Podcast Episode 63: Project 90 (RCA & WDW Pre-Opening)

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Welcome to Episode 63 of the RetroWDW Podcast: “Project 90” – We appreciate your support and hope you have been enjoying each and every episode. Be sure to check out some of our previous shows from over the years. We have visited multiple parks, resorts, and just about everything else in between. This month, Ted Linhart joins us as one of our top tier donors – this episode is guided by Ted and his amazing set of documents. Last month we hit Thunder in Paradise pretty hard with multiple episodes.

Brian is on vacation this month.  Ted Linhart, the owner of the Disneydocs.net website joins us and the episode is guided by Ted and his amazing set of documents. His documents related to the history of the development of the parks and the 1939 and 1964 Worlds Fair with an emphasis on how Walt and others looked at the future and how technology could create cities.  It’s a retro look at what the future would become which summarizes the Project 90 document as well.  The documents are housed in a bookshelf with a drawer and binders.  Everything has been digitally preserved. 

Listener Mail

Right to the mailbag this month! The bag is full and we love that! Every month, you can possibly get on the show, so be sure to write to us at podcast@retrowdw.com. Also, top tier donors can even join us on a show! Take a look at how you can join us live on an episode.

  1. Scott Jensen is first with some great pics of Hogan’s Beach Shop, which is actually in Clearwater and the Orlando area. Thanks Scott!
  2. Stephen Myers also wrote in about Thunder in Paradise, saying him and Terry have discussed his time at WDW often. Thanks Stephen!
  3. Norris is up next – he wrote in about a vehicle on WDW property that has a mickey head tread pattern. JT is digging into this a bit and found they are made by Trelleborg. We are hoping for more info soon…
  4. Tracy wanted to know if we had any Space Mountain under construction photos, as her father worked on the ride.  We found a few, so just do a quick search on our site for “Space Mountain Construction” – this should be a fun rabbit hole to go down.
  5. Mark wrote in complimenting the big three-part Horizons Podcast series. He has a great story about Walt Disney Elementary School, which is near him.
  6. Dane wrote us about a vintage map from the late 70s and it is so cool! Thank you so much Dane!

Enhanced recap: 

Scott Jensen is first with some great pics of Hogan’s Beach Shop, which is actually in Clearwater and the Orlando area.

Stephen Myers, a relative of Hogan’s also wrote in about Thunder in Paradise, saying he and Terry have discussed his time at WDW often. Years later Hogan bought a Scarab and put Viper engines in it. 

Norris wrote in about an open top old car from around the 1900’s vehicle on WDW property that has a mickey head tread pattern. It was used by Grand Marshall’s of the parade, an open top older vehicle.  It’s now in EPCOT for character ride arounds JT is digging into this a bit.  They are made by Trelleborg S5.  They are skinny tires and could have been customized just for this vehicle. We are hoping for more info soon…

Tracy wanted to know if we had any Space Mountain under construction photos, as her father worked on the ride.  We found a few, so just do a quick search on our site for “Space Mountain Construction”.  Space Mountain Construction 4 has workers in it.

Mark wrote in complimenting the big three-part Horizons Podcast series. The Walt Disney Elementary School, Gates, NY is near his home.  He was interested in hearing the origins of the phrase, “If you can dream it, you can do it”.  The signs of the school feature that quote and misattribute it to Walt Disney.  He asked whether the future world logos and whether they were World’s Fair Inspired.  This has been discussed previously, but How explained Norm Inouye designed the main EPCOT logo and all the pavilion logos.  Before Disney he was a graphic designer for GM and designed the Thunder Chicken on the front of the TransAm.  There were also entire sets of logos that he designed for EPCOT that were not used.  They were all done by hand with mechanical drawing tools.  Even when they reused the old logos, they have all been redone to match the new ones. There is a recent article in D23 on the main EPCOT logos.  They were looking at a design system like the Olympics that changes the logo by location, but having a theme and tried to mimic that style.  Each of the future world pavilions opened with a logo except for Wonders of Life.  (How wrote to Imagineering as a teen to point this out, and Imagineering did write back.) Eventually, they did do a logo for that.  Each one of the countries also had a pictogram with the name of the country which was done in a different system, but also part of the system.  It used to be on the load console for the Mexico ride if you wanted to see it.  Those logos were on calendars, merchandise, and they are all in the EPCOT Opening Preview Book. 

