite late that night, and I thought "That was nice of them." But a week or so later we got an invite from another executive, Wayne Hampton. He took us to dinner at the very exclusive Oliver's Restaurant in Hunter Street. Those were indeed the days!

NBN enjoyed an agile and competent management team from inception, despite the company having no business history or corporate memory. Everyone learned on the job their roles in this infant and technically complex industry. Managers with previous experience running departments or even companies found this no ordinary enterprise, but a technological nightmare. The rules of business kept changing, year after year, due to advances in electronics, decreasing equipment lifetimes, mercurial tastes of viewers, and government regulations subject to both a learning curve for politicians and each government's views on competition.

During this period the station had two managers with entirely different backgrounds: George Brown, who moved through ranks from trainee technician to the CEO's chair; and Joe Sweeney, a seasoned import who adapted quickly to this strange industry, then adopted it as his own.

George Brown - and apologies for that old black and white photo, but he does appear in colour posing near new VTRs in these articles (at every opportunity!) - was at home in the world of tech, starting as trainee technician at the station's birth.

His presence as technical director permeates images of early outside broadcasts, some of which were the most challenging faced by the OB team, especially in the days of relatively primitive electronics. The launching of a ship from our city's State Dockyard - as if that's not challenging enough!  

He then moved into sales, ideal schooling to launch for CEO. George's most successful project as general manager was the videotape department's EDM editing suite, described in detail further below (towards the end of this article).

In 1980 George (he prefers to be called George. "Mr Brown," he says, "makes me sound old. Which I am, of course, however...") was elected to the board of NBN Ltd and ran the station as managing director for three years. He left when Parry's Hadjoin installed Joe Sweeney as chief executive after it took control in 1982. 

George's career boomed thereafter. He spent five years as managing director of Sydney's TEN, several years running a fledgling SKY, until moving to Paul Ramsay's Prime Television which he managed from 1994 to 1999, growing it to from debt to profitability.

Even in the big time George kept his arresting Newcastle humour at hand. On one occasion during Prime's 1996 half-yearly reports to stockbrokers, it was reported ~

[These] have become a show in themselves, thanks to ebullient chief executive George Brown who presided over what must have been a record turnout. His quips flew thick and fast, no doubt buoyed by the 23pc increase in operation profit. Describing a slide that failed to appear, George turned to chairman Paul Ramsay and said: "I buggered it up this time without your assistance!" This was in reference to the previous year that was also highlighted by Brown who, while grappling with switches and buttons, declared it was the chairman's fault, while conceding "You'd never know I was once an engineer."

Joe Sweeney joined the company as general manager after Kevin Parry acquired NBN in late 1982. 

Joe picked up the community mantle from George Brown's management and was a strong supporter of our Telethons, to the great benefit of the community. He extricated NBN from Parry Corp ownership in 1987 before it went into liquidation, and found our long term owners in Washington Soul Pattinson in 1989, who supported NBN through aggregation, and its diversification into telecommunications.
~ per JE. 

Joe Sweeney took the company to aggregation, retiring in 1991, the year of its implementation in northern NSW. Up until that period he oversaw local production and documentaries that played to NBN's strengths, enabling it to keep its local identity and succeed outstandingly in subsequent decades against competitors Prime and TEN.  His keen support of NBN's telethons is illustrated further below where he will be seen in four of them thoroughly immersed in the excitement.  

Although his tough no-nonsense façade made the "downstairs" staff rather wary of venturing into the executive wing, even under summons, he was nevertheless admired by those who encountered him, for whatever reason. A cleaner relates this incident. Or should we say, offers this insight?

I was called into Joe's office the next morning. He waved a cigarette butt at me and, with a wry smile, asked if the boardroom toilet had been cleaned the night before. I knew what he was up to, and replied "Yes, of course, but I gather you found that somewhere and want an explanation."  Joe had a habit of testing us. This time his trick was to place a butt well out of sight on the floor behind the toilet bowl and see if it was still there next day.

For both of these men, managing was made no easier with boardroom battles in constant play and insatiable demands of owners upon revenue. From the very first, NBN was subject to whims and wishes of millionaires, with constant swaps, sell-offs, and carve-ups.

Almost from day one Sydney interests attempted to gain control, and for a moment succeeded. In June 1963, barely a year after transmission began, Packer's Consolidated Press, News Ltd., and two other consortiums began buying out Newcastle Broadcasting (NBTC).  

This was the emergence of Packer and Fairfax de facto control which of course was illegal but it was done through some shelf companies controlled by well-known lawyers and accountants who would have been on the Packer/Fairfax payroll.

It reached a point where questions were asked in parliament and even Newcastle City Council protested to the federal government. In October that year, Labor's C.E. Griffiths  asked the Postmaster-General, Mr Davidson: 

Is it a fact that a completely new board of directors has been appointed? Would it be true to say that station NBN is about to become a relay station only?

The Packer dynasty then and since had long sought ownership of NBN. They effectively succeeded with 1991's aggregation, when NBN became a captive franchisee of Nine, with no choice but to align within its network and pay whatever was demanded for Nine's programme feed. 

In the late 1970s, boardroom battles involved the Newcastle Lamb family’s Broadcast Investments, local millionaire Michael Wansey, and the Westralian at the gate, Kevin Parry’s Hadjoin that eventually gained total ownership in 1982. The stock market crash of 1987 caused a debt-laden Parry to sell, and NBN was “picked up off the floor” in a management buyout. In late 1989 W. H. Soul Pattinson (“The Chemists”) bought NBN outright from the bankers and, with a great sigh of relief, stability and normality resumed. 

Aggregation in 1991 was an unavoidable hit to revenue and yet another headache for the executive wing. This government-enforced sharing by three northern NSW networks - Northern Rivers Television (Coffs Harbour’s NRTV), Prime (Tamworth’s 9-8 Television), and NBN - of each other’s market required large expenditure for very little return. 

Everything changed with the Federal Government's introduction of aggregation in 1987.  CTC-7 in Canberra, WIN in Wollongong, and NBN in Newcastle had been leading regional stations in commissioning local TV production, but were unable to maintain those high levels with the new competition.

 Note: Aggregation is covered in more detail later.

See also  Regional television in Australia - Wikipedia 

Construction  

Originally the studio building at Mosbri Crescent, Newcastle, had only a very small Studio B buried inside the central complex, and a reasonably large Studio A attached at the northern end, thought huge when constructed, but not nearly big enough for what was later asked of it.

Above: Michael Wansey (at right) in a boardroom presentation circa 1974-75 with planned extensions to the studio complex at Mosbri Crescent, Newcastle.

Below: Plan details. Southern wing at right shows ground floor car park that will have two levels of office space above. Shaded is the original (existing before construction) structure that included the two production studios. The larger, Studio A, is at lower left of shaded area, while unshaded at far left is the proposed Studio C. This plan was not the final arrangement, but differences are minor. 

Almost immediately and throughout the 1960s Studio A was in constant use. Every spare moment was consumed by local content shows. By the 1970s production houses (for example, Harry Michaels’ Greek variety show) overflowed from Sydney stations whose own studios were over-booked. Both studios were used in the making of commercials (advertisements), or for constant film transfers from the station's three new colour 16mm telecines that could involve either just the control room or it and the studio floor.

An increase in general office space had also become imperative. Then, when an offer for NBN to produce two game shows for Sydney television stations came, it triggered the decision to expand the building in both directions. 

In the old central building, department growth on both levels caused a critical lack of space. Upstairs, managers, sales, administration, accounts, and sundry staff were crammed into the cubicles and 'roomlets' to the point where even broom cupboards and wiring closets were getting nervous.

The ground floor was a maze of rooms housing people and equipment to process and combine programmes, commercials, and news to feed by microwave link to transmitters at Mt. Sugarloaf. They had various industry terms, such as: videotape (VTR); telecine (film projection); presentation (switching between programmes and commercials); master control (camera controls, assorted electronics, monitoring transmission, aka "off-air"); film processing, literally, of news and commercial cine camera recordings; film editing (splicing film into coherent sequences or to fit a scheduled broadcast); maintenance, carpentry, painting, storage... and racks and racks of electronic equipment. And with an entire newsroom and camera pool squeezed in amongst all this, the main corridor was like Hunter Street on a Saturday morning. 

