Satellites and Change

50 Years via Satellites

by Robert Brand

The video below is courtesy of ESA. It shows the changing face of satellite communications. Very different from our OTC days.

This introduction from ESA: Unless you were lucky enough to get your hands on a coveted London 2012 Olympics ticket, it’s likely you’ll be watching Usain Bolt from the comfort of your living room. This is all made possible by satellites which have beamed some of the most important moments in history to our homes. This year marks 50 years since the first image was beamed through space and back to earth again via satellite.

In 1962 satellite TV itself was making the headlines, with the launch of Telstar from Cape Canaveral, USA. Once in orbit it began to transmit pictures which found their way to Plemeur Bodou on the coast of Brittany. The first ever moving image to be broadcast by satellite across the Atlantic was a shot of the American flag. The next day the French engineers responded with their favourite crooner Yves Montand. Things have moved on since then, and nowadays it is breaking news stories and global sports events which are most frequently beamed live into space and back into our homes.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ro0KOq-_vFo%5D

A piece of nostalgia from the Tornados in 1962

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuA-fqKCiAE%5D

Telstar is a 1962 instrumental record performed by The Tornados. It was the first single by a British band to reach number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and was also a number one hit in the UK. The record was named after the AT&T communications satellite Telstar, which went into orbit in July 1962. The song was released five weeks later on 17 August 1962. It was written and produced by Joe Meek, and featured a clavioline, a keyboard instrument with a distinctive electronic sound.

This novelty record was intended to evoke the dawn of the space age, complete with sound effects that were meant to sound “space-like”. A popular story at the time of the record’s release was that the weird distortions and background noise came from sending the signal up to the Telstar satellite and re-recording it back on Earth. It is more likely that the effects were created in Meek’s recording studio, which was a small flat above a shop in London. It has been claimed that the sounds intended to symbolize radio signals were produced by Meek running a pen around the rim of an ashtray, and that the “rocket blastoff” at the start of the record was actually a flushing toilet, with the recordings made to sound exotic by playing the tape in reverse at various speeds.

The record was an immediate hit after its release on August 17, 1962, remaining in the UK pop charts for 25 weeks, five of them at number one, and in the American charts for 16 weeks.

A French composer, Jean Ledrut, accused Joe Meek of plagiarism, claiming that the tune of “Telstar” had been copied from La Marche d’Austerlitz, a piece from a score that Ledrut had written for the 1960 film Austerlitz. This led to a lawsuit that prevented Meek from receiving royalties from the record during his lifetime, and the issue was not resolved in Meek’s favour until a year after his death in 1967. It is unlikely that Meek was aware of Austerlitz, as it had been released only in France at the time.

“Telstar” won an Ivor Novello Award and is estimated to have sold at least five million copies worldwide.

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3 thoughts on “Satellites and Change

  1. I once saw a copy of the sheet music for “Telstar”, including some words that somebody wrote to go with it. I was lucky enough, though, to never have heard them sung. To give you some idea, the first line went, AFAICR [Ed: as far as I can remember]:

    “Magic star above, send a message to my love”

    And it went downhill from there.

    • Yikes! I agree. I am glad it stayed as an instrumental. I also remember in the early days of satellite comms, they rolled out the Telstar track to just about every story. I am glad those days are long gone and I can actually get a kick out of hearing one more time.

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