Dane wrote us about a vintage map from the late 70s that he had brought back from a trip, but then threw out.  He recently purchased a replacement and sent in a scan.  It has the Magic Kingdom with all the characters and the multicolored tiles at the bottom of each land and a list of the attractions. 

Audio Rewind

Our audio rewind this month is called Beautiful Beulah, it is from Summer Magic starring Hayley Mills & Burl Ives – Thank you for all the guesses and emails!

We have a winner! Congratulations Carolina Nedal – you will get some RetroWDW & LBVHS Pins!

If you think you know the answer to this month’s audio rewind, email us! contest@retrowdw.comAll entries are due 1/11/2020 and a random winner will be selected.

Main Topic

This month we get into Project 90. Ted Linhart is with us and ready to go with this amazingly important and topical document put together by RCA. We start you off with the history of RCA, how they connected with Disney and what the point of this document is. You have to imagine that back in the late 60s & early 70s, Disney was embarking on an entirely new concept of vacationing with Walt Disney World. Now before you get to into this, you might want to look at the document, and we will make it very easy for you to look at on Ted’s site.

Project 90 is a document that references a 90 day effort that started in August 1968, part of Disney and RCA, Radio Corporation of America, who was know for their turntables, audio equipment, TVs and records.  They were starting to get into technology in the late 1960’s early 1970’s. RCA was trying to sell to Disney their state of the art at the time communication system for WDW.  He has the document, “Project 90 an Executive Summary, the integrated communication system for Walt Disney World” with a picture of Progress City on the cover.  It was an internal document that was owned by one of the people who worked in WDW.    It was an optimistic look at how technology could help the hotel industry.

There is a note in the document that says “Walt Disney World proposes to make a reality out of the community of the future.  A community that will be as unique in the year 2000 as it is today. 
Click Here For The Project 90 Doc

The plan, as you can see above, is incredibly in-depth and really is taking the hospitality industry to another level. Nearly every aspect of the RCA corporation is put into use with WDW, and it is all fully outlined in this doc and this episode. The communication systems, security, charging and so much – all linked up and it sounds so seriously 2013 with the invention of the Magic Band. We go through most of this and discuss, so you might want to have the doc pulled up to flip through the pages as we talk.  If you imagine the era, what vacationing was like in the 60s/70s, and then also picture the commitment this would require by Disney, it is all super ambitious and neat for the era.

Found the item on ebay and when he saw Progress City on the cover, he purchased it. 

It has approximately 80 pages and it is a business plan that looks like a publication.  This document was owned by Jim Pisilla, who was an HR executive at Disney for many years and was SVP of Disney in the 1980’s. 

The project is a lot about how Disney staff would communicate with guests and with each other, which is applicable to Human Resources. 

The Project 90 Team from Disney & WED & Disneyland was listed in the document.  Arthur Anderson was brought in as a consultant.  The team  included Dick Nunis, Bill “Sully” Sullivan, Bob Matheison, Bob, Domingues, Bob Janney, Bob Cook, Bob Taylor, Bob Switch, Bob Foster, and Bob Pierce.   There is an indication from this document that Disney & RCA had a very strong relationship and that this was done in the spirit of innovation. 

There is a letter to Don Tatum from TG Patterson, an RCA executive that says RCA is pleased to submit this proposal for RRCA to serve as the principal contractor for the information and communication requirements for WDW.  It’s dated January 14, 1969.  The document has a December 1968 printed on the cover. 

Thomas G. Patterson was the Director of the Project and Richard Baker was the Program Manager of the project.  Open to acknowledgement that the project has existed for awhile, but they gave themselves 90 days to create a modular, integrated system that you could plug & play different pieces of what is needed over time.  There was a presentation to the Disney organization on November 19, 1968.   Picture of Walt & Robert Sarnoff, the CEO & Chairman of the Board of RCA.  He created NBC and was a innovator in entertainment media.  Four goals, to enhance to get satisfaction, to maximize utilities, minimize cost of operations and provide safety commensurate with technology.  It’s not a technical guide, but a summary of the practical application of how the system could be used.  The document is laid out similar to the Carousel of Progress.  The document is filled with graphics.

