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Washington Channels
Back to Top of 1st Quarter

Start of 3rd Quarter . . .

 

Sunday, February 29, 1976

At Washington Channels, we're trying to figure out a way of controlling Clyde.  Who's he?  Well, whenever unexplainable events happen at the studio, we blame a supposed poltergeist whom we call Clyde the Ghost.

Clyde's typical pranks include advancing the slide projector, hitting the stop button on the video-tape player in the middle of a program, and suddenly cutting off the audio from the data channel.  (These are all probably the result of electrical glitches.  But it is a ghostly experience to be sitting in the control room minding one's own business when unexpectedly a button apparently presses itself.)

In January, Clyde began looking for new worlds to conquer.  We were doing a live show one evening in which several members and parents of the Washington High School marching band showed movie films of the band's New Year's trip to the Orange Bowl Parade in Miami.

About ten minutes before the show was to get under way, we all sat down in the studio.  On a couch were four people:  the M.D. who had taken most of the pictures, his wife, the band director, and a band member.  Two more band members were in chairs at either end of the couch.  And my co-host and I were sitting on stools located behind the gaps in the other pieces of furniture.

The eight of us sat there for some time discussing the way we'd handle the program.  Suddenly, at one minute until airtime, there was a faint cracking sound.  My co-host looked up at the scenery, which he thought must be falling.  But what fell was the couch!  The back legs broke completely off, rolling the four people back with their knees in the air.

Our crew thought fast, though.  We pulled the four unlucky ones to their feet, dragged the couch and its legs off the set, and quickly brought in a backup couch from the technician's office.  We knew this couch wouldn't collapse on us; all four legs were already broken off it.  We managed to get on the air only 30 seconds late, and no one was the wiser.

I think it was the next morning that I was working in the control room when I heard a plop.  Now Clyde has been known to throw tape cartridges down from their racks to clatter on the table tops, but this was the first time I'd noticed him doing any plopping.

I looked up and discovered that one of the big acoustic ceiling tiles was simply melting, like a limp Dali watch.  The sheet of white plaster board was drooping, and pieces were breaking off to fall with a plop on a shelf below.  This continued for a while, until a couple square feet of the ceiling had disintegrated.

We eventually figured out the problem:  melting snow was dripping through the roof onto the ceiling tiles.  But I still think it was Clyde who poked the hole in the roof.

The pitchmen wore carnival barkers' jackets for our annual Baseball for Boys fundraising auction in the spring of 1976.

We used the bottom line of our "data channel" character generator to display the latest bids.

Just outside the studio, the volunteer phone operators watched the bids on a TV set.

If you tuned to Channel 3 when we had no programs to present, you'd see this "data channel."

Part of our income came from selling advertising on the cards in the center portion of the screen, which changed every ten seconds.  For examples of these cards, click here.

But how could we sell the cards if we couldn't prove that anyone was reading them?  Chuck Ream was a local college professor, a former coach who happened to host a sports talk show on Cable TV-3.  We persuaded him to have his students take a survey for us.

 

Wednesday, April 28, 1976

Chuck Ream just walked in with the results of the poll that he and his W&J students and Red Cross volunteers took last night.

Calls attempted

 

289

Calls completed

 

257

Do you watch the local Cable TV Channel 3?

Yes

206
(80%)

Of those 206 who watch:

Do you watch Channel 3:

Daily
Regularly
Often

30%
24%
46%

Do you check for the weather information?

Yes

84%

Do you read the crawl at the bottom of the screen?

Yes

75%

Do you read the cards in the center portion of the screen?

Yes

72%

Do you watch any of the sports on Channel 3?

Yes

70%

Have you seen any of the specials on Cable Channel 3?

No

53%

Do you watch the Channel 3 programming such as news?

No

62%

 

The cards in the center of the screen were televised by an ST-44 vidicon camera that was supposed to operate unattended.  But the camera was very inconsistent.

