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Early 1984
A Photo Album

Written March 7, 2003

 

I began my career in television in 1970, when I became program director at TV3 in Marion, Ohio.  This was a local origination channel operated by the local cable company.  We produced low-budget programs of local interest, hoping to support our efforts by selling commercials.

Failing to make a profit, the channel went out of business in 1974.  I found a similar position with another TV3 in Washington, Pennsylvania.

Also failing to make a profit, that operation went out of business in 1980.  But I didn't give up.  I found a similar position with yet another TV3, this one in New Kensington, Pennsylvania.

But this third TV3 was different.  It wasn't operated by the cable company; it was operated by a local independent production company called Total Communication Systems.  And we were starting to sell commercial time not only on our own local programs but also on the new cable sports channel, ESPN.

The parent company, TCS, had other interests including two local radio stations and also syndicated Penn State football games in the form of a weekly one-hour TV highlights show.

This website has more details about all of these operations.  Click on any of the following:  Marion, Washington, New Kensington, or TCS.

In New Kensington, I gradually started working less for TV3 and more for the bigger TCS television productions, specializing in graphics.  That led to the second half of my TV career:  freelance graphics operator.

During the first week of 1984, this transition from TV3 to TCS was mostly complete.  I had fewer TV3 responsibilities, so I had the time to take a camera to work.  The result was the 13 pictures that you see below.

 

This is Ellie Maher at her typewriter in the little second-floor office of TV3.

Our boss, Nelson Goldberg, tried to rename TV3 with the more professional-sounding "call letters" WEFB, in which the E and the F and the B referred to his three sons.  Both designations appear on the yellow memo over Ellie's left shoulder, but "WEFB" never caught on.

Ellie's TV3 logs for the first week of 1984 called for just one program on Sunday, January 1:  a weekly Mass sent to us on tape by the Greensburg Diocese.

And there were no programs on Monday, January 2, because it was a holiday.

But at 9:00 every morning Tuesday through Friday, Ellie went into the nearby studio to host TV3 Bingo.

(Click here for more about Bingo on cable TV.)

Recently redecorated, the studio included luxurious brown carpet in the performing area, with a horizontal copper pipe affixed to the wall eight feet above.  Metal hangers, hooked over the pipe, supported the 4' x 8' background "flats."

That Tuesday, January 3, 1984, TV3 was covering a high school basketball game, as Fox Chapel visited Highlands.  I had no responsibilities for this telecast.  But since the Highlands gym was less than a mile from my apartment, I showed up anyway, with my camera.

We didn't have the equipment needed to televise these games live.  We could transmit live audio back to the studio over telephone lines, but video couldn't be sent that way.  Instead, we had to videotape the game, then physically carry the tapes back to the studio for playback on the air.

Faced with a choice of live audio or delayed audio-plus-video, we decided on both.

Bob Rowe, here inspecting a broken headset plug, was the crew chief.  His "day job" was at another high school.

At 7:30 pm, we went on the air with live audio.  Viewers heard the game but saw our usual automated "message channel" graphics.  At the same time, we began videotaping.

At halftime, we sent the first hour's tapes back to the studio, to begin playing as soon as the live audio ended around 9:45.

When the videotaping was complete, Bob and his crew returned to the studio around 10:15 with the equipment and the tapes of the second half.  The equipment was needed in the studio for a live scoreboard show following the replay at 11:30.

We used only one camera.  But, having learned that any piece of equipment could break, we took along two of almost everything, so there was a lower-quality backup camera out in the truck.  We also used two cameramen, so that one guy wouldn't have to be "on" constantly for two hours.  Here Rick Rhodes, on the left, shows off Mike Weaver's profile.  (Nineteen years later, Rick is still a colleague of mine, working as a cameraman on such telecasts as Pirates and Penguins home games.  When TCS spun off a satellite-uplink operation, Mike was spun off with it, and he's still working as an uplink engineer.)

You'll notice that Mike is wearing a headset.  Our regular  camera headsets, even in the studio, had mostly stopped working and no one was around to fix them, so I bought a set of Radio Shack two-way radio communicators.  Now Bob, for example, could tell Mike when the tape was rolling and when to relax.

At Highlands, Bob set up his equipment at a table under the stands.

 In addition to a VCR and a backup VCR (always make duplicate recordings in case there's a problem with one of them), Bob has a Knox character generator with which he can superimpose white lettering on the screen — one or two rows to identify a player, or eight rows for a "title page."  He's loading the roster here.

But that was the only video enhancement to our single camera.  We didn't have the facilities to do replays, slow-motion or otherwise.

From his position atop the stands, Rick shoots a pregame interview with one of the coaches.

The camera was a JVC industrial model, equipped for hand-held shooting using an eyepiece viewfinder although we mounted it on a tripod.  Its case was orange, which happened to be TV3's logo color.

Bob Tatrn (right) teamed with Joe Falsetti (left) to describe the action, both on "live audio" and on the soundtrack of our videotape coverage.  See another angle in 3D here.

The two of them were also the TV-3 salesmen, which meant that they had an interest in selling commercials in the high school telecasts — so that they could stay on the air.  And they were on the air for several decades, before and after my time.

According to George Guido, Bob and Joe broadcast their first game together on WKPA radio in 1965.  It was a WPIAL baseball championship at Forbes Field in which Arnold upset Beaver Falls.  The broadcast partnership would last more than 40 years until Joe died in 2006.

In early 1984, our only regular studio production besides Bingo happened to be Total Fitness, a half-hour exercise show.  It aired Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 8:30 am, as well as 6:30 pm on Wednesdays.

I've forgotten the names of the star and her little guest.

Betsy Overly used the radio communicator to direct the taping of an episode of Total Fitness from the control room.  See another angle in 3D here.

Like me, Betsy spent part of her time working for the big-time TCS shows as a graphics operator.  We used Chyron character generators that were considerably more sophisticated than that Knox sitting in the middle of this picture.

Meanwhile, out in the Total Fitness studio, Ellie's Bingo table had been moved off to the side.

Mike Weaver stood there to operate the cassette player for music, while Ron Bocchi operated the Ikegami camera.

Here's another staffer, Rich Ryba, focusing the camera on a product shot for a commercial.

The rest of our rather skimpy program schedule for the first week of January 1984 included a syndicated wrestling show at 7:00 pm Wednesday, followed by a second replay of the basketball game at 8:00.

On Thursday, Bingo was the only show.

On Friday, there was another basketball game, Shaler at Highlands, but we couldn't carry the live audio or even show the tape until 10:00 am Saturday.  The reason:  the season premiere of another program from another TCS division that claimed our channel on Friday nights.

That program was Harness Racing '84, live from The Meadows in Washington, Pa.  Our production truck Video Voyager I (right) and its support trailer (left) were set up outside the clubhouse.  The trailer had spent the previous autumn parked outside Penn State's Beaver Stadium.

Harness racing aired for 4½ hours that Friday night, January 6, from 7:00 to 11:30.  TV3 inserted two minutes of local commercials, with Mike Weaver in the control room to play the tapes and Rick Panteleo at the cable system's head end to switch them into the Meadows feed.  Then Mike had to stick around for George Guido's high school basketball scoreboard show at 11:30.

The first week of 1984 concluded Saturday with a noon showing of a high school girls basketball game taped earlier in the week, followed at 7:00 pm with another edition of Harness Racing '84.  I was at the track to provide the graphics.

 

TBT

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