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Longtime ABC Executive, Tech Pioneer, Dead at 63 Deadline, Broadcast Engineering

A former ABC Television Network executive who was recognized as a technology pioneer has died. Deadline.com reports that Preston Davis died Monday at 63 following an illness.

Davis retired as president of broadcast operations and engineering in 2011, after working for 35 years at the network. Bob Iger promoted him in 1993 to lead ABC's broadcast operations and engineering, making him the first African-American president of any ABC division, the story notes.

Calling Davis a “technical pioneer,” Michael Grotticelli writes in Broadcast Engineering that Davis helped oversee ABC’s move from analog to digital and then to high-definition broadcasting. “During interviews I personally did with him at the time, around 1995-97, Davis looked at the significant technical challenges the transition to digital posed and calmly said, ‘We’ll get it done,’” Grotticelli writes.

He adds: “Typical of Davis’ ingenuity, during the 2000 Republican Convention in Philadelphia, then ABC News Executive Director Roger Goodman challenged Davis and his team with coming up with a way for the network correspondents to freely wander the convention floor and do live interviews. Davis' solution was called the ‘Teletubby.’ Worn by a cameraman, it was made up of a 15-inch Sharp LCD monitor attached to a Steadicam harness and outfitted with a wireless receiver from Global Microwave Services. It displayed the ABC programming output, which was transmitted to it by an RF antenna mounted in the rafters of the convention hall. Teleprompter information was displayed to correspondents on a QTV camera-mounted display of the type typically used in a studio configuration. The system made for a completely wireless one-cameraman band and provided the mobility Goodman was looking for.”

Goodman said at the time in an interview with Broadcasting & Cable: “Twenty years [before that], we would have built two control rooms as big as you'd find in any studio. It was spectacular.”

Grotticelli adds: “Davis also pioneered the use of fiber-optic paths to New York to remotely control coverage from the control room at ABC's New York City headquarters.”

Davis served in the U.S. Army as a specialist in communications technology and was a Vietnam War veteran. He was also involved in programs such as the Foundation for Minority Interests in Media.

preston-davis.jpgPreston Davis