By 1977 the Outside Broadcast vehicle had vacated its garage attached to the front of the building and retreated to new digs around the back, allowing the ever-growing newsroom and camera pool to occupy it temporarily. Construction was under way, so overcrowding and turmoil was now treated by all staff as a temporary "war time" measure, a sacrifice for the greater good. If there were grumbles, they were lost amid the excitement of change and promise of things to come.

Above: Unfinished section of the administrative and newsroom wing at the southern end. They would occupy level one (middle section). Ground floor was to be a secure car park.

Below: At the northern reach the huge studio takes form. We aren't sure who the gent is wearing the multiburst-inspired suit, but he sure looks like a television executive.

Above: Wide view of construction from Mosbri Crescent, taken circa 1976. 

The new southern wing would house executive and administrative offices, boardroom, and a generous newsroom above an enclosed ground-level car park. At the northern end an ambitious third studio, Studio C, would be one of the largest in the country. Driver for this huge studio was an agreement to produce two game shows for the Nine network. Disastrously, the Newcastle City Council delayed approval for two years in an argument over zoning and the production opportunity was lost, along with its promise of revenue. When council finally allowed construction, they ruled this to be the last such approval in an area zoned residential. Despite lost contracts, construction proceeded, both in optimism for the future and to build it while they could.

At right: Studio C's height can be gauged by this image. Just visible above the cyclorama wall are windows for the studio control rooms that overlook the entire floor. They were never commissioned and spent life as storerooms, later as office space.

The original blueprint photographed further above, although rather blurred, shows precisely the scale of Studio C compared with Studio A. It is the same length but 50% wider.

While it always seemed so much taller inside, no external photography proves that it was. Nor can the dimensions yet be found. If a reader could supply them we would all be interested. The best here is to show photographs of its inside - at right, and further below at the end of the telethons gallery, that of 1997. 

Images of Studio C in this collection are post year 2000, but show how spacious it was. I say "was" because as this is written (in April 2024) the entire complex at Mosbri Crescent was recently demolished. 

When the building reached lock-up stage, as internal walls were constructed and before the ceiling tiles placed below the plenum, all free technical staff went to work threading cables and fixing outlets that made this particular office building different to most others. Each office would have access to a feed of the off-air broadcast signal via an elaborate in-house monitoring system.

It was my first day on the job in November 1977 and I couldn't wait to get my hands on all that sexy electronics and become part of the glamour of television, something I'd waited so many years for. After meeting George Hird in maintenance he introduced me to Assistant Chief Engineer Max Lewis, and was excited by the promise of great things as Max led me upstairs to the executive offices. 

But we passed right through them into a dusty noisy construction zone full of workmen - which, btw, was where the new newsroom would be. Max handed me a bag of TV distribution boxes and a pair of overalls and told me to go to it, to install one at each cable junction in the ceiling. It was exactly the sort of shitty work I'd been doing all my life, even as a youngster working for my father with his tradesmen during the school holidays. Well, at least I was immediately at home in this new workplace.

The newsroom, however, would have more than mere access to this in-house monitoring. It would be an integral part of station's video and audio network. Its five news vision editing booths would be syncronised with the pulses that coordinated every piece of equipment in the station. In television, timing is everything.

Above: Geoff McRae works on an air conditioning vent safely from the vantage of a carpenters' horse, illuminated by state-of-the-art safety lights :)  VTR supervisor Jeff Beach surveys the scene.

In the image above, although the grey vinyl floor tiles say this is an umpteenth rearrangement of the ground floor layout, it represents exactly the environment of work inside the new '77 extensions, which were going on at the same time.  Incidentally, there are sufficient clues to say this is construction of the Ampex EDM videotape editing suite in the ground-floor space formerly occupied by NBN's newsroom in the original plan.  The EDM suite is covered in detail further below.

Above: These two photos were taken during initial construction of the studio building almost 20 years earlier. But they accurately represent the scene in 1976 and 77, as the materials and construction were almost identical: steel frame, concrete floors, ribbed steel exterior, and the same double-pane centre-pivot windows with inset blinds.

When the dust settled, as it does, company head office ("The Studio" - as the entire Mosbri Crescent complex was referred to) had reached its almost final state. 'Almost' because there were always to be rearrangements as imperatives changed. 

The ground floor reached a layout that would suffice until the computer age and NBN's partial transformation into a telecommunications company would tear it apart again thirty years hence. For now it was a more spacious province, renovated and modernised for colour. The station's beating heart was tenanted by Studio B, Studio B control, presentation, telecine, master control, videotape, film department and library, maintenance (engineering), and those ubiquitous electronics racks. The ink-slingers and camera folk had moved upstairs.  

When executives and administration staff moved to the new wing, the upper floor of the old central building was also modernised. Sales expanded to occupy much of the eastern side. And at last, for sales it was now a matter of pride to show clients in.

Above: Sales reps could finally stretch their legs and concentrate on the task of selling air time to advertisers. To the right of those pictured above, shown below, was a classy sales conference room. 

Meanwhile, on the western side of the old first floor a mix of departments - accounts, traffic, etc., spread out to become spacious open plan ringed with cubicles. A new computer room housed the Qantel system's server that generated the station programme log, in a department named "Traffic." It had replaced the original IBM punch-card system. Unverified - if a reader can assist - this area also housed a network of bookings terminals for Jayes Travel (?). 

Above: Staff enter bookings in the newly-computerised station programming schedule. A brightly-lit office in background billeted a mini-computer serving these terminals.

Qantel sold a system based on their software named Qicware. An SCO Unix version of "traffic" software called Equinox was run on these systems and widely used by regional broadcasters, including NBN. Equinox effectively ran NBN's Traffic programming system almost until the last day, migrating from server to server across almost forty years, to finally live as a virtual machine with dozens of others sharing a single high-powered Dell server. By this time the original programmers who could maintain Equinox - on which our station fully relied - were disappearing into retirement!

Below: The computer room where NBN's mini-computer system lived. Through that wood-grained door, btw, were two huge microwave dishes in a 'radome' at the front of the building, beaming the downstairs programme across 22 Klms to corresponding receiving dishes at Mt Sugarloaf.

On level two of the new wing, above NBN's newsroom and executive suites, lived the The Newcastle Star, the free newspaper established by Michael Wansey and bought by NBN in 1981 - after much dispute, including about its profitability. Staff pictured below are entering content into the compositing system.

NBN also owned the local film processing company Color Tran and Jayes Travel agency.

Through the glass doors in the photo above was NBN's new and glamorous reception foyer, pictured below. Although this photograph was taken shortly before the studio closed down and was demolished, with few minor changes this is how it looked for much of its 40-odd years.

Below: How the beloved NBN canteen looked for sixty happy years. The stories it could tell... oh, here's one:

It was busy with a lunchtime crowd. It always was in the 80s, with the studio full of visiting production teams who worked our studios to death. So there was a long queue - typically out the door. Two very well-known media personalities waiting to be served were jesting out loud discussing the menu when this exchange transpired: "...or a shit sandwich, hold the bread. Guffaw guffaw." Merriment all round. I know the canteen ladies took no offence. One becomes quite inured to television types after a few decades of serving them.
News

By the late 1970s evidence of NBN's prosperity was on display. Not only in the doubling of the Newcastle studio complex, but emphatically so on the streets, as the news teams dashed about town in their emblazoned station wagons, or soared above the city in that ultimate status symbol, NBN News’ very own Bell Jet Ranger chopper. These were indeed the good times.

Mid 1980s the Ford Falcon XF was the vehicle of choice. News was heavily into promotion. A.C. Neilsen figures said the one-hour NBN news was an exceptional viewer draw-card and a big earner of advertising revenue, which opened the cheque book for news editors Murray Finlay and successor Jim Sullivan. 

In US movies it's common for large news vans to arrive and deploy impressive antennae or satellite dishes. NBN's less grandiose equivalent was a Pajero that also doubled as an outside broadcast unit to earn keep. For example, it served as a relay vehicle at horse trotting meets, from where live vision went to cable television, at the time quite likely SKY. Poorly lit but visible at far left (below) is a directional antenna mounted on a telescopic mast raised from the vehicle by compressed air. For news purposes it took live camera vision from a news team and relayed to whatever site was visible: Mt Sugarloaf, microwave receivers on prominent hilltops, or directly to dishes on the roof of the Mosbri Crescent building. 

