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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

So This Is New Years...

(Push the button on the lower left to play the video)

There were dozens of people who made The Ten O’Clock News happen, but on most nights, only the producer and director received on-air credit. Once a week, we would remedy that situation with a credit roll, listing each and every person who worked on the newscast that week (plus the “regulars” who were on vacation).

What you see here is an interesting variation on the credit roll. On December 31, 1981, we sent cameraman George Buigas around the building to shoot film of all the behind-the-scenes folks who were stuck working on New Year’s Eve. We then edited the film, did some preproduction (supers, but not music) and bumped it to tape. The audio track ran live (off of a "cart") and unfortunately sounds sour, but that’s the way it aired, so that’s the way it’s being preserved.

A few interesting points about this credit roll:

1. Note the blackboard behind producer Arlene Ross. In those days the producer put the rundown of the show on a board, and it was everybody’s job to copy down the information.
2. Even Guy Thompson, the custodian, received credit that night. I’m sure it was the only time he was publicly acknowledged.
3. Several of the people in this credit roll are no longer with us, including Bob Hammerly, Ed Rehm, and Jerry Fisher. (Fisher was not acknowledged by name, since she was working as a reporter that night, and had an on-screen presence during the newscast. She can be sitting at her desk, behind Guy Thompson.)
4. The on-air team that night was Larry Klaas, John Loesing (sports), and Dave Corey (weather, substituting for Don Franklin). Corey was normally a booth announcer at the station.
5. It’s good to see Larry Wallenstein (Larry #3) in his role as assignment editor. He would exit in January 1984, only to return a few years later as news director.
6. Was that a space ship, or a news set? Beam me up!
7. I sure needed a haircut.

I hope you enjoyed viewing this rare artifact. Leave me some positive comments and bribes, and perhaps I can be persuaded to post some more clips from my Channel 6 archives. Send the bribes care of J. DeLaTorre (bad inside joke). Have a happy and safe 2009!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

But The Levy Was Dry

I briefly mentioned Harlan Levy, our unforgettable assistant news director (who doubled as an on-air reporter). The tension between Levy and anchor Larry Klaas was a constant presence in the WCIX newsroom back in 1980. Levy wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the box, and never was that more apparent than during the Liberty City riots of May 1980. A jury had found a group of white police officers not guilty of killing Arthur McDuffie, an unarmed black businessman. For days, racial tensions boiled over, with fires, gunshots, and looting. Through it all, Channel 6 reporters were out in the field, phoning in their eyewitness accounts of what they saw. By May 20, things were still tense, but starting to calm down. It was on that night that Harlan Levy delivered our nightly news update.

Before filing his report, Levy asked reporter Marianne Murciano what she was seeing. He also asked the same of Jill Beach, who had stepped out of the curfew area to grab a bite to eat. This would become important.

From Levy’s script, and subsequent broadcast:

(Click images to view them full-screen)

“Marianne Murciano is out in the field at this hour. A few minutes ago she reported in from 62nd Street and NW 7th Avenue, where National Guard officials say 2 vehicles were just burned off the expressway, and that a group of 25 black males have gathered near that locale.”

Oh My God! 25 black males have gathered! Everyone run for your lives!

“There are reports that at 175th Street and NW 32nd Avenue, a U-Totem was blown up.”

Huh? Ever hear of checking your sources? A U-Totem was WHAT??

Oh, but there’s more.

“Two units are responding to NW 27th Avenue, where Big Mack’s is located.”

Ha ha ha! One of our photographers mentioned “Big Mack’s”, which is what he called McDonald’s. Harlan never asked for any clarification, and went ahead and put the phrase “Big Mack’s” on the air!

And the pièce de résistance:

“Jill Beach was at Coral Way and 27th Avenue moments ago. She reports no activity there.”

