Walter's Telephones [Telecom]

Last weekend the television was full of news and historical looks at Walter Cronkite, who passed away Friday. (RIP, Walter)

Did you notice some of the unusual, or at least infrequently seen, Bell System equipment? I saw what looked to me like several Receive-Only Model 19 Teletype machines! And one clip, played repeatedly, featured the familiar sound of a Teletype clunking out the latest hot news with Walter announcing over the top of that sound. I also noticed one scene with a 564 Keyset along with the equivalent

300-type keyset as well as a 500-type set with no dial but with a "beehive" lamp holder mounted on the dial blank cover plate! Other scenes revealed lots of beige telephones, a 10 button keyset or two and lots of rotary dial equipment. I was surprised that more headsets weren't seen - I'm sure lots of them were used by those who may have had to write or type as they received news from distant correspondents. Many manual typewriters were evident, of course!

None of the discussion associated with these scenes focused on the telephones, of course. Maybe someone reading this can help us better understand how this equipment played into the development of the Evening News? I'm sure telephones, Teletypes and the Bell System played a major part in conveying the day's happenings to America.

***** Moderator's Note *****

The machines you saw were Teletype Model 15RO devices. They were the standard of the Associated Press and United Press International well into the 1970's: the sounds you heard were of an actual Teletype machine. Small radio stations, such as WMLO in Beverly, Massachusetts, where I worked in 1976, still used them: to this day, newscasters refer to "Rip-'N-Read" as a derogatory term for any quickly or carelessly produced news broadcast. The term comes from the wire services' hourly printout of a news summary, which DJ's could rip from the Teletype machine and read directly on the air.

When I worked at WRKO in Boston during 1977, I found out that the banks of Teletypes shown in the background of every newscast were actually just empty Model 15 covers with pieces of paper taped to them: the actual Teletypes had been replaced by either computerized receivers or dot-matrix printers, but the news department felt that the public expected to see Teletypes on a news set, so they retained the old covers as props.

As to the telephones shown on Cronkite's set and offices, they were actually instruments, and actually in use: Cronkite had been a war correspondent and a press reporter, so he was an old hand at making effective use of telephones (or radiotelephones, when he was in Europe). Of course, they could have been hidden out of sight, but the networks found that the public liked to have an image of an informal setting where actual work could be done, because it made viewers feel they were receiving more recent reports instead of a staged presentation.

By the 1980's most TV stations had revised their sets to show glitzy video graphics and monitors: public tastes had changed so that viewers were more attracted to stations which portrayed new technology.

Bill Horne

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Al Gillis
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I was curious about the background equipment. A variety of typewriters, from manual to various kinds of IBM electrics. A variety of phones, including Call Directors in later years. I thought I saw a non-dial keyset.

It's entirely possible, even from day one (or especially from day one), that much of what we saw in the background were props, not real equipment. In the early days I strongly doubt they broadcast from the working newsroom, the camera equipment and lights would get in the way of people actually working. You don't want people stepping (or tripping) on the cables interconnecting the equipment. During the broadcast there needs to be room for the cameras and crew running around.

Obviously they can't risk a telephone going off in the middle of the broadcast.

***** Moderator's Note *****

OK, I should have said "capable of being used". The instruments were real, AFAIK, but I agree they would have silenced the ringers.

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