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Threads: Total Communications

Letters written by me, updated September 2003
to include the period 1983-1988

More About Threads



Background:  My third job in the television industry began in the fall of 1980, when I began working for my third local origination cable operation, in New Kensington, Pennsylvania.

Unlike my two previous jobs, this TV3 was not operated directly by the cable TV system.  Instead, it was operated by a separate company, Total Communication Systems (TCS), which had a number of other interests including two local radio stations and a syndicated TV sports series.  These other properties would eventually offer me opportunities to move into a new phase of my career.

My letters and memos from the TCS years make a rather lengthy article, so I've broken it into four quarters.  Highlights include:

 

 
Start of 1st Quarter . . .

 

Monday, January 24, 1983

To my TV3 duties have been added others with TCS Productions, another division of our company which produces sports for broadcast (not cable) television.  My specialty has become "electronic graphics."

Using a Chyron or Vidifont character generator, I type the scoreboards and statistical notes and promos that appear on the screen.  This can become very hectic.  For example, in basketball I might need to call up within a few seconds

JOHN DOE
3rd Personal Foul

JIM SMITH
Shooting One and One

JIM SMITH
3 for 4 from Line

and, after Smith makes the free throw, the new score.  There are some tricks to increase one's efficiency at this, and learning them is part of the challenge.

 

For basketball, to conserve Vidifont addresses I interleaved the two teams, listing in numerical order WVU players in blue and Pitt players in red.  If both teams had a player with the same number, I gave the Pitt player an alias number (the left column).

Then I could record the scoring average graphics, for example, at 603 for Pitt #4 Bryan Mitchell and at 604 for WVU #4 Vernon Odom.

My address chart for the West Virginia at
Pittsburgh basketball game, January 15, 1983

 

 

Credits for
Penn State
Football Show,
September 16, 1983

 

Executive Producer
NELSON L. GOLDBERG

Coordinating Producer
THOMAS V. HUET

Technical Supervisor
JOE STOVCSIK

Production Coordinator
CAROL ADAMEK

Producer/Director
THOMAS V. HUET

Associate Producer
THOMAS J. CLARK

Assistant Director
TED BEAM

Engineer in Charge
MARK BROOKS

Technical Director
MIKE KOBIK

Video
ROY OTAKE

Audio
JAN STIEF

Editor
KEN GARDNER

Tape
DAVE ECKENROTH

Cameras
GREG BOWSER
TIM SWARTZ
BARRY CARNEY
BOB McBRIDE
ALAN MURPHY

Audio Assistants
JOE SEBAK
DAVID PATERNO
GREG SILVER

Electronic Graphics
TOM THOMAS

Statistics
CHARLIE FISHER

Spotter
RON RICKENS

Associate Producer
TAMI RIPPY

Associate Producer
ROB GROSSMAN

Remote Facilities
Supplied By
CLARION REMOTE TELEVISION
Chicago, Illinois

Remote and
Technical Facilities
Supplied By
TCS PRODUCTIONS,
New Kensingon, Pa.

This has been
an exclusive
TCS SPORTS
presentation

 

 

There's also travel.  After working half a dozen Pittsburgh Pirate baseball games last summer, I went to nine of the eleven college football games of the eventual national champions, Penn State.  (TCS produces a weekly PSU highlights show.)  This included away games at West Virginia, Boston College — a beautiful place to visit in October — and Notre Dame.  Each was a 48-hour escape from Western Pennsylvania.  And in December, I returned to my other alma mater to work the Ohio State at Syracuse basketball game from the Carrier Dome.  So the hours have been long, but it's been a lot of fun.

 

 

Monday, June 6, 1983

About half my work this summer is with the Pittsburgh Pirates (now one game out of the cellar in the National League East).  Warner Cable in Pittsburgh is televising about 60 of the Pirates' home games this season, and TCS Productions, a part of our company, is providing the technical crew.  My particular job continues to be graphics.  So two weeks a month, I spend about five days a week down at Three Rivers Stadium, creating the little panels that tell what the batter's average is, and what the scores of other games are, and so on.  It's getting to be sufficiently routine to be almost easy.

