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Washington Channels
Back to Top of 1st Quarter

Start of 2nd Quarter . . .

 

August 14, 1974

In Marion, summer was always the slack season for programming (except for the U.S. Open Drum & Bugle Corps Championship), but here it's one of the busy seasons.  This week we're doing four half-hour shows from the county fair, each show done with the Rover.  Then on Friday the Bronco League World Series starts, with eight teams of 12-year-olds competing here in a double-elimination tournament that will take about a week.  There's a local team, four other United States teams, and teams representing Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.  We plan to cablecast all fourteen games live.  And we're doing it right, too, with three cameras (one of them borrowed), special effects, instant replay, and so on.  We'll be on for something like 30 hours during the week.  I hope it all works!

After the August specials, we'll have two weeks (including Labor Day) to get ready for our fall season.  That will include three different football shows, along with a revised plan for news coverage.

A "Boys Baseball" World Series game at the field in Washington Park, as seen from the hillside behind left field.  We parked our TV truck on the hillside behind the pressbox.

In 1974, announcers Larry Schwingel and Paul Abraham sat at position A.  For regular-season games, our single camera and videotape recorder would have been beside them.  But for our live coverage of the Series, we deployed three cameras, at low home (1), high home (2), and low first (3).

 

The Washington High School "Little Presidents" band at a 1974 football game, as pictured in the 1975 WHS yearbook

 

 

Commercials on TV-3 generally consisted of an announcer, usually me, reading copy while a succession of black-and-white still images appeared on the screen.  The audio came from a cart machine and the video from 35mm slides.

On August 27, 1974, I listed the local sponsors for which we had slides available.  It made an impressive list of past and present advertisers.

 

AAA (Washington   County Motor Club)
A.J. Parsons Jeep
Agway Petroleum
Alpine Bowling Lanes
Amanati & Tucci   Insurance
Ace Auto Store
American Legion   Post 175
Annex Pharmacy
Ashmore Flower Shop
Bateman Used Cars
Beck's Country Store
Ben Reynolds Music
R.C. Birch Exxon
Bon Ton Young World
Brothers Restaurant
Central TV
Chippewa Golf Course
Christman Air Freight
Coca-Cola
Coen Oil Company
Colonial Amoco/Ryder
Dairy Mart Foods
Danny's Lounge
Dunn's Dry Goods
East Park Mobile Homes
Eighteen Mobile Homes
Equibank
Exxon, Cliff Adams
Fairmont Supply Co.
Falvo Plumbing and Painting
Fashion Bug
First Federal Savings & Loan
Four Seasons Flowers & Gifts
Gas 'n Wash
Godwin's Village Green Golf
Grant's
His and Hers Barber Shop
Hope Bridal
Howard Johnson's
Imperial Cleaning
International Truck Sales
Interocean Insurance
Isaly's
Isiminger's Mobil
J & J Plumbing
D.C. Johnson Door
Krency's Bakery
Keith Sim Insurance
Kurtz Monument Co.
Leonard Buick-Pontiac
Li'l General Store
Mellon Bank
Montgomery Ward
Nemacolin Country Club
Palmer Beverage
Pankopf Ford
Parker-Hunter, Inc.
Peerless Carpets
Peppino's Catering
Penn Commercial College
Pool City
Pittsburgh Nat'l Bank
Resciniti Mobile Homes
Ritter Finance
Shearer Heating Co.
Royal Crown Cola
Royalty Homes
S.A. Meyer Jewelers
Scott Motor Company
Sheehan's Sweeper Service
Smith's Appliance
Stanton Systems
Stewart Dodge
Taggart Lawn and Garden
Trumper's Sportswear
Tylerdale Auto Parts
Universal Tire Center
Viehmann Pharmacy
Warehouse
Wash. Association of  Downtown Enterprisers
Wash. Fence Co.
Wash. Institute of Technology
Wash. Lighting Center
Wash. News Co.
Wash. Meat Market
Weber Nat'l Stores
Wemack Insurance
Wilson Carroll Jewelers
West Brothers Tires
West Washington Hardware
Workingman's Tire Center
Work's
Yarreck Health Foods
Y.M.C.A.
York Realty

 

Like commercials, the opening and closing "billboards" for our tape-delayed high school football telecasts came from an audio cart with 35mm slides. 

The background music on the cart was the school's fight song, as played by the band (at left, Trinity's Hillers).

I had to type up a script so that our control-room operator would know when to change the slides and when to roll the video tape.  We needed a 10-second preroll for the VCR to extract the tape from the cassette and begin playing it.

As none of us knew the words to the Trinity High School fight song, I made up some nonsense lyrics for the script. 

