WCAE Channel 50 - 3-2-1 Contact (Technical Difficulties Moment, 1980)

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Here's a strange technical difficulties moment from an airing of the series 3-2-1 Contact on the PBS station WCAE Channel 50 (St. John, Indiana) - which later became WYIN Channel 56. (giving up the Channel 50 frequency which would then be taken over by WPWR-TV)

We start, innocently enough, with the animated CTW (Children's Television Workshop) logo opening, already in progress, followed by the opening titles sped way-up. Now wait - you might assume that this is the technical screw-up - but no, this is apparently just another strange bit of synchronicity, or so it would seem.

The actual technical difficulties start with a jumping picture as the cast members complain about how fast the opening was; at 0:29 is when the "TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES - please stand by" card (set in Helvetica Medium) kicks in - all the while with the sound from the program still being heard until about 0:52.

Then we get back to the picture at 0:59, as the episode continues, showing slow-motion film of insects flying, water dripping, grass growing, flowers blooming, an orange rotting, and so on.

Then it comes back to the studio segment with "the kids" (and who had a crush on the two gals Trini and Lisa when they were growing up? Wasn't just me? Ah, good) ;-)

Now, a couple questions arise - do you think that the actual technical difficulties moment here was caused by an engineer or other person manning the controls of the VTR and, after accidentally believing that the opening scene with the sped up videotape was a real glitch and not part of the program, that they attempted some corrective measure that ironically wound up causing the actual technical difficulties moment which occurred immediately after the "fake" one?

If this is not the case, and it was completely random that a real technical difficulties moment occurred immediately after a simulated one, then this is indeed another case of incredible synchronicity.

However, it seems a little too synchronous to me - so I am leaning toward the "unnecessary corrective measures taken in response to a fake TD moment that was believed to be real, wound up causing an actual TD moment" possibility. (then the question becomes though - what "unnecessary corrective measure" could have caused the particular screen glitch of the actual TD moment? If the engineer or operator on duty had actually believed that the tape was fast-forwarding, then it would seem likely that they would have hit the rewind-scan button on the deck - and yet the problem here seems to have been some kind of control track issue).

What do all of you think?

One last item - during the last few seconds before the recording cuts out, if I'm not mistaken the actor putting the reel on the tape machine does not actually get it threaded successfully and you can see the tape whipping around when he puts it in play, loose and un-threaded (as the birthday song playing was obviously an overdub). Just kind of funny that they didn't bother doing a re-shoot.

This aired on local St. John, Indiana TV in (by all available evidence) 1980.


Date Uploaded: 03/25/2017

Tags: 1980s   Kids' Stuff   Technical Difficulty Moments & Screw-Ups     




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Then we get back to the picture at 0:59, as the episode continues, showing slow-motion film of insects flying, water dripping, grass growing, flowers blooming, an orange rotting, and so on.

Then it comes back to the studio segment with "the kids" (and who had a crush on the two gals Trini and Lisa when they were growing up? Wasn't just me? Ah, good) ;-)

Now, a couple questions arise - do you think that the actual technical difficulties moment here was caused by an engineer or other person manning the controls of the VTR and, after accidentally believing that the opening scene with the sped up videotape was a real glitch and not part of the program, that they attempted some corrective measure that ironically wound up causing the actual technical difficulties moment which occurred immediately after the "fake" one?

If this is not the case, and it was completely random that a real technical difficulties moment occurred immediately after a simulated one, then this is indeed another case of incredible synchronicity.

However, it seems a little too synchronous to me - so I am leaning toward the "unnecessary corrective measures taken in response to a fake TD moment that was believed to be real, wound up causing an actual TD moment" possibility. (then the question becomes though - what "unnecessary corrective measure" could have caused the particular screen glitch of the actual TD moment? If the engineer or operator on duty had actually believed that the tape was fast-forwarding, then it would seem likely that they would have hit the rewind-scan button on the deck - and yet the problem here seems to have been some kind of control track issue).

What do all of you think?

One last item - during the last few seconds before the recording cuts out, if I'm not mistaken the actor putting the reel on the tape machine does not actually get it threaded successfully and you can see the tape whipping around when he puts it in play, loose and un-threaded (as the birthday song playing was obviously an overdub). Just kind of funny that they didn't bother doing a re-shoot.

This aired on local St. John, Indiana TV in (by all available evidence) 1980." /> Share

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Szake 03/26/2017 Reply

By 1980, what playback devices would WCAE be running? I don't think there are any speed adjustments for 3/4" U-Matic, like a home VHS player could swap SP-LP-SLP/EP. Perhaps they did the video equivalent thinking they were playing a 33 1/3 RPM record at 45 RPM.

Szake 03/26/2017 Reply

2" Quad tape runs at a speed of either 7.5 or 15 in (190.5 or 381.0 mm) per second for NTSC 525/30 video recording. So maybe they thought they had a slow show on fast speed, and flipped a switch?

W.B. 03/26/2017 Reply

And 1" tape formats hadn't yet taken hold in the industry. I think the "fast" opening was deliberate and intentional (as part of the plot of this ep), and the tape ops at WCAE were fooled tremendously.

ChrisBCritter 03/26/2017 Reply

Looks like he did thread the reel OK - he just left several inches hanging out of the spool; probably just trying to get it running quicker.

Smctopia 03/27/2017 Reply

You were not the only one who had a crush on Trini growing up, lol.