In the late 80’s, television stations across the nation were transitioning from ¾ inch videotape format to something else for newsgathering and field production. The two big choices were “BetaSP” by Sony, or “MII” (pronounced “em 2”) by Panasonic. Both used ½ inch tape.
WRAL made the decision to go with MII. Below is a picture of WRAL Chief Engineer Wilbur Brann presenting the first Ikegami HL-95 camera docked with a Panasonic MII recorder to WRAL production photographer Bob Sadler. The picture was taken in May, 1987. The conversion to MII was completed a couple of months later in July.
Panasonic MII vs Sony Beta mirrored a similar dilemma consumers faced in the 70’s when trying to decide between VHS or Beta for home recording. However, the stakes were much higher for broadcasters. Sony was considered king of broadcast equipment, but Panasonic posed a formidable threat and was up for the challenge.
Panasonic closed the deal with several major league broadcasters including NBC and PBS in the USA and NHK in Japan. Those companies primarily used the new format in their newsgathering operations, except for PBS which used the format to tape delay east coast programs to air on the west coast. The majority of local stations in the USA opted for Sony’s BetaSP format.
There were problems with MII and those problems eventually became deal breakers for Panasonic’s clients. WRAL was no exception. Jay Jennings served as WRAL News Chief Photographer during the transition to MII. He recalled the first couple of years to be relatively problem free. But then the gremlins revealed themselves, especially in the edit stations. Kevin Shand remembers the elusive ‘black holes,’ or drop outs, that would appear and then disappear as soon as the editor would rewind the tape. As soon as the editor would press ‘play’ again the black hole would reappear in a different scene on the tape.
The problematic reputation of MII started to spread throughout the industry. It suffered from inconsistent performance, a lack of reliability and dwindling support for repair and service. Those strikes led to the doom of MII. NBC eventually dropped the format in the early 1990s for Sony’s D2 digital composite video format. WRAL stayed with the format until 1998. Then came HD!
Thanks to Corp’s Pam Allen for this capcom story. Pam Parris Allen is a former WRAL newscast producer/director who now works as a researcher and producer on the CBC History Project.