Who knew that Bob Barker, a TV institution who hosted game shows for more than a half-century, was a tech pioneer? In a new interview published by the AP, Barker — best known for his long runs first on “Truth or Consequences” and later on “The Price Is Right” — recalls how his TV hosting job made him an early adopter of one of the most important inventions in the history of television: videotape.
Barker, who turned 93 on Dec. 12, recalls how almost 60 years ago, on Jan. 22, 1957, “Truth or Consequences” became the first TV program to be prerecorded on videotape for subsequent airing in all time zones. The show previously aired live.
The advent of videotape solved at least one problem for Barker. While he was happy to work live and didn’t mind putting on a show at 8:30 a.m. for broadcast at 11:30 on the East Coast, he said audiences in Hollywood just weren’t awake yet at that time of day.
“I liked live television,” Barker said, but he added: “Can YOU imagine doing an audience-participation show at 8:30 in the morning?”
But once the show went to tape, Barker said, “We all rejoiced. The bigger the studio audience and the wider-awake it was, the better for me!”
The New York Times ran a story at the time about the introduction by “Truth or Consequences,” a show that relied heavily on stunts, of a prototype of Ampex’s new quadruplex videotape machine: “No longer will Hollywood tourists be importuned to face a custard pie routine at 8:30 a.m,” The Times declared.
The AP adds: “This year, the television industry is observing the 60th anniversary of that radical breakthrough, which spared television shows from either going live, with resulting inconvenience and potential screw-ups, or resorting to a fuzzy kinescope (a film copy of a broadcast captured directly off the TV screen) if re-airings were required.”
The report also notes a couple of other milestones made possible by videotape around the same time: “Starting on Nov. 30, 1956, CBS began using it for the West Coast playback of the network’s evening news three hours after airing live to Eastern viewers. In February 1957, CBS broadcast the first of several weekly half-hours of the usually live ‘Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts’ that were pre-taped so the host could enjoy a leisurely vacation.”