Some men covet classic cars, others pine for vintage neon signs. I dig old TV cameras. Take the TK-76 - possibly the most celebrated fancy-cam of all my time. Named for the bicentennial year in which it was unveiled, this pale blue number greatly hastened the pace of electronic news - all while I was drawing cartoons in the fourth grade. But while I was doodling loopy Ayatollahs, a legion of azure cameraheads were dashing across the globe - recording the back-half of The Seventies in then pristine videotape. One can only guess at the soundtrack to all that polyester newsgathering. I'm thinking lots of Foghat.
The first fully self-contained 19 pound portable camera, the TK-76 sold almost as well as those form-fitting action slacks modeled by the Ron Burgundys of the day. But RCA's bicentennial model camera didn't come without its baggage - namely an oversized record deck swaddled in dusty blue canvas. That's right, when the leisure-suited lenslinger shouldered their day-glo rigs, they saved their other clavicle for a burden of its own - a heavy-ass VCR in a bag. Tethered to the camera by a stiff, twisty command cable, the deck often ballasted out the shooter, until he decided to jog - at which point the swaying heft of all that technology would sometimes take him out at the knees.
But that didn't stop a generation of white men afros and chest medallions from schlepping these hearty units through the Carter Administration and beyond. By December of 1980, more than 2000 TK-76's had been sold worldwide - 1300 in the U.S. and 700 worlwide. If you watched network or even local news in the late 70's, you saw it through the lens of RCA's 'no back-pack' camera. Of course, with an oversized battery belt slung over your shoulder bandolier-style and a buddy man hauling an astronaut's overnight bag along for good measure, who had room for a back-pack?
Hernias aside, the TK-76 enjoyed a glorious run as the industry-standard. But it couldn't last. In 1982 a little Mom and Pop firm by the name of Sony introduced the Betacam - a one-piece camcorder that revolutionized the act of gathering video by unburdening the photog of ancillary gear. Though it saw service well into the 80's, the TK-76 was soon left behind. Today however, this thoroughbred throwback enjoys a legacy unmatched by other models. On eBay, in blogs and most definitively on Barry Mishkind's jaw-dropping glossary of once cutting-edge technology, the TK-76 thrives in cyberspace. Now if we could only do something about those bell-bottom jumpsuits...