On October 29, 1976, I documented this for our engineers by sketching the waveform, using the field or "vertical" rate.  This is a colorized version of that sketch.  The picture was almost normal in the morning (A), but only half as bright in the afternoon (B).  The problem was eventually traced — more than six months later — to a bad transistor socket.

In the engineers' defense, they had virtually no budget for studio equipment.  Also, their primary responsbility was keeping the cable system running, so studio maintenance had to be deferred again and again.  We limped along the best we could.

 

Wednesday, May 19, 1976

The color coverage of the parade [using a borrowed color camera] was beautiful on Saturday.  We had quite a few compliments on it.  One part-time sponsor told Jerry Polen that it was the first program they'd seen on Channel 3 that held steady, without hooking or jittering; and Bill Wilson also reported that it looked unusually good on his set.

However, the replay on Monday night was not nearly as good.  As you know, when we showed the original tape on Saturday afternoon we added commercials, background music when necessary, and commentary.  In order that we could show the parade again in the future without having to bring Jerry and me back to the studio along with the commercial slides, background music, et cetera, we video-taped what the viewers saw on Saturday afternoon and showed the whole parade again on Monday night.  Bill Wilson reported that the jitters had returned, and several other people confirmed that this second-generation tape looked more like what we usually show on Channel 3.

About 25 minutes before the end of the 114-minute program, suddenly the tape went to snow.  The audio was okay, but the video didn't clear up completely until about five minutes before the end.  Apparently, in checking the beginning and end of that last cassette, we'd missed 20 minutes of snow in the middle.

Yesterday I spent about six hours trying to reconstruct the tape so we'd have a complete version to show again next week.  I dubbed the audio off the tape we'd played Monday night and recombined it with the video from the original tape and slides to make a new second-generation tape.  This one also came out snowy!  Dirt on the heads, probably.  So I rewound everything to the beginning and finally succeeded in making a clean dub on the third cassette we'd tried.

Our video-tape problems weren't over yet, though.  Last night was the first showing of a syndicated Blue Ridge Quartet gospel-music show.  Bill had several potential sponsors lined up, so he invited them to watch the show last night so they could see what they might be buying.  We had checked the tape on Monday and it looked fine technically.  But last night on the air, Tim said he couldn't get the tracking adjusted properly no matter what he tried.  Bill, at home, said he had to adjust his horizontal hold to get a recognizable picture.  He also said if any of his prospects were watching last night, he probably won't get them sold.

Needless to say, the last three days have been frustrating.

The picture below, taken in our studio, appeared on the front page of the Washington Observer-Reporter on June 18, 1976.  (Even here, our studio is having quality control problems.  In this case, the excuse is that a quarter-century later, I could no longer find an original copy of the newspaper, only a Xerox.)

The caption:  "Mayor Michael E. Johns, right, explained the details of 'Bassettown Square' during a news conference Thursday."  For more on what he had to say, click here.

I wrote to a friend:

One of my colleagues said, "I've been in this town for 54 years and I've never had my picture with the mayor on Page One."

But you notice that I'm not identified, since I work for a rival medium.  And then, in the evening edition of the paper, the picture was cut down to show only the mayor.

Fame is fleeting.

 

Sales flyer, early August, 1976

For the second straight year, Cable TV-3 will be carrying the complete football season of the Pennsylvania State University.

All eleven regular-season games, described by announcers Ray Scott, George Paterno, and Max McGee, will be seen in network-quality color productions featuring slow-motion instant replay and everything else you've come to expect in first-rate football on TV.

[In other words, these games will look considerably better than the locally-produced high school games that you're used to seeing on Cable TV-3, with their single camera angle and no instant replay.]

Although condensed highlights versions of these games will be seen on other stations during the day Sunday, Cable TV-3 is the only place you'll be able to watch the complete game each week, unedited and uncut.  And we'll show it twice, on Sunday evening starting at 6 PM and on Tuesday evening starting at 8 PM.

If you become a Penn State football sponsor, you'll receive in each showing of each game two 30-second commercials.  That's a total of 44 spots over the course of the season.  Your cost for the entire season will be just $290.