Below: At left the Mitsubishi Pajero "ENG" vehicle. ENG is an acronym for Electronic News Gathering.  

Newsroom staff had a quite reasonable habit of hanging on to their film, including stills negatives. Therefore, few interesting images have reached this collection, which consists, as you can see, of mostly promotional material. But even they are a good sample of the department, its newsroom, editing, camera pool, and fleet.

Above: News' XF Falcon with moderated decals. Promotional exuberance has settled into classy professionalism. The OB truck just happens to be parked there. 

After aggregation was completed - scheduled for 1991 -  NBN would have seven regional offices, each with administrative, sales, and news staff, at Central Coast (Erina), Taree, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Lismore, Tamworth, and Gold Coast. Larger offices had two news vehicles. Which gives some idea of scale for NBN's news department.

Below: The chopper hovers over the fleet of Holden Commodore VN wagons. The model dates this photo from 1988 to early 90s. 

Above: The new newsroom was a spacious affair, yet it was often crowded and busy as news hour approached. 

Along the wall at the right of this photo were the five edit booths and an electronics room. Notice the generous plantation of indoor greenery that also adorned much of the building - until one day they all uprooted themselves and marched out the door. On management's orders, presumably, as a cost-saving measure so the story went. It was a dispiriting moment for staff.

Below are two views inside the largest booth, where news vision is edited on Sony Betacam recorders.

 NBN's news teams covered dozens of significant events during these years, and although such details are not the subject of this article (nor do any photos exist in this collection), two of them rate a mention because they add flavour to the story being told here and sit within its time frame. 

One is the unforgettable and explosive Star Hotel riot of 1979.  The other, of course, the tragic Newcastle earthquake in 1989.

Pictured: Cameraman Nancarrow runs with police towards a burning vehicle. They were unsure if anyone was trapped inside.

News cameraman Barry Nancarrow and reporter Robyn Wade were at the Star Hotel in King Street on a routine coverage of patronage and atmosphere on the pub's last night when police arrived, both unexpected and unwelcomed by the drinkers. It sparked the riot. 

Barry's first-hand account is narrated in his book, which can be purchased, or read online. YouTube has a retrospective examination by Stories of Our Town.

And then the earthquake.

Pictured at right: NBN evening news on the day of the earthquake. 

The 6pm news' main story featured an interview being recorded at the Government Bus Depot in Hamilton when the earthquake occurred. This is the entire dramatic six o'clock news bulletin, a tribute to the station's newsroom staff and news camera teams, who performed under extraordinary pressure for such a huge and complex story.

Much has been written since. An overview with witness accounts was compiled by University of Newcastle student Kaye Fisher in 2017. 

There is also this account by an "eye witness" who, fortuitously, was inside the studio on both occasions:

The only significance of my 'insider' status for the Star riot is that I was working on the night. I've no clear memory otherwise, due to the fact that despite the frantic activity consuming the news people running to and fro, lots of 2-way radio talk between the newsroom and vehicles. My involvement boiled down to work that was no different to any other night, except much more of it than usual.  More phone calls and lots more telecine and videotape work transferring the processed 16mm news film arriving from the scene.

Of the earthquake our deponent has better recall:

It was morning tea time downstairs. As was customary, every free tech gathered in the tiny tea room. Then this happened: we all began to rock sideways quite forcefully. I barely had time, a half second, in which to wonder who was pushing me... and why the techs opposite were also swaying wildly in their seats. Then the lights went out. That's not right, I thought. The lights NEVER go out at Mosbri Crescent. The studio was, we were regularly assured by senior engineering, on the same highly-redundant grid as Royal Newcastle Hospital. A second into the darkness, as a group of bemused technicians sat in total darkness processing the impossible, there was an almighty bang. A detonation that reverberated through the building. I thought the steel transmission tower in the parking lot had fallen onto the studio roof.

"We scattered to our respective departments through hallways and rooms dimly lit by feeble battery-powered emergency lighting - not much more than a 25 Watt lamp per area - hoping, I suppose, to find ours alight against all odds. The studio was, as they say, dead in the water. This was also new. Very new. Maybe unprecedented.

"Not to detract from my senior colleagues but, while no-one panicked, all were rather non-plussed about what to do next other than call Shortland Electricity who maintained the room that connected us to them. But there was one technician who knew exactly what to do, and I'll never forget outside broadcast (OB) technical director Chris Dent assess the situation in seconds and calmly walk over to the OB garage. While it puzzled me for a moment why he would just walk away, seconds after he disappeared the standby diesel generator in the shed roared - as they do when started. In Studio B's control room a legacy switchboard had survived years of renovations. It was occasional subject of its utility, even of the need for its original purpose. One of which was a large lever that operated a mysterious rotary switch.

"This was the magic switch. Someone, probably Chris, gave it a heave and electronics surged back to life. At this point it needs explaining that the emergency diesel was just that, and a smallish one. So before it assumed its load, all unnecessary electronics on the ground floor was switched off. There was enough power for one camera, one studio light, and the bare minimum equipment to put signal into the microwave dish pointed at Mt. Sugarloaf. If the power was out at Sugarloaf, there was less concern, as the transmitters were regularly switched to emergency power during violent storms, and could run for many hours off grid.

"Memory being what it is, as the most important detail, I hope this is correct. That within 30 minutes of power being restored and a Studio B camera being aimed at the dimly-lit news desk, Jodi McKay read the news that the now stricken city of Newcastle had suffered a severe earthquake. But was it Jodi? Memory, please!

"A few odd events of the afternoon are in mind. A tall man wearing a striped shirt appeared in MCR telling all and sundry to evacuate the building because aftershocks were expected. We ignored him and kept on working. After all, who is that salesman to tell us what to do? It was station manager Denis Ledbury. Some time later, after many, many phone calls, I was getting a little tired of the drama. So when the MCR hotline rang one too many times, I grabbed the handset and quipped facetiously "Hello, NBN epicenter!" Seconds of silence, then sales manager Deborah Wright, sounding little perplexed, asked if everyone was safe and if the place was in fact still standing. I assured her all was well and we were really just waiting for power to return. (PS: I assume the two people were the managers I designated in 1989). 
Studio B

Below: Studio B, though small, was used for decades as the main news studio. It was big enough for a news set permanently at one end, and for Art Ryan's kids' show the Breakfast Club's set at the other end.

Below: Studio B's control room showing the vision mixer with its multiple sources (those rows of buttons) and numerous monitors where outgoing vision was previewed before switching to line.

Above: On the left screen is veteran Newcastle technician Len Daley sitting at the news desk during testing, possibly of a new set design.

Below: From behind the audio desk, the operator's view of news director and team at the vision switcher.

Alongside the director (below) sits the director's assistant (in yellow). A Chryon operator would sit at the large keyboard to the far right. Chyron generates text that is superimposed on the screen to identify an interviewee or location during news items, for example. Through the door at left (behind the ghost of newsreaders past) is the station's equipment room, whose rows of electronics can be seen in more detail further below in the 'Engineering' section.

Sport

NBN supported every imaginable sport in the region with generous sponsorships, competitions, promotions, and the highly visible outside broadcasts. Australian television has an almost unhealthy obsession with football, to the exclusion of equally deserving sports, but NBN never forgot the the others. 

Although a relatively small player in the industry, NBN has not only sponsored but televised live some of the country's largest events in golf, bowls, water skiing, traditional surf carnivals, and surfboarding in Surfest.

For almost 40 years now Surfest, the largest such event in the southern hemisphere - and, in its early days (as "BHP Steel International") described as "the richest surfing contest in the world" - has been one of Newcastle's most successful events. In November 1985, the first competition, NBN televised Surfest live. 

These images, though undated and a mix from both Newcastle and Merewether, tell their story ~ 

Below: Nice one, stills photographer!. That's not a captured frame from video, it's an old-fashioned film camera used to great effect, timing this one shot."


Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1985, Michael Cockerill wrote in praise of Newcastle - the city and people - and sponsors BHP and NBN for their combined effort to make Surfest the success it was:

The steelworks and shipyards which propped up the local economy were in recession. But economists had not counted on the community spirit which is Newcastle's trademark.

