Monday, October 15, 2007

Lost Imagineering: RCA System Communication Center


"The focal point of WEDCOMM would be the RCA System Communication Center, open to the public as a highlight of the Tomorrowland area of the new Theme Park. Through this operational nerve center, the staff would be able to monitor, receive and transmit information to guests and operating personnel.

All communications would tie into the Center -- including telephones, radio paging and two-way radio, computer operated displays, television and signals from the automatic monitoring and control system. Contact can be quickly established with any location and key personnel can be reached without delay."

WEDCOMM? The RCA System Communication Center? In Tomorrowland???

Those were in fact the plans that RCA proudly announced back in 1969 as the Walt Disney Company made public much of its initial planning for Walt Disney World. One of Disney's key corporate partners, RCA was set to create and produce the computer and communications infrastructure for the entire Disney World project. The system was named WEDCOMM--Walter E. Disney Communications Oriented Monitoring and Management System.

This very ambitious plan vanished quickly, at least from public view, when RCA sold its computer division to Sperry Univac in 1970. RCA would ultimately sponsor Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom a number of years later. Sperry Univac would in turn sponsor The Astuter Computer Revue at EPCOT Center which was a clear evolution and relocation of the RCA Communication Center.

The above passage was from a RCA press release, that was part of a press kit released to media in 1969. Here is the release in its entirety:


ORLANDO, Fla., April 30 — What shape will electronic information handling take by the year 2000?

RCA is developing plans to provide a dramatic preview of tomorrow's system technology at Walt Disney World — establishing the first 21st Century information-communications system as a total service for guests, residents and management.

The advanced concepts under study would range from personal TV bulletins for visitors to computerized profiles of guest activity. Called WEDCOMM (Walter E. Disney Communications Oriented Monitoring and Management System), the program was designed by the RCA Systems Development organization in conjunction with Disney personnel.

As a planned "System of Systems, WEDCOMM would link computers, telephones, automatic monitoring and control devices, mobile communications and television in a multi-faceted network capable of expansion as growth demands. Through a modular design concept, it would unfold in phases over several years to take advantage of operational experience and technological advancement.

Robert W. Sarnoff, RCA President and Chief Executive Officer, declared that "today the systems approach is being turned to a new task --to meet increasingly urgent social and economic challenges including problems of health, urban planning, natural resources and education.

"RCA Systems Development was established to explore these needs and focus the diverse capabilities of RCA in fulfilling them. One of the first assignments of this new organization was to help develop the integrated information-communication system for Walt Disney World."

WEDCOMM's design will capitalize on the framework for electronic innovation created by the Walt Disney World hotel and recreational complexes, as well as its residential community.

Among the system's first tasks would be a continuous electronic tracking of events throughout the widespread Vacation Kingdom. News and previews of Walt Disney World activities will be broadcast over special television channels into hotel rooms and at other locations.

Plans also call for the use of a closed-circuit TV system to train new Disney employees, and to monitor shows and attractions.

The computer will link administrative, financial and operational functions into a single management information system unique in scope and providing a new dimension in control of a major enterprise.

RCA officials said the WEDCOMM computer system will help Walt Disney World guests make reservations for hotel rooms, entertainment and recreation quickly and simply during their stay.

In addition, it will automatically build "guest profiles" to assist the staff in progressively improving their service to return visitors. Through attendance predictions and inventory control programs, the computer will help insure an adequate staff and sufficient food and supplies at all times.

The focal point of WEDCOMM would be the RCA System Communication Center, open to the public as a highlight of the Tomorrowland area of the new Theme Park. Through this operational nerve center, the staff would be able to monitor, receive and transmit information to guests and operating personnel.

All communications would tie into the Center -- including telephones, radio paging and two-way radio, computer operated displays, television and signals from the automatic monitoring and control system. Contact can be quickly established with any location and key personnel can be reached without delay.

RCA officials said WEDCOMM encompasses proven product line components in an original advanced system configuration.

It will be continually fed by a stream of new technology from RCA laboratories and technical centers, particularly to meet the expanding requirements of EPCOT (the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow).

The system is expected to contribute to broad improvements in education, health, safety, utility operations, municipal government, monetary systems, recreation and transportation. These will be an outgrowth of such WEDCOMM applications as computer assisted instruction, multi-test health screening systems, safety monitoring, automated reading drills, and billing and collection for utility services.

RCA said its approach to the design of WEDCOMM is based on experience gained from major systems projects — among them color television, automated information systems, microwave networks, and the TIROS/ESSA weather satellite series.

"We of RCA are proud to be associated with Walt Disney Productions in a project that holds so much promise for the future of human society," Mr. Sarnoff said.

4 comments:

-- Ryan P. Wilson said...

What a fabulous piece of Walt Disney World history! It really is astounding to think about all the original plans, and what actually came to fruition. Thanks for another great find Jeff!

Biblioadonis aka George said...

It seems that TV played heavily into RCA's plans in regards to the de facto choice for communicating to and with guests.

With the revolution that we've seen over the past ten years, our mobile devices and computers act more as education, information and entertainment devices.

We know that Disney developed the first 911 service in FL and they had the first fiber optical telephone network...what other innoventions did Disney create with Sperry Univac?

Ed South said...

Remember the RCA Home of Future Living postshow at Space Mountain? Where you would ride the conveyor belt past scenes showing the uses of RCA technologies in the future. And it was a pretty big deal back in the day to see yourself on a color TV!?

When I was much younger, my dad was the only one in my family who would ride Space Mt. but on one visit we all had to wait in the line and then take the "chicken" bypass before you board just so we could see the Home of Future Living display.

Now the conveyor belt post show is kind of a mix-match of things from sponsors past!

Maz said...

Jeff, going back and reading these older posts are great. With the exception of calling beepers and cell phones 'radio paging and two-way radio' this article was scary accurate for a time where flying cars were the prediction of the year 2000. It would have been a nice if they actually had done this. Didn't Epcot Center have something kinda like this in Communicore? I seem to remember a place where you could make dinner ressies and be able to call someone and other things.