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Early days of TV news a primitive, but exciting time

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GREENVILLE, N.C. - WNCT is just a few days away from a big milestone.

This Sunday, the first station in the east turns 60.
     
Through the years, there have been many faces at the anchor desk. And behind the scenes, even more has changed.

When you look at today's technology, the early days of television news was a primitive, but exciting time.

TV itself was still so new, it's amazing that men like Hartwell Campbell and Roy Park had the foresight, blind faith really, to invest so much time and money in a technology that really hadn't been proven yet.

And those early newscasts, while a technological marvel for their time, were far from visually stunning.

"I'll never forget the first newscasters, Gene Hodges, Ed Fields and Vance Morris and guys like that, sitting a desk with rear screen projector where pictures were put on the screen and they weren't very good at that. They were in black and white. There was no such thing as modern technology," said Tom Campbell, son of WNCT's founder.

To put a broadcast on the air was a Herculean task. The equipment itself was big and clunky.

"I'll never forget the first day they brought a video tape machine into WNCT. It was this great, big old AMPEX, two inch video tape machine," said Campbell. “It was a pain in the butt. Those tapes, those big reels of tape weighed about a pound apiece."

Today, broadcast quality, high definition cameras can be held in the palm of your hand. Can you imagine a camera that had to be warmed up like your car on frigid winter's day?

"We went from the old image Orthocon camera, for instance, the cameras we were using. It took forever to set those things up,” said Campbell. “You had to get there in the morning before Carolina Today. You had to turn those cameras on for 30 minutes to get them warmed up."

As we all know, technology started to grow exponentially from year to year. We've gone from black and white to color. From color to high definition, analog to digital. Videotape itself has become obsolete. And sometimes it's the little things that spark the biggest changes. Our lead director at WNCT, Wade Poorman, began his career in 1980. At the time there was no such thing as a wireless microphone. Today, everything is wireless.

"You get little microwave transmitters that you attach to the back of your camera. It runs off a battery. Has a range of, I'm not sure. But if you got a hundred yards on it, now you can park your truck on a piece of pavement, walk out into the middle of a field, set-up your shot, rock and roll," said Wade Poorman, WNCT lead director.   

Technology has made jobs easier. But how we go about gathering the news, in order to bring it to you, has remained relatively unchanged. I say “relatively" because the 24-hour news cycle and now social media have created some pitfalls. Have we become so impatient that we're sacrificing accuracy?

"The older generation of journalists wouldn't think of going with a story until they had everything nailed down," said Chuck Twardy, ECU Journalism Professor. “Even five years ago it would have been a matter of can we get it on the website quickly enough. Now it's, can I be the first one on Twitter? But I think what happens a lot of times too is that you get a lot of misinformation out there."

As part of our 60th anniversary, WNCT is partnering with Go-Science on their time capsule project. The money raised will help fund their new science center and museum.

You can buy your own time capsule.

Then, you can join us in burying the capsules together next year.
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