Yesterday Newcastle demonstrated with style that it could be as dynamic and brash as its great rival south of the Hawkesbury. As clear blue skies and balmy weather warmed the superb natural amphitheater of Newcastle Beach, the locals shed their winter clothes and rejoiced. By the time the mens' final was under way an estimated 25,000 bikini-clad and board-shorted surf lovers were there to watch.

Television station NBN-3, a co-sponsor of the event, also made sure the living rooms of the city enjoyed the action. NBN devoted eight hours to the contest, including three hours of live coverage on Saturday and yesterday.

As a public relations exercise it was a winner all round. 

Above: Impressive, that NBN's persuasive promotions person managed to get a banner hung from a Royal Newcastle Hospital balcony (top left).

Below: The ?natural ampitheatre" that is Newcastle Beach. What a fabulous city it is, too.

Above: From NBN's pre-colour days, this photo is included as a rare and interesting image. A surf carnival is in progress. They were covered extensively in the sixties and early seventies, such as in this article of a carnival at Caves Beach.

Yes, there were telecasts of other sporting events.

Above: Lawn bowls at Kahiba (?) Bowling Club. Possibly the Newcastle District Invitation Classic Pairs, the first report of which found was January 1975.

Below: Cameras from every angle.

In this series you will have noticed the portable television cameras used in action sports. Introduced in the early 1980s, they offered a dramatic enhancement of coverage for outside events. These small versions (of their heavy studio cousins, one pictured immediately below on a tripod) had reached an image quality acceptable for broadcast television, enabling what you see below - a cameraman running along the sidelines of a football match capturing close-up action. An assistant was needed to manage the heavy cable which could exceed 100 metres in length.

Below: And... footy.

Above: The crew gathering cables at Belmont Golf Club outside broadcast. While the date is unknown, it might have been this, for example, from August 1980:

Every Australian state, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea will be represented in a two-man teams' aggregate tournament at Belmont on January 22-23 next. The tournament will precede the 24th stating of the 72-hole Lake Macquarie amateur championship on the Australia Day weekend. NBN-3 will televise the event, making it the only amateur tournament to have such a cover in Australia.

Below: Microwave links, not only to relay back to studio if live coverage, but to connect to other camera points spread around the golf course.

Below: And, yes, a skateboard competition.

One of NBN's most challenging and spectacular outside broadcasts - and they were all challenging, particularly for the crew setting them up and keeping them going - was water skiing at Raymond Terrace on the Williams River just north of the bridge.

Above: View from the camera scaffold on the Williams River levee.

Below: Visible on the camera platform (top right) beside the cameraman, an operator tracks the ski boat's camera feed with a steerable microwave "rod" antenna.

Above and below: Live camera vision is fed back to the truck via a microwave link. Its antenna is the small white dome-shaped object. Bos is the cameraman and Rose is there to monitor the transmission, keep her head down, and stop Bos from falling overboard.

Above: Can you believe there's a camera and operator at the end of that Sherrin crane?

Below: NBN's chopper was in attendance, and it's likely that it too had a camera on board linked back to the OB truck by microwave, as per the boat.

Not all action was in the field. NBN's Sportstar of the Year was a glamour event held in Studio A, and even the studio crew had to 'tux up.'

In this 1986 event, winner of the St. George Sportstar Award was Greg Hayman. On stage with Leigh Maughan and Ray Dinneen is presenter, NSW Minister for Sport, Michael Cleary.

Greg won a 1986 Commonwealth Gold medal in the 52kg weight lifting, and a 1990 Bronze medal. He represented Australia at the 1988 Soul Olympics.

Below: If you remember this, you'll recall ceaseless advertising blitzes by Cardiff Toyota back in the day, much of which was entertainment in itself.

Above: Jim on the set of Motorscope, that started life in black & white TV, and ran for eight years, well into the colour era.

Circa 1973 reporter Jim Sullivan, news cameraman Barry Nancarrow, and David Samuel began a 15 minute "skunkworks" show called Motorscope. It was a hard sell to management and beancounters. As Barry relates in his book:

To give Motorscope more local relevance, Jim was able to extract from management a small stipend [for the show]. In monetary terms we were never going to be fully recompensed. In terms of experience and satisfaction: priceless. For the next eight years we would endeavour to present to Hunter audiences a broad coverage of interesting motoring events, from car shows to motorbike races, road tests and personality interviews.

Below: The studio set backing for Motorscope waiting for the desk to be wheeled in.

Telethons

These were great - as in GREAT! - community events that, by one report, combined, raised 18 million dollars. Within the gallery below are FOUR different telethons (and/or special appeals) that took place during Joe Sweeney's nine years as manager. Their sequence is guesswork, except for one branded "Telethon 87" and another recorded as 1975 in the originals. Can you date the others? Were you there?

With almost no information available, this series of photos are largely uncaptioned. Kudos, btw, to the documenting photographer/s who braved the crowds and cables to capture on celluloid this valuable historic record under difficult physical and lighting conditions. Their mission was to record the making of the event, not just photograph celebrities. Without their diligence and awareness, neither this photo essay nor any of the other NBN articles would exist.

1975

This appears to be the first colour telethon, produced in the same year that the station transmitted in colour. The cameras are new and without decals. Over the years camera decals changed, which helped to sort the randomly mixed bag of images in the collection.

Never heard Wal Morrison singing, but he evidently is in the scene above.

Below: Well known personality of the day Bob McGready hosted this event. Bob also hosted Channel 3's Malleys Jackpot Quiz.

They certainly kept the crowd on a tight leash back then.

A little unusual - this seems to be a 'giftathon' too.

Angel One Appeal

One thing is for sure - very large spectacles were in vogue that year.

261266

According to camera decals, this could be either of the 1979 or 1981 telethons. Your archivist really has no idea of what decals belong to what years. Information is invited in the comments (much much) further below. Many thanks. 

264488

Above: By now the audience, the community, could occupy the floor and mingle with talent and guests. Television was now firmly in service of the participant-viewer.

Below: We should never forget the zaniest comedian Newcastle has produced: Super Hubert. A treasured memory was his propensity to bite Big Dog's ear at any opportunity. Long live Hubert.

267000

This event used the same phone number as the '87 that follows below, and the same studio set as the preceding.

Above: This surviving print (no negative found) confirms the total easily passed $1 million.

1987

This was perhaps the most memorable, with NBN at it's height as a community station.

And all shows have to begin somewhere...

Above and below: The chopper occasion below is uncaptioned. However, the well-known singer and the young lad in both photos bear strong resemblance.

Early 1990s?

These four photos show yet another telethon with Joe Sweeney, placing it within his 9-year management window, so possibly as late as 1991. Kamahl and Di Scotts are identified. Maybe an NBN staffer can pin it down.

Above: An oversight by your compiler? No, just evidence that this great collection of photos in the NBNTV series were indeed scanned from physical photographic negatives.

Cancer Care Appeal
1997

A bit sad that there are no photos of this telethon, that I assume was held in the huge Studio C where these paintings were preserved. From digital camera images taken early 2000s.

NTN New Guinea

Above: The city of Port Moresby where New Guinea's first broadcast television station operated. 'Our' NTN.

It might be news to you - this was 40 years ago - that NBN built and paid for a television station in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The call sign was NTN which stood for Niugini Television Network.

Fortunately a photographic record survives but the station did not. NTN broadcast to Port Moresby for fourteen months before closing, along with Parry Corporation, NBNTV's owner for much of the 1980s.

There are no stories or anecdotes from the staff. Please add some in comments section and I'll move them here, with your permission. Therefore, these images are accompanied by the ever-fascinating tale of a headstrong magnate battling an indigenous government ideologically opposed to cultural imperialism. It did not end well for either of them.

Above: NTN studio complex and communications tower.

Kevin Parry's desire to be a global media mogul outstripped his awareness of what was required to venture in the realm of foreign television. Or perhaps he lacked the deep pockets and guile of Alan Bond, his competitor in New Guinea.

Already over-extended financially and, like his fellow spendthrift tycoons, blind to even the possibility of a financial squeeze, let alone a crash, he felt no restraint. With his fingers in Rockhampton TV (RTQ), angling for a TV licence in Fiji, and smelling out a deal with China Central TV, he yet chose to spend NBN's profits (not to pay down debt on his over-extended corporation) to build a completely new TV station from bare metal in a country where there were no TV sets in average households, no television advertising market, limited mains electricity outside cities - in fact no existing commercial TV at all. 

