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Threads: Freelancing

Letters written by me, updated May 2004
to include the period 1988-1989

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Sunday, March 13, 1988

I'm freelancing in television now, specializing in operating a Chyron at sports events.  (That's the computer that creates the player identifiers, scoreboards, and other graphics that are superimposed annoyingly over the picture that you're trying to watch.)  I'll be traveling with the much-improved Pittsburgh Pirates this spring and summer, and then going to Korea in September to work the Olympics with NBC.


Monday, June 6, 1988

The company I had been working for since 1980, TCS, went bankrupt last October.  The bank took over and continued to operate the weekly Penn State Football show through the end of the season, which was the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando on New Year's Day.  But then the facilities were sold to another company, NEP.  And since NEP doesn't produce any programs but only provides equipment, the few of us who were left in programming were called in to work only on an as-needed basis.  I became a full-time freelancer.

Of course, I had done freelance work for other production companies before, so this wasn't a drastic change.  I now have a little less income but a little more free time, which I consider a fair tradeoff.


The old TCS gang had gotten together one more time in February to produce "Starting Another Century," a Penn State football video using our footage from the 1987 season.  This time, we were working as independent contractors.

Here are parts of my script for the narration of this 48-minute tape.

1986 was the one-hundredth season of Penn State football.  An outstanding year.

Quarterback John Shaffer.  All-American linebacker Shane Conlan, with two interceptions against Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.  The number-two rusher in Penn State history, D.J. Dozier.  And Penn State's second national championship.  (Call of Giftopoulous interception)

The Nittany Lions were honored in Washington.  (President Reagan speaks; applause)

But 1987 was a new season, with new stars.  Matt Knizner led the Lions into their second century.  There were other fresh heroes, like linebacker Keith Karpinski.  And, with the third best rushing season in Penn State history, tailback Blair Thomas.  The year climaxed with a crucial win over Notre Dame.  (Call of unsuccessful Irish extra-point play)

This season's reward:  a trip to the Magic Kingdom!

The Nittany Lions of Penn State.  STARTING ANOTHER CENTURY.  (Theme)

The 1987 Nittany Lions were invited to Orlando for the Florida Citrus Bowl.  The players arrived before Christmas and had a great time.  At Sea World of Florida, they met penguins and posed with whales.  They rode in a parade down Main Street of Walt Disney World's "Magic Kingdom."  At EPCOT Center, the Penn State and Clemson teams met for an orange-juice squeezing contest.

After more than a week of fun in Florida, it was time for the football game.  Penn State's 25th bowl appearance marked the 12th time the Nittany Lions had played on New Year's Day, but just the first time they had played Danny Ford's Clemson Tigers.

• • •

The final score was Clemson 35, Penn State 10.  But the Lions could still hold their heads high.

Senior punter Chris Clauss set a Florida Citrus Bowl record with a 51-yard average, including this 62-yard boomer out of the end zone.  Penn State pulled off one of the most exciting plays of the game, a 46-yard pass to Michael Timpson.

The offensive line, led by All-American guard Steve Wisniewski, provided excellent pass protection.  Clemson had sacked opposing quarterbacks 35 times during the regular season.  They did not get a single sack against Penn State.

And two freshman tailbacks filled in well for the injured Blair Thomas.  Leroy Thompson gained 55 yards, in addition to catching three passes and returning six kickoffs.  Gary Brown added 51 yards.  So the Lion tailback tandem ran for 106 yards against the number-two rushing defense in the nation.  Penn State finished 8-4, and six seniors went on to post-season all-star games.  (Dip to black for "flashback" to August)

When fall practice began for the 1987 season, no one was sure where it would all lead.  The Nittany Lions were the defending national champions, but 30 lettermen from that 1986 team would not be returning.  Joe Paterno's team needed leadership from a new, younger group of players.

• • •

Blair Thomas, the junior tailback, was great in the final game of the regular season.  Joe Paterno agreed.  (Paterno press conference)

Thomas has the look of those great Penn State running backs.  (“You've Got the Look” music piece, including Fran Ganter)

So those were the Nittany Lions of 1987.  Starting the second century of Penn State football, they were brilliant in some aspects.  They showed much promise in others.  With more talented young players on their way to the top, there's a lot of excellent football to look forward to at Penn State.  (“Future” piece, with credits:)

Executive Producer 

L. Budd Thalman


Thomas V. Huet


Tom Thomas

Associate Producer 

Jack T. Sedlak


Mike Kobik

Electronic Graphics 

Lisa Cirincione


John Sanders
George Paterno


Monday, June 6, 1988

I continue to do graphics at MISL indoor soccer games for Prime Ticket on the west coast.  They usually hire me for games that the Los Angeles or San Diego teams are playing in this part of the country; but this spring they were short of experienced people, so I worked games as far away as L.A. and Tacoma.

