Originally created 02/22/98

AP's 150th anniversary marked at modern technical center

CRANBURY, N.J. -- In these days of digital data and satellite transmission, it's hard to find spare parts for the familiar, old Teletype.

The clattering printers that brought Associated Press dispatches into newsrooms around the world for decades are museum pieces now. But several were on display at the AP Cranbury Technical Center when Gov. Christie Whitman visited Friday as part of the news cooperative's commemoration of its 150th anniversary.

Whitman toured the primary communications and technology facility of the world's largest news-gathering organization with AP President Louis D. Boccardi. With 181 employees, the Cranbury plant maintains equipment for AP's bureaus and its member news outlets, while its satellite uplinks keep news, photos and market data streaming to media around the world.

"It's the crossroads for the thousands of circuits and network connections that tie together AP operations around the globe," Boccardi said. "In addition, from this building we receive, store, ship, track, design, develop, build, stage, operate, test, maintain and fix damn near everything."

Technician Jim Schlueter refurbished the Teletypes, LaserPhoto machines and other old AP equipment on display -- on loan from former employees who saved them from the scrap heap over the years.

"We have no parts for these machines anymore," said Schlueter. "The last of the Teletypes went out in the 1980s. But I remember enough to take them apart, clean them and put them back together."

Schlueter, who started with the AP in 1978, now works in a large but quiet room filled with computers and electronic testing equipment, but sometimes misses the old machines.

"There was more of a chance to work with my hands," he said. "With the Teletypes there was dirt and ink all over. Now everything's clean and tidy."

His father, Bernie Schlueter, spent 44 years with AP, starting as a photo messenger and then moving up through the engineering and communications departments as an expert on wire photo equipment.

The elder Schlueter, 71, of Old Bridge, recalled 18 different generations of photo transmission equipment, each an improvement in speed and picture quality. Since his retirement in 1992, digital cameras have made it possible for a photographer to shoot and then transmit an image without processing film.

"I'm amazed at what happens now -- they can click a picture and get it off in a minute or so," said Schlueter, who joined other AP retirees in a panel discussion of changes in news technology.

That technology was showcased as Whitman and Boccardi walked the sprawling building in an industrial park next to Exit 8A of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Using a digital camera only slightly larger than a film camera, an AP photographer snapped a photo of the two, opened the electronic image in a laptop computer and had it ready for transmission by the time the governor and the news cooperative's president finished the tour minutes later. Whitman pushed a button to send the photo to the State Photo Center in Washington for transmission to AP members.

From Cranbury and a backup operations center in Kansas City, AP transmits words, pictures, graphics, audio and video to 1,562 newspapers and approximately 6,000 broadcasters nationwide. Along with data centers in London and Sydney, it serves more than 16,000 media outlets of various types worldwide.

The Cranbury Technical Center also includes research and development, purchasing, inventory, repair and technical support departments.


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