Where else can you buy commercials in network-quality football telecasts for so little money?

Cable TV-3 serves 30,000 people in 8,200 homes in the greater Washington area!

 

Wednesday, October 6, 1976

In the first week of the current pay period, Tim ended up working 73 hours.

Bassettown Progress Report

18½

W&J College Football

13½

Miss United Way Pageant

12½

Penn State Football

8

shooting pictures for commercials

6

training one high-school kid

miscellaneous

3

Mayor's Report

City Council Meeting

2

About Washington

2

Sport Scene

How far out of line is 33 hours of overtime?  Fortunately, the high-school football game on Friday night was rained out, or there would have been another six hours.

During that same week, the high school kids worked a total of 39 hours among the three of them, and I worked maybe 60 or 65.

As long as we keep up our present level of programming, we'll probably have heavy-overtime weeks like this.

 

Monday, October 11, 1976

Excerpts from my list of technical problems that need attention:

5. On the remote camera, the back-focus knob isn't tight enough to hold the vidicon where we want it.  If the camera tilts down, the vidicon slides forward and out of focus.

8. Frequently when we start to play or record on VTR 1 or 2, the threading mechanism will take the tape part of the way around, then slow and stop.  We have to take the cover off the machine, reach in, and pull the mechanism the final few inches, in order for the pressure roller to meet the capstan and start the tape moving.

9. Each time a recording is made on any of the VTR's, the sync seems to get compressed relative to the video.  Second-generation tapes may have only 10 units of sync instead of 40.

15. The audio carrier frequency seems to be shifting sometimes.  As recently as today, we've had periods when, on some TV sets, the received sound is mostly a buzz.  Other sets get good sound, supposedly because they can track the audio carrier better.  Then, for no apparent reason, the audio will return to normal, after maybe an hour of malfunctioning.  I understand a replacement "audio mod" module was requested several months ago.

30. Because of audio cable problems, on the last couple of big remotes we've been unable to run mikes further than 50 feet from the control rack.  It would be nice to have a 100-foot or 200-foot reel of audio cable with a connector on each end.

43.  The weather data is updating too fast.  As a result, the wind velocity never gets above one mile per hour.

45. We need to check sync and video levels, all the way through the modulator.  The biggest complaints about Channel 3 are the jitter and the "dark" picture.

48. The PGM button on the lower-left monitor in the remote rack hasn't worked since April 1975.  Instead, it shorts out the program video signal.

 

From the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Cable TV-3 presents the annual Eucharistic celebration of the Immaculate Conception parish family:  the closing ceremony of the Forty Hours observance.

This program was videotaped last Monday, October 25th.  It is being brought to you on Cable TV-3 by the Aud-Mor Residence Home for Senior Citizens at 133 Church Street, and by the Kurtz Monument Company, your Rock of Ages dealer, at 267 East Maiden Street.

Because the I.C. Church is comparatively dark tonight, you may find that you will get a better picture at home if you turn up the contrast on your television set.  Thank you.

 

Sales Flyer, late November, 1976:

Once again this year, Cable TV-3 presents Santa Claus twice daily in the two weeks preceding Christmas.

Each program has Santa, in color, at his North Pole workshop with his puppet friends.  Santa mentions Washington, Pennsylvania, as well as a few other towns he's going to visit.

[This portion was taped at our home office in New Philadelphia, Ohio, where they had color cameras.]

Each program also has two black-and-white segments taped locally.  In one, we read letters to Santa that have been written by children here in Washington.  In the other, we show scenes of holiday activities around town, such as decorations or singing groups.  These segments will be hosted by the "postmaster of the North Pole."

[I was the postmaster, wearing a top hat.]

 

Sunday, December 12, 1976

At the last college football game we televised this season, the lacrosse club at the local college put on an exhibition at halftime.  They're trying to become a varsity sport.  We knew about the exhibition earlier in the week, so I decided I'd better bone up on lacrosse.