Of course not! Coral Way and 27th Avenue was nowhere near the curfew area. It was east of Coral Gables! As previously mentioned, Jill was at that location… eating dinner!
That, in a nutshell, was our assistant news director. It’s no surprise why Larry Klaas so often would go around saying “I’ve had it with Levy”. It’s no surprise that in a few months, Larry would have his job (in addition to anchoring the news). It’s no surprise that The Ten O’Clock News would have to fight even harder for viewers, for credibility, for respectability.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Chain Chain Chain

Just ten days after being named “news managing editor”, Larry Klaas decided to show us all who’s boss. Presenting: the infamous “chain of command” memo.

I know what Larry was trying to do. He was sending a message to the producer, assignment editor, and director that what he said GOES. He urged all members of the news staff to keep a copy of this chain of command on file for reference. Disagree with Larry? Unless you happened to be the news director, you didn’t stand a prayer. It’s right there, on an 8 ½” by 11” piece of paper.

The producers hated this! Not because of having to answer to Larry, but because in the Klaas command chain, they had no more authority than the assignment editor, and the nebulous “other”. The directors hated this, because under Larry’s law, they were equal to the assistant directors… the assistant producers… and, ahem… INTERNS!

None of that mattered to Larry. The moral of the story was “I am above all of you, and you will listen to me!” But in a newsroom where the producer had to have SOME authority over the assignment desk, and the directors had to call the technical shots during the show, this demonstrated a lack of understanding on several levels. After just ten days, hard feelings were already starting to form. It didn’t mean people didn’t like or respect Larry. They just wanted a little respect in return. By stating they wielded the same power as interns, the implication was the assistant producers, assistant directors, and even the directors were just bit players in the news operation. Of course Larry didn’t really feel that way, but this sure made it look that way, and did nothing for unity, morale, or inspiration in a news operation that needed it badly.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Where There's Smoke...

Life in a newsroom has changed in so many ways, and I'm not just talking about news content. In those days, people smoked pot out in the open, even in front of “adults”. Those that didn’t partake, usually looked the other way. Such was the way it was in the late 70s and early 80s.

I was ushered into the WCIX world of weed on my very first day at the station. Before I’d even known my way around that crazy round building, I was shown the ledge on the fourth floor, behind some of the big equipment in the engineering department. People visited that ledge at all hours of the day and night. I tended to wait until after the newscast to partake, but many people did it from the moment they arrived for their shifts. It truly was a different world then!

(Look carefully at the fourth floor. You never know who you’ll see!)

Another favorite spot was out on the dirt road along Biscayne Bay. Cars would park there every night after the newscast was through. It was a favorite way to unwind in those days, but there was always the fear of getting caught by the police. For a long time they turned a blind eye to our activities, but after the Luis Alvarez police shooting gave the department a black eye (and we reported it aggressively), they weren’t quite as accommodating, and we had to be a lot more careful.

Then there was the art room, on the second floor. One night in 1980, a bunch of us went there after the newscast, thinking our illustrious assistant news director had left for the night. You can imagine our trepidation when he walked into the art room, at the same time many of us were passing the pipe around. We thought we were all in big, big trouble! The boss man walked over to us, and without missing a beat, asked (to our surprise), “hey, would any of you like to buy some sinsimilla?” Whew! The “Newser” was a User! I guess that would describe so many people that I worked with. Not Bob Rossicone, though.

Rossicone, the tough associate director with a pronounced New York accent, walked in on security guard Lazaro C. and me one time after hours. Lazaro was paid to watch the building, but spent lots of his time socializing and getting high. With the smell of pot permeating the room, Lazaro was afraid Rossicone would blow the whistle and cost him his job. When asked if he was bothered by what we were doing, we were greeted by one of the funniest lines I’d ever heard. Rossicone just looked at us and said, quote…

“I don’t care if you burn the f*cking place down!”

And so it went in those days. Times changed, the station grew more competitive, and soon drug testing was the norm. Eventually I stopped smoking, and I’m sure so did most of the other Boys From Brickell. But for quite a number of years, lighting up was a big part of my Channel 6 experience. It helped me cope with the pressure and frustrations, and being a shy person by nature, helped greatly in social situations.