September 5, 1974

Purple potatoes, no not tomatoes,
CHANGE 
Purple potatoes three! 
CHANGE 
Trinity High School Hillers football is brought to you 
CHANGE 
on video tape from College Field! 
CHANGE  
The sponsors for tonight's game:  
CHANGE
The Washington County Motor Club, 196 Murtland Avenue. 
CHANGE  
The Workingman's Tire Center, 930 Jefferson Avenue.  
CHANGE  
The Washington Lighting Center, 535 Jefferson Avenue. 
CHANGE 
Washington International Trucks, at 1105 Fayette Street. 
CHANGE 
Tom Bateman Used Cars, at 1115 Park Avenue. 
CHANGE 
Equibank.  We're more than a bank; we're a helping hand. 
CHANGE 
York Realty, 51 East Wheeling Street.  
CHANGE 
And the Coen Oil Company and your neighborhood Amoco dealer. 
CHANGE 
Oh, I love eating yellow cantaloupe
CHANGE 
And I love eating yellow squash,
CHANGE 
Yes, I love eating yellow cantaloupe
CHANGE 
Once ev'ry morning when I wash.
CHANGE
Oh, I love eating yellow cantaloupe,
CHANGE 
But I don't know how it can be
CHANGE 
That always while eating
ROLL TAPE 
Somehow I'm seeing 
CHANGE 
Purple potatoes, no, not tomatoes,
CHANGE 
Purple potatoes three.
CHANGE 
Purple potatoes three!
TAKE TAPE

 

October 13, 1974

Last week on our news show we wanted to interview a student at Washington and Jefferson College who had received an honor:  this summer, she worked at the Argonne National Laboratory.  Our newsman was reluctant to interview her, since he knew absolutely nothing about what she did.  So I volunteered to conduct the interview.

The girl's name is Pat Brletic.  She's a senior, a chemistry major with about a 3.8 average.  Argonne is doing research on a fast-breeder nuclear reactor which uses a uranium/plutonium fuel; one of the reaction products is cesium, and it can combine with the uranium and the air to form a radioactive compound, Cs2UO4.  We were advised by Dr. Bernard Staskiewicz, the chairman of the chemistry department at W&J, not to name the compound during the interview.  The name is cesium uranate, and that sounds a little strange to laymen.

Anyhow, Pat's assignment was to calculate various thermodynamic functions for this compound.  Her final report, according to Dr. Staskiewicz, was the equivalent of a master's thesis.

I kept the interview brief, since I knew if we got into details we'd lose our viewers completely.  But I did a good bit of talking to the student and her professor before we taped the interview.  I really enjoyed this assignment, since it brought back memories of my former life, before I got into show business.  I enjoyed hearing the solid-state physics talk, seeing the blackboards and lecture halls and labs; I even enjoyed experiencing that chem-lab smell again.

This kind of experience starts me thinking about what I should do for my next career.  I wonder whether [ABC Science Editor] Jules Bergmann needs an assistant?

 

Sunday, November 3, 1974

Well, the cable-TV business is clicking along here at a rapid rate.  Last weekend, we had two football games to cover on the same night, so our regular announcer did one of them and I got to announce the other.  It was my first attempt at calling a football game for television, and I hadn't even done one on radio since 1968.  Everything went well, except my voice is out of shape.  By the end of the game I was sounding rather husky.

However, one play in the third quarter had my color man and me baffled for at least three minutes.  It seemed that the visitors punted from very deep in their own territory; it was a short, high punt, and the home team made a fair catch in excellent field position at the visitors' 39.  But about half a minute later, we noticed the visitors walking back toward their goal line; it looked as though they were going to be penalized for interfering with the fair catch.  Except that the home team wasn't moving, and the ball was still on the 39.  There was much shouting and waving of arms, and in the pressbox, much confusion.

We figured out later that what had happened was this.  After the fair catch, the referee said to the home-team captain, "Son, that was a fair catch inside the 50, so you have an option.  You can either put the ball in play where it was caught, or you can take a free kick from that spot."  (The NFL has a similar, rarely used rule.)  Well, the captain apparently felt that with today's economy the way it is, anything free is a bargain, so he took the free kick.  Bad choice.  That meant the home team had to try for a 49-yard field goal, which was beyond the range of their left-footed soccer-style kicker.  Instead, the kickoff man came in and gave it the old high school try, but the ball fell in the end zone, short of the crossbar.

As a result, the visitors, who just one play before had had the ball 4th down on their own 6, now got the ball 1st down on their 20.  This boo-boo was as bad as a roughing-the-punter penalty.  As a matter of fact, three plays later a roughing penalty was called against the home team, so for the second time in the series, the visitors got new life after being forced to punt.  On the very next play, their tailback went 59 yards for a score.

Forty Hours

Another interesting cablecast this past week was the Forty Hours service from the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, which is located just up the hill from my apartment.  A Forty Hours service sounds pretty long, but actually it took only forty minutes.  The Forty Hours refers to a whole weekend of meditation, of which this service is the climax.

For some reason, no one I talked to seemed to know exactly what this Forty Hours was all about.  And we've got a lot of Catholics at our station:  all three cameramen, the newsman, and the manager.  No one was very sure of the significance.  But practically everybody in the parish comes to this service, so we cablecast it.  We gave it the full treatment, with two cameras and even a closed-circuit setup in the basement for the overflow crowd.

At the service, there was no Mass.  First the parochial students sang a few songs, then there was a big procession of priests carrying golden crosses and banners, then the celebrant blessed everyone with the biggest golden cross, then everyone sang a hymn and went home.

During all this, I was directing the cablecast from a confession booth.  It was the only little room available that was near enough to the camera positions.  Being a Methodist, this was the first time I'd ever been in a confessional; and I must say it was crowded, because I was not alone in there.  Taking up most of the space was our control rack, including monitors, the switcher, a videotape recorder, a modulator, and other heat-producing electronic equipment.  We measured the booth beforehand and determined that the rack would fit into it, but with not an inch to spare.  A quarter of an inch maybe, but not an inch.