For the second year, I'm traveling around the country for KDKA-TV telecasts of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

NEP hired me for a New Year's Eve celebration from Sea World in Florida (since we were there for the football game the next day), as well as:

• the setup in New York City for an Ekiden (a Japanese relay marathon, depicted at left),

• and a teleconference from Howard University about the movie School Daze.

Before Spike Lee described his movie, our TV crew shared dinner at a long table with several Howard students as well as actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis (right).

Decades later, in May 2016, Davis was remembered by legendary soprano Jessye Norman in her commencement address at Oberlin College, parts of which went like this:

I fear we are too often separated into groups that celebrate only one part of ourselves and we need to experience this day, together.

It happens that Carnegie Hall opened its doors on the fifth of May 1891 and has just celebrated its 125th anniversary.  A year after this opening season, that prized stage would be graced by the performance of an African American, Sissieretta Jones — a voice so pure and beautiful that hers was compared most favorably to the reigning European soprano of the day.  History, inclusion.

But then you had the Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington, D.C. who, decades later, did not see fit to have the great Marian Anderson to sing on the concert stage of the era, Constitution Hall, which they owned, and which they still own to this day.

It took the sheer will and determination of Eleanor Roosevelt, who might have had a word with her husband, to turn this slight, this sign of prejudice and intolerance, into an historical moment — something that can be referred to easily as America’s first protest concert, by a woman whose art and demeanor offered only serenity, her deep faith and humility.  Marian Anderson, Easter Sunday 1939, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, not singing for a few thousand but for tens of thousands surrounding the area and the reflecting pool.  And the very first words out of that splendid throat on that day: “My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.”  Her graciousness, my gratitude.

The wonderful Ossie Davis happened to have been a freshman student at Howard University at that time, and I had the grand privilege of having him tell me of this momentous occasion — that it was a cool morning, but as the crowds were so huge, all tight together, he said, we kept warm and happy.

May I ask of you and of today’s momentous occasion that you take your academic diploma under one arm and, with your other hand outstretched, offer to all comers the teachings of your heart and mind, this music of your soul.  And imagine, if you will, the harmony that this could bring to our world.

I worked the heavyweight championship boxing match between Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes on HBO in January, and I'll be back in Atlantic City later this month for a closed-circuit telecast of the Tyson-Spinks title fight (right).

And NBC has hired me as one of 30 Chyron operators who will travel to Seoul for the 1988 Summer Olympics.

So I'm traveling, working on prestigious events, and enjoying not being tied down to the weekly grind of the Penn State Football highlights show.  Things seem to be going fairly well here.

The Chryon model 4100 could not easily capture video from an outside source, such as artwork for team or sponsor logos.  I found that I could achieve better results when I created logos pixel by pixel inside the machine.

However, this was tedious and time-consuming, and as a freelancer I didn't have much "slack time" to work on the Chyron.  So I tried this technique, using my home computer for an intermediate step.

I drew a grid over a photocopy of the logo.  Then I wrote a program for my computer that reproduced two boxes of the grid on the screen (here rows 41 through 60, pixels 6 through 215) and allowed me to blacken the desired pixels.

Finally, my program printed out for me a list of which pixels in each row were blackened (for example, Row 41:  15-24, 81-96, 192-201, and 210 to the edge of the next box).

When I was able to get to the Chyron, it was a simple matter of coloring in the specified pixels, with no need to waste time on making creative decisions.

Thursday, August 25, 1988

I finally added air conditioning to my apartment this spring, after living here without it for 7½ years.  Actually it's just a window air conditioner, but it helps.  I certainly picked the right year to do it.


In September of 1988, I traveled to South Korea.  Click here for the story.  But most of my trips were much shorter.

Let me give you an idea of what it was like.  Gleaned from the paperwork that I saved, here are some of my travels over the year following the Olympics.

Sat 10-29-88

HBO Boxing, Julio Cesar Chavez vs Jose Luis Ramirez, at the Las Vegas Hilton.  My room was actually at the Alexis Park Resort some distance away.  Until then, I had not been a coffee drinker, but I decided to figure out how to use the Alexis Park's in-room coffeemaker.  I've been drinking coffee occasionally ever since.

Fri 11-11-88

Golden State at Phoenix for Turner Sports.

Thu 11-17-88

Horse racing at Garden State Park, Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Fri 11-18-88

I drove to the Philadelphia airport, flew to Fort Lauderdale, and drove to Pompano Park to make a 1:00 pm crew call for the Breeder's Crown harness race.