I happen to have in my "files" a tape cassette I recorded on the chilly Saturday afternoon of May 6, 1967, at the Oberlin athletic field's press box.  As the sophomore sports director of WOBC, I was experimenting to see whether it was practical to describe a lacrosse game on radio.  Since the sport was played in football stadia, facilities for live radio broadcasts would be available if we wanted to use them.  That afternoon, I described the game into a tape recorder to see whether I could make the action easy for a listener to visualize.  The experiment was a qualified success, but because of lack of interest we never did broadcast any live lacrosse.

Listening to the cassette almost ten years later, I discovered that one Bruce Babcock was the goalie in a game against Michigan State, with Oberlin winning rather easily.  On one play, Bruce cleared a save to Carl Brown, to Jeff Fast, to Carl Burns ten yards to one side of the goal, to Chris Smith who (guarded by the MSU goalie) immediately scored.  The fast-break goal put Oberlin ahead 4-0 with 9:29 left in the first half.

For an hour I listened, letting the Tom Thomas of a decade ago instruct my present self on many points I'd forgotten, such as what happens when the ball goes out of bounds.  By the time the exhibition started on Saturday, I was ready to describe it on TV.

As it turned out, I hardly said a word.  One of the people connected with the lacrosse club was explaining the goings-on over the public address system, so we simply put him on the TV audio.  Oh, well.  Maybe next year.

 

Monday, December 13, 1976

With Bill Wilson quitting, we had hoped that John would be able to take over a large percentage of his sales accounts and keep them active.  But he's shown little inclination to do so.  He did renew one $10-a-week contract when I made a point of asking him to see that specific client; but aside from that, nothing of Bill's and very little of his own.

John seems to have lost his enthusiasm somehow.  We keep telling him that he ought to be able to sell shows like the high-school chorus Christmas special and the basketball games and wrestling matches, because they've always sold well before.  He keeps telling us that we ought to put more effort into producing shows that people will talk about, and into promoting our programs with handbills and other means.  We keep saying yes, those are good ideas, but we need revenue now — this week — or we may not be around here long enough to try to build up our image in the advertisers' minds.

We're all getting pretty pessimistic about John's ability to produce enough income to keep local origination alive in Washington.  Any ideas?

 

Wednesday, January 19, 1977

Plans are moving forward for the weekly program taped on location at the schools in rotation; for experimental coverage of the monthly "council" meetings of three townships and a borough; for an every-other-week Meet the Press type program; and for several other weekly shows, including a musical program to be sponsored by a piano store, a cooking program, and a series of interviews with community religious leaders.  Some of these may not work out, but we'll try to do as many as we can without running into excessive overtime for Tim.

At the moment, though, everything but the musical program is unsponsored.  I guess we'll go ahead and put them on without sponsors, in the hope that John can bring in at least some revenue eventually.  If we wait for him to sell the programs before we put them on, we won't get anywhere.

John and I have been conferring an average of 15 or 20 minutes each morning.  We decided last week to concentrate on two things, Bingo and the Christian Unity Service.  He'd already made a few Bingo calls and gotten one contract (we need 12 to start up the show), so he made a few more Bingo calls; then on Monday he told me it looked pretty hopeless, that we might have to give up selling Bingo.  The sponsors he talked to were mostly objecting that it would bring the wrong kind of clientele into their stores.  I asked him how many businesses he'd talked to, and he counted ten.  I said that wasn't bad, one sale in ten calls; judging from past experience, that's rather typical.  The solution probably is just to call on another hundred or so businesses, in hopes of getting ten "yes" answers to offset the ninety "no" answers.  John didn't seem too enthusiastic about the idea of making that many calls, but he's still trying.

The Christian Unity Service will probably go on this weekend with no sponsors at all (we had five $50 sponsors in 1975 and in 1976).  John called on most of last year's sponsors and got the usual answers like "We don't have any money right now" or "The boss won't be back from vacation for another two weeks."