Soccer

On Thursday of this week, the soccer team from one of our local high schools played in the Western Pennsylvania finals at Pitt Stadium.  Half the school's student body went to the game, including one of our part-time cameramen.  So we gave this fellow, whose name is Les, our Rover to take to the game with him.  "Now, Les," we told him, "what we want is any goals that our local team happens to score.  So because you have only 30 minutes of tape, just run the recorder when our team is threatening to put the ball in the net."

As it turned out, our team won 1-0.  But unfortunately, Les failed to start the recorder on that lone goal until the ball was just leaving the shooter's foot.  And as soon as the ball evaded the goalie and went into the net, Les went wild, celebrating the goal with the rest of the local students.  So when we played the tape back, we found 0.8 seconds of action in front of the goal mouth, followed by 20 seconds of blurry, bouncing pictures of the sky.  That was suddenly followed by a rock-steady picture of the field that was perfect except it was rotated 90º, so that the Astroturf was running vertically down the left side of the picture and the sky was on the right.  This remarkable view was caused when Les laid the camera on its side on the bleachers so he could use both hands to applaud.  Nice going, Les.

Candidates

Finally this week, on Halloween night we had a "Meet the Candidates" show.  There are no local races this year, so the only candidates we invited were those running for Congress from the 22nd district.  The incumbent is Thomas Morgan, a Democrat, the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee.  He's been in office a long time, which is not surprising since this county is two-thirds Democratic.  The Republican was a nice man, but incompetent.  He wouldn't have said much of anything had it not been for a few supporters who called up and asked leading questions, to which the Republican replied, "Yes, I agree."  But the real spice of the show was the third candidate, representing the Constitutional Party.  This guy is an active member of the John Birch Society, and, being somewhat of an extremist, attacked the incumbent Morgan on several fronts.  Morgan, being an experienced politician, countered well.  Most candidates' shows are quite dull, but not this one.

Unfortunately, we won't be doing an election-returns show.  We can't.  The problem is that many of the precincts in this sprawling county don't even bother to count their ballots until the morning after the election.

 

Tuesday, December 3, 1974

Dear Mr. Cole:

I just wanted to confirm our arrangements for the taping of the Trinity High School Chorus in our studio on Saturday afternoon, December 14.

Your chorus is scheduled to arrive here at 2:00 PM, just after the Wash Hi Select Choir leaves.  Since the Wash Hi people will be in our parking lot, and the Immaculate Conception people will be arriving 90 minutes later, we'd like your people to use the Trinity High School lot and walk down the hill (weather permitting).

Please ask the chorus members to arrive promptly at 2:00, since we'll want them to be lined up on the risers by about 2:15.  Then we've scheduled half an hour for warm-up, rearrangement of positions on the risers, and other last-minute adjustments.

The taping itself is scheduled for the half-hour between 2:45 and 3:15.  We'd like to do the taping in one take, without stopping.  Any major mistakes can be edited out later, if necessary.

Between 3:15 and 3:30, then, your chorus will leave the studio.  The I.C. chorus is scheduled to arrive at 3:30, parking in our studio lot.

To make all this run as smoothly as possible, we'd like for you to send us a list of the numbers that your chorus will be performing, along with notations of anything unusual such as solos, small groups, spoken parts, tambourines, dances, etc.  Then we can tip off our cameramen as to what to watch for.

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Talented junior Susan Downing sings a solo, "Little Lamb," during the taping of the Trinity High School Chorus in our studio on December 14, 1974.  She's accompanied by pianist Sharon Ellwood and flutist Lynn Lowry.

Technical notes:  I've colorized this frame from our telecast, which was in black and white.  Note the audio glitches (level jumps at the beginning and hum at the end) due to our barely functional wiring.

By the way, we've decided to pick up the risers at the Trinity Auditorium immediately after your Friday-night concert of December 13.  Please notify the custodians to they don't think someone's stealing the risers.  We'll return them to the school on Monday, December 16, if that's acceptable.

Other notes:  We'll have in our studio a piano from Spriggs.  And the final two-hour program, a Christmas Choral Concert including all three choruses and some other material, will be shown twice:  at 8:00 PM Friday, December 20, and again at 8:00 PM Tuesday, December 24.

 

Sunday, January 5, 1975

Here in Washington, the past eleven months on my "new" job have gone rather well.  The company isn't making any more money than when I came, but at least the programs look more professional.  Some of the highlights of 1974 include the following.

Bronco League World Series TV-Radio Auction

To raise money for the annual World Series of Bronco League baseball, which is held in the local park, Channel 3 held an auction on March 31.  My big job was one of organization.  (After all, what would you expect from a fellow who keeps all his old letters on file for historical purposes?)

For example, I wrote instructions for the stagehands that went like this:  "You will find small paper pyramids in the storage area.  Each pyramid, whether it's white, gray, or black, is marked with a large letter.

"You'll notice that pyramid C is marked 'left table 1:45-2:25.'  This means that at 1:45, bids will close on the left table.  A few seconds after 1:45, you may remove all the items from the table and replace them with the C group.  You will have eight minutes for this process.

"The next pyramid is D, which is marked 'right table 2:05-2:45.'"

I also wrote a 48-page radio script:  "But let's look now at the bids on Table L, where your phone calls are now being accepted.  Item 60 is a pair of men's trousers by Anthony Gesture."

It was a lot of, needless to say, work.

High School Commencements

Everything went smoothly except for some comical mishaps at the inner-city commencement, the only one that was held outdoors.

