and other rememberances
First off is a letter I received from Miel Domis, a former member of the Cartrivision Product Development team. He was also kind enough to offer a audio clip to me of a radio station announcing the bankruptcy filing of Cartridge Television. Here is the text of the letter that I received from Miel –
“As an electronics engineer I was hired in 1971 by Peter Berg to become a member of the product development team that took the Cartrivision product into production. My primary responsibility was product engineering and cost reduction of the servo system and machine control logic under Don Loughry. I was one of the last 120 employees who stayed with the company till the final demise. The audio clip tells you about the spirit and loyalty that the last employees had towards the concept, the product and the company. It was my first job in my career and I am grateful to have been a member of the team that developed the very first consumer video color player/recorder”.
The next email was sent to me from a fellow who was lucky enough to be at the auction where CTV was auctioning off it’s remaining stock after declaring bankruptcy. Here is the text of his letter:
“Thanks for sharing the info on your web site.
As a young engineer when the Cartrivision flopped and went up for auction,
I was one of many local engineers that joined the feeding frenzy and bought
up about 8 of the auctioned VTR units, a couple of the cameras, piles of
tapes, as well as alignment tools and spare parts. Pairs of transport and
fishtank electronics were selling for $25 to $45, and the cameras were for
$100 (new, in the box). I even got a copy of the shop manuals for the
VTR. I also have about 18 of the abrasive tape cartridges they used for
polishing the heads. I was planning to remove the abrasive tape and
replace it with regular half inch tape that I purchased separately. By the
way, I know of at least one person who was trying to record on an abrasive
tape (by mistake). He didn't understand why it wouldn't record and why his
other recorded cartridges started playing back with poorer and poorer
quality. By the time I heard about his trouble and pointed out the cause,
he had thoroughly wrecked the VTR heads by over polishing.
At IBM, several dozen of us formed a Cartrivision group that designed and
built a small RF modulator board, to allow us to hook our VTRs up to our
regular TV's antenna inputs. Of course, this was before inexpensive RF
modulators were available and before standard TVs came with straight video
For a short time after the warehouse auction in our area, we were able to
purchase knobs, switch covers, belts, and front panels from Sears. Sears
eventually caught on and refused to sell any more "replacement parts",
as they had to keep what they had to support their customers who had purchased
the complete Sears TV/VTR units.
A random thought I just had for anyone trying to maintain or repair one of
these old VTR units just popped out of my aged memories of that time. The
tape tension was controlled by a clever little magnetic clutch with a
variable gap for varying the tension. The problem was that naive techs
would widen the gap without rotating the two halves of the clutch with
respect to each other. This would leave the drag plate permanently
magnetized with multiple poles or "detents". Instead of smooth tape
tension you would get jerky tension. To avoid this problem, one should
make sure that the gap (tension adjustment) is varied by turning the two
halves of the clutch with respect to each other.
Like many others, I used the Cartrivision for several years and then got
rid of it. However I still have the manuals, spare parts, alignment tools,
cameras, microphones, and about 68 tapes (some prerecords)”.
The next email was received from a visitor to the website who
also had been a Cartrivision user from the early days.
He gives some great insight into some of the companies
and stores that sold Cartrivision equipment during and
after CTV went out of business:
“Through the years, I occasionally search online for Cartrivision and this time I
was pleased to have your site appear. It's great!
I bought my first Cartrivision and camera new when I was 20 years old, which was
one of the Montgomery Wards 6' tall units. It is one of only two models that
played back in stereo with its own built-in stereo amps and speakers. Rather, one audio channel used the
single tube amp of the TV chasses with the other channel was supplied by a small IC circuit
mounted on the inside of the wooden cabinet on its own tiny sub-chassis. Packard Bell's was the other
to play stereo and was 6' long. At the time I bought mine, I was living with my parents
and our family room wasn't big enough for a large TV so the small footprint of the Wards unit was perfect.
When Cartrivision, which was located here in San Jose, California (not Palo Alto) went out of business,
I bought a half dozen machines new in the box, just to have a supply of parts for my own although these came
from their development area so they had some differences here and there over the production models.
Around the same time, a San Jose company called Media Associates appeared, which was created by former
Cartrivision employees who had bought tons of parts, empty cartridges, manuals and much else to sell.
They offered these things along with full service facilities. They also offered custom cabinets for the machines,
which they sold with the connection cables, Sears face plate and knobs. Each of the TV manufacturers who sold
Cartrivision TVs used a faceplate and knobs/switches of their own design.
I have many boxes of tapes, most of which were put together by Media Associates
and have their own label that is the same appearance as Cartrivision's but with
the Media Associates name. They also had some with a nice black label that was quite professional
looking over Cartrivision's colorful ones. Using more modern and thinner tape, Media Associates was able to
get almost two hour into a cartridge although it was recommended to play them through rather than
stopping and starting them much since the thinner tape was easily damaged.
Of the machines I had bought directly from Cartrivision, I still have two or
three but several parts may be missing and they have been in the garage where
the humidity has probably caused some damage, though it may be only superficial. I've sold a
couple on eBay already too. They are still in the Cartrivision styrofoam base but the original boxes
are gone now.
I also still have my original Montgomery Wards machine in the living room,
although it needs some work. That is, I still have it but I am sure that the
Cartrivision unit isn't the one that came with it. I also have another free-standing unit which has a
professional cabinet that was probably made by Cartrivision themselves, or made for them. It is not a
home-made one although I also have of Media Associate's cabinets without a machine in it too. They
offered an extended cable for the camera which I bought, that allowed it to be taken outdoors. I
also still have the camera, and several original microphone sets of the type that came with it when
a local electronics surplus store was selling them in bulk back in the '70s. I also bought a camera
new in the box a couple years ago.
One of mine (I don't recall which) was modified to record in stereo. I did the
modification myself, which was quite easy, by using the audio recording preamp
from a spare unit. Of course, back in the '70s there were no stereo TV broadcasts but I used it
several times to record the simulcast broadcasts where the audio came though an FM stereo radio station.
Cartrivisions were sold by Montgomery Wards, Sears, Admiral, Packard Bell and
Emerson, although I have never seen an Emerson unit. Each used their own
cabinet and TV chassies. Montgomery Wards TVs of the time used chassis made by Admiral which is
what my Cartrivision has, but it is a different chasses that Admiral's own.
Early on, the stubby 15 and 30 minute cartridge cases were discontinued and the
large case was used for the short tapes. The stubby cases caused jams and tape
breakage for some reason, possibly because the smaller, lighter reels stopped so quickly”.