Equipment

16 mm Film Processor
In the 60s, at least, the station's news film was developed in an in-house lab. The processing machine was a large stainless steel contraption that was housed in its own darkroom on the ground floor. Manufactured by Associated Film Printers, part of the Sydney-based Colorfilm group, these machines were used in several TV stations around Australia.

The processor comprised several deep tanks - 13, from memory - all but one set into a larger tank that had temperature-controlled water in it. The film to be processed was spliced with staples to a clear plastic leader that was perforated like the film, and wound back onto a large reel. The front end of the film was then stapled onto a second leader that was already in the processor. In theory, they should have been stainless steel staples, but ordinary office staples were used at DDQ.

Once it was switched on, the machine pulled the film through the various tanks by a sprocket drive wheel at the top of each tank. Deep down at the bottom of the tanks the film wound round an idler roller then back to the top, then down again. There were about three 'rotations' in each tank. The bottom idler rollers were mounted on a 'riser' that could lift up in the tank if there was a film jam.

The tanks, in order, were: first developer, wash, bleach (two tanks), wash, clearer, wash, then reversal exposure as the film ran past a light globe at the bottom of a tank. The film then travelled diagonally over the machine and into the second developer, wash, fixer, two washes then through an air knife to blow off as much water as possible and on into the drying cabinet and out onto a take-up spool.

Until the last of the film entered the reversal exposure tank, all operations had to be carried out in darkness, save for a very dim dark green safe light. It was barely enough to see the shape of the machine, let alone any detail. Another small dark green light was in the drying cabinet, but its illumination was minimal. A small torch with a dark green filter could be used for a few seconds at a time to check on progress at the tank tops.

It took about ten minutes for the film to enter the first tank. There was an elaborate system of pulleys on the darkroom wall that the film ran through first before it entered the processor. This allowed the operator to splice in more film if necessary without stopping the machine - the pulleys rose up on shafts as the film continued to enter the machine, with the tail end of the film held firmly in a clamp. The trick was to make sure you had the new splices finished before the pulleys reached the top of the travel. In practice, nearly always all the film was spliced to the trailing leader before beginning the processing run.

Then once the film was all in the machine, it took twenty minutes for the trailing leader to go through. Thus even the shortest processing run was at least 35 minutes and after a big weekend an hour and a half was not unknown.

It was very noisy: there was the drive motor itself, a motor to produce air agitation in the tanks, the air knife, and the blower for the drying cabinet. These days work safety requirements would probably mean ear muffs, but not then, of course. After a long session with the processor, the silence on shut-down was a little taste of heaven.

What could go wrong? If the film got caught on one of the drive sprockets it would begin to wind the film around itself. Usually this was caused by a slightly misaligned splice but sometimes it would happen for no reason at all. The first sign something was wrong was when you saw the top of a riser rod attached to the bottom idlers beginning to lift up. The only recourse was to stop the machine and quickly try to sort out the tangle. Usually the quickest solution was to break the film and make a new splice. Remember that the film in the some of the tanks was still being affected by the chemicals. Mostly it was the first developer and the bleach that did the most damage. Sometime a shot had to go to air that had been processed normally in one bit but suddenly looked a bit washed out - yep, problem in the processor.

Sometimes the leader would break and it would be repaired with a staple splice. But if the splice came to rest overnight in the bleach tanks, the metal staples would corrode away (hence why the manufacturer recommended stainless steel staples). Fortunately, this was reasonably easy to check next day as you ran down the leader to its end before connecting on the film. Most guys watched the bleach tanks VERY carefully for the first few minutes - it was good practice to replace any staples that had been in the bleach tanks as the leader was being run down and even then you may not have been out of the woods as a splice elsewhere might have been weakened and could still break. As you might imagine, people who used the processor loved it when new, unbroken leaders were put in.

Every so often the machine had to have the tanks emptied, and the drive sprockets and idler rollers cleaned. The worst were the bleach tanks (the bleach was a mix of potassium dichromate - an orange chemical - in solution and sulphuric acid). These tanks tended to have very hard black crystals form on the bottom idler mountings. The gunk took forever to scratch off.

You could always tell who'd been doing a processor overhaul by the orange-stained hands that did not lose the colour for a couple of days.

Relacing the leader back into the processor was a trial of patience. If you could con another person to help by switching the machine on and off as you went, it was much easier.

Oh, and the machine had never been installed as intended by the maker - the hot air from the drying cabinet was supposed to have been vented outside. The darkroom was in the middle of the station with no easy access to an outside wall, so the cabinet fan was left to just pump the hot air straight back into the darkroom.

It got a bit warm in there.

But the machine did its job and played its part in helping the station gain an enviable reputation for its news coverage.