The assistant principal read off the names at the breakneck pace of 25 names per minute, and there were two lines of graduates coming up to get their diplomas, so all we could do was point our cameras in the general direction of the mob and hope that every graduate got on camera, however briefly.

Also, the commencement speaker started his speech facing the parents, with the graduates behind him; but as soon as we got a close-up of him, he turned around to face the graduates.  Then he turned back again.  And forth again.  He called it a "swinging speech."  Our viewers saw mostly the back of his head.

Bronco League World Series

The Series itself came in August, and we cablecast all 14 games live.  We really did things first-class.  We used three cameras instead of our usual one, and we even rigged up an instant-replay device.

But it certainly was a long week, working as long as 16 hours a day and covering as many as three games.  When I tried to go to sleep at night, I'd still be directing:  "Zoom out, Les!  Ready one; take one.  Three on the runner at first.  And we're in a break."

I found out that in sports, a television director has to depend a great deal on his cameramen.  Things happen so fast, there's no time for the director to tell a cameraman what he should do.  The cameramen have to know that with runners on first and third, two out, and a ball hit on the ground to right field, Camera One follows the ball, Camera Two looks for a play at the plate and then picks up the batter rounding first, and Camera Three follows the runner rounding second.  Intelligent cameramen are a must.

The Messiah

On November 30, a Pittsburgh bank sponsored the performance here of Handel's Messiah by a group from Pittsburgh, the Mendelssohn Choir.  The bank also paid us $200 to tape the performance and show it twice during the Christmas season in late December.

It happens that the director of the Mendelssohn Choir is Hugh Johnson, who used to be with Oberlin College.  He directed the Chapel Choir and the Musical Union while we were at Oberlin; in fact, you and I attended a performance of the last half of Messiah at Finney Chapel, with Mr. Johnson conducting.  This time, the choir was excellent, but the orchestra and soloists left a little to be desired.

I had been looking forward to someday directing a telecast of a classical work.  When our grad-school class went to New York in 1970, we heard all about the techniques from the man who directed the Leonard Bernstein Young People's Concerts, so I thought I knew how to do it.  But he had eight experienced cameramen, while I had only two boys operating two rather balky cameras.  And he had Lincoln Center, while we had to work with the stage at Trinity High School.  It made a difference.

Following the correct procedure, I obtained a complete printed score of Messiah and decided that here I wanted a close-up of the soloist, then here I wanted to cut to the first violins, then pan to the second violins, then back to the soloist.  I marked the score accordingly, trying to allow for the two-camera limitation.

But on the night of the performance, we discovered that the orchestra and singers weren't positioned quite where we had been told they would be.  Since we had to locate the camera in the wings instead of on the stage apron, the only close-up we could get of the soloist was a profile shot, with the conductor's baton waving in the foreground.  The camera that was supposed to see the violins could see little more than the backs of the bass players.  Nevertheless, we got lucky on some shots, and the whole didn't come off too bad.

We added some "social commentary" to the cablecast.  For example, in the chorus "All we like sheep have gone astray" we kept cutting to close-ups of members of the audience.  This chorus ends with the words "And the Lord hath laid on Him" (slides of the Crucifixion) "the iniquity of us all" (a long shot of the whole audience).  I hope this idea worked.

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We recorded the audio in stereo.  At the time, we had no facilities for transmitting it that way, but now you can hear it on the Internet!  Here's a shortened version of the "All we like sheep" chorus mentioned above (minus a minute in the middle of turning every one to his own way).

During playback, I inserted other visual commentary at a few points, such as slides of the county courthouse for "The kingdom of this earth is become..." and local churches for "...the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and of his Christ." 

 

Sunday, January 12, 1975

As I write this letter, snow is falling.  But the snow is expected to be no restraint on the 24-hour celebration that is now getting under way up at Pittsburgh.  The Steelers won the Super Bowl, which will be cause for dancing in the streets tonight and a big welcome-home parade tomorrow afternoon.  This area really gets behind the Steelers, at least when they're winning.  I hope I get a full day's work out of all my people tomorrow.

 

Saturday, January 18, 1975

Starting February 10, I'm going to become a TV critic!  In our news half-hour, we've decided to include a couple of minutes of previews of the programs our viewers will be able to see "On the Cable" that evening.  So I get to look over the schedule and make recommendations.  Should be good for my ego!

 

THE EIGHT TAPES

Fatal chain-reaction truck wreck on I-70

Lawyer announces candidacy for judgeship

Another lawyer comments on the new-school case

United Way annual dinner

Trinity-Wash Hi wrestling match

Morning traffic hampered by snowstorm

Future Business Leaders breakfast at high school

"On the Cable"

 

Thursday, February 13, 1975

So far the new news format is working well.  Our best effort was last night, when we used eight different tapes in the newscast (besides stocks, bulletin board, and miscellaneous news and sports).

This newscast was interesting and well-paced, with nothing over three minutes in length.  The only problem was that to put it together, including writing the copy and editing and cueing all the tapes, took about 20 man-hours.  I'm not sure we can keep up this quality.

If we do, it's probably going to mean that sports events and other remotes are going to be overtime, because we won't be able to afford any compensatory time off.

 

The 26th cablecast of the high school sports season was the Chartiers Valley at Washington basketball game, taped on Tuesday, February 18, and shown at 9:00 on Wednesday.  Our four sponsors got not only commercials and opening and closing "billboards"; they each received, during lulls such as free throws, three brief drop-in mentions like the following.

