Thursday, November 10, 2011

FEN automation and Tokyo calling 1965

Awhile back Monte Jones had some informaton about the automation system at FEN in the late 60s.  I thought something capable of segueing the ETs and putting the news on the air was very high tech for the times.  Norm Medland was there before Monte and he had some information:

Henry Yaskell was way ahead of his time from the automation system to tropo scatter to distribute the net up the line to Misawa and other places; Kuma Station and Wakkanai in the far north of Japan. In addition to the voice network to our outlying stations, we also had a teletype network and a fulltime employee to type and send printed newscasts to all the stations. Yes, they could have had all news prerecorded on tape and I believe Henry wanted that but it pushed immediacy back by at least an hour and the programmers would not allow it.


Automation basic brain may have been a Harris-made unit, but not sure. Henry had at least four turntables connected along with a bank of ampex tape recorders and several cart machines. It used a room about 20x20 and had one fulltime GI and a Japanese engineer plus probably a GI engineer. Time hacks were automated and the unit could switch between functions and the news booth and production studios. A lot of local production done on tape like “Tokyo Calling.”

It took a lot of tending and no one but Henry thought it saved any manpower. Still, it was ingenious and way ahead of most broadcast stations. I worked at a station in Sacramento after I retired that was automated with a Harris-90 with just a bank of tape playback units and two production studios. Very simple by comparison.

FEN even had on loan from Sony an early portable tape unit that rode around on a cart much like a current day audio visual cart with a few shelves. Not very portable and weighed a couple of hundred pounds. This never worked properly and wasn’t used in the field that I know about. Our audio equipment was the best you could buy, and programming concentration was totally audio. I think we had a least six Nagra tape recorders. We were just a radio station, (no TV at all), and the network feed, but we were very good. Great talent in house. Unfortunately many of them are now deceased. I am certain we would have made money in any market in the United States.

I was just a buck sergeant and staff sergeant as I left, but had worked radio in Denver, San Diego, and small Iowa stations before arriving there. I wasn’t bad, but others there made me look like an amateur.

From January 1965, here's Burr Hoyle:



FEN FM automation c 1983 (Photo: Jon Yim)