The backstory of how I've been invited to The Weather Channel 30 year reunion this weekend

No, I won’t be meeting Heidi Cullen.

30 years ago, on May 2nd, 1982, a new satellite channel debut made history. TWC went online thanks to the work of dozens of pioneering meteorologists and technicians, including my friends John Coleman and Joe D’Aleo.

This is my personal story, never before told here.

I had a small part in supporting TWC in the early days, though some technology I developed, which I’ll talk more about later. But first, the launch of TWC. Here’s the pre-launch ceremony from Las Vegas and Atlanta (30 minutes) followed by the first 30 minutes of the Weather Channel’s broadcast from Sunday, May 2, 1982:

I was invited to the 30th reunion, which is being held this weekend, due to the fact that I myself was an early pioneer in weather technology for television, and TWC was one of my early customers using what was then some “revolutionary” technology I developed.

Few people who read WUWT know this, but I developed the first ever interface to allow computer weather graphics done on the IBM-XT @4.77Mhz, and later the IBM-AT @ 6.0 Mhz, to be broadcast on television. This was no small feat, because back then, such devices were usually rack mounted dedicated boxes. Using a dual slot frame buffer card from an early CAD/CAM terminal company called Vectrix, I designed the first ever PC based broadcast quality RGB to NTSC encoder card for the IBM-PC platform.

I’ve kept a sample of each piece of technology, which I photographed this morning on my desk. Here’s the complete solution, the dual slot frame buffer card, plus my NTSC encoder card:

The other half of the frame buffer card (not shown, underneath) is nothing more than rows and rows of 64K DIP memory chips. This ISA buss full length dual card was driven by an Intel 80188 CPU  with a command set programmed to take ASCII commands (over a parallel or serial port) like [draw pixel, x,y] It was crude by today’s standards, but revolutionary then. Today, any cheap PC video card for $49 will run circles around what you see above.

Notice the long white ceramic chip in the upper left of the frame buffer card. That’s the heart of the graphics engine, the NEC 7220 graphics display controller chip, one of the first graphic chips ever invented. It allowed us to do things never before done outside of mainframes and was designed to be the heart of this beast, the NEC APC Advanced Personal Computer. 

The trick to making the NEC7220 produce broadcastable RS170A (NTSC) video came with a mandatory need for something called “genlock“, which allowed all devices in a TV studio to be synchronized into a common switcher, so that video effects like green screen chroma key (essential to TWC) could be done.

Making the NEC7220 do genlock, was no easy task, since it had never been designed to do that job, and had no sync input of any kind. The task was something I took up, because I wanted to open up the IBM-PC to the world of broadcasting. When TWC started, they were using Z80 CPU/S-100 buss based Cromemco Z2 rack mount beasts with a 16 color frame buffer card done with an external rack-mounted NTSC encoder. The price tag on these things with software, broadcast encoder, and training was easily $30,000.

Cromemco (named for CROthers MEMorial Hall – the Stanford residence where the founders lived), came into existence in the mid 1970s, and grew to become a major player in the S-100 business systems market. Check out the dual 360K floppy drives whoo! More here.

The Z2 was adopted by Terry Kelly of Weather Central in Wisconsin to broadcast some of the very first weather graphics supplied by WSI corporation. The did custom programming (in BASIC no less) to enable some of the very first weather graphics to be displayed on TV, prior to that, we had Alden Fax images and magnetic symbols on metal boards. I used such a setup in 1978 when I first started in TV and I salivated over computer graphics. One time I tried to adapt an early Apple IIc computer for use on TV and in 1979 I called up Apple and asked to speak to the “chief engineer” about the video output quality. It wasn’t until a  few years later that I realized I had given Steve Wozniak himself an earful about video signal engineering. I still remember the sound of the little floppy drive after typing in PR#6 from the console to get it to read the disk.

So when the IBM-PC came out, with a standardized and smaller buss, plus open sourced technical documentation (unlike Apple who with the Mac in 1984 created a tech prison) it made sense to try to make a broadcast system out of it. The broadcast video encoder was the big hurdle, and I solved it with this card below:

Note all the analog circuitry. There were delay lines (the big copper coiled tube is a 400 nanosecond delay line to match the 3.58 Mhz chroma subcarrier to the luminance signal) filters, scads of bypass caps to keep the noise down, plus subassembly chips and boards that were NTSC composite and RGB signal distribution amplifiers respectively. That plus a phase locked loop on the NE564 chip design that kept the clock of the VX384 frame buffer card in sync with studio gen-lock signals. It was analog black magic, all hand-made and hand-soldered.