So that I can better understand how to operate my machine, which is a special-purpose computer called a Chyron, I'm scheduled to go to New York the week of June 27 for five days of classes.  Back to school.

 

DIPLOMA, JUNE 30, 1983

 

My address chart for the Penn State at
Syracuse football game, October 15, 1983

 

On November 1, 1983, TCS premiered the Meadows Racing Network.  It originated from "The Meadows" harness racing track north of Washington, Pennsylvania (the city where I had worked from 1974 to 1980).  We televised all of each night's harness racing card:  12 or 13 events spaced fifteen minutes apart.  Viewers were invited to establish Call-A-Bet accounts so that they could phone in their wagers while they were watching the races.  For the first couple of years, I was there on about half the nights to provide the graphics.

 

Friday, March 16, 1984

As time goes on, I'm giving up most of my TV3 duties in favor of working for TCS.  That's the part of our company that televises sporting events across the country, frequently with me operating the Chyron graphics machine.

Last weekend (Thursday through Monday), I was in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, where we were covering a couple of women's Alpine skiing events for ESPN.

Tomorrow and Sunday I'll be working harness racing at The Meadows.

And two weeks from now, the baseball season gets under way as we televise a Pirates exhibition game.

 

Thursday, March 22, 1984

To Betsy Overly:

This "Lisa if she's ready" apparently was not Lisa Cirincione, who tells me she didn't start operating the Chyron at The Meadows until 1985.

According to the memo Marcy put out yesterday, there is racing at The Meadows on Easter Sunday night.  The Chyron operator would probably be you, or Lisa if she's ready, since it looks like I will be going to St. Louis that weekend for boxing.  But maybe we should check to make sure Marcy didn't just fall into a pattern and list April 22 racing by mistake.

My information has it that the truck we'll be using for all of April and May at The Meadows is the Schulman truck from California, with an old Chyron IV aboard.

Also, we may be using an old IV for the first two Pirate games on April 17 and 18.  That's what's on the Video Voyager 2, which may be making its maiden Voyage at those games.

Therefore, I think that once the Schulman truck arrives, we should start composing Pirate graphics incorporating your suggestions in the old-IV format.  Once a truck with a 4100 shows up at Three Rivers, we'll just copy our old-IV message disk and make the copy our 4100 message disk.

 

Wednesday, March 28, 1984

To Chyron operators other than Betsy and me:

You should have been given a system disk and a message disk, each with a written sheet detailing what's on it.  This memo is intended to tell you the rest of what you need to know at The Meadows.

BEFORE ARRIVING, buy a newspaper.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is recommended during the week; on Saturdays, the Washington Observer-Reporter includes data for both Saturday and Sunday racing, or you can get your Sunday data from the Sunday Pittsburgh Press.

On the agate-type page of the sports section, you should find a column headed "Meadows Entries" in which the horses for that night's races are listed, not in numerical order but in the order that Roger Huston predicts they'll finish.  Roger is the track handicapper and announcer, and he's also our on-the-air host of the Meadows Racing Network.  We'll explain later what to do with his predictions.

AS YOU ENTER THE GROUNDS, stop at the guardhouse at the fork in the road about halfway from the main entrance to our TV truck.  Inside this little building, the guard should have for you a packet of Meadows programs marked "For TV Crew."  Take one program for yourself, and take the rest to the production area of the truck.

ONCE YOU'VE TURNED ON THE CHYRON, the first messages you need to compose are the race banners.  These are generally stored at disk location R00, where R is the race number.  In other words, the banner for race 1 is at 100, for race 2 at 200, and so on through the banner for race 12 at 1200.

The colored stripes indicate the color of the horses' saddlepads.  Horse number 1 always wears a red saddlepad, horse 2 is white, horse 3 is blue, and so on.  These colors are listed in your program immediately under the horse's number.  So that you don't have to keep making up different backgrounds for different situations, on the message disk we've stored sample banners for a nine-horse race, an eight-horse race, a seven-horse race, and so on.

