Update on the Ampex Collection at Stanford University
Update on the Ampex Collection at Stanford University
By Jay McKnight, from some questions by Fred Thal (AFT), and replies by Bill Wray (WW)
AFT recently wrote: "I do recall that the [former Ampex Museum] collection was sent to Stanford in 2001, and I have again read the explanatory letter dated 2001 November 14 from Henry Lowood and Andrew Herkovic at Stanford.
"What I am suggesting is only that, after six years time, it
might now be appropriate to check in with these gentlemen to
inquire if the collection has been inventoried and cataloged.
Since the acquisition of the Ampex collection was sponsored by Ray Dolby, I checked with Bill
Wray, a Dolby employee and co-chair of the AES Historical Committee. Bill says: "Here is the index to the Ampex documents -- From the Online Archive of California, Ampex Corporation Records, ca. 1944-1999:"
AFT also commented:
"I know from experience that such institutions sometimes sell or
dispose of items bequeathed to them, often citing an economic hardship
or other inability to maintain such collections."
Bill W assures me that the Ampex artifacts Collection at Stanford is
safely packed and stored in the SF Peninsula area, and will NOT be
disposed of. So far, the library has done only a brief and incomplete inventory of the "artifacts" for their internal use.
There was a question about a Studer tape deck in the Stanford Ampex
Collection. Bill is not aware of any Studer tape deck now in the
The documents are now professionally cataloged (see the index links, above) and stored at the Stanford University library.
The San Francisco Airport Museums presented an exhibit called "The History of Audio: The
Engineering of Sound" from 2006 September 28 to 2007 July 9, in the North
the San Francisco Airport. There were some questions about just where
the materials for this exhibit came from.
Bill answered: "Dolby
Labs people assisted in designing and collecting items for the exhibit.
The displayed items came from many many sources including a few from
the "Ampex at Stanford" collection -- the Ampex VRX-1000 VTR, a Peirce
55-B wire recorder, and an Ampex 400 portable recorder.
"The VRX-1000 VTR is now on permanent display at the Stanford Library.
The SF Airport museums donated the large case and pedestal for the
VRX-1000 VTR to Stanford. A quote from the library: 'We just installed
the VRX-1000, all 1600 pounds worth, in the Library's Information
Center. The SFO Museums gave us the splendid case that they made,
and we have basically reinstalled it on the main floor of Green
Library. It looks pretty darn good!'
"For those unfamiliar with the VRX-1000, I have copied the
wording used in the display at the airport at the very bottom of this
page, at The Birth of Videotape.
"For fun, I did a Google search which brought up a number of
great articles, photos, and individual visitor impressions of the
exhibit, many well-written and interesting:"
From the Washington Post, Monday, 2006 December 18, Rob Pegoraro wrote:
"If your holiday travels find you at San Francisco International
Airport's Terminal 3, set aside some time for SFO's fascinating exhibit
about the history of audio technology.
"The History of Audio: The Engineering of Sound" lines the hall
after Terminal 3's security checkpoint and covers pretty much all the
major developments from Thomas Edison onward. I had the chance to view
it over Thanksgiving, and all I can say is wow!
"There are nostalgia items like 8-tracks, laserdiscs and a
first-generation Walkman. And it's amazing to see just how large the
early versions of some technologies were. For example, there's the
massive, desk-size machine that inaugurated videotape recording. As I
gawked at this behemoth, I realized that I was carrying one of its
descendants right in my pocket, in the form of my Treo smartphone's
"I also loved the often unbelievable old advertisements. My
favorite: A 1971 ad from Ampex that bragged how the sound of its tape
players would impress "Miss Schrimpf of the typing pool" when "swingers
like you" invited her over for a drink."
Text from the display of the VRX-1000 at the SF Airport: The Birth of Videotape
In the early 1950s, the only
way to record television programs for later rebroadcast was with the
kinescope, which was basically a film camera aimed at a television
screen. However, broadcasts from film were inferior to live television,
and they were also extremely expensive to produce. By 1954, more raw
film was being used by television broadcasters than by the entire movie
industry. Clearly, the ability to record television pictures on
magnetic tape would be a boon to broadcasters. Recording video,
however, is far more difficult than audio. Even a black-and-white
television picture requires much more tape capacity than is required
for an audio signal. The key to recording video on tape was running
more tape past the recording head per unit of time. One approach was to
increase tape speed dramatically and recording longitudinally along the
tape like audio. However, early experiments suffered from poor quality
and ran through tape so fast that the process proved impractical.
A dedicated team of
engineers at Ampex, headed by Charles Ginsburg and including Charles
Anderson, Ray Dolby, Alex Maxey, Fred Pfost, and Shelby Henderson,
created the world's first practical videotape system. They made it
possible to record up to one hour of broadcast quality audio and video
on a manageable reel of two-inch wide tape. Broadcasters were so eager
for a videotape system that they literally stood up and cheered at the
first Ampex demonstration in 1956. One vital development was the use of
a rapidly rotating set of four recording heads that scanned across the
tape rather than along it, making it possible first to record black-and-white images, then later color. The first on-air
use was November 30, 1956, when CBS rebroadcast Douglas Edwards and the
News via tape on the West Coast three hours after it had originated in
New York. This particular Ampex VRX-1000 is the fourth built, and was
used for that first historic broadcast at CBS Television City in
Hollywood, where it continued to serve faithfully for twenty years.