|The BCE Mark II video recorder in early 1953. (l-r) Jack Mullin, Bing Crosby and Wayne Johnson
I found this article
by Robert R. Phillips, the early magnetic recording engineer who worked at Bing Crosby Enterprises, on Engineering and Technology History Wiki site today. This is a fascinating read.
You may not know this, but Bing Crosby was the father of modern magnetic recording technology. Oh, I don’t mean he spent hours fiddling with vacuum tubes and making solder joints. He just wrote a series of fat checks to engineers to build audio and video recorders so that he didn’t have to deal with radio and TV live shows every week. He had his own laboratory (Electronics Division in Bing Crosby Entertainment) and a group of very talented engineers working for him.
Magnetic tape recording enabled many modern techniques of audio/visual production, which had been almost impossible a few years earlier. One of the techniques was ‘editing’.
One of the great edits of Jack Mullin was made late at night on 2 November 1948 when it was found out the Truman had won the election instead of Dewey. When the show was recorded, Bing said that Dewey had won. With no “Truman” recorded by Bing, Jack had to manufacture the name using the existing tape and do it with the Ampex 200 recorders.
There is a recording
of “Philco Radio Time” from November 3, 1948 starring Bing Crosby. In fact, there seems to be no mention of Truman in this broadcast. Actually, the election result was not final until next morning. Then maybe the edits Phillips referring to was in this broadast of New Swan Show, November 7, 1948
. And, indeed, there is a reference to Truman by Bing Crosby at 20:32. If this is the one, the modification is simply incredible.
Another one of the fascinating remarks was this:
Based on the modifications Jack Mullin had made on the Magnetophon and the video tape work that he and Wayne Johnson had started to do, they suggested to Ampex that they try a combination of pre-emphasis of the higher frequencies on record in addition to some changes in the playback equalization.
This seems to be in early 1950s and Ampex was building the first rotary video machine a few years later. One young member of the Ampex development team was Ray Dolby, who later invented Dolby systems. Anyone who is familiar with the early Dolby Noise Reduction System would find the passage above very interesting.
Besides building a prototype machines, these engineers did many interesting works.
The group at BCE also supported a number of other projects for Bing and Ampex. One Saturday morning I was notified that Bing was asked by Judy Garland if he could have her show recorded that afternoon at the Biltmore Theater in Los Angeles. He agreed, and Tommy Davis and I went to the Biltmore with an Ampex 400 and microphones to record her show. It was quite an event with the musician’s union not knowing of the recording and having to give permission to record them. After a telephone call to their head in Chicago, we were allowed to record it, but the union kept the tape until the details were worked out with Judy. The recording session was uneventful except for the final number. Judy sat on the edge of the stage and sang “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” There was no place for a microphone; so I had to hold the microphone while hiding in the orchestra pit just below her. It was a special moment being between Judy and her audience when she sang that song. I felt as if I was in the middle of an electrical field.
The BCE engineers developed, along with Ampex, the early version of instrumental recording, or data recording. This was very fortunate, since many vital records were preserved because of their development, and paved a way to satellite data recording, and eventually, digital data storage.
And of course, Bing was the one who gave a tape recorder to Les Paul.