Tuning this card was not unlike trying to tune the SU carburetors on a British Leyland Jaguar V-12. I had 12 trimpots plus a trimcap that had to be adjusted “just right”. Setup was accomplished using a TV monitor, an oscilloscope, and several test points on the card and usually took about two hours to get right. In those days, component drift could be a problem, and if you didn’t get the card up to temperature in the chassis first, you could miss the sweet spot and you’d lose genlock…which is a disaster on air in chroma-key when the satellite picture behind the talent in front of the green screen would go wonky.

Tech savvy readers might have noticed the “breadboard” area of the NTSC encoder board I designed. There was a reason for that, thanks to the Grass Valley Group corporation, whose GVG broadcast production switchers had nuances that required me to adjust the blanking signal in the RS170A output in order to get properly horizontally phased gen-lock at some TV studios.

Grass Valley Group model 200 video switcher

The "death ray lever" for Star Wars - GVG 1600 video production switcher, circa 1978, KRON-TV Photo: Roy Trumbull

[Trivia Sidebar: most people don’t know this, but the scene in the first Star Wars movie in 1977 where they fire the “death ray” from the Death Star, show a scene with a hand pulling a lever…it is actually a T-handle from a GVG model 1600 video switcher as seen above, and I think it was filmed at the studios of KGO TV by the ILM/Lucas crew]

So, I’d often have to add a switched delay line, and that breadboard section allowed me to do that on-site if need be. Yes, I’d tweak these systems onsite with a portable oscilloscope, wire wrap, a soldering pencil, and my wits.

Both WSI corporation and Accu-Weather used weather display systems I designed for them in the 80’s and 90’s. That little NTSC broadcast encoder board enabled hundreds of TV stations to put weather graphics on the air.

So, enough about the technology. The point is that John Coleman and Joe D’Aleo, who made TWC happen, thought my contribution to early TV weather and TWC was significant enough that they invited me to attend, even though I was never on the air at TWC, though back then it was a dream I had. I thank them for the gracious invitation.

I’ll be attending the TWC 30 year reunion this weekend, and reporting on this once and only event here at WUWT becuase I feel it is important to document this unique piece of American history. I’ll be traveling to Atlanta tomorrow, for the meeting Saturday. Blogging will be light the next couple of days.

I generally don’t like to beg, but all of the travel and lodging is out of pocket, and my “big oil” check still isn’t in the mail, so if anyone feels like hitting the tip jar (orange “donate” button) on the right sidebar, I will be most grateful.

If anyone has any questions about how TWC got started and operated they’d like me to ask while I’m there, feel free to leave a comment.

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ClimateTruthIreland

Anthony
My sincerest apologies for misusing your site in any way to promote my own. I’m relatively new to the art of promoting websites, and this was indeed a wrong move. Again, please accept my deepest apologies.
Josiah(ClimateTruthIreland)
REPLY: No worries, water under the bridge – Anthony

Nial

Antony, I’m very impressed. I’m an electronic engineer specialising in FPGA design (digital) and that analogue stuff looks well scary!
>:-0
Did you have an electronics background?
REPLY: Yes, besides being a ham radio operator, which gave me early exposure to electronics and radio, I took several design courses in Electrical Engineering Technology. Most of my work is in weather technology, which often required me to design things from scratch. – Anthony

Toby

Donated, good luck on your trip, I’m glad to see your contributions are being recognized.

Gary

It was fun exploring the technology 30+ years ago. I never did much more complicated than build my own joystick from microswiches, interface it to an Ohio Scientific single board microcomputer (with 4K of memory and cassette tape I/O!), and write a Pong knockoff. A little later it was interfacing IBM-PCs with a 370 mainframe through IRMA boards to upload data from floppy disks. Have a great time at the reunion.

Jim Goodridge

Thanks Anthony for all your kind and generous help over the last 30+ years

Feeble donation made under my real name. Keep up the good work.

Curiousgeorge

Would your tech qualify you for helping to invent the Internet? I’m just wondering, since Al Gore is getting some kind of trophy or something for his “contribution”. 😉 Seem’s only fair that you should also. 🙂

Jim Goodridge

Ode to Anthony
11/2//2010
When Anthony Watts visited in about 1985 he said, “The color on that monitor was off,
I can fix that” and he took it home for a weekend.
When he brought it back he reported a crack in a circuit board that he soldered over.
We had a mutual friend Bob Dale at Purdue, who was a former California State Climatologist.
Anthony never lost a chance to be a better scientist with his weather broadcasting.
Anthony is still a major player in weather broadcasting in the US.
As a scientist Anthony has wanted to present weather with better understanding.
His concern with the paint on thermometer shelters started a grand inquiry.
Anthony’s investigation of temperature station exposure was nation wide in scope and growing.
He organized hundreds of volunteers to check exposure of the every station used to evaluate the nature of the nations temperature trends,
From each according to his ability is the example what Anthony lives by.
Anthony serves the community to the best of his ability and has been an inspiration.
Energy conservation has been another of his concerns by advocating solar power.
Anthony’s hearing disability may have factored in ending his live television time.
Perfection is reserved for the Creator, we mortals have our faults.
Public service has been Anthony’s example for all of us.