Six conclusions WDW need this to operate successfully.  Advanced communication is vital to the goals. The system would provide more efficiency and economic operations.  The system will not just reduce costs, but contribute in a positive way to increase profits.  It will serve as a prototype to EPCOTs information & communication requirements.  RCA can implement it in time. 

WDW went above and beyond trying to come up with new systems and not just go with the status quo.  IN 1968 they decided they needed to integrate, telephones, computers, fire systems, all of it.  It was very ambitious.  The recommendation they want Disney to make an early decision, they want a joint team and an office onsite.

The document doesn’t say what was in it for RCA, but it would have shown them as the leader in communication systems had they stayed in that line of the business.   They named the system WEDCOMM, the Walter E. Disney Communication Oriented and Monitoring and Management System.  They definitely knew how to package the proposal so that Disney would have wanted.  They called it a new dimension in communication & management system.  First, they discuss how would the system benefit a typical guest.  They also show that the guest does not need to know it is there to benefit from it.  They describe George Kellogg and his family of 5, similar to the Carousel of Progress.  They use TV storyboard format, starting out with the travel agent office, where a direct call to the WDW Reservation Center is placed, the families’ first unknown contact with WEDCOMM.  The reservation is received via mail and the computer updates the reservation as confirmed at the same time the information is fed into the Guest Information File, which will build a Guest Profile. The next picture is at the hotel, where there is a computer at the hotel where a housekeeper is inputting information about the room she just completed into the Room Status Maid Locator System.  Then the Kellogg WDW, where the family is at the entrance center, and the reservation is verified (his second contact with WEDCOMM) and directions are given for the Contemporary.  Minutes later the family is in their room.  The desk clerk notifies the registration center that the family has arrived, and it is updated by a video data terminal (VDT).  Mrs. Kellogg, Julie, then comments on how clean the room is not knowing about the Room Status system. Young Debbie finds the color TV, which has more channels than she’s ever seen before including the information channel telling them about what happens in the park that night.  Young Curtis finds the am/fm radio and finds a special channel that is playing music from the popular Disney movie.  The special TV channels about the resort were started very early, around 1976.  The daughter is looking at the channels and sees a surveillance cameras of the play yard.  It was for the parents to watch the kids.  They don’t believe that this feature ever existed in WDW.  Closed circuit TV systems were very expensive and would have been difficult to set up.  Only a few of the rides got them for safety reasons.  How had heard that there was a system very early set up that you could check out of your hotel on your TV. 

Disneydocs.net also has a Hotel Operating Procedure document from 1971 where you can see exactly what happened at opening and see how many of these plans were implemented. 

The computer has logged their arrival for the attendance prediction calculator, the inventory control system and the computerized personnel scheduling system are alerted to ensure that Disney management can staff adequately, food supplies are on hand, and the stores are adequately stocked. 

For the visit, Little George spots a surveillance camera that monitors the parking lot, making sure everything is safe.  There is discussion that there are security cameras all over the park, especially post 911.  At the ticket counter George uses his WDW credit card, and the transaction will be recorded in WEDCOMM.  There is a question as to when room charges started, because Diners Club was groundbreaking and they believe that was early 1960’s.  The WEDCOMM counts the family entering the park through the turnstiles and recording park attendance.  The attendance information tells supervisors in the park whether they need extra help.  The family goes to The Haunted Mansion, and inside there is a dark attraction television monitoring system which silently adds a safety feature for the family, but How informed the group that the WDW Haunted Mansion does not have cameras.  The family then goes to Space Mountain, which was not an original attraction, but there were some sketches that Walt Disney had for it to be in Disneyland, but called Space Adventure.  It was a different design with the cars going on the outside of the structure and it was more like the Matterhorn.  It was not sponsored by RCA.  WEDCOMM is told there is a long line at Space Mountain and sends entertainment for the guests waiting.  There is discussion of whether this happens today, there is speculation that they send characters to draw crowds in certain directions and the smaller live entertainment is scheduled from crowd trends, but possibly it is done on more instantaneous information.  WEDCOMM also detected faulty part the previous evening and alerted maintenance and also the computerized inventory system had the part available.  The family on the way to eat sees that the Steamboat ride has special pricing so the family went there.  On the way out of the park, the family shops at the stores which are well stocked thanks to WEDCOMM based on prediction models from past sales.  They are saying that merchandise sales will be higher because everything will be well stocked.  RCA was hitting on every topic that would make money for WDW and ensuring that each guest spent as much money because everything is working properly.  Next section is leaving the park, and they are discussing how well everyone does their jobs and mentions WDW personnel testing and training programs discussed on The Wonderful World of Color TV program.  The family returns to the hotel & the message light is blinking. They get 2 messages, one from Grandma saying all is well at home and a message that they need to contact the telecommunication center about a lost object, which was Julie’s purse.    The actual WDW central hub does not appear to be as efficient as this plan. 