When, in early 1984, the PNG government approved legislation to have television by satellite the following year, wealthy households were already watching it on VCRs and via satellite in this geographically well-placed country. At the same time Parry's NBN Limited, the licence applicant for PNG's first commercial broadcast station, was pitching its case to Cabinet with a persuasive video (that only a TV company could so effectively produce) and 39 pages of slick marketing from the masters of hype.

Prime minister Michael Somare told New Guineans: "Like it or not, broadcast television will come to Papua New Guinea." But he was heralding the upcoming launch of Aussat that would beam Australia's ABC into much of his country. He might have been deliberately conflating terrestrial with satellite, for at this time NBN was lobbying for actual terrestrial broadcasting with support from both Somare and former deputy PM Sir Ebia Olewale.

Pictured: Sir Ebia Olewale, NTN's proposed chairman in 1984. He was Deputy Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea from 1977 to 1980

In October 1984 it was reported that NBN was "set to get approval to bring TV to PNG next year." The company's issued capital would be A$5.8 million. Parry Corp would hold 25%, the government 15%, chairman Olewale 10% - with the remainder held by local interests. 

Station staffing would be 12 "expats" and 23 locals, the latter to be trained in Newcastle at NBN's studio. 

For programming it was proposed that commercial television would be restricted to between 3.35pm and 10.40pm, while daytime content would be decided by the government and would comprise news, education, community services, such as health and farming, and children's shows. 

Back in Australia it was the very early planning stage. Cultural effect was a novel consideration at NBN, whose somewhat parochial (isn't that Newcastle!) staff were at least aware that they were treading new ground and must do so without treading on foreign toes. Expert advice was sought from organisations like UNESCO and UNICEF on how to avoid producing what was might evoke culture shock in a country without television. But the concern was with little foundation. Star Trek's Prime Directive needn't apply.

At right: NTN local staff hires were trained at NBN studios in Newcastle. NBNers, can you name this chap please?

Even back in the 1980s it was patronising to imagine the peoples of New Guinea would be overwhelmed by undiluted 'western' programming. City dwellers in PNG were as urbane and resilient as anywhere on the planet. Their likely blasé acceptance of whatever NTN delivered would diffuse through society, as it had in every country when TV arrived.

Such concerns were born of our colonial hangover, perpetuated by commentary musings in news and magazine articles that repeatedly painted Papua New Guineans as "stone age" or "tribesmen" and suchlike.

The Papuans were to surprise no-one except armchair experts and, perhaps, television opponents in their own country. It would transpire that they were far more appreciative of television than the burnt-out Australian viewership in its over-saturated medium. As was clearly revealed later in 1988 when Frank Mills, NTN's news editor, expressed no surprise at the ordinary viewers' reactions:

  [Our news] let local people to see themselves on television for the first time - and they loved it. We covered rugby league - a national religion - and travelled with the Prime Minister overseas.

So too did the CEO of EM-TV's (NTN's competitor), Gerry Thorley: 

 We find people here are natural, they can relax in front of a camera," he said. "They don't have the inhibitions that come from being brought up to TV as we do.

NBN staff on location were similarly relieved. One issue was how Big Dog might be received. Would there be alarm, riots, confusion, or just bemusement? Was the dog in peril of attack or, horrors, a spearing? No, of course not. He was totally adored by everyone, and enjoyed celebrity status wherever he appeared.  

At right: Sir Manasupe Haus, formerly Marea Haus in NBN's 1986 photo. The building serves the Department of the Prime Minister and the National Executive Council. Still called the "Pineapple Building" due to its shape. Built in the late 1970s, it was in use for about eight years before it began "falling apart" and was condemned. Renovation began in 2013 and finished in 2016.

In December 1984 a broadcast licence was issued to NBN Limited and opening night was pencilled in for PNG's 10th Anniversary of Independence, on 16th of September 1985.

It had been smooth sailing for Parry and the new NTN company. But as he should have known (and was surely told) politics in Papua New Guinea is not politics in Australia, despite the shared Westminster system.

At right: Jim Sullivan interviews Kevin Parry and (at a guess) Sir Ebia Olewale. (Cyclorama design is from the 1987 telethon, which tends to place this in Studio A.)

Parry misread PNG's adherence to Westminster democracy as being to his advantage. He knew that in PNG politics, though tumultuous with ever-shifting allegiances, leaders nevertheless stood down when they lose parliamentary majorities. But it wasn't that simple a reading. Unlike Australia, PNG was never dominated by one particular leader with a power base in a political party. In this nation of tribal allegiances politics was fragmented and party formations fluid. 

In 1984 Parry's political allies owned the day. A year later...

In 1985 the seemingly cosy dealing between NBN and the Somare government was being attacked by the inevitably-to-be-government ranks, whose main players (often described as Marxists by Australian media) were opposition leader Paias Wingti and future Communications Minister Gabriel Ramoi. An uncompromising nationalism was brewing that opposed western-style television and overt cultural imperialism. In concession to his opponents, Somare stipulated stringent controls on domestic TV, that "no advertising of foreign products would be allowed." 

By now NBN's staff and management in PNG must have been disconcerted even as work carried on. Opposition leader Paias Wingti gave notice in parliament opposing the introduction of television - even if that horse had long bolted, with widespread use of VHS videos and satellite TV, not only in wealthy homes, but in schools, hospitals, companies, and hotels.

PORT MORESBY, Sunday (AAP). — The PNG Government has finally signed an agreement for the introduction of television, but faces dissent on the issue within its own ranks and continuing Opposition attacks.

On Friday senior executives of the Newcastle Broadcasting Network and its parent company Parry Corporation, went to Government House for an official signing ceremony scheduled for 3.30pm. Forty minutes later they were told the signing had been postponed.

An aide to the Governor-General told them that it had been postponed to a later date.

"I hope you enjoyed your coffee," he said.

The ceremony had been called off because senior government coalition members moved for a deferral, pending discussion by caucus. Sources said yesterday that it was only after direct intervention by the Prime Minister, Mr Somare, that the signing ceremony went ahead (without the media being notified).

The opposition's strategy became clear on 28th May 1985.

Mr Wingti attacked NBN in parliament, accusing it of conspiracy and "highly irregular procedures" to get cabinet approval. Debate on Mr Wingti's statement was suspended as insults were shouted across the chamber. True or not, accusations were a handy bat with which to beat the government for political advantage.

Former Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan, who led the People's Progress Party, said Cabinet ministers and officials had been treated to rounds of lunches, cocktails and champagne by NBN and its lobbyists.

"Stranger still" was the award to former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Ebia Olewale of 10 per cent of NTN shares valued at more than 200,000 kina. Sir Julius said the shares . awarded to Sir Ebia constituted a "large reward for work not formally specified." Referring to a "special relationship" between NBN and the Government, Opposition speakers asked what guarantees there would be of an independent news service. ~ AAP

NTN had been intending to broadcast before PNG's 10th anniversary of independence from Australia, achieved by the nation on the 16th September 1975. That day came and went. The new opening date was "next year," as in 1986.

On the 21st of September 1985 Paias Wingti moved a no-confidence vote against the Somare government and became the new prime minister. 

Below: Gallery of the station in operation. Which does tend to be a spoiler for the accompanying commentary. 

Above: On-air station monitoring room and studio control.

Below: Romper Room with Miss Pia and children.

Above: The Romper Room set in the production studio.

While in opposition, Wingti had said the introduction of television was an unnecessary luxury. His more moderate stance as PM was now that the agreement should not be negated as it would "damage the country's overseas reputation." NBN's relief, if any, was short-lived.

Opening night was set for 18th July, 1986, but ten days before that date the Wingti government issued a statement: the prime minister wanted all television companies in the country, including existing cable, to delay either broadcasting (NTN!) or expansion of services until the conclusion of an inquiry was announced in February 1987. It meant yet more painful months of staff's waning enthusiasm and NBN's bleeding of revenue into this increasingly unwanted and unborn orphan of television in a foreign country thousands of miles north.

In what was his signature reflex, Parry ordered NBN Ltd to take the PNG government to court, to ask the court to uphold the agreement signed between NBN and the previous Somare government. 

