Television in the Rhineland 

22 April 2022


RCA Broadcast News cover

From RCA Broadcast News for March 1972

Westdeutsche Rundfunk, or WDR, stands for “West German Television.” [sic] WDR is one of eleven stations in West Germany’s ARD network and supplies the ARD with approximately 25% of the total of its live, film and video tape programming. To maintain this output, WDR is extensively equipped with modern, sophisticated facilities for the televising of events produced in its studios or picked up from other locations. The station is staffed with a highly proficient group of engineers, production and programming personnel. You will find them at the major broadcasting conventions in Europe, the United States and throughout the world, as they ensure that WDR provides optimum service by keeping abreast of the latest developments in the industry.

WDR: In the shadow of the DOM

In visiting the main television studios and training center of WDR in downtown Cologne, you are immediately impressed by its location—only a few blocks from the fabled Rhine River, it sits hard by the “DOM,” the massive 12th century Cathedral with twin spires towering 150 m. into the sky. Practically underneath the station structures is a small city of partially excavated ruins dating from as far back as 200 B.C. The four-building studio and control center complex on Wallrafplatz is almost as impressive as its locale, for this is a thoroughly modern plant, initially planned in 1958 and fully commissioned by 1966. Besides the live camera, video tape and telecine studios, the center houses control, switching and terminal auxiliaries, as well as microwave transmitter and receiver equipment. Other buildings in the complex contain administrative offices, the station’s television training school and its well-stocked library and archives.

WDR and the ARD: Versatile network programming

Westdeutscher Rundfunk was established in 1950 to provide first radio and then television programming to the Nordrhein-Westfalen (Northern Rhine/Westphalia) sector of the Federal Republic of Germany, that area historically called the “Rhineland.” Although the Cologne facility functions as the main production center of the ARD, when taken as an entity, WDR is a substantial network itself, for Wallrafplatz is the nucleus of a system that consists of 7 medium-wave and 38 VHF radio transmitters complemented by 22 VHF and UHF television transmitters in a total of 20 cities. The television transmitters are supplemented by 186 low-power rebroadcast units (translators and repeaters) to provide television to rural areas not covered by the direct broadcasts. The transmitters vary in ERP from a 500-watt unit in Bonn, to the 500-kilowatt (800-KW at night) installation in Munster-Baum. WDR also maintains production studios in Bonn and in Düsseldorf.


Wallrafplatz building

Imposing architecture of WDR Production Center adds new dimension to Cologne’s skyline.


The parent ARD organization employs approximately 190 VHF transmitters to cover the Republic. Microwave links, owned by the Deutsches Bundespost (German Federal Post Office Dept.), are used to relay signals from one transmitter to another and TV frequency converters are used for signal regeneration. In addition to being in the ARD net, WDR coordinates with ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen) to provide UHF programming to areas on the fringe of, or outside of, the coverage of the VHF transmitters.

As with the other ARD member stations, WDR broadcasts three radio programs and three television programs. In addition they air a joint program for foreign laborers. The radio programs use medium-wave and VHF frequencies, while the television channels are operated in accordance with CCIR System B, 625 lines, 50 Hz, PAL. They use frequency bands I and III, channels 2 to 12 for VHF; and bands IV and V, channels 21 to 60, for UHF.

The three television channels provide a wide variety of programming and are popularly called the “First” program, the “Second” program and the “Third” program. The “First” program is officially called the “Deutsches Fernsehen” (“German Television”) and is telecast on both VHF and UHF. Shows on these channels are produced by each of the ARD stations and at a given time are transmitted over the entire network, except during a special regional time slot between 6 and 8 P.M., when each station transmits material originating in its own studios. The “First” program is aimed at the broadest segment of the audience and as such it is the basic entertainment offering. Even so, the offering may be highly cultural in flavor — an original or classical drama, sophisticated comedy, or ballet. Individual selections may be presented in several episodes, over a period of several days. Because its program content is intended to appeal to the majority of viewers, all commercials are scheduled during its airtime — but none are permitted on Sunday. When commercials are scheduled, they are normally grouped together into “blocks” and run consecutively at the 1800 and 2100 time periods. The “First” program may be viewed on Sundays between 1000 to 2200; Monday through Thursday from 1540 to 1705 and 2000 to 2130; Friday from 1900 to 2230; and Saturday from 1355 to 1705 and from 1900 to 2300.