SU “Carburettors”….ugh. Had them on an old Volvo 145 wagon. Heaven help you if your air filter was dirty. But the best SU story was in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1996 (when Osama lived there)…when I came upon a couple of Sudanese trying to revive their old Mercedes-Benz 240 by Pifffing mouthfuls of gasoline down the throttle body. At one point they removed the vacuum cup from the needle valve, and it was basically gummed up with red dust….as they had been driving it without an air filter. I suggested they piff a bit of gasoline on the SU guts to clean them up (seeing how they were accustomed to piffing gasoline). Not something one would recommend under normal OSHA conditions, but this was Sudan in 1996. Good thing they never got an intake manifold backfire.
Off topic, I know.

Vincent

About the same time I worked on mixed analogue and digital electronics like this to fly a 500kg warhead to its target.Videos and microwave stuff all in one box. I work in microwave stuff.
The thing still works and is still sold with modifications to allow for 8085’s that are no longer available.

Michael Auer

What’s a pixel? I recall the video coming out of an Apple II C and E being NTSC (Never the same color twice), but what would you expect from a NE556 timer as the sync gen. Then there was the addition in the Apple III ‘convolutions’ to try and fill in the retrace so it would look solid. All it did was give you a nasty headache because of the flicker.
Looking at your boards sure brought back some memories of what Engineering was really like.
So the 64K DRAM was it 12 volt?
Good stuff,
Michael Auer
REPLY: A pixel, one dot on a monitor. Yes they were split supply DRAM, 12V and 5V IIRC. – Anthony

TRM

Wow. What a blast from the past. We are very old my friend, very old indeed. I actually remember working on most of the hardware you have pictured above. At least we aren’t so old we can’t remember it! Cheers and have a great time.

geo

Ahh, that was a trip down memory lane. . . and the wife (a TV engineer) told me the Death Star’s “secret” re GVG almost 20 years ago now. Enjoy your trip –a couple drinks on me (via the tip jar).
REPLY: Your wife’s name wouldn’t be Donna by any chance would it? Thanks for the help – Anthony

CV

That’s quality stuff right there. I started on a Targa 24 system in 1989, but it likely had very similar boards installed. The input and output boards failed around 1991, so I started using outboard RGB encoder and decoder with that system. It was a fun time to learn digital video graphics, and was the first time I got to “alter reality” with a graphics workstation. Thanks for the fun reminder!

Varco

Donation made. Enjoy the event Anthony, and thanks for all your hard work then and now…

RobWansbeck

Big changes. Those were the days when NTSC meant Never Twice the Same Colour 🙂
I joined the BBC in the mid seventies and remember being taken for a ‘tour’ of a NTSC to PAL standards converter. This consisted of several full-size racks. Today it all fits on a part of one chip.
I still remember genlock, natlock, rubylock etc. and the time spent making sure everything was in phase before transmission.

Brian

I was a big fan of The Weather Channel until around 2008 or 2009. The channel has become increaslingly slick and too much 30 minute programs. Al Roker makes me want to puke also. I’m not sure what happend, but the programming just changed a few years ago.

Interstellar Bill

Ah yes, the Cro-Magnon black box I so fondly remember,
typng my solar water-heating test reports on an IBM selectric,
straight from the test-stand data, (and right away too!!!).
It was truly the wonder of the entire sprawling aviation test lab,
the first micro-computer anybody then had ever seen.
All those rugged engineers loved that heavy black box.
One day they shiipped me two extra memory cards ($2000 each)
I hadn’t ordered, and when I called up them about it they said
“Oops, our mistake, why don’t you just keep them?
They’re the last of an older version that we just stopped producing,
so it’s not worth the bother of their re-qual if you shipped them back,
and we probably wouldn’t ever have sold them anyway,
since the new ones have twice the capacity.
Have a nice day”.
Just seeing the picture was a jolt to dormant memories.