The government countered. It "rushed through parliament" legislation banning the introduction of broadcast television until January 1988, effectively neutering even a favourable court decision by Chief Justice Sir Buri Kidu, due only days hence. Communications minister Gabriel Ramoi, one of Wingti's firebrands, said television without proper guidelines and controls would be reckless and dangerous. He told parliament "We don't want to be made into Americans or Australians." Amen to that.

Parry yet again challenged, this time directly the new legislation. He succeeded with only a half victory. NTN won the right to broadcast in January 1987, but only to Port Moresby. A heavy blow, as the project's viability assumed at least initial relays to Lae, Goroka, and Mt Hagen.

On the 21st January 1987, after years of delay and financial drain, Niugini Television Network (Channel 7) began broadcast. Six months later on 24th July, NTN's competitor Media Niugini's EM TV (Channel 9) fired up, having survived repeated legal challenges from NTN.

Above and below: NTN videotape room (VTR).

The bell tolled. It was, after all, 1987, the year of the Big Crash. Black Monday.

By year's end Parry had sold his remaining stock in NBN Enterprises and, after NBN had prised itself from his grasp with a management buyout, he was stuck with a hungry fledgling TV station suckling on revenue he didn't have. 

He tried selling it to competitor Alan Bond, who owned half of EM TV's operator and had much deeper pockets. But the government was adamant that Bond's company would not be allowed to dominate PNG television.

On 15th of March, 1988, it was reported that Parry Corporation had stopped broadcasting from NTN in Port Moresby. The company's statement read:

The station would cease broadcasting pending legal action against Papua New Guinea authorities connected with broadcasting affairs."

Which was face-saving code for "we're cutting our losses and running." As succinctly described by the AFR's Rowan Callick at the time:

Despite being on budgetary track, the company folded, chiefly because its Parry parent was going down and bills were not being paid. It was a local finance house, RIFL, which had funded the equipment to almost $4 million, which finally moved in on March 14 with security guards and told the staff they were out of jobs.

Alan Bond closed the episode by ending any chance of NTN's revival when his Media Niugini bought all of NTN's television equipment for just $1 million.

Videotape Recording aka VTR

Technically, this department is a subset of engineering. Its staff were highly-trained specialist technicians. Considerable technical aptitude was also demanded of its operators, some of whom worked the space for many decades, while others had been or would become technicians.

VTR supervisor Jeff Beach shows the modern integrated circuitry on the latest generation recorder, an Ampex AVR-3.

Above: Phill (left) and Jerry at the coal face, in a room full of Ampex.

Below: You can see why the Ampex AVR-1 wasn't a favourite - particularly for shorties. NB: The operator is not a shorty.

Above: Karen operates an Ampex VR-2000 (at left). Far right, against the wall, are two Ampex ACR-25 machines that use cassettes with a few minutes of 2-inch wide tape, primarily for commercial breaks and short news stories. The control units are either side of the central rack, while one of the tape "carousels" is further to the left.

Below: Steve (a very young Steve) works on an Ampex VPR series (80?). These machines occupied only 2/3 the space of their predecessors and used one-inch wide tape, instead of two-inch tape. This halved the rather hefty weight of 90 minute spools and cost far less.

Below: Close up of the ACR-25 control unit, where the location of each cassette is programmed for replay.

Below: Despite their advanced automation, the ACR's still needed constant supply of cartridges, brought from a nearby library room on that trolley and lined up on the bench in sequence for loading. And when it wasn't playing out, it was recording. You would imagine the complexity of tracking this much material and its constant throughput. Regularly needed items, such as "promos," were kept handy in the two rows under the benchtop.

Above: The ACR-225 replaced the old 25. With a such a large onboard tape library it needed little operator attention.

It was the end of an era.

As the 'heydays' wound down into the 1990s, so did the age of videotape. Programme didn't emanate exclusively from tape anymore. 

As pictured above, in the mid-90s NBN made a paradigm shift into the computer age. Material - at first commercials and short news items - was compiled from tape onto computer hard-disks contained in three Tektronix Profile (PDR-100) video file servers (at left, above) and they became the programme source under computer control. The computer was informed by the station log, created line by line on PC terminals in the Traffic Department. Therefore, circa 1995 or thereabouts, NBN Television began playing out from computer hard-disks.

Florical Systems scheduling software controlled the entire station output to six NSW regions (created in response to aggregation). Each regional feed had its local commercials slotted in amongst national advertiser and promotional spots that went to all regions. For the evening news, stories were fed to Newcastle by link from each regional newsroom throughout the day. During the news hour they were inserted into their respective regional feed, appearing as local stories in what seemed to each region as its local news with local advertisements.

Much of this material was pre-stored in the ACR-225. According to the station schedule, it was pre-loaded into the Tek Profile hard-disk arrays as its time slot approached. Sixty and ninety minute material pre-existing on tape spools were still played directly from the Ampex reel-to-reel machines. It would have been pointless to transfer into the disk arrays, even if space allowed - which in those days it did not. For starters, that would have meant it was actually played twice. Time is money. The Profiles were delivering short items formerly played from ACR cassettes.

Below: Circa 1996: Six Dell Optiplex GX1 Pentium 3 computers running Florical software that controlled the sequences of material delivered to hard-disk storage from tape. ~ Images from prints of originals taken by Barry Nancarrow Productions.

Videotape Editing

Although the Sony Betacam system developed in the early 1980s was of broadcast quality, compact, and relatively cheap, NBN was fully committed to larger Ampex machines, with considerable investment in both hardware: the VTRs, their spares, and a huge physical videotape library of tape reels, each spool of which cost several hundred dollars - and NBN had hundreds of those. It was the bane of a television station accounts department - trying to depreciate plant in a rapidly evolving, technology-dependent company.

By 1976 Ampex had developed a computer-based editing system that integrated with its AVR-3 Quads (machines that used 4 rotating heads that scanned 2 inch wide tape across its width). NBN built a dedicated editing suite that incorporated the EDM-1 system, three AVR-3 machines, and - icing on the cake, so to speak - an Ampex HS-100 video disk, from which (ageing football fans will recall) instant replays were shown of touchdowns, or fouls, and especially much-celebrated mistakes by the ref. This enabled the real-time recording of the game on a single machine, and obviated the need for a second one to replay those incidents. This HS-100 disk was a precursor to the mechanical hard disks of the computer age, and its cousins were already in use as incredibly large and heavy devices in the expanding world of computer tech.

Above: The full edit console in operation, which includes a small video switcher and audio mixer. Behind the editors sat clients in a preview lounge area. It was very impressive back in the day.

Below: A view from the clients' lounge. At far right sits the audio operator with mixer and an Ampex reel-to-reel audio tape deck, which were used industry-wide, especially in radio stations.

EDM-1 was Ampex's first computer-based editor. Why is that significant? In early days of tape machines, the only way to edit a tape (remove a segment and join the ends) was to identify the magnetic field under a microscope and physically cut the tape at the end of a frame of vision. This was called 'splicing.' By this method the station's timing pulses remained in sequence, and the viewer's television set was happy (the picture would not 'roll'). Editing manually between two VTRs was possible, but a hit and miss affair, with much respooling and 'having another go.' Computer-controlled editing not merely allowed splicing without cutting the tape physically, but being in control of the tape machines, an entire editing sequence - a series of edits - could be compiled and automatically run. Time savings were immense 

A surprising amount of information is still online for this system, none of which explains what "EDM" stands for. One guess would be "Electronic Digital Mastering." Comment is invited!

Below: Close-up of the EDM-1 desk. At far left is the remote controller for the 60-second Ampex video disk.

Above: Adjacent to the edit suite was the VTR machine room. This view is towards the edit suite  separated by a sliding glass door.

Below: Initially three AVR-3 VTRs. Later, only two were used.

Above: The Chryon room. Yes, eight-inch floppy disks!

Chyron is a brand of computerised graphics and text generation, but has become a generic industry word, like "googling" is now a verb. This, however, is a genuine 1980s Chryron room with the company's custom keyboards. In the center are two machine cores, each with a row of large boards using wire-wrap circuitry, not traditional printed circuitry.It worked, and far better than its predecessor (of forgotten brand) which was a terrible device whose electronics drifted, creating bizarrely distorted characters, often live on-air, which viewers thought was a feature, not a bug. It required constant tweaking by yours truly.