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The “Second” Television Program is prepared for the entire Federal Republic by the television broadcast corporation Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) in Mainz. Separate transmitters are used, which are installed and operated by the Bundespost. The ZDF provides a variety of fare by producing in its own studios in Mainz and by selecting from the material telecast by the ARD stations. One particularly important public service of the ZDF is its daily broadcasts in five languages that are directed to the multi-lingual labor force in the Ruhr Valley.

The “Third” Television Program is prepared by each ARD station for broadcast exclusively to its own operating region; however, the transmitters for these frequencies are also installed and operated by the Bundespost. These shows feature topics of metropolitan and regional interest, primarily of cultural, athletic or social import with supporting news events. This program is shown weekly from 1705 to 1900 and on Saturdays from 1330 to 1355 and 1730 to 1900.

WDR: The ARD’s main production center

Each of the ARD stations supplies the network feed at pre-determined periods. However, since WDR has the most comprehensive production accommodations and expertise, it supplies more than one-fourth of the ARD telecasts, be they live, film or video tape, from the Wallrafplatz studios.

Once inside these buildings, you are again deeply impressed, this time by the bustling activity, the professional performance of all staff, and the real, easily apparent enthusiasm they have. It seems that everyone associated with the station’s business, from administrative offices to the maintenance shop, from entertainers to producers, from video engineers to the drivers of the OB vans, are all delighted to be working in television.


A man works at two giant tape recorders

WDR relies on TR-70 series video tape recorders for production of full-fidelity color programs.


Since WDR is a major production center, it includes complete studio facilities for the presentation and production of live, film and video tape programs. Studios “A” and “B” are where the main dramatic and variety shows are originated. They are identical in size, each being approximately 23 m. by 32 m, providing 736 m.² meters of floor space. With their ceiling heights of 12.5 m. they can handle even the most lavishly staged productions. All ancillary services, such as lighting, audio systems, air conditioning, are completely up-to-date and provide both the maximum capability and the reserve capacity required to keep pace with the studios’ busy production schedules.

The 306 m.² Studio “C” is unique in that it is the primary locale for the production of regional shows aimed at the various nationalities that work in the heavily industrial “Rhineland.” These include the “International Morning Panel,” a conclave of experts who comment on the news from Germany, Italy, France, England and the United States. Then there is the “Gastarbeiter,” the show aimed specifically at each of the “Working Class” ethnic groups — in its mother tongue — Spanish, Italian, Greek or Turkish. The “Gastarbeiter” programming takes the form of “folk” dramas and musicals, plus news and current events hosted by a female announcer. These attractive young ladies are all natives of the country whose language they broadcast in and all identify readily with their audience. Needless to say, they are very popular and have extremely loyal followings.

Studio ”D” is the smallest camera studio at WDR, having some 108 m.² of floor space, and, consequently, it functions as the announce and interview studio for daily news and topical comment concerning the Cologne metropolitan area and the Republic. This studio is interesting from an operational viewpoint, because WDR has innovated complete remote control of the camera. Only the announcer and necessary aides are in the studio during the telecast – all camera functions are the responsibility of the remote video camera operator in the adjacent control room.

Besides live and video tape presentations, WDR produces most of its own film programming in studios “S,” “T,” “U” and “V,” which range in size from the 95 meters square of the identical first two, to the 50 meters square of the last two. Complete facilities are available in these studios for the production of color and black and white film, for airing on the “First” and “Third” programs.


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As far as state-of-the-art trends are concerned, WDR is rapidly converting to full color operation. Color broadcasts commenced in the Autumn of 1967 with the acquisition of a color telecine chain and ever since, they have steadily acquired the complementary sub-systems necessary for color production and transmission. At the present time they have fifteen lead-oxide tube color cameras in their studios, all of which are four-tube units that have been modified in their laboratories to meet their operating standards. In addition, they have two complete color OB vans, one with four new three-tube color cameras and the other with three cameras of the same type. All studio and OB cameras are equipped with 10:1 zoom lenses. They are used on pedestals or motorized dollies in the studios and trailer-attached “cherry pickers” for outside broadcasts. Approximately 22, 12 and 15 centimeter image orthicon monochrome cameras are used in the studios, while the remote vans employ a total of eight.

The film/sound studios are fully equipped for production of both 35-mm and 16-mm sound films and 35-mm slides. Also installed are facilities for producing sound/over and sound/sync programs.