Mike Smith

As one who started work as a electronics design engineer in 1975, I say bravo and congratulations Anthony. Great stuff!

vigilantfish

Hi Anthony,
You rarely ask for money. Glad to help one so very deserving. Did Wozniak doing anything in response to your giving him an earful on Apple graphics?
REPLY: I don’t know, but when the Mac came out later in 1984, there was no NTSC video port anymore…so maybe the whole experience killed the idea. – Anthony

Jeff L

Anthony Do have a background in Electrical engineering as well as meteorology ? How did you get involved in the electronics? Just wondering.

polistra

I’d entirely forgotten those Cromemco things. I’d built some audio hardware and software for them in the realm of speech research…. much less complex and much less useful than yours!

J. Snow

Enjoyed the walk though history. Going to put on Star Wars tonight and check out the Death Star scene. Have fun! A modest donation has been made. -John

martinbrumby

Excellent work, Anthony.
I’m obviously a bit older than you – I got my degree in Civil & Structural Engineering with nothing more high tech than a slide rule. They taught us a bit of Fortran but I never even got to see a Computer at University!
But I couldn’t do this kind of computer wizardry myself, even today.
However, I’m reasonably nifty with Excel, which is more than Phil Jones can say. But, of course, he’s a “Great Scientist” whilst we are nasty “Anti-Science Deniers”.
Apparently.

Gunga Din

It looks like I have something else to thank you for besides what this site normally deals with.
Around 22 years ago when my son was an infant, he went through a period where he’d wake up fussy in the middle of the night. After taking care of the obvious and usual causes, he’d still be fussy. The only thing that would quiet him down was to turn on the TV. But it had to be The Weather Channel. I remember Jannetta (sp?) Jones was usually on. I remember one night wishing I owned a video camera so I could record and send in how he’d fuss anytime I changed the channel then would quiet down when I switched back to TWC. I’m guessing it was the colorful graphics which you had helped make happen. (but it could have been Jannetta 😎

brian lemon

You mean … you’re not paid by big oil? I’m not. Who is?

Roger

Anthony about time.. you’ve been underplaying your skills for years. Will make donation but later as at this moment a bit cash strapped. good luck

A Lovell

A small donation to a big man.
They say a change is as good as a rest. Since you hardly ever seem to rest, enjoy the change!

Nerd

Jim Goodridge mentioned Watts having hearing disability?
I goggled and I see that Watts has 85% hearing loss. Interesting. I also have hearing disability, about 99.9% hearing loss when I got really sick with meningitis at the age of 20 months old.
Have fun at the reunion!

John Whitman

Anthony,
Nice backstory . . . .
You have provided a hallowed forum for balanced education. There can be no words sufficient to show enough appreciation for your forum.
I will see you at ICCC-7 . . . .
John

Roger

It says something when meteorologists of this caliber are not at all convinced (now) of AGW. Compare this with the knowledge professed by that 20 year girl on the Australian Climate show LOL

James Javert

Anthony:
I hope you enjoy your trip as much as I enjoy WUWT – an island of sanity in a storm tossed sea.
BTW, my contribution comes from my recent BIG OIL check…OH CRAP! Upon further review, that was actually my gas bill!

wsbriggs

Glad to contribute Anthony. You’ve contributed so much to my continuing education. Have a great time!

SandyInDerby

I spend the 70s and 80s as a test engineer testing mainly DRAMs but also 74 series TTL logic. We used Fairchild Xincom for memory and Fairchild Sentry VII for logic. We started with 1103 1K DRAM, moving through 4K, 16K then 64K. After 64K the need for incoming test (which I was) on DRAM dropped away but by that time Custom VLSI was coming along and that meant another 10 years work.
Happy days

HankH

Anthony, thanks for the enjoyable trip down memory lane. One of the first things that jumped out at me in the image of your NTSC to RGB encoder were the three “almost” devices on the subassembly board over the trimpots (the three resistors bridging across circuit traces). We used to call them “almost” devices because they were hand soldered to fix a circuit design that almost worked without them. It was rare to see a board in that era that didn’t have at least a few. An impressive design by the way. The proto section of the board was very much a product of thinking ahead.
Enjoy the event!
REPLY: Yep, in this case it was a chip that became unavailable, so rather than redesign the whole board, I just made a subassembly board and plugged it into the DIP socket. – Anthony