Below: The new presentation suite, designed to manage six separate regional playout feeds. Image is a scanned print of original photography by Barry Nancarrow Productions.

After almost 30 years NBN's original and simple playout room - termed "Presentation*" - was replaced by a new presentation room in the space (much expanded) where the Chryron shown above had operated. Note: As pictured in all images pertaining to NBN, construction of every area was done by the engineering team in-house. Only carpentry and the woodwork of consoles were outsourced. For example, NBN technicians built the room shown below. As, similarly, they had built the entire master control room shown further below. And the EDM-1 suite further above.

* Worth a mention here that in the US, the 'playout centre' is also called a 'master control room' (MCR) and both terms seem interchangeable with 'presentation.' At NBN that might have been the case in the station's original installation, as defined and configured by the American RCA engineers. But by the 1970s 'presentation control' was an NBN term applied to a dedicated room with a small vision mixer, audio tape player, audio tape cartridge machine, and of course the operator, from which programme sources were switched "to air." While 'master control' was not a 'playout centre' as pictured whenever you search the term. It was, for NBN at least, a multipurpose  monitoring room that included equipment racks vital to the station's operation: master sync pulse generator (SPG); studio vision mixer racks, camera control rack units; camera iris controls; telecine remotes and colour controls; transmission monitoring; and so on.

A Word on Aggregation

At right: Before aggregation, NBN's primary audience resided in the Newcastle region and Hunter Valley, heavily promoted as such to potential advertisers.

When, in it's first term in the 1980s, the Hawke Labor government made plans to increase competition in regional TV, it aimed to provide more choice to viewers who were confined to a single commercial channel and the ABC. 

The scheme was criticised for threatening the profitability of over a dozen media companies, particularly NBN, and that Australia would be the only country in the world of less than 50 million people to have three commercial TV networks. It would therefore be an uneconomic use of resources for such a thinly-spread population.

The plan proposed that more than 20 regional stations in eastern Australia would have their monopolies abolished. It was a difficult juggling act for the government to ultimately decide which stations would find themselves in what areas, competing against whom. It planned for approximately one million people per "approved market" - which meant four markets in the eastern states.

Northern NSW would comprise 1.25 million potential viewers (at the time) , the region where, in 1985, it was thought likely that NBN would be placed. The north west was home to ECN8 Taree and NEN9 Tamworth owned by Television New England, while the state's north east was served by NRN11 Grafton and RTN8 Lismore, owned by Northern Star Holdings. Both of these companies would increase their market share by 50%, while NBN would lose 40% of its market share. NBN also, curiously, would enter the Gold Coast market to battle the Brisbane metro stations, as it already did at NSW's Central Coast, competing against the Sydney metros - although in that mountainous coastal strip VHF television reception for either Newcastle or Sydney had long been problematic.

At right: Three translator stations serviced the upper-Hunter: Murrurrundi, Aberdeen, and Merriwa. The Sugarloaf signal travelled well up the coast to Taree.  Across Lake Macquarie it reached parts of the Central Coast, however three more translators were needed to service mountainous areas of Gosford, Wyong, and around Bouddi.

Aggregation's roll out was roughly one region a year, and as NBN's turn approached, Mark Wallace, writing in the Canberra Times in 1991, said: 

NOBODY in regional television is celebrating today's second anniversary of aggregation in Southern NSW. With three stations, program schedules are full of repeats and the summer months provide little other than sport and programs not deemed attractive enough' to be scheduled during the ratings year. Localism is a thing of the past, even for stations such as WIN, along with NBN 3 in Newcastle, which had long been considered among the most prolific producers of programs in regional television. 

Local print media was far more upbeat:

 Local television viewers can look forward to a smorgasbord of Programs from December 31 (1991). The Hunter's television viewers are the big winners when two new players join the area's television scene next year, marking the start of aggregation. NRTV and Prime are set to break the Hunter's commercial television monopoly when they start transmitting on the UHF band from January 1. Aggregation means that the Hunter's viewing audience will have access to the Prime Network (based in Tamworth) and Northern Rivers Television (based in Coffs Harbour). Each of the three stations will relay Sydney television networks, giving the viewer a more extensive range of local, national, and international programmes, from which to choose. 

Canberra's Capital CTC 7 founder, George Barlin, was scathing about the loss of local production under aggregation:

 "Then it was so plain for all to see, that the days of local programming were gone," Mr Barlin said. "It would just be matter of turning on the tap, and none of the country stations could ever make a profit be-cause there were three stations where there had only been one before. While there was enough money to make one very profitable and very successful television station, there wasn't enough room to support three. That's when the rot set in. Local television went out the window when aggregation came in."

Pictured at right: Post aggregation, NBN's coverage was dramatically extended, even into Queensland's Gold Coast, with a translator at Currumbin and a sales office at Surfer's Paradise.

A good measure of, and perspective on, the cost to NBN of aggregation - extending its network into north and northwest NSW - is the number of television transmitter sites and relay sites to feed this massive expansion. Before aggregation NBN maintained Mt Sugarloaf, three Central Coast translators ('rebroadcasters') - Bouddi, Gosford, and Wyong - and, in the valley, for the districts around Aberdeen, Merriwa, and Murrurundi. After aggregation NBN maintained 32 transmitting sites. When relay sites were included, the station had equipment at more than 50 locations, the majority on remote mountain tops. 

In addition to the initial capex and ongoing maintenance dollar cost - not to mention the electricity bill, so I did - this was a huge workload for the small team of transmission technicians. Also there were now seven regional offices with their sales, admin, and news staffs, which also brought a doubling of the company's IT infrastructure as computer use grew, along with its ceaseless demand for network access.

Despite the outlay, and Nine's gouging on programme costs, by the mid 1990s NBN was succeeding beyond expectations. Fortunate, too, for the station that its new owner had deep pockets and a prudent approach to business. In 1993 Soul reported a 23% fall in net profit to $27 million, after their "media interests contribution" fell to $3.5m from the previus year's $8 million, stating it was "a direct result of the effects of the recession... and that NBN continued to be burdened by the costs of implementing the government's television aggregation policy and the resulting high programming costs."

But NBN's subsequent and returning profitability was inevitable. Firstly, it had unassailable dominance in the most populous and lucrative market, the Hunter and Central Coast regions, bolstered by its one hour news and that programme's local-to-region news and advertising that were seamlessly inserted. Secondly, it had aligned with the leading network at the time, Nine. Almost by predestination, that alignment was inevitable due to Nine favouring NBN as its affiliate because of NBN's market dominance - hence ability to pay top dollar for Nine's programmes. Circular logic.

Engineering

None of the preceding happened without constant change and adaptation behind the scenes. Hidden away in that huge white box at Mosbri Crescent, Cooks Hill, was a team of technicians and operators, and hundreds of miles (kilometers, if you must!) of cabling.

Their mission? To keep the old gear running while they installed the new gear to replace it. A never-ending task that ran for 60 years.

Below: This is NBN's central equipment room after the installation of a new routing system in preparation for aggregation in 1991. It streamlined a manual patching (connecting) system where Master Control staff were constantly physically patching, with video and audio cables ('patch cords'), vision and sound sources to various destinations, in response to requests from the entire station. Under this new system, remote control panels in news, studio, presentation,and VTR allowed the assignments to be locally selected.

Pictured: Geoff McRae at a video patchfield with test oscilloscope.

Above: When the station was established, racks were filled with equipment that ran on vacuum tubes ("valves") because there were very few transistorised ("solid state") devices. Rack space looked like these, which are the original RCA (Radio Corp. of America) programme links to Mt Sugarloaf, at right in the photo. At left were two auxiliary microwave links, and receivers for incomings.

Below: Just in time, after 25 years of operation, the links pictured above were replaced by two banks of Harris microwave transmitters, and some receivers for incomings. These were needed for the 1991 aggregation, whereby NBN chose to feed separate programme feeds to its regional audiences: Gold Coast, Lismore, Coffs Harbour, Tamworth, Central Coast, additional to Newcastle's.

Above: The two Harris microwave racks, their rears in between, showing numerous wave guides. The meters at top monitor ever-present nitrogen gas pressurisation of waveguides feeding to the roof. The gas lowered humidity and prevented ingress of moisture which would seriously absorb microwave energy. It did not prevent, however spiders making nests at the output, which simulated intermittent signal strengths on occasions and kept technicians chasing elusive non-faults.