The name that follows the name of the horse is the last name of the driver.  In your program, the driver is the one whose name is in all capitals and followed by his weight.

At the top of the banner, in addition to identifying the race ("1st Race") we also indicate what combination bets apply ("Daily Double").  In your program, these are listed in white-on-black bars near the top of each page.

AFTER COMPOSING THE BANNERS, the next step is to create the morning line pages.  These are similar to the race banners, except that the names of the drivers are replaced by the odds.  There's an autodisplay on the disk that does part of the work of converting a given race banner into a morning line page.

We indicate Roger's picks by putting "1st" beside the horse he thinks will win (in other words, the horse which is listed on top in the newspaper), a "2nd" by his second choice, and a "3rd" by his third.  We make "1st" flash.

To avoid errors, read the name of Roger's pick from the newspaper, not the horse's number.  If you don't find the horse he names listed in your program, it probably was scratched from the race between the time the newspaper was printed and the time the program was printed.

NEXT COME THE INDIVIDUAL HORSES.  These are about a hundred panels, each giving the number of the race at the top left and identifying a horse, his driver, and his trainer at the bottom.
. . .

HALF AN HOUR BEFORE AIR TIME, put on your air channel the panel that says "Next:  Harness Racing."  This will be used over color bars to identify the satellite feed.
. . .

RACE SEGMENT ONE.  Begin with another "live" panel out of the break.  The director will probably show the tote board, so give him one of the Call-A-Bet numbers to super over it.  Then comes the post parade of horses in the first race.  At the end of this parade, we'll want the race banner.  Then it's back to the tote board with the Call-A-Bet number again.

Roger then will say, "Let's take a closer look at the horses in the first race."  We replay the post parade in slow motion, and as he gives the facts and figures on each horse, you read-next your way through the individual horse panels.  After this, it's back to the tote board again.

Now the director will start looking for shots of individual horses.  Suppose he says "Number 5 is Roger's pick and the current favorite."  On your preview channel, call up the individual horse panel on number 5, followed by the autodisplay which cuts out everything but the horse's number and name and adds the line "Roger's pick/Current favorite."  When the director shows horse 5, you can now identify it graphically.  Other autodisplays will turn individual horse panels into ones that say "Long shot on the board," "Current co-favorite," and so on.

When the horses get behind the starting gate, use the race banner again.

Once the race starts, call up "the four," a lower-third which says "1st 2nd 3rd 4th" with space for four numbers underneath.  Your job is to make those numbers match the numbers of the horses that are running first, second, third, and fourth.  To learn that information, you can watch the screen or listen to the call of the race; more likely, the director (with an assist from the TD and cameraman two) will tell you the current order.
. . .

About the time we go to the replay is when the results become official and the payoffs are announced.  You can see these payoffs (from the track's computer) on one of your monitors.  Write them down if you wish, because they're there for only a couple of minutes.  Use them to build your results panel, which must be finished by the end of the two-minute replay of the race.  Don't forget to record the completed results panel at its proper location on the disk, because you'll need it later.

 

Promo taped Saturday, March 31, 1984
(Don't blame me, I didn't write it)

Roger, trackside at winners circle

This is Roger Huston with Zivko Kovulcheck at The Meadows.  And this is the watch we'll give away to the first 3,000 fans who pay admission on Saturday night, April 28th.

Zivko

I've checked it over, and it's a pretty good watch for a giveaway.  It's a six-function quartz digital.

Roger

And it's more than just a watch.  It's even a stopwatch, which means you can time anything to the second — including your horse.

Zivko

And to show you what a great watch it is, I'm gonna give it the Zivko Kovulcheck endurance test by Scotch-taping it to this sulky wheel and giving it a ride around the racetrack.  Adios muchacho!  (Zivko waves goodbye as horse and driver depart)

Graphic

TWO MINUTES LATER

Zivko,
 waving arms like John Madden

(Horse and driver arrive)  It's not here!  Where the bleep's my bleep watch?  What'd you do with the watch?