Sat 11-19-88

I visited my high-school friend Terry Rockhold before catching an evening flight to North Carolina.

Sun 11-20-88

Crew call 6:00 am for an ESPN soccer game at North Carolina's Setzer Field.  6:20 pm flight back to Pittsburgh.

Fri 1-13-89

More NBA basketball on TBS:
Chicago at L.A. Clippers.
L.A. Lakers at Philadelphia.
Washington at Philadelphia (Christmas Day).
MISL Indoor Soccer in Dallas for Prime Ticket.

Sat 1-14-89

LSU at Kentucky basketball for ESPN.  I arrived in Lexington at 11:15 am and proceeded over icy roads to the Hyatt Regency hotel and the adjacent Rupp Arena, where my crew call time was 2:30 pm.

The mobile unit was Challenger I, the director was John DeLisa, and the producer was John Wildhack.  There was no graphics coordinator.  I was paid $200 plus per-diem.

Here's a sample full-screen scoreboard from the ESPN instruction sheet, in this case for a football game.  The specification was for a 4100-series Chyron using 510E software (Sports Fast).

Sat 2-25-89

HBO Boxing at the Las Vegas Hilton, Mike Tyson vs Frank Bruno.

Sat 4-22-89

Blue-White spring football game at Penn State.  I had to put the graphics package together from scratch.

The squad was divided into two teams.  One wore blue jerseys with white numbers; the other, white with blue.  Usually players are identified with name, number, and team logo, but these two teams didn't have two separate logos.  So I got out my graph paper and created 20 digits for uniform numbers.  The color scheme shown here was for a Blue player; reversing the palette gave us White.

Tue 5-2-89

More NBA basketball on TBS included at least five games in February through April, followed by these four contests:

NBA Playoffs, Utah vs Golden State.

Wed 5-3-89

NBA Playoffs, L.A. Lakers at Portland.  I then flew down to San Diego for a weekend Pirates baseball series.  (I would work 50 Pirates games for KDKA-TV that season.)

Wed 5-10-89

NBA Playoffs, Milwaukee vs Detroit.

Fri 5-12-89

NBA Playoffs, Milwaukee vs Detroit.


LPGA Boston Five Classic (golf).

Mon 8-28-89

WWF Summer Slam wrestling at The Meadowlands, New Jersey.

Sun 9-10-89

Miller High Life 400 NASCAR race at Richmond, Virginia.  After the telecast, Steve Smeryl and I were the first scheduled to fly home.  We had tickets on a 7:05 pm flight, which was presumably the last Richmond-to-Pittsburgh flight of the day.  World Sports Enterprises not only allowed us to leave as soon as the show was off the air, they even used their chartered helicopter to speed us to the airport.  Eighteen others had flights scheduled for 7:45 or earlier, but they presumably had to drive to the airport, fighting the post-race traffic.  I got there so quickly that I was able to rebook for an earlier flight.

Sat 9-16-89

Football, Clemson at Virginia Tech.

Sun 9-24-89

Expos at Mets, French Canadian feed.

Tue 10-17-89

“In Pittsburgh” Music Awards.  The local CBS affiliate, KDKA channel 2, produced a live special from the Graffiti nightclub featuring local bands.  Partway through the hour, KDKA had to interrupt our show for a CBS news bulletin:  there had been a major earthquake in San Francisco.  A few minutes later, Dan Rather was back with another update.  Finally, the last portion of our show was pre-empted completely for earthquake coverage.

Sat 10-21-89

College football, USC at Notre Dame for Prime Ticket.  Afterwards, I drove back to Chicago's O'Hare Airport with analyst Mike Garrett.  A little more than three years later, Garrett would start a 17-year stint as USC's athletic director, but he's best known as the USC tailback who won the 1965 Heisman Trophy.

And now back to some actual letters.



Thursday, June 1, 1989

Since the Olympics, I actually haven't worked in Pittsburgh all that much, but I've done a lot of other events around the country, from Los Angeles to Boston and from Portland, Oregon, to Pompano Beach, Florida.  I'm lucky enough to be considered sufficiently good at what I do that companies will send me to a lot of interesting places to do it.  And being single, with no pets or anything, I can be almost as happy in a hotel in Phoenix as I am at home in my apartment.  I'm really enjoying what I'm doing.

In honor of your upcoming birthday, I'm enclosing an example of the latest French fashion, imported directly from Paris by way of New Jersey.  I understand that the design commemorates a comedy routine on the French television network Canal+, in which a team of newscasters spend all their time on introductions and never actually get around to reporting any news.