One of your neighborhood Amoco dealers would like to say hello.  He's Dick Humphrey, at Carter's Amoco in Gabby Heights.

Do me a favor.  Every time Wash Hi scores, think of First Federal of Washington, who's bringing you this game . . . with interest.

Pool City has pool tables!  Eight-foot slate pool tables start at $299.99 at Pool City, on Route 19 north.

The "working men's corner" is the northwest corner of Beau and Main.  That's where Trumper's is located, selling sportswear and workwear for men and boys.

Our final basketball game of the season here on Cable TV-3 will be Thursday night, Wash Hi at Trinity.  You can see it that same night, Thursday, at ten PM.

This is an effective method of working in advertisements that can't be zapped by changing the channel.  Today, it's mostly used for promotional announcements like the Wash Hi vs Trinity promo, and the announcements tend to be longer than these.  But the method could be used for paying sponsors.

 

Sunday, March 9, 1975

As you may have noted, this is a comparatively short letter.  It's being written on my only free day between Groundhog Day and Palm Sunday, a period of time which this year is fortunately only seven weeks.  The main reason for this busy-ness is high school wrestling.

Wrestling coaches Joe Shook and John Abajace, from the 1976 Trinity High School yearbook

As I've said before, wrestling is the sport around here in the winter.  I don't know why, but basketball games only half-fill the gyms.  Yet we covered a wrestling match in early February that was a sell-out even before the doors opened.  There were so many standees on the corner of the stage where our camera was set up that about a dozen of them ended up looking over our cameraman's shoulder at the viewfinder of his camera and watching the bouts that way, on closed-circuit TV instead of for real.  They had no choice; they couldn't see the mat.

 

SOME OF THE 9 "MENTIONS" PER HOUR IN OUR PIAA COVERAGE

Mr. Pibb isn't a cola.  And Mr. Pibb sure isn't a root beer.  It's just a nice, easy soft drink.  Mr. Pibb, distributed by Cameron Beverages.

Girard Perragaux, fine watches since 1791, are featured at Wilson Carroll Jewelers in the Washington Trust Building.

How much would it cost to dismount your winter tires and install and bubble-balance your summer tires?  Just $3.18 at Coen Oil's tire center!

Let Bob Lang show you how easy it is to play a Thomas organ.  See Bob at Robert's Music, in the Washington Mall.

 

The basketball teams around here aren't good enough to get into the post-season tournament.  But several local wrestlers are going to the state tournament at State College, Pa. (home of Penn State), and we of course are going along to cover the action.  The tournament will be all day Friday and Saturday, March 14 and 15, starting at 9 AM.  We can't leave here before 8 PM Thursday because of other programs, so what we plan to do is go to bed early Thursday night, get up about midnight, and leave for State College around 2 AM Friday in order to get there in time.  We'll tape the bouts of local interest, which will be about six or seven hours of wrestling; then we'll bring the tapes back to Washington Sunday and show the first part Monday evening and the other part Tuesday evening.  It should be an exhausting weekend.

[You can see pictures of this weekend here.  As it turned out, the circumstances were even worse than expected.  A snowstorm hit on Thursday night, and it took us seven hours to drive to State College.  We managed to set up just in time to tape the first bout of interest at 9:55 AM, having deferred taping the opening-and-welcome segment until later.  Friday night, after being awake for more than 24 hours, the three of us shared a tiny room at the Nittany Lion Inn.  And on Saturday, we discovered that a piece of our equipment had been stolen from Rec Hall.]

Last weekend was almost as bad, as we put on the second annual Bronco League World Series TV-Radio Auction.  This year we had roughly twice as much merchandise donated to the auction, so we were on the cable for a full seven hours, allowing ourselves only 15 minutes to auction off a "table" of six items.  But for some reason the bids didn't go as high this year, so the money raised for the World Series showed only about a 30% increase over 1974.  Nevertheless, it was an increase.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about the big mass meeting.  (This "comparatively short" letter may run into two pages, after all!)

Back on December 1, there was an unusual snowstorm in Southwestern Pennsylvania, which featured not only snow but also thunder and lightning.  The snow was wet and fell straight down, without wind.  These unusual circumstances caused power lines to break throughout the area, and some isolated farm homes were without power for a full week.  People trying to call West Penn Power to report outages couldn't get through, because thousands of other people were also calling that same number to report other outages.  The situation produced some rather loud grumbling, to say the least.

So the Public Utilities Commission decided to hold a public hearing to find out if West Penn Power had been negligent.  The hearing was held in a courtroom in the county courthouse, with all sorts of reporters present, including film crews from the Pittsburgh TV stations.  There were many outraged citizens present, too, carrying placards and everything.  The courtroom was quite inadequate for this sort of hearing; the acoustics were terrible, and some of the officials addressing the packed house actually had to shout their remarks into a bullhorn as they stood in the glare of the TV lights.  The whole scene was chaotic, like a mass meeting at Oberlin.  And midway through the hearing, the electricity in the courtroom went off!

There were so many people who didn't get a chance to speak at that public hearing that another hearing was scheduled for a couple of weeks later.  This time the Public Utilities Commission was smart.  They scheduled the hearing for the thousand-seat auditorium of a local high school.  And this time the outraged citizens had apparently grown tired of the game.  Only about 20 people showed up.  Apathy conquers again!