Roger,
holding watch

Believe me, it's a nice watch, a stopwatch, and it's free on April 28th at The Meadows.

 

Sunday, May 6, 1984

We're still using the Knox character generator at The Meadows.  An engineer from the Chyron factory came down on Friday and spent all day and night on Schulman's machine, plus part of Saturday.  He finally determined that Schulman had modified it to the point that he didn't know how to fix it any more.  He could take it back to New York and rebuild it to Chyron specifications, or Schulman could take it back to California and repair it to their specifications, but it was hopeless in Pennsylvania.

The last I heard, Schulman was sending a Chyron 4100 from California to arrive here Monday.  You may have it for Tuesday night.

In the meantime, if you have to use the Knox you should know what I've been doing.

For the results at the end of the show, I'm using six pages like this.  In the small font, T, Q, P, and DD mean payoffs for Trifecta, Quinella, Perfecta, and Daily Double.

Because of the eight-page memory limitation, I don't start typing these panels until the final hour of the show, and the panel for the 11th and 12th races isn't typed until we're in the replay of the 12th.

 

On Sunday, July 15, 1984, TCS employee Tami Rippy was at The Meadows to help broadcast the evening of harness racing alongside track announcer Roger Huston.

Roger honored viewers' requests for a couple of closeups of his guest co-host.

One of them included a graphic with Tami's (fake) phone numbers.

That graphic was typed by Betsy Overly at the Chyron keyboard.

The TCS baseball telecasts for the 1984 season began with a Pirates at Dodgers game on Friday, April 6.

It was carried on the one-year-old Pittsburgh regional cable sports network HSE, with Steve Blass, Bob Prince, and Willie Stargell reporting.  They were in Los Angeles, while I was at the Warner Amex Cable studio at 1400 Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh to add the graphics.


1983 photo printed in 2009 Pirates press guide..

But five days later, HSE went out of business.  Only 7,000 subscribers had signed up at $10 a month, so there was no way that the channel could be profitable.  We at TCS had been planning to televise 75 home Pirates games for HSE, and now there were none.

(In future years the failed pay network HSE would be replaced by the advertiser-supported network KBL, and KBL would eventually become the Pittsburgh part of Fox Sports Net, later spun off as ROOT Sports.)

Fortunately, in 1984 another regional network called Home Team Sports was just starting operations in Baltimore, and TCS had a contract to supply their equipment.  Our new mobile unit, Video Voyager 2, provided what we trumpeted as the "only six-camera cable baseball coverage in the country."

Because there were virtually no experienced Chyron operators in Baltimore — and because I was unexpectedly available — TCS agreed to supply me as well.

I worked the Orioles home games that launched HTS in April, 1984.  It was thought at first that I wouldn't be back very often, but it turned out that I spent much of the spring and summer of 1984 in Baltimore, staying in various hotels, including the Warren House (see box below).

 

Monday, April 23, 1984

To Julie Scaffidi:

As you requested, here are some notes to future Chyron operators about the system we're presently using for home Orioles games.

OPEN SEQUENCE.  An autodisplay at 0988, when invoked on Channel 1, causes the top and bottom of the title page to appear, with a blank middle.  A subsequent keystroke causes the names of the teams to slow-reveal in the middle, and then the logos pop on.  As I recall, the top-and-bottom part is a dual-channel message recorded at 0910, the names of the teams are at 0930, and the logos are at 0940.

BATTING ORDER.  For the Orioles, there's an autodisplay at 1050, a message at 1051, and text-only messages at 1054, 1056, 1058, 1060, 1062, 1064, 1066, 1068, and 1070.  The corresponding numbers for the visitors are 25 greater.

Call up the autodisplay at 1075 and hit the spacebar until all the names have appeared.  Note that they read out in white, then change to yellow before the next name reads out.  Note also that there's a record mark at the end of each row.

