Honor Roll
Mach One
PC Editors

The Forerunner of Time Code
When videotape replaced kinescope recordings as an archival medium, it soon became apparent that editing and splicing videotape at the VTR was often a case of "Kamakazi" editing since there was no second chance if a cut was made at the wrong place. Repairing such an edit was often difficult at best and when the tape played through the video head, a slight lurch or other negative artifact appeared on the monitor.

To eliminate this problem, in late 1957, NBC Burbank developed an offline method of using a 16mm kinescope film work print to edit the picture and sound then conform the edited film work print to the quadruplex videotape, thereby eliminating the problems just outlined. I would assume this was the first practical use of what we now call "offline."

Since time code as we know it today was not even a gleam in the inventor’s eye, NBC engineers and their editors came up with a unique way to simulate time code. Although very crude by today’s standards, it was frame accurate and did the job.

We needed a way to put a form of frame addressing on the cue track of the videotape, on the cue track of the 16mm magnetic program sound track and the 16mm kinescope film work print to keep all three in frame accuracy. The 16mm kinescope sound track was used for this purpose. This was going to be used only as a guide during editing hence, we called it ESG or Edit Sync Guide track. ESG track is a complex assembly of a 24 frame per second 400 hertz tone and two human voices, one a man’s and the other a woman’s.

First, a one frame, 400 hertz tone was accurately recorded on a 72 minute 16mm magnetic sound track (this was the longest length available from 3M.) Second a mans’s voice was added to say every alternate second i.e. one, three, five etc. A woman’s voice was used to tell the minute and it only changed once a minute alternating with the man’s voice. The task of creating this master tape was enormous since every man’s and woman’s voice was physically spliced into the master tape making sure each voice fit between each one frame tone. It took three people a week to physically assemble and splice each voice into the master tape. We had to keep in mind that we could not overlay either voice on top of a tone since it would be very difficult to hear. The one-frame beep electronically generated was accurately spaced every 24 frames and later mixed with spliced voice track to create the master tape.

For example, a typical ESG track would be heard as follows:

One-beep, seventeen-beep, three-beep, seventeen-beep, five-beep, seventeen-beep, seven-beep, seventeen-beep, nine-beep, seventeen. etc.

In this example, seventeen is the minute and the seconds start at one and alternate with the minute indicator to read every other second. It took some getting used to but once editors understood how to interpret ESG, it became automatic. More than a thousand programs edited at NBC in Burbank used this process until EECO and SMPTE time code and electronic editing replaced ESG and the film work print.

The first use of ESG for editing videotape via kinescope film work print was on a Fred Astaire Special in 1958. It worked so well, Fred Astaire told his friends of the accuracy of the NBC system, it literally opened up the flood gates to producers and directors who wanted their shows edited at NBC. NBC accepted work from all networks and was inundated with work until about 1968 when EECO time code negated the need for this method of editing videotape.

The process didn’t really catch on until 1959 when I edited a Pontiac Star Parade special starring Gene Kelly. Kelly wanted to edit with me to be sure he got what he wanted. I spent three long weeks with him editing to the point where some of the work print was so damaged, it had to be reprinted. From that point on, there was no stopping ESG. (and me)

Art Schneider, A.C.E.
December 2002

The woman's voice on the ESG track was an NBC secretary in the tape department by the name of Dodi Stucky, the wife of Lon Stucky, an NBC lighting engineer.

The man's voice was Don Stanley, an NBC staff announcer. Dodi had to say the minutes 73 times and the Don had to say the seconds only for one minute since they repeated every minute but we made 73 copies. In order to fit each minute and second carefully between the 400 hertz tones spaced exactly 24 film frames apart, we made a separate 16mm sound track with only the voices. This was a monumental task since we had to physically splice each voice spaced very carefully onto a second track then mix the two together to creaet a master track. Splicing in 4,380 individual voices into a 73 minute tape (assuming my math is correct) was very time consuming. Once the master tape was finished, we made six copies of the 73 minute tape since we were sure one or more would be worn out.

Arthur Schneider
Arthur Schneider, A.C.E., started in television in 1951 with NBC at the Sunset and Vine Studios. His autobiography "Jump Cut! Memoirs of a Pioneer Television Editor" details his career.

"Jump Cut!"
McFarland & Co.
Box 611
North Carolina 28640

We're provided a 30-second sample of ESG you can listen to. Click here and listen to a bit of editing history.

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