David Lake

Anthony,
I’ve been a long time reader of this blog (and thank you for that) but really haven’t taken the opportunity to post before. This time I can’t help myself.
You really engineered those boards? Wow, I’m impressed. And thank you for the trip down memory lane. I was a much younger Engineer with GVG at that time. I didn’t work on the Model 100 but those guys were in the cubicles right across the aisle. Since you come from the Broadcast Industry you may remember the GVG Kaleidoscope Digital Picture Manipulator (AKA DVE). That was my baby, I was on the K’Scope development team at the time. This was an exciting era in the television industry as technology was moving from analog to digital. At that time we necessarily had a mixture both technologies to make things work – along with all of the fun calibration and tuning exercises you speak of. And those old computers – what a hoot! Our project had two IBM PCs (with gigantic 10MB hard drives) with schematic capture software shared by 6 or 7 engineers all trying to draw up our designs during our assigned time slots (the SW cost more than those ‘hot-rodded’ computers so the company wouldn’t spring for many). But hey, all of the other guys were drawing with pencils on Vellum. Thanks for the the trip down memory lane – but geez it doesn’t seem like 30 years ago! I’m still up in your neck of the woods in Nevada City although not with GVG any more. I’m enjoying life as an independent Engineering Consultant serving not only my Alma Mater but also its many spin off children up here in ‘Video Valley’.
BTW – the switcher in original Star Wars film was a GVG Model 1600 which was state of the art in the mid to late 1970’s. We all got a huge kick out of seeing it in the theater when the movie came out. The control panel had no circuit boards. All of the buttons, lamps, switches and knobs were hand soldered into a massive wire harness going to a bunch of 100 pin mass connectors. Extremely labor intensive to build and beautiful to look at when you propped up the lid. The wiring harnesses always reminded me of those anatomical drawings of the whole body blood circulatory system with veins and arteries merging, branching and connecting to everything. The Model 200 shown in your picture is about two generations more modern (and much more capable, stable and cheaper to manufacture).
Thanks again for making me feel younger!
Dave.
REPLY: Ah yes the Kaleidoscope DVE…a true wonder at the time! I played with a few in post. I never knew until this moment what GVG switcher model it was, only that it was a GVG from the signature T-bar fader handle. The model 100/200 was all I could remember OTTOMH. I’m updating the picture. Thanks for filling in that missing piece of info. – Anthony

Myron Mesecke

to enable some of the very first weather graphics to be displayed on TV, prior to that, we had Alden Fax images and magnetic symbols on metal boards.
In the 70s I remember one local station that had magnetic High and Low pressure symbols that had rotating discs behind the H and L.
I’m not sure if I knew Anthony was a ham. N5TFK here, Been licensed since 1992.

Jim Roth

the only donate button I see, is dedicated to keeping the surfacestation project going. Is that the one for your trip?

Being that I own a 0.0010 working interest in 13 (going on 15) oil wells in South Texas, I will generously bestow $30 bucks on you so that you can honestly say you are “big oil” funded.
I am big oil. Ha.

SU carbs, Anthony?
I hated those SU carbs. I had them on my MG. Years later, the first thing I did when I bought my Harley was replace the SU carb the previous owner had installed (because it was so nice looking) with an S&S.
REPLY: I had an MG Midget, and SU carbs, plus Lucas electric, the “Prince of Darkness”. – Anthony

Quinn

I suspect that most climate “scientists” wouldn’t know which end of a soldering iron to hold (ouch!).

Glad to help, Anthony. Cheers.

Bern Bray

Through hole components, 8 inch floppy disks, 64K Ram and no hard disk. 30 minutes to compile a stupid PL/M program to find out you missed a semi-colon. See what you whippersnappers missed? If the EPA continues it’s war on technology, we won’t even have that.

Tom J

First time I made a donation. Guess I’m a newbee. Easier to do than I thought. Once a pay up my credit card next week I’ll make a bigger one. You see my credit card’s always maxed-out. Thanks for the excellent site and all the info.
BTW: Get rid of those SU carbs and get proper Webers.

g3ellis

Anthony, this can’t be true. Those guys on other sites keep telling me all you are is a weather reader.
/sarc

>>I had an MG Midget, and SU carbs, plus Lucas electric, the “Prince of Darkness”. – Anthony
1968 MGB, same-same. I enjoyed tuning SU carbs. I did not enjoy turning off the radio so that the wipers would work…

EternalOptimist

I am nowhere in the same league as Anthony, but when I was a young lad in the British army in the 70’s I used to have to calibrate and maintain half ton mechanical computers, that were used to aim 40 mm anti aircraft guns.
When I heard that the yanks were building silicon chips to do the same thing, I was offered the chance to go over and get in on the ground floor. ‘No chance, it’ll never take off’ I said.
what an idiot. lol

Frederick Davies

Donation on the way; enjoy the trip!
FD

Robert of Ottawa

As an electronic engineer, who graduated some years ago 😉 I really appreciate this post. To think, I used to be able to fly an aircraft on 64k 🙂

Ed Scott

[snip this is wayyyyyyyy off topic Krugman and TWC don’t go together ~mod]