Change the logo, if necessary, to indicate the correct visiting team.  Change the names to the correct batting order, including the current batting average for each player.  You should still have ten record marks on the screen, and the players' names should be in white.

Send the cursor home, enter address 1076, and RECORD.  Hit NEWLINE, CONTROL, RECORD, T.  Hit NEWLINE, CONTROL, RECORD, T.  Continue until all the rows have been recorded, one at a time.

 

Thursday, June 7, 1984

From newspaper reports:  Cheryl and Scott Piechowicz worked at the Warren House Motor Hotel in Pikesville and were scheduled last year to testify in federal court against Anthony Grandison.  Grandison, 31, a small-time West Baltimore drug dealer, hired Vernon Evans to eliminate the witnesses for $9,000.

Evans went to the motel in April 1983 and machine-gunned the two people in the lobby that he thought were Cheryl and Scott.  However, it wasn't Cheryl; her unmarried sister Susan Kennedy was working for her that day and was killed.  Both Evans and Grandison have been sentenced to death for the murders. 

 

Thursday, July 12, 1984

After Tom Huet approves the letter below, please send it to the Sports Information Director of each of the colleges on the attached list.  We'd like the letters to go out within the next week.  If you haven't sent them by Thursday morning, July 19, I can sign them at that time as I pass by the office on my way from Baltimore to vacation; otherwise, forge my signature or whatever.

When we get the logos in the mail, we'll compare them with the Chyron disks that Paul Karlsson is sending from Metrosports.  Any logos that we don't already have on disk will be given to Chip Connolly to send to his Los Angeles contact Jerry Cole, there to be put onto disk before the end of August.

The letter:

We at TCS and Metrosports are planning our television coverage of 1984 college football.

There are presently 58 schools that might appear on one or more of our live or delayed telecasts.  Yours is one of those schools, and I'd like to request a copy of your team's current logo.

We want to include the logos of both teams in the Chyron-generated electronic graphics that we insert throughout the football telecast.  Ideally, we'd like to have a color print of your logo, plus black-and-white camera-ready artwork of each of the colors used.  (If your school uses a different logo for its basketball team, please send that one along too.  We're looking forward to our basketball telecasts as well.)

Notes:  It appears that the Pac-10 schedule originally called one of the West Coast schools "OSU," which our typist interpreted to mean Ohio State.  It should be Oregon State.  The TCS combined schedule has UCLA playing two games on November 10:  versus Ohio State on campus, and then versus Oregon State at the Los Angeles Coliseum!

 

August 1984:


TCS / METROSPORTS
GRAPHICS MANUAL FOR 1984 FOOTBALL

This manual is in two parts.

The first, approved by Tom Huet and Paul Karlsson, shows how we'd like our graphics to look on the air.

The second part describes what I'll call the Thomas System, which is a way of realizing these graphics by using specific addresses and autodisplays on a Chyron IV.  You don't have to use the Thomas System.  You can use your own system if you prefer.  But in many cases TCS/Metrosports will try to make your job easier by providing you with a message disk on which one or both rosters have already been recorded, and naturally that disk will use the Thomas System as its standard.

In designing this system, I've tried to speed your work by keeping keystrokes to a minimum while conserving disk space.  For example, each player's name needs to be typed only once.  For another example, any possible combination of down, yards, and yard line can be called up with no more than eight keystrokes, and this capability uses only 9 of the 2495 "points" of memory available on the disk.

AUTODISPLAY 0003, "3rd Down and XX"
Waits for two keystrokes, which are the yards to go.
If fewer than 10 yards to go, use space bar for the second keystroke.

FNT3

YELW

ERAS

.

.

.

.

.
.

Erase any existing text; prepare to type in yellow

DEFS

0008

TAB

TABC

DEFE

HOME

.

.
.

Clear up to eight existing tabs

CTRL

B

HOME

ERAS

CTRL

.

.

.
.

Erase any existing background

DEFS

0008

NEWL

DEFE

.

.

.

.
.

