Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 6, NO. 6 / OCTOBER 1987

Teleprompting with Atari

Our favorite 8-bit cues the President

by Gregg Pearlman, Antic Assistant Editor

Whenever you see people speaking on television and looking directly at the camera for more than about 20 seconds, chances are they're using a prompter. The glass plates you see in front of the President during his speeches are actually reflecting a computer/video monitor on the floor.

Q-Tv of Los Angeles uses Atari 13OXE computers as the basis of its prompter system. The company has supplied prompters for 28 years and used Ataris for four, including an occasional 800 model. Q-Tv calls its system a video prompter or computer prompter. They don't use the better-known term, teleprompter (actually TelePrompTer) because it's a registered trademark of Group W.

According to equipment supervisor and operator Jim Franz, Q-Tv's prompters are "direct-line descendants" of TelePrompTer. Q-Tv and TelePrompTer Inc. were competitors in the late 1950s. But Group W now owns the name "TelePrompTer"—while Q-Tv owns the patents on the equipment.

"We supply prompters for commercials, business meetings—company presidents or CEOs giving the bad news to stockholders—political speeches, industrial films, religious broadcasts, award shows—you name it," says Franz. "We've done everything from sitting on top of Mount St. Helens while it was erupting, to sitting on top of the San Andreas earthquake fault."

Q-Tv does national as well as local commercials and programs. Commercials range from Ed McMahon and his sweepstakes to political messages from President Reagan. The company also supplies equipment for films and videos used by companies as in-house training films. Q-TV has also supplied Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley and sold a system to California Governor George Deukmejian.

They work with custom software that has some word processing functions built in. But this system can also use AtariWriter files.


Here's the process:

  1. The speech or script is sent to Q-Tv.
  2. Text is input to the Atari either by typing it from the hard copy or downloading it from an IBM, via a connecting cable that converts the file to something the Atari can understand, (This transfer is similar to Antic's Linkline, which transfers files between Atari 8-bit and ST computers.)
  3. The Atari saves the speech to disk. There's also an 8K buffer. This normally takes two to five minutes.
  4. Q-Tv proofreads the speech, making the necessary corrections and fixes. Some minor formatting problems usually crop up and last-minute text changes are commonplace—"a way of life," says Franz. But the computer can make the changes instantly.
  5. Q-TV sets up the equipment for the broadcast itself.
  6. "Then it's go, go."
"We firmly believe in battery-backups—having learned about them the hard way," says Franz, "and we usually have a second system nearby in case of failure." This rarely happens, but it is possible for the equipment to be banged around in its cases during transit.

"The Atari is very resilient, but it doesn't endure coffee and Coca-Cola spills," Franz says. "It's also somewhat limited in memory size, but you can still put a two-hour speech in the 800XL."

Q-Tv uses several Atari colors—if the speaker requests a color monitor. However, the words show up better in monochrome. They use 2,000-line monitors and, although the Atari can only handle 1,000 lines, the results are excellent. Q-Tv also uses modems to transfer text files, but they only use 300 baud because they have found it to be more accurate than 1200 baud.

"There are several systems similar to ours," says Franz. "Computer prompting is the wave of the '80s."

Q-Tv Prompting Systems
7350 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(213) 936-6195
Manager: John Maffe