The next 10-20 pages review the benefits to the different areas of Disney and what aspects will enhance guest satisfaction and minimize cost of operations.  It will provide safety & security, air & water pollution control, and how it will keep things running smoothly.  Then it discusses the benefits for Finance mentioning the inventory control system, the guest statistics, the inquiry response systems, and keeping the land resources & the utilities going.  The benefits for marketing include guest satisfaction, computerized guest profiles and preferences, a large and manipulatable database that can accomplish analysis immediately, including accurate computer predictions.  Computer simulations that can optimize group sales promotions.  TV advertising throughout the park, that can upsell items throughout the resort.  Benefits for personnel and training with all the closed circuit television, and training can be done easily.  The benefits for entertainment include pushing the monitoring of the shows and parades recording them from the best vantage point.  Benefits for engineering, thee monitoring & control of all the equipment.  Testing would be easier, monitor and analyze performance information.  Benefits for construction and an orderly phase over of California computer systems to WDW.  A list of benefits for maintenance.  ‘WEDCOMM will have an operational nerve center where human abilities are enhanced through electronics assisted communication center”.  They include diagrams of what the nerve center would look like.  This transitions into a more technical document with flow charts and icons for each piece of equipment.  The program management office is described and shows flow charts of how that would function.  The networking systems that would be required are all described in detail.  The cost is also discussed.  Telephone system for publicly & privately owned systems are assessed.  One time installation cost of $39,150 and a monthly operating cost of $80,250 comparing costs from 4 different companies.  WDW eventually built their own telephone system because the telephone company in the Orlando area was the Florida Telephone Company (possibly became GTE) which was outside of the Bell System. 

The computer system was called IMPART, the Disney computerized management system was an integral element of WEDCOMM.  It was administratively and financially oriented and WEDCOMM operations applications are added.  How the systems will work together and how different parts can be phased in were described.  They discuss plans for per-opening, post opening, industrial park, and EPCOT is discussed. “EPCOT will provide an revolutionary opportunity for full exploitation of the computers ability to help make life convenient, pleasant, safe, and relatively free from many of today’s routine tasks which fall into the category of drudgery”.  At this point EPCOT is still a city.   The document does not get too technical when it comes to the equipment, it only describes the 7035 & 7045 processors.  RCA didn’t see Moore’s Law, how quickly technology becomes obsolete.  The technology that was original for WDW was in use for about 20 years.  IT Technologies in 1990 was brought in as a potential vendor to try to tie together the disparate computer systems.  The reservation system, was separate from their ticketing system, which was different from the airline system of SABER.  IT Technologies had interconnecting hardware that could take old mainframe systems put them on ethernet and get them to talk to one another, so in the 2000’s there were legacy systems still in use in WDW.  In Y2K, people who could program in COBALT were in demand because many system still used COBALT.  How presented a proposal to WDW similar to what was discussed because he worked with prediction systems and is amazed that they were being discussed in 1968.  These systems actually took another 20 years to actually implement from How’s proposal in 1999. 

RCA actually discussed that EPCOT was 10 years away so that the plans needed to be reviewed to include new developments and trends during that time.  Then there is a section on automatic monitoring control systems and testing systems, so things would go on running properly.  They discussed DACS, the digital animation control system which is a Disney system that is used to run a lot of the attractions and how it would be integrated into the overall system. 