 

Wednesday, January 26, 1977

John got some more "no" answers on Bingo from stores like K-Mart and Gaylord's and Hills, all discount department stores that we figured might welcome the welfare recipients who seem to make up a large part of the Bingo-playing audience.  The most common reason for the turn-down was the extra work it would mean for the girls running the check-out lines.

On the programming side, we're going to cover a wrestling match tonight that wasn't on the previously announced schedule.  One reason is the natural gas shortage; we figure it'd be safer to cover matches now and get the sponsors' commercials in, rather than stick strictly to the one-event-per-week schedule and have half the February events canceled because of the cold.  Besides, this should be a good match tonight.

Why was there a natural gas shortage?  Partly because we were experiencing our coldest January in history.  In Pittsburgh, the average high temperature for the month was 11°.

Back in my home town of Richwood, Ohio, North Union High School was struggling that month.  Not only was natural gas in short supply, but many local residents had lost confidence in the schools and were refusing to fund them.  When voters repeatedly rejected an operating tax levy, the district ran out of money in 1976.  The high school was forced to shut down from November 8 through the end of the year.  Sports events were deferred by squeezing them into the early-1977 schedule.

When classes resumed in January, recalls Denny Hall of the Class of 1977, “we were hit with a blizzard.  I remember kerosene space heaters in the music room as the only way to get enough heat to that end of the building.  We were playing four basketball games a week with little to no time to actually prepare for an opponent.  We barely even had a coach due to lack of funds.  A single coach had to run both varsity and reserve squads.  It was almost like we had to walk uphill both ways to and from school.

“Today, North Union is in sound financial standing.  We have modern facilities that are energy efficient and equipped with the latest technology to support students that have a lot more to learn in high school than I did.  Committed teachers and full coaching staffs yield excellence in the classroom and on the court.  In the 37 years since my class graduated, North Union has reason to be proud.”  (Richwood Gazette, February 12, 2014)

 
Wednesday, February 2, 1977

Since the schools might not re-open until April because of the natural gas shortage, we've brought up the idea of having teachers come to our studio to give lessons over the cable for the duration.

 

Monday, March 14, 1977 (excerpts from report)

Local Origination is helping the Pay-TV division in a way that doesn't show up on the books.  Each month LO donates some $840 of free advertising to [the HBO marketing effort].  So whether Local Origination is "losing money" may be largely a question of bookkeeping.

We're suggesting that [an operating loss] is acceptable because of the worth of the LO operation to Washington Channels as a whole.  A $2,000 monthly LO loss is worth it if we're able to get a 25-cent-per-month rate increase approved because of it.  And it certainly helps at rate-increase time to be able to point to what LO has done for municipal governments, the schools, the churches, civic organizations, boys baseball, and the like.  Any LO losses on the balance sheet could be considered as investments in public relations.


Covering local government:  a meeting of Washington City Council on TV-3.  Councilman Leo Trich (left) speaks as Mayor Mike Johns (right) listens.

Nevertheless, we're concerned about excessive LO losses.  We've steadily cut back programs.  For example, four years ago we covered 30 high-school regular-season wrestling and basketball events.  The next year it was 27, then last year it was 20, and this year it's only 12.  There's not much left to cut.  Although [further] reducing the number of programs would reduce our losses somewhat, it wouldn't really solve the problem.

 

Sunday, April 3, 1977

On Monday we took our camera to the new county home for the aged for a half-hour tour of the new facility.  They'll start moving patients from the two old county homes tomorrow.

On Wednesday, we covered the dedication of the remodeled YWCA building, at which the national executive director of the YWCA was the guest speaker.

On Thursday in our studio, we taped a mildly interesting discussion between a Methodist minister and a Catholic priest about the stations of the cross.  The minister hosts a weekly program on Channel 3; the priest is the pastor of the larger of the two parishes in town.

And on Friday, we taped some dance classes at the city elementary school for use in our weekly series on the schools.