Below: Adjacent to this equipment room was Master Control, unchanged over 20 years since its creation for colour transmission in the early 1970s. The aspect shown - lit for a promotional photo - shows the right side of the room, a wall of control racks that were detailed in the article Preparing for Colour

Above: George Hird, veteran transmitter technician, at the controls panels for the five studio cameras (two for Studio B and three for Studio A). George returned to the studio as maintenance supervisor when the original 1960s RCA transmitters were replaced with modern solid-state ones.

Above: Master Control in its natural lighting - apart from a sunlamp the photographer used to highlight the walls. Foreground lower right is engineering's first 'personal' computer (not counting the minis, such as a Teletext PDP and the Qantel), a Lanier XT  with two floppy drives and no harddisk, that monitored and controlled NBN's Central Coast relays and translators.

Aircon

From day one and for sixty years thereafter, the air conditioning plant sucked heat from the sealed tin shed full of people and electronics. There were three huge compressors on the ground floor and two in the room above them. The cost of aircon - maintenance and electricity - running all day, all year, was a massive expenditure.

Historical factoid ~ After the 1976 Legionaire's outbreak, studio maintenance supervising tech Geoff McRae devoted every spare minute to ensuring NBN's aircon plant was cleaned, tested, and maintained - especially the cooling tower. The local contractors were so often in the building we considered them members of staff and were on first-name basis. Hi Victor :0)

Below: Behind that prop bay door roaring 24 hours a day was the station air conditioning plant. These three photos were taken in 2010 but the scene would have looked little different fifty years earlier.

Miscellany

Some pics perhaps should not really be shared. 

Then there's these, and even they might get me into trouble. Some are from before this era, and a few are recent digital camera snaps.

At right: now there's a suave and much younger Rabs who clearly inspired the 2004 Will Ferrell movie, Anchorman.

Below: In a promotional shoot going wrong - perhaps wrongly conceived - Chris Bath is not at all comfortable. Nor are her supporting colleagues, Nat, Ray, and Rabs.

Below: In earlier times our favourite newsreader was a rally car enthusiast. It is held that news camera staff were inspired by his driving, often with similar outcomes. There are no happy snaps of any vehicles that suffered by the hand of Muzza's successor, Jim, (a wizasrd on tar) because there's no evidence he ever bent one  ;-)

Above: ...can speak for itself. Rob Short at left, James Anthony at right. We'll caption this "Almost keeping your powder dry."

Above and below: The 20th birthday episode of Romper Room in 1987. Misses Ann, Lynn, Louise, and the final hostess, Kim Anthony, who hosted the programme for 23 years. With them (below) are director Reg Davis (beard), Peter Browne (glasses) and Graeme the sound guy.

Above: Whether this was a commercial, documentary, or a drama shoot, the interest here is the care and preparation required to set up for a single scene.

Below: George Brown in a sea of letters sent by viewers chasing a win in an NBN Disneyland competition. It truly was a community TV station.

Above: A TV commercial or a drama? Whichever, it illustrates how the magic of television is achieved.

Below: A must-include, but not to demean anyone. It illustrates the humour and camaraderie of day to day work in a television station.

When a vehicle - I think it was OB2 - drove off from in front of the Mosbri Crescent studio after a test, the still-extended telescopic mast met the overhead mains supply (to the house next door). The overhead wires won. Rob Short, whose entire career at NBN, from cameraman to management, was to him a most enjoyable lark, salvaged the mast's base and created a trophy for whomever succeeded in the station's biggest stuffup each subsequent year. One would hope some execs also got their badge of honour, but I forget who, if any.

Above: Nothing like a television crew to ruin the moment when you're tucking into a free lamb roast. Our Mayoress and Nev reflexively greet the camera.

Below: Jeff Beach and crew take the Bedford CF van, aka OB2, to a chopper shoot. An enlarged print from this series introduced visitors the NBN's news room for many years.

Above: Not sure who the other two creatures are, but on the right is Spiderman.

Below: Sales manager and future CEO Deborah Wright poses for a photo that is surely demonstrating a new point-of-sale machine and scanner. NBN's Peter Browne in glasses.

Above: Some dogs ARE allowed in shops.

Below: If you're one of those folk, please tell us what Murray was asking in the comments further down at the end of this article.

Above and below: Rob Short, with Tex Busch on camera.

Above: OB2 at Williamtown RAAF Base capturing HRH Queen Elizabeth II's arrival in 1977. The microwave dish was a live link back to Mt Sugarloaf. From there the signal went to studio.

Below: An OB tech demonstrates, for a promotional take, a steerable twin-rod antennae for ENG (Electronic News Gathering) events. Unlike microwave dishes, these were steerable and their broader beam allowed for easier tracking.

Above: Studio ambiance. Both digital camera circa 2010.

Below: Lights being prepared in Studio C by Johnny Mac.

Above: Hard to place, but we've seen him before.

Below: Puppeteer Murray Raine on the set with Big Dog in the early days of both their careers.

Above: Suntanned crew for NBN's famous documentary The Missing Wheel. I jest. Anyone?

Below: This studio show was an extraordinary production effort. The camera at left is on a crane, something rarely done.

Above: In red at right, Di Scotts (Now Scotts Edwards) on the set of NBN's popular Morning Show.

The show ran live from Studio A from 1987 until 1991 (we're told by the ever-helpful folk at Facebook's Rediscovered Newcastle). Related (perhaps a spin-off), former NBN weatherman Nat Jeffrey's Today Extra ran from the same studio thrice-weekly from 1989 to 2007.

An unusual thing about the group above is that it includes not only those on the production team, but apparently almost everyone who was in the station at the time :0). Including, and the only photo of him that I've seen, Ed Honson, NBN's security officer, in blue shirt and tie standing second from left. Ed, I recall being told, was ex RAAF and ran a tight ship at NBN. He was a great bloke with a wry sense of humour. He needed one to tolerate the zaniness of a television station. Director Reg Davis (bearded) stands beside Ed at far left.

Below: In red at right, Di Scotts (now Scotts Edwards) on the set of NBN's popular Morning Show. The helpful gang at Rediscovered Newcastle (unable to create a link to a FB convo) confirmed Di's name and some others.

Gina: "Di Scott in the red dress hosting the Morning Show. Later hosted by the wonderful Anna Manzoney & Nat Jeffrey. I worked on this show."
Charmain: "The lady behind Di Scott is fashion designer Wendy Heather. Pretty sure she’s Di’s sister. Wendy was married to Marc Hunter from the band Dragon."
Andrew: " Di Scotts... had a show "This Morning with Di Scotts" from 1987-1991. Her brother Colin Scotts was the first rugby union player in the world to make it into the NFL in the USA."
Brad: "That looks like the late Janet Reakes in the centre wearing the white & red dress. She was very well known in genealogy."

Facebook - sometimes you gotta love it

And that's all folks!

Compiling these NBN articles has revealed dozens of programs produced in the Mosbri Crescent studios that might - well should, must! - be featured in yet another article. Maybe soon.

Thanks for viewing :)

Below: The tower at Mt Sugarloaf carries a far great load than just the NBN antenna array. A microwave dish for every occasion. In another photo essay for this NBN Television series will appear all the transmission photos available, and explain (or try to) the intricacies of keeping over 50 remote sites spread across NSW working 24x7x365.

3 Comments

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

  1. Mitch Sharpe28 May, 2024 19:18

    You've got a shot Ive never seen of my Uncle who worked for The Newcastle Star. I also never knew that the newspaper production moved to the NBN building, the shot may have been when they were in Merewether Street - Ted Sharpe RHS

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    2. Hi Mitch. While those photos could be of the Merewether Street premises, it's more likely they are from the Mosbri Crescent offices, and the reason NBN's stills photographer would have to take them. The Star indeed lived on the second level of the new construction for a while. I recall visiting that level and it looks as I remember it, but unfortunately didn't take a lot of notice at the time. A subsequent brief tenant was BHP's IT department, followed by Soul Pattinson Telecom who occupied the floor for 20 odd years. I briefly knew one of The Star's reporters and his wife, Don McDonald (?) and would have discussed his time at these offices. But you never know. Memory!

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