 

Saturday, April 5, 1975

Here in Washington, our office staff has even more time than before for their needlepoint projects.  We've gone to bi-monthly billing, which means that most customers pay only once every two months instead of once a month.  So, in the first ten days of the month, our girls take about 3,000 payments; then they just sit around for the rest of the month.  I have one of the girls typing the logs now, in order to give her something to do.

We're getting ready to fire up the old Bingo blower on April 15.  We'll have a once-a-week Bingo game, using exactly the same sort of equipment that Marion used, Tuesday nights at 8:00.  And guess who will be the caller of the numbers?  Yep, yours truly!

They had Bingo on every afternoon for over two years, 1971 through 1973, but it died out.  Now they're hoping to get some new interest built up by moving it to a new time, after a year and a half lay-off.

Right now, I have to make some preparations for tomorrow's big Red Cross telethon down at the studio from 5:00 to 11:00 PM, so I'll stop.

 

Thursday, April 17, 1975

Some transient problems:  Yesterday morning, when the slide-advance button was pressed, the audio cut off.  Yesterday afternoon, when an audio patch cord was changed, the audio cut off and the current temperature went to -33°.

 

Sunday, April 27, 1975

Click here for more about Bingo on cableYou'd appreciate the way I do the bingo show.  There are a few differences from the Judy-and-Sandy format; for one thing, I work alone.

It can sometimes get confusing, calling numbers and answering the phone at the same time.  So, to keep myself on schedule, I recorded a one-hour cassette tape that has a beep on it every 52 seconds, and a whoop-whoop every five minutes.  During the show, I play this tape back.  When I hear a beep, I call another number.  When I hear a whoop-whoop, I go to a commercial.  Don't laugh; it works.  I don't get behind, and, since there's always 52 seconds between one number and the next, no one complains that I'm going too fast, either.  And I don't have to think about whether I should call another number yet; I can talk on the phone or whatever, and the beep will always remind me when it's time.

We also have fewer consolation prizes.  That wasn't my idea, but just the way they've always done it here; I may suggest doing things the Marion way if we go another 13 weeks.

What we do is this:  As soon as we have a confirmed Bingo, we stop calling numbers.  We keep answering the phone, however, for another five minutes, taking down all the names and addresses and the number on which they bingwent.  Then, after we're off the air, we determine who bingwent first.  It's not necessarily the first person that called.  If there's a tie, we break it according to who had the highest number in the upper left corner, the highest serial number, or something like that.  The winner gets the $50 (or $100 if before the 50th number) and the rest get consolation prizes.  We then call all the winners back to tell them what they won.

The first week we had only one winner, on the 59th number.  Last week was better:  two winners on the 54th number.

 

Tuesday, April 29, 1975

One thing I didn't mention about Bingo is the phone calls.  Since I'm alone in the studio, I don't have much time to answer the phone and talk to people, so we don't encourage Happy Birthdays or any of that stuff.  Nevertheless, people do call, with questions like "What color are the cards?"  "Do you have to cover every number?"  "I've got a Bingo in the N column!" and so forth.  And we get a lot of kids calling and then hanging up.

There were so many of these crank calls last week that this week we adopted a new plan, which seemed to work well in tonight's game.  The director in the control room answers the phone when it rings.  If it's really a Bingo, he tells me to pick up my phone; otherwise, I don't have to worry about it.

Tonight, by the way, we had two winners on the 57th number.

And while I'm reminding you of the good old days at TV-3, do you remember when you used to write commercials?  I'm having to do that here, but my job is easier than yours:  all our spots are 30 seconds instead of 60.  Once I mention the name and address, half the commercial is already written.

It's the other 15 seconds that can cause problems.  Some of our sponsors agree to buy time, but then they don't know what they want to say.  I think some of them buy TV time the same way they buy an ad in the football programs that the high schools print; it sounds like a worthy charity, so they agree to put their name in, "Compliments of Acme Hardware."  They never think of saying, "Our hardware store is better than most because we carry better merchandise," or whatever.

In our second annual Bronco World Series Auction, the guy who was in charge of soliciting all the merchandise was also supposed to write a line of advertising for each of the stores who donated.  He ran into the same problem.  His advertising lines went like this:

Acme Hardware, for all your hardware needs.
Center Building Supplies, for all your lumber needs.
Jake's Service Station, for all your automotive needs.
Phil's Phlowers, for all your floral needs.
A-1 Septic Tanks, for all your . . . .

Another favorite line is "We carry a complete line of."  And we usually give the hours the store is open.  But very rarely do we get to give a good reason why the viewer with hardware needs should go to Acme, rather than to some other hardware store.

I guess the theory is that if we mention Acme often enough, the needy viewer will think of Acme first.

Oh, and do you remember the movies we ran on TV-3 [in Marion]?  An independent TV station in Pittsburgh, Channel 53, is running the same films.  John Wayne, Shirley Temple, the whole bit.

That makes it easy for me when I do my "On the Cable" segment of the newscast.  I preview what's going to be on the various channels later in the evening (getting my information mostly from TV Guide), and I'm familiar with the plots of most of 53's movies.

The "On the Cable" feature will be rather important once the microwave system reaches us.  We have approval to import Channels 43 and 61 from Cleveland, and of course, no one around here is going to have their program schedule except us.

A small problem has arisen, though; we understand that 61 is going out of business, effective sometime in May.  So instead of 61 we may get WOR-TV, Channel 9 out of New York City.  Or we may even get a pay-TV channel from Home Box Office!