Les titres du JTN • Bonsoir, je suis Bruno
Carette • Bonsoir, je suis Chantal Lauby
• Bonsoir, je suis Alain Chabat • Des images
qu'on aimerait voir plus souvent • Nulle
part ailleurs • Jé souis pas oune machine •
Décidément, Moscou n'a pas fini de nous
étonner • Et puis, y a eu la reu Lepic • De
notre envoyé spécial Yvan Duteuche •
Les faits, rien que les faits • De bien belles
images, en effet • Dominique Farrugia:
une météo très particulière ce soir, en
effet •  Tous ces titres ne seront pas
développés dans cette édition • Les Nuls.

My guess at a loose translation:


JTN headlines • Good evening, I'm Bruno Carette • Good evening, I'm Chantal Lauby • Good evening, I'm Alain Chabat • Pictures that we'd like to see more often • Exclusively • I am not a machine • Definitely, Moscow never ceased to amaze us • And then, there was Lepic Street • From our special correspondent Yvan Duteuche • The facts, just the facts • Quite beautiful pictures, indeed • Dominique Farrugia:  A very special weather forecast tonight, indeed • We'll have details of none of these stories in this edition • The nothings

One of the catchphrases seems to be "I am not a machine!"  In French, this would be "Je suis pas une machine."  But on the T-shirt, three vowels are slightly different:  "Jé souis pas oune machine."  Eez zees pairhops — I mean, is this perhaps an indication that the character is speaking with a foreign accent?

I don't know that for sure, of course, because I myself don't speak French.  But that didn't stop a local production company from hiring me to do the graphics when Canal+ came to Garden State Park (east of Philadelphia) to televise an international harness race.  A French horse named Ourasi was entered in the event that night.  The French network wanted to televise the race live, at the unlikely hour of 4:45 AM European time; so they sent over a few of their people and arranged for an American TV crew, which included me.

I couldn't understand a word of what the announcers were saying, although I could follow the general drift of what they were talking about.  Well, I did comprehend one word:  when we finally went to a shot of a horse that they had been discussing, the voilà! came through loud and clear.  But fortunately the bilingual producer and his assistant had written out all the graphics that they wanted me to put on the screen, and I had studied up on the special software required to add the âcçènts which we never have to worry about in American TV.  So we got through it fairly well.  Ourasi, however, lost.

After the show, one of the Canal+ people was handing out shirts as souvenirs.  Since I don't wear T-shirts and can't read this one, I thought that maybe I should pass it on to Wisconsin, where there are people who might be able to make some sense out of it.  Happy birthday.


Monday, July 24, 1989
To general manager Norman W. Johnson, WAGM-TV, Presque Isle, Maine

Earlier this month I submitted a bill to NEP's Pittsburgh office for my three-day trip to Presque Isle July 5-7 to demonstrate the Chyron 4100 to your staff.  But Deb Honkus now informs me that I should bill you directly.

When I went to Maine, I thought that WAGM wanted me to teach its staff how to operate the Chyron.  It turned out that they only wanted an in-depth demonstration.

My agreement with Deb was for a fee of $250 a day, plus $35 per diem to cover expenses.  However, WAGM paid for all my expenses while I was there, including hotel, meals and transportation.  So you owe me just for the three days, a total of $750.00.

I enjoyed meeting everyone and showing them some of what the 4100 can do.  I hope you're able to follow through on your plans to purchase either a 4100 or a Scribe.  If properly used, the new machine will go a long way toward enhancing the look of your commercial productions and newscasts.


On the last day of the 1980s, a near-riot broke out in the huge 500-foot-tall atrium of the downtown Atlanta hotel where the crew of the Pirates Television Network usually stayed.  This was before the days of the Internet, but I used my 300-baud modem to download the AP story from Compuserve.  Excerpts:

ATLANTA (AP) -- At least 15 people were hurt and about 50 arrested after a New Year's Eve party at a downtown hotel turned violent and drunken revelers threw potted plants, fire extinguishers and bottles from balconies.

"At midnight it was literally raining bottles.  I got hit in the back of the head with a bottle," said Police Sgt. J.R. Collins.

About 2,000 young people were celebrating in the 1,685-room Marriott Marquis hotel.  Guests reported there were fights, they were hit with fire extinguisher blasts when they walked out of their rooms and they were trapped in elevators when vandals managed to short-circuit them.

The hotel offered a special New Year's Eve package deal and sold out its rooms, and many of the younger revelers apparently brought friends into their rooms.  Most of those arrested were from 17 to 21 years old, police said.

Paramedics said as many as 15 people were treated for injuries ranging from broken teeth to cuts on the head.  One was knocked unconscious, apparently by a falling object.

I'm uncomfortable in rooms with high ceilings, even under normal circumstances.  I was glad that baseball season was still three months away.

My story continues in The Nineties.



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