One of the reasons the YWCA wanted us to cover their dedication was so that it could be preserved for posterity.  We're going to give them a copy of the video tape to be sealed inside the cornerstone; then it can supposedly be viewed when the building is next remodeled or torn down, probably sometime in the 21st century.  The program was an hour and 17 minutes long, and we're going to put it on an hour and a half of tape.

I'm thinking of filling out the other 13 minutes with a tape of our data service, which shows Channel 3 viewers the current time, temperature, humidity, windspeed and direction, barometric pressure, and daily rainfall, plus community announcements and advertisements.  The people who view the tape 50 years from now will undoubtedly find this all very quaint, especially the old-fashioned measurements in inches, miles per hour, and Fahrenheit degrees.

 

May 9, 1977, letter from Robert Spreat to my boss

I am writing this letter at the request of Mr. Thomas.  During the course of the past 2½ weeks following our talk on selling airtime, I have been going from store to store trying to sell the little bit I had ($5 per spot per showing, or $45 total).

I met with absolutely no success whatsoever from the store owners in town and in the malls.  The merchants in the mall complained primarily that they would have to get permission from the main store and that was in Pittsburgh and it would take so much time and on and on.

In town, all anyone wanted to talk about was how bad business was, or how nobody watched Cable 3 anyway, or how their child needs braces.

Nowhere did I meet with even the slightest possibility of selling time.  I found everyone I talked to adamant in their refusal to spend money on broadcast advertising.

Robert W. Spreat
Washington and Jefferson College [Class of 1977]

 

 

Wednesday, May 18, 1977

Technical problems continue.  Buck has been working on the data channel camera, in which he found a broken transistor socket which had been causing the loss of beam voltage, but it still looks kind of washed out.

I just got John's sales report from yesterday, which turns out to have been a good day.  Thirteen calls, including 5 sales, 2 no sales, 3 who are going to think about it, 2 not in, and 1 service.  Total sales were $473.

But other than yesterday, he's sold only $60 since May 6.  These things seem to run in spurts.

Monday, June 6, 1977

Well, my present activities are centering around baseball.  We're covering 16 games in the space of about eight weeks, sampling each of several leagues for boys from 7 years old to 16 years old.  So every few evenings, it's out to the old ball park for another couple hours of sports announcing.

Craig Dotson (left) and I atop the press box at Pony Field, preparing to tape a baseball game for later cablecast.

We used only one camera.  Here at Pony Field, it sat beside us, high above home plate, peering through the backstop fencing.  Elsewhere in Washington Park, our camera positions were less favorable.

At Bronco Field, the backstop was too close to the plate; we had to set up on the roof of the third-base dugout.  At Colt Field, we were directly behind the plate but at ground level ("low home").

And there was one other field we rarely visited because the only place that we could plug in our equipment was the concession stand beyond the right-field fence.  The roof of that concession stand was not the best site for our camera, but the camera wouldn't have worked at all without electricity.

 

March, 1978:
This script opened the second of our two
four-hour programs on the PIAA wrestling tournament.

For 41 years they've been making the pilgrimage.  The best high-school wrestlers in the Commonwealth!  Coming to the annual wrestling championships, held by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.  And in 1978, they're here again.

Three hundred eighty-four young men came here yesterday.  Ninety-six are left today.  And 24 young men will be crowned tonight:  state champs!

The scene is Rec Hall, on the campus of the Pennsylvania State University.  For the fifth consecutive year, Cable TV-3 is here to bring you the action of those bouts that are of interest in the Washington area.

The 41st annual PIAA wrestling championships are brought to you from State College by

the Coen Oil Company, with their tire shop at 1100 West Chestnut Street in Washington.

By Pankopf Ford, your friendly Ford dealer at 470 Washington Road.

By Towers Jewelers and Distributors in the Gaylord's shopping plaza.

By the Washington Meat Market, downtown at 28 North Main Street.

By Gatorade, the thirst-quencher distributed by the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Washington.

By "the first place," First Federal Savings and Loan of Washington.

And by John A. Turner, Realtor, for complete professional service.

 

. . . End of
3rd Quarter