Meanwhile, we're in the process of looking for a new newscaster.  Our present one does the job, sort of, but he doesn't take enough interest and frequently prefers to work just 10 AM to 5:30 PM, doing as little as possible.  We need someone to go out and cover things, especially in the evenings and on weekends.  We've sent out letters to colleges around here that have TV programs, looking for graduating seniors who are looking for experience (since we can't pay much).  We talked today to one such senior who looks like a good prospect.

SCHEDULE

Sun. June 1
   8:00 PM
Taped coverage of this afternoon's Immaculate Conception High School commencement

Mon. June 2
 10:00 AM
Paul Gaudino Show (exercise)
    -------
   5:00 PM
Cable TV-3 News, with highlights of the W&J College commencement
   5:30 PM
Rex Humbard, from Akron's Cathedral of Tomorrow
   6:00 PM
Cable TV-3 News
   6:30 PM
Rex Humbard
   7:00 PM
Paul Gaudino Show
   7:30 PM
Sport Scene, with guest Art Richards of Trinity H.S. and the Pittsburgh Miners pro soccer team

Tue. June 3
 10:00 AM
Paul Gaudino Show
 10:30 AM
Beginning to Sew, part 8
    -------
   5:00 PM
Sport Scene
   5:30 PM
Rex Humbard
   6:00 PM
Sport Scene
   6:30 PM
Rex Humbard
   7:00 PM
Paul Gaudino Show
   7:30 PM
About Washington, with I.C. principal Ed Shields on the Supreme Court rulings about aid to parochial schools
   8:00 PM
Downtown Bingo
   9:00 PM
Sixth Ward Reading Class, showing how video tape is being used in a local school

 

 

Sunday, June 1, 1975

This past week has been busy, since both public high schools decided to hold their commencements on the same night.  We really had to scramble to cover them both, but we did it.

4-22-75:  Preliminary plans for dual commencements, Thursday, May 29

TRINITY  (live)  (also replay Saturday morning)

6:00-6:45

Gaudino, followed by taped interview with commercials

6:45-8:30

Commencement, Tom directing and announcing

8:30-9:00

Taped Lighthouse?

Use 2 cameras (Les on floor, volunteer on rear); VCR for almost everything, Concord for bridging (i.e., while changing cassettes in the only VCR available, use our 1/2-inch Concord VTR to keep recording the ceremony and avoid missing any graduates)

WASH HI  (tape, play Friday night)
x
7:00-8:00  Tim tapes using remote camera on field; Larry tapes using Rover in stands for 30-minute takes

Sync up Tim's cassettes and Larry's tapes during playback

Audio Link

2:08

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The Wash High band (foreground) plays "Pomp and Circumstance" as the graduates (background) enter the auditorium at the beginning of our taping of the May 29, 1975, ceremony.

Wednesday, June 25, 1975

Studio Problem #4 is an odd one.  Camera 2 operates, even the viewfinder, but the picture it puts out is unrecognizable:  very fuzzy, with various streaks and bad sync, and much brighter on the top than on the bottom.  We've discovered that if we turn up the beam control, one ragged vertical white line moves to the left without changing shape.  In addition to everything else, the problem started out as an intermittent one.  I think Camera 2 has gone insane.

 

Sunday, July 13, 1975

Well, we never got to televise a U.S. Open Drum & Bugle Corps Championship in Marion, except for a couple of parades.  But now that I'm in Washington, Pennsylvania — not quite the hotbed of drum corps activity that Marion is — I am going to get to do a drum and bugle corps competition.  A nearby corps, the Royal Crusaders from Finleyville, Pa., is hosting about seven other corps in a competition at the local high-school stadium on August 5.  They call it "Bicentennial Brass."  We're going to tape the whole evening with two cameras, special effects, the works; then we'll show the tape the following evening, probably adding expert commentary as we do.  Should be fun.

 

Friday, July 25, 1975

So now you have no night or weekend responsibilities!  I can appreciate the feeling of freedom.

It's almost essential for me to get away from my work at regular intervals to a place where I can't even be reached by telephone.  Of course, they try to tell us that our work and our life should be one and the same.  A textbook on broadcast journalism states flatly, "To be a reporter is a 24-hour-a-day job.  There is no such thing as a nine-to-five journalist.  You must think, eat and breathe news.  Unless you are willing to make this type of life-long commitment, it can practically be guaranteed that you will never rise above the mediocre."  That's why I'm not a newsman.

 

On August 7, 1975, I wrote the following note to myself, summarizing a verbal agreement for Penn State football coverage:  a three-hour taped game and a half-hour highlights show.  Each week during the season, we would trade old and new sets of 3/4-inch U-Matic videocassettes with TCS.  They also had color facilities, which we did not, for transferring our local commercials to tape.

We will buy $178 worth of video tape from Total Communication Systems, 890 Constitution Boulevard, New Kensington 15068.  Contact Dave Heltzell, 1-361-5758.  This is their cost for 6 hours @ $24 and 2 half-hours @ $17 for the Penn State package.  We will also have them produce spots at $10 each, plus $15 for the quarter-hour cassette.  Send them the slides, audio tape, and scripts.

Five years later, I went to New Kensington to work for TCS, a job that would last more than seven years and lead to my present freelance career.

 

Sunday night, August 10, 1975

Please pardon the mud on my shoes.  I just got back from the opening ceremonies for the Washington County Fair, which we covered with our Rover.

