Start of 3rd Quarter . . .
Sunday, May 16, 1971
As predicted in my last letter, the past few weeks have been a bit hectic, but not quite in the way I expected. For example, the election.
On April 28 and 29, Marion CATV put on two "Meet the Candidates" programs. The Republican candidates in the primary election appeared on Wednesday night, and the Democrats on Thursday night. They were each supposed to be interviewed for six minutes. In those cases where there was more than one candidate for a given nomination, the n candidates appeared side-by-side for 6n minutes, which was supposed to be divided equally. However, we ran into a problem with the two Republican candidates for mayor. One of them took 4:44 to answer a question, and the moderator, Mr. Smith Witter, did not cut him off. His opponent answered the same question in only 0:43. Then afterwards the opponent started complaining about equal time. We finally had to have a third program, in which the slighted candidate got his equal time and then we had a debate between him and the other candidate. That program was held on Monday, May 3, the day before the election.
On Election Day, only about 35% of the voters went to the polls. We had planned to begin our election returns program at 9:00 that night, but it turned out because of the light vote that all the returns were in shortly after 8:00. Never before had the returns been complete before midnight. We were for a time in a quandary trying to decide what to do; finally we decided to wait until 9:00, as scheduled, and go on with the final tallies in the races. Then we could sign off earlier than planned.
The only problem with this was that we had sold commercials for the period 9:00 to midnight, and if we didn't stay on, we lost money. So we gave the returns, analyzed them, interviewed a guest, gave the returns again, analyzed them some more, played a video-tape interview, interviewed the guest again, gave the returns again, played another video-tape interview, gave the returns again, analyzed them again, and finally signed off at 10:30. After all our preparation for a complicated and lengthy election-returns program, it was only 90 minutes long and not complicated at all.
Later that week we were told by our general manager that one of our major sponsors was not going to review his contract with us when it expires in June, and as a result we were going to have to start thinking of ways of cutting our operating expenses 50%. That's almost impossible without going off the air. We figured out a way that the expenses could be cut 39% and still retain a few of our most popular programs, including my newscast. But I doubt that many cuts will actually be made, at least not right away. I suspect the general manager was at least partly trying to shock our salesperson into going out and selling more commercials, in order that we wouldn't have to make such drastic cutbacks.
To continue with the saga of the last couple of weeks: On Saturday, May 8, we got our first opportunity in Marion to use color television equipment. Our manager brought from Cleveland a $7500 color camera and a color video-tape recorder, so that we could produce some material for showing in Anderson, Indiana, on May 10. (Marion CATV's parent company, Rustcraft Cable Communications, is fighting for a CATV franchise in Anderson and wanted to show the people there what people in Marion were doing in the line of local program origination. The fact that we normally do it in black and white was immaterial.) All Saturday afternoon, the chief engineer and I worked to produce this tape, and we all think we did a good job with it. And I understand the tape was well received when it was shown in Indiana.
Finally, last Wednesday and Thursday we did a closed-circuit telecast for Whirlpool, a local industrial plant. We taped a ceremony at noon Wednesday and then showed it to the workers at their next three dinner breaks (8:00 pm, 2:00 am, and 11:00 am). But what I remember most about that affair was having to lug a 60-pound TV camera down a hallway, down three flights of stairs, and outside to our truck after the taping session was over. Next time I do something like that, I'll recruit a helper.
Sunday, October 24, 1971
That record of pesticide commercials you gave me as a Halloween present in 1968, after I'd tried to palm it off on you earlier in the year, is still around. Most recently, it's been heard on certain Marion CATV programs. We play it occasionally when we want a non sequitur sound effect. "Hello, this is Eva Gabor in Hollywood."
But please, whatever you say about Marion CATV, don't accuse us (as you did in your last letter) of obtaining our news by reading the local weekly newspaper. We read the local daily newspaper. Unlike the little town of Richwood, Marion does have a daily paper, and a radio station too. CATV "borrows" freely from both for its news. It's the only way.