Next, the Hotel/Motel system, the guest services proposed for the 1971 opening.  Each guest room will have an RCA mural color television installed.  They were more industrial and lasted longer.  The model was described as the latest in solid state modular plug in circuitry, motorless remote control, automatic fine tuning and features designed expressly fulfill the hotel/motel requirements.  Then they had a multiple outlet system to feed entertainment, information and educational programs to each of th guest room monitors.  AM/FM radio built into the nightstand.  And the room status maid locator, where the maids check in from each of the rooms that they complete.  This system had already been implemented in other hotels. 

There is a timeline graphic for the different milestones of the project.  On this timeline Holidayland is mentioned.  Holidayland was to be situated between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland.  It’s in some of the very early documents from 1968 & 1969.  It was a corporate picnic area, but it never made it to the park. 

It is impressive how well RCA did this for the time.   They used the term PMO program management oversight.  The timeline was almost like a gantt chart.  They took classic project management techniques and put it into a format that was useful for the presentation.  The timeline was a very aggressive for all the aspects presented. 

There was a statement from Roy Disney. 

Last section is discussing WDW in 1981.  There is a picture of Progress City.  EPCOT, the jet airport, the industrial park, and the enlarged entrance complex and monorail will grow out of the economics base established in 1971.  EPCOT is described as a culmination of ideas of future urban life.  WEDCOMM in 1981 will have broad functional components; education, health, safety, utilities, monetary, municipal government, transportation, and recreation.  To manage costs, it was to be modular development, planned by the program management office, and applying standard equipment.  They discuss all the different areas.  Much of this document is predicting the future and sems to describe very closely the technology that is in use today.  In the EPCOT era, WDW will have a complex network of transportation, people movers, monorail and a jet airport. 

The document ends with a graphic describing one place to get everything that was needed for 1971 and for the future.  There is no record of any other company competing for this work, but it is assumed there had to be bids.  Assuming it would have been companies that they already had relationships with and would have wanted sponsorship deals as well.

One of the ideas was that the control center would become an attraction in Tomorrowland.  Eventually, the concept became the Astuter Computer Review and Backstage Magic.  RCA decided to get out of the computer business in late 1971, and they sold it off to Sperry, which is how Sperry was thee sponsor of the Astutor Computer Review.  Disney also tried to get RCA to sponsor Computerama which is on early maps and there is also Alice in Computerland mentioned in places.  Finally, they wound up sponsoring Space Mountain and the preshow was a showcase of RCA technologies in the 1970’s and the post show was the Home of Future Living which showcased a lot of the technology discussed.

From the Hotel procedures document from April 1971 there seemed to be 3 things that made this happen.  There were manual cards where people wrote things down, there was a lighted dashboard in a room that had each room of the hotel and blocked out when the room was occupied and there were video data terminals that were used.  WEDCOMM and RCA are not mentioned. 

No other documents have been found on follow on meetings or anything that explain why the partnership did not happen.  It’s unknown if there was some idea that they were leaving the computer market, or if this not happening was the reason.  This project would have been feather in their corporate cap.

New T-shirts- the WED transportation corporation.  This company tried to sell people movers and monorails to companies.  They did sell one to the Houston airport.  Nipper and the UFO is also on a shirt. 

We would like to thank Ted for joining us once again – he always brings something unique and fun to the show and what is great about his mission, you can all join him. Take a look at his site, Disney Docs, where everything is organized and cataloged for your enjoyment.  We hope you enjoyed this month’s episode and also wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Enhanced show notes by Donna (June 2021)

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December 30, 2020 11:19 am

Great episode guys, thanks! I knew nothing about this so was fascinated, hanging on to every word. I listened while on a walk so came home and got on my laptop straight away to have a look at the document itself which was also so interesting. Notice that all members of the team appear to be male – how typical of the era of course, but can’t help but wonder what difference a few females on the team would have made 🙂 Also, on the question of security cameras: not sure how true this is but when I was a… Read more »

January 3, 2021 11:45 am

I looked it up and the Wedway system is still in use as the Subway at Houston. It is operated and serviced by another company. I have ridden it a couple times. It always feels like some dated area that I am not supposed to be at because very few people use it.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x