This is the 177th Washington County Fair, believe it or not.  (This town is rather old.  A local man was the leader of the Whiskey Rebellion during President Washington's administration.)

Tonight's opening ceremonies were not exactly impressive.  We had a thunderstorm an hour before they were to start, so everything was delayed until the makeshift stage near the harness track had dried out enough for the musicians (a gospel singing group) to set up their amplifiers.  Then it was possible to make a few speeches, have the Boy Scouts raise the flag, and then turn the program over to the gospel group.  By actual count, there were fewer than a hundred spectators in the huge old grandstand.  If we're lucky, more people may watch this event on Cable TV than saw it in person.

Five days ago we covered a slightly more exciting event, the "Bicentennial Brass" drum and bugle corps competition.  We did this as a full-scale two-camera remote, with me directing.  Then when we played the tape on the air the following night, we arranged part of the studio to look like a press box.  I sat there, pretending I was in the press box at the stadium, and commented on what was going on below me.  I think this worked out fairly well.

I was impressed by the winning corps, the Madison Scouts from Wisconsin.  These guys really are good!

And someone called the station on an unrelated matter last week, recognized my voice, and asked if I weren't the fellow who does the Bingo show.  I told him I was.  No use trying to deny it.  To my surprise, he then told me that although he doesn't actually play Bingo, he watches the show just because it's entertaining to listen to what I say between calling numbers.  He said I do a good job.


AUGUST 25, 1975 ...

There are some strange people in this world.

 

Friday, October 10, 1975

I'm sorry I haven't written to you in a while, but maybe a birthday card will make up for it.

My excuse, of course, is that I've been busy.  Our news- and sportscaster has taken a new job as PR man for Point Park College in Pittsburgh, and because we've been losing more than $2,000 a month in our local-origination operation, we decided we couldn't afford to replace him.  That means that I have to take care of the newscasts (Mon-Wed-Fri only) and the sportscasts (one or two football games each weekend), plus all my regular duties as program director.  So, I've been working very hard just to keep up.

Sometimes it's fun, though.  Next weekend, we're going up to Meadville to cover a college game between Washington & Jefferson and Allegheny.  The last time I broadcast a game from Meadville was when Oberlin played there in 1967.  Brings back memories.

 

Thursday, December 4, 1975

The Christmas season arrived here in Washington about a month ago, when some of the merchants started putting up their decorations.  Somehow the season seems even more rushed than usual this year.  By mid-November the lamppost ornaments were in place downtown, and the county Christmas tree was decorated on the courthouse steps.  The Christmas parade was held on November 22, nearly a week before Thanksgiving.

One Indian-summer day in November I was walking downtown, wearing just a sport coat and feeling rather warm in the sunshine.  The holiday decorations seemed very much out of place in that balmy weather.  It was as though I had walked into Florida by mistake.

That Christmas parade could have used some better organization.  For example, the climax was supposed to have been the official arrival of Santa Claus on the final float, to the delight of all the kids watching.  But somebody forgot to point this out to the various service organizations and Scout troops who entered other floats in the parade.  The very first float had a Santa on it, passing out candy.  The third float had another Santa on it, passing out candy.  And so it went.

There were a total of five Santas in the parade, one of them played by a woman (it was a Girl Scout float).  Each time a Santa passed, the kids would rush out into the street to collect their goodies.  By the time the "real" Santa arrived on the final float, the kids were getting bored by it all.  Besides, this fifth Santa wasn't handing out any treats; he was just standing high in his sleigh, waving.

If you're wondering why I was watching the Christmas parade so carefully, it's because we televised it.

UPDATE 

Brian David wrote in the June 30, 2008, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Richard Christman didn't quite save Christmas in Washington, Pa.  But he did save the Christmas parade.

A World War II veteran, a longtime Koppers employee and a dedicated booster of his city and especially the fire department, Mr. Christman died Tuesday.  He was 86.

"Seventeen or 18 years ago, there was a newspaper article saying there would be no parade because no one wanted to organize it," firefighter Joe Manning said.  The city fire department decided to take it on — and as with many department events, that meant Mr. Christman took it on.

"He was like the go-to guy, organizing everything, lining everyone up," Mr. Manning said.  And even though he was close to 70 at the time, Mr. Christman kept running the parade for years afterward.

"He took it very seriously," Mr. Manning said.  "He'd only allow so many fire trucks in a row, and kept the music groups separate because you can't have the music overlapping."

And he had a crucial rule when it came to the Christmas parade.

"He would always point out that you can have only one Santa," Mr. Manning said.  "Having Santa at the end of the parade is like the big finale, and if you have all these other Santas the kids will get confused.  It became like a local joke.  He had to put it in letters to people, but everyone wanted to have Santa on their float, so he'd always be out there telling them, 'Take off that hat! Take off that coat!'"

Another interesting program was the interview with the Cambodian refugees, a Phnom Penh family headed by a man who worked for the American embassy.  When the Khmer Rouge began closing in, the Americans evacuated this family first to Bogotá, Colombia, then to Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.  A couple of weeks ago a church here in Washington brought them to town and fixed them up in a house here.  We took a camera to the house, and one of our people interviewed the family for a half-hour show.  The younger members of the family spoke English fairly well, but the parents needed an interpreter.  The mother answered questions in Cambodian; the father, in French.

. . . End of
2nd Quarter