All video tape and telecine equipment is installed in a seven-room suite on the third level of the main building — as a note of interest, the first four levels of this structure are subterranean. Three of the rooms contain complete telecine chains equipped for 35-, 16- and 8-mm films, transparent slides and opaque artwork. Four rooms house the video tape facilities, which are combined with 16- and 35-mm projectors to provide sound-on-tape facilities for multi-lingual presentation.


Inside an OB unit

TR-70’s take to the road in WDR OB unit to telecast/record a wide range of outdoor and remote events.


Twenty six RCA video tape machines are used to produce all of the tapes made by WDR. These VTR’s run the range from the first of ten TR-22’s, which was delivered in January 1963, to their sixteen TR-70 types. The RCA recorders are used for both the internal ARD and ZDF programs and are additionally employed to make the five-minute special news tape that WDR submits to the Eurovision and Intravision [sic – Intervision] networks every day.

Since the introduction of color television in West Germany approximately four years ago, shows electronically pre-recorded on video tape have attained an ever increasing role in WDR’s program scheduling plans and are beginning to challenge filmed productions as the best medium for the presentation of previously recorded studio and/or outdoor events. This greater reliance on electronic recording compels WDR to constantly use its VTR’s, from the early morning hours until late at night, to the extent that they operate on practically a 24-hour basis. Thus, they must even more heavily tax their combined production facilities, which amplifies the need for all units to perform with maximum operational quality and reliability. These demands then become especial prerequisites when video tape equipment is sourced.

WDR ident

One manner in which they are attempting to cope with the tremendous new production requirements is the acceleration of the volume of shows produced. They hope to accomplish this goal by decreasing the time required to complete individual programs and by making their production more economical.

They expect to accrue substantial realization of these objectives from a new RCA Time Code Editing System (TCE) that has been commissioned recently. This unique editing system is designed to simplify and expedite the preparation of video taped programs, provide better utilization of personnel and studio facilities and improve the precision and quality of video tape programs. The TCE represents a completely new technique for WDR, because prior to its installation, they relied on obsolescent mechanical splicing devices — essentially the old razor blade method. Their future plans call for the purchase of a second time code editor, to deliver additional editing creativity and production economy.

The second level of the building contains all switching, control and auxiliary equipment, for each of the production studios. Here also are the control positions for the studio lighting boards and dimmers plus the audio consoles for the sound portion of each program. The master control room is connected to the main telephone center of the Bundesposts in Cologne via wire lines so that it can control the transmitters servicing Cologne and relay the broadcasts via microwave links to the other transmitter in the net. Included in the terminal equipment are the units for the S-T-L radio relay links that are used for remote pick-ups in the Cologne sector.

WDR has in-house facilities for the fabrication of everything associated with its productions—all sets, props, backdrops, as well as wardrobes, cosmetics, lighting gear – everything. No matter how lavish or complicated the spectacle, WDR has the expertise and the resources to assure its presentation to the highest standards.

Outside broadcast vans are used a great deal to add the impact of current events to viewers. They cover all the major political and social gatherings in Western Germany and also telecast important cultural and athletic items, from places such as the Apollo Theater in Dusseldorf, the Red/White Tennis Hall in Cologne/Mungersdorf and the civic center in Rath-Heumar. Indeed, the big Mercedes vans with the WDR logo are a familiar sight to the people of Westfalen.

WDR: Planning for the future

Two OB units

Two WDR Outside Broadcast units. On the left, a 3-camera bus, on the right a special VTR van.

Westdeutscher Rundfunk has many plans for the future, as far as expansion of facilities and broadcasting services is concerned. At the present time, Studio “B” is used for the re-broadcast of programs received from the United States via the “Early Bird” satellite, and the Goonhilly Downs earth station in Great Britain. From the ground station, the signals are relayed to the BBC standards converter at White City for transition from NTSC to PAL for Federal and Eurovision distribution and from NTSC to SECAM for the Intravision [sic] network serving Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Again for the future, WDR is heavily engaged in an automation study to develop the equipment requisites and operational procedures necessary for the employment of the more efficient and cost-effective automation techniques.

As regards color programming, WDR is continuing with its plan to be completely converted for total color operation by 1975, on all four program formats. This will entail the purchase of additional color cameras, many more video tape machines, including cartridge-design units, and telecine chains, as well. They also contemplate expansion of studio and production facilities, so that they can continue to produce the bulk of their programs.

Wallrafplatz has been the scene of many history-making events since the first Roman legions built their permanent barracks in 50 B.C., but scarcely any as impressive as the accomplishments of Westdeutscher Rundfunk in the last twenty years.


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