Position cursor eight lines down from "home"

3

R

D

 _

D

O

W

.
.

Type

CURL

SHCL

SHCL

CURR

.

.

.

.
.

Kern the W two hits closer to the O

N

 _

N

D

_

.

.
.

Continue typing

DELY

0000

DELY

0000

.

.

.

.
.

Get two keystrokes

CNRO

SHRU

.

.

.

.

.

.
.

Center the row and shift it up slightly

DEFS

0014

CURR

DEFE

.

.

.

.
.

Position cursor in case the last number needs to be revised

 

On Friday, November 30, 1984, I worked the TCS/Metrosports telecast of yet another college football game, Toledo vs Temple.

Photo:  1973 Boardwalk Bowl

But this one was different.  It was played indoors.

Sod had been laid over the concrete floor at the Atlantic City Convention Hall, which was the home of the Miss America pageant.

Temple alumnus Bill Cosby, starring in a Temple Centennial Celebration show later that night, was on hand at the game.  He helped the grounds crew replace the squares of grass as they became dislodged.

At one point Cosby tried to move the penalty-marred action along.  He picked up a yellow flag that was lying on the field and hid it under one of the squares of sod, much to the consternation of the officals.

 

Monday, December 17, 1984

I've now moved almost completely out of TV3 and into TCS, as a Chyron operator.  I've worked something like 140 remotes in the past year.

A third were Orioles baseball games in Baltimore, where TCS supplies trucks and crews for the regional pay-cable network Home Team Sports.

Another third were nights of harness racing in Washington, Pa., where TCS originates the Meadows Racing Network for regional cable.

Then I've also done World Cup skiing in New Hampshire for ESPN.

A Celtics NBA playoff game in Boston for USA Network.

A Maulers USFL football game in Jacksonville, Florida, for KDKA.

Boxing in Washington, D.C., and soccer in North Carolina for Home Team Sports.

And college football and basketball games all over.

This Saturday, I'm leaving for the West Coast to work on our telecasts of the Freedom Bowl and the Aloha Bowl.  This travel can be fun!

Iowa and Texas played the Freedom Bowl on Wednesday, December 26, in Anaheim; we syndicated it to 95 stations.  Then Notre Dame and SMU played the Aloha Bowl on Saturday, December 29, in Honolulu.  For both telecasts, Mark Reda and I collaborated on the graphics.

Others of our Penn State football crew also made the trip.  We set up in Anaheim on December 23 and 24.  We were off on Christmas Day; I worked on some basketball disks in the truck that morning, then joined Mike Kobik and Tami Rippy and others for a visit to Disneyland on Christmas night.  Following the game on December 26, we headed to Hawaii on December 27.  I returned on December 30, the day after the Aloha Bowl, but some of us didn't make it home until 1985.

Our boss Nelson Goldberg has just about achieved one of his other goals:  the TCS offices have now been almost completely transferred to RIDC Park.  (The address is 701 Alpha Drive, Pittsburgh 15238.)  It isn't the custom-designed TCS building that he wanted.  Rather, we're renting space on two or three floors of the four-story Navco Engineering building.  They make valves.  Not there in that office building, but they make valves.

Late one chilly afternoon in front of the Navco building, Nelson (in the white sweater) parked the TCS fleet — a satellite uplink truck, two Video Voyagers, and a Subaru station wagon — and summoned everyone out of the offices for this staff picture, enlarged below.


We've also rented garage space in another RIDC Park building a mile away for our fleet of production trucks.  Video Voyager I was been joined by VV2 (new in April 1984), VV3 (a used truck purchased this summer from a company in Knoxville), and VV4 (to be completed in 1986).  There are also two other trucks which are satellite uplinks.  And this past year we also bought Metrosports, which means that as TCS/Metrosports we'll be televising a lot of basketball this winter.

But meanwhile, the old second floor on Constitution Boulevard is practically empty except for TV3.  You could probably have your own desk there if you wanted to return — no, you wouldn't want to do that!

 

. . . End of
1st Quarter