Now, contrary to what you may be thinking, I do have some serious reservations about the propriety of this practice. And I expressed them to our general manager shortly after I was hired. But he has indicated that I should continue the practice, so I'm only following orders. (That'll be my defense before the war crimes tribunal.) Really, the problem is that Marion CATV is trying to produce a daily newscast with a ½-man staff I have other duties besides news when in fact they need at least a 3-man staff. They're cheap, that's what it amounts to. But so far, the newspaper hasn't complained, and the radio station hasn't complained, and our viewers may not suspect what's going on. (I rewrite the news so it sounds different, and we do get a few stories that the other media don't have.) So I guess we're getting by.
Sunday, November 7, 1971
The election returns seemed to turn out very well. We had several people tell us that our coverage was better than that of the local radio station, which has been doing this far longer than we have. Part of this was my doing; part of it was the doing of a couple of other talented people who appeared on the air; and part of it was a combination of hard work and good luck.
The next major project is a TV auction. Our local Jaycees are doing most of the work, since they'll benefit from the proceeds. They get a local merchant to donate a toaster, say, to the auction; then the auctioneer gets on the air and asks for bids; the viewers telephone in their bids; and the highest bidder gets to buy the toaster. The Jaycees then pay the merchant the wholesale price of the toaster, and keep the rest of the money for themselves as profit. Our job is to get all this on the air. The date is November 20. (For later comments about the Jaycees Auction, click here.)
Sunday, December 19, 1971
Starting the first of the year, I'll be getting a promotion at Marion CATV. Actually I'll be doing the same work, but with more responsibilities. Apparently the manager wanted to give me a substantial raise but could not because of the Phase II guidelines [of the Nixon Administration's wage-price freeze], which limit raises to 5½%. So he used the loophole in those guidelines and gave me a promotion to a new job, that of program director, which carries a salary that's 22% higher than the one I had been making in my old job.
My new responsibilities are mainly those of managing the budget of the program-origination department. That department is currently in the red; in fact, we've been losing money ever since we started programming 19 months ago. My boss (and his boss) would like to see us start to break even in this department, so its losses wouldn't have to be subsidized by the more lucrative cable-distribution-service department. Before I accepted the promotion, I made it clear that I couldn't guarantee success in this effort to break even, because I've never really been convinced it can be done in a city the size of Marion. But I agreed to try.
Another reason for the promotion, it appears, is to give me a chance to show what I can do in the field of management. It's likely that if I'm reasonably successful in the next year or so, I may be offered a position in the new complex of CATV systems which our parent company is building in southwestern Ohio, between Cincinnati and Dayton.
Sunday, January 9, 1972
Also new at Marion CATV: a 24-hour news service, which we carry on Channel 3 whenever we're not doing our own programming. A teletype wire prints the news on the upper six lines of the TV screen. The bottom three lines are for local announcements, which we can type in ourselves; and there's a color background behind all of this lettering.
Of course, the idea is to make a profit. A cart machine will store a series of messages and type them over and over again; we'll charge the advertisers about 15¢ for each time their message comes up.
The news wire itself is fun to watch. It's exactly the same UPI service that WOBC had at Oberlin, except it prints out on a TV screen instead of a roll of yellow paper. I find myself staring at it fascinated, wondering what the next word is going to be.
And of course, we have the usual fun things coming across, like Audio Advisories and garbled sentences and misspellings and messages like "CZR BUST ABOVE BKB FINAL RPT BUST HXR." [That means something like "Chicago, don't use that basketball final score that we just sent you, it's wrong. Repeat, don't use it. Columbus."] I'm sure the people watching this stuff at home must get thoroughly baffled.
The "HOLD FOR RELEASE AT 6:30 PM EST" items never get on the screen. UPI sends out a special code, "RRR," which freezes our print-out system. Otherwise, the hold-for-release material would be sent out to people's homes in advance of the release time. Then, when they're done with the message, they send a "YYY" code which turns our machine back on again. [Also freezing our system: a typographical error with three Rs, such as LONDONDERRRY.]
