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Robert Trachinger, a technical wizard at ABC Sports who refined slow-motion instant replay and developed hand-held cameras during the division’s heyday in the 1960s, died Sept. 19 of heart failure at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif. He was 86.
A two-time Emmy winner, Trachinger spent 35 years at ABC, with stints in sports, as an executive producer at KABC-TV in Los Angeles and as a network executive in New York. For three decades, during much of his working career, he also taught at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television. A Fulbright Scholar, he taught the art of TV storytelling in Germany, France and Israel.
At ABC in the 1960s, Trachinger’s experimental work resulted in the first successful black-and-white slow motion videotape. He also was responsible for the development of the first broadcast-quality hand-held cameras, which served as the forerunners of the electronic news-gathering cameras of today. And the underwater electronic camera was developed in his home swimming pool.
All his creative innovations were exclusive to ABC for years and contributed greatly to ABC Sports’ position as a sports broadcasting leader. The National Association of Broadcasters honored him for his work on the development of videotape.
Two years after joined WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee as a cameraman and video operations engineer, the native New Yorker joined ABC as a cameraman and served as technical director on many of the network’s first coast-to-coast shows. He was promoted to manager of broadcast engineering in 1958 and worked side by side with ABC Sports president Roone Arledge to help revolutionize sports on TV.
In 1964, Trachinger was made director of program development and operations at ABC Sports in New York, where he was involved in the production, development and design of such shows as the “American Sportsman,” in which celebrities and athletes were filmed on hunting and fishing trips around the U.S. and in such exotic locales as Kenya, India, France and Russia.
In 1966, Trachinger became an executive producer at KABC and spearheaded the documentary “Decision to Die,” which exposed the high rate of suicide among American adolescents. UCLA invited him to a symposium, and that grew into his teaching career. In 1971, UCLA recruited him for a year to reorganize its Media Center.
Trachinger returned to the network and was named vp of ABC Television in 1978. Two years later, he was assigned the additional duties of executive in charge of broadcast operations and engineering for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Upon retiring from ABC in 1985, Trachinger received a one-year Fulbright Award.
After moving from Los Angeles to the San Diego area in 1989, he lectured at UC San Diego and became a counselor for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients.
Survivors include his wife, Helga; daughter Mia; and son Set.
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