Here in Marion we're beginning to get cranked up for our sesquicentennial celebration. The county was founded in 1822, so this July there is going to be a big 150th birthday party, and between now and then people will be growing beards and buying old-fashioned costumes and all that sort of thing. In fact, about half the men you see nowadays are sporting beards and/or mustaches. I'm resisting the trend. Somehow, I just wouldn't feel right with chin-whiskers, though I'm not sure why not. Maybe I'll get a paste-on beard to wear on my newscasts during the celebration week in July. With a frock coat and a stovepipe hat, that should look sufficiently old-fashioned.
Sunday, April 30, 1972
With the exception of the fact that my boss (Marion CATV general manager Jack Rubins) is leaving Marion this weekend to begin a new job tomorrow as the manager of the cable TV system in Kankakee, Illinois, there's not too much to report. Nor much time to report it in. The Ohio primary election is coming up Tuesday, and I'm busily preparing to report the returns of the local races on Channel 3. Any spare time is spent in wondering who our new manager will be. Apparently, they still haven't found a replacement for Jack.
Saturday, May 20, 1972
This week we have been very busy with the Harding High School prom, which we televise each year. It seems to me that this year I've spent about twice as much effort getting this thing ready as in years past. And the same thing goes for my technical colleague, Jude Clifford.
Normally, we do the commercials on videotape, then take the video tape recorder out to the big Coliseum where the prom is held. Each time that the host of the program calls for a commercial, we just turn on the video tape recorder and let the commercial play. That's very simple.
Our procedure also is to have a second video tape recorder recording the entire program, so that we can then show it again the next day. That makes it easy for the kids to see themselves on TV.
However, this year we have only one working video tape recorder, out of a total of three. That meant we had to figure out some other way to do the commercials.
The usual way that slides and movies are shown on television is to aim them directly into a camera through mirrors made especially for that purpose. We've got one of those setups, but it's firmly bolted down in our control room.
What we ended up doing was setting up a movie screen in a little room just off the main floor of the Coliseum, aiming a slide projector at it and a 16-millimeter movie projector and one of our big studio-type TV cameras. We then used this screen for the visual source for our commercials, and we used a cassette tape recorder for the audio source. This was a little makeshift, and the commercials came out a little ragged.
The fact that we were doing this remote meant that my newscasts had to be abridged and finally done away with entirely this past week. And we probably won't have any of them next week either, because I'm spending so much time on remotes. We don't know exactly what we'll do with the newscast in the future. Maybe the fact that I spend three or four hours a day on that one 15-minute program is an inefficient use of time; we're talking about doing the program ad lib, without writing any script for it, just having me sit down and reel off whatever facts come to mind. Actually, it would be more a case of whatever facts I happen to get in the mail. You know, reading the press releases.
We've got two more remotes next week. There's a circus coming to town; it's going to be in this same Coliseum where the prom was last night. Tuesday morning they'll be coming in to put their rigging in the rafters and get the animal cages all set up and put out their three rings, and we'll be there. We have a regularly-scheduled morning program, and on Tuesday that program will originate from the Coliseum with all sorts of interviews with the circus people. We have some misgivings about this, because it's going to be completely unplanned, unstructured, and we have no idea what's going to happen.
Moving on then to Thursday, it's the high school graduation. Normally that takes place at the Coliseum also. However, this year is the 100th graduation from Harding High School, and the kids have decided they'd rather do it in the football stadium. It's going to start at eight o'clock, when the sun is still up in the sky; by the time the ceremony is over, it'll be dark. TV cameras do not adapt easily to wide variations in lighting. We'll have to set up the cameras for what we think is right and then live with it for the rest of the evening. Another problem is that we do not have a video transmission line from the stadium to our "head end," which is where all the CATV signals are sent out to the entire city. We do have such a facility at the Coliseum, which enables us to originate live programs from there; but we don't have one at the stadium. So we're just going to have to go out there and tape the high school graduation ceremonies, then bring the tape back to the studio and play it the following night.
That makes it easier in a few ways, however. The commencement is uninterrupted in real life. But when we play back the tape, at the end of a speech we can just stop the tape, put in a commercial, then start the tape again from the point where we left off. So we can get in more commercials more easily and scatter them better through the program this way, which should mean more money for us. Also, the fact that we don't have to put in the commercials at the scene means that we won't have to go through this business with the slide projector and the film projector.
. . End of