And no, we never burned the place down.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Here’s a side of Larry Klaas we rarely got to see around the station. With his contract not renewed, and his career (at the time) hanging in the balance, he found himself able to just let go and enjoy himself at his going-away party, planned and hosted by his close friend, producer Arlene Ross. Here we see Larry and his wife, sharing a quiet moment. It’s the only time I’d ever seen him with his hair messed up.

Larry, opening one of his presents, with producer Jerry Fisher looking on. Jerry was a wonderful person, who a decade later would put up a valiant, but ultimately losing battle against cancer.

Dig the caricature of Larry on the piano, next to then-lovebirds Gary Slawitschka and Wendy Weisbrod. I don’t recall if it was Ron Laffin or Jim Hayek who created the portrait, but it’s a real beauty. To my eyes, it looks like Ron’s handiwork. Gary was a fellow Chryon operator at the time, before venturing into videotape editing. He was my best friend at the station, and is somebody that I think about from time to time. Gary, if you see this, please get in touch!

That’s Arlene Ross with her arm around Larry. These two had a lot of history, and were always very close. The big guy to the left and rear of Arlene is Tom Sedley, our ace (and under-appreciated) sports producer. Richard Chee-A-Tow from the engineering department is to the right rear of Larry.

John Loesing and his wife enjoy a piece of cake, while watching the frivolity unfold around them. John was very nice, but at times he might have been a little too low-key on the air.

I put down the camera for this group shot. That’s me on the far left, next to Arlene Ross, Gary Slawitschka, and Henry Rosenberg (videotape editor). Arlene’s future husband, director Dan Roujansky, is in the front. Can you guess which people in this picture are stoned?

Yeah, stoned. In those days, nearly everybody smoked pot, and the ones that didn’t, tolerated it. It was a generational thing that could never happen in this day and age. It was amazingly open, not just at parties such as this one, but all around the station as well. I think that’s going to be the subject of my next post.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Klaas Dismissed

(Click images to view them full size)

Was it Larry Klaas’ ego that got him fired? Was it an alleged demand for more money? Or was it that Dick Descutner (our news director) simply wanted to make a change, and Barbara Sloan gave him just that opportunity? It all depends on whom you ask.

There were mixed feelings around the station when we learned Klaas was being ousted. He had his supporters, led by producer Arlene Ross. There were also people who felt a sense of liberation when word filtered down. Klaas was stunned by the dismissal, and told The Miami News’ Tom Jicha he was considering retiring from broadcasting. Obviously he reconsidered, and made a new start (albeit a little rocky) at KGUN in Tucson

Everyone in the newsroom had a Larry Klaas story to tell. If he was having a bad day, you knew it. In 1981, when my father was dying, I told producer Jerry Fisher that I might need to take a few days off. Klaas sat me down the next day, and in a stern voice, asked me why I told Jerry and not him. (This was before I became a producer. I was still a lowly Chyron operator/film archivist). Well, Larry, it was late and Jerry was still at the station, working on her nightly discrepancy report. You were gone for the night. Sorry I stepped on your toes, big guy. Show a little compassion for a guy whose dad is dying, will ya?

Yet I liked Larry. He was quick to criticize, but unlike a lot of managers, he would also tell you when you did a good job. I wished him well, and I meant it.

You’ll notice in Tom Jicha’s article that Descutner “found” Larry’s replacement, Barbara Sloan, through a five-second lead-in on another reporter’s audition tape. That was sort of how it went down, but it wasn’t Descutner who found her. The reporter on that tape was a former colleague of mine at WNWS, prior to my coming to Channel 6. He and I had something in common: both of our lives changed on March 17, 1980. Someday soon I’ll tell you that story.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Producer's Nightmare: The Critique!

(Click images to view them full size)

One week after taking on the responsibility of Managing Editor, Larry Klaas started a new Channel 6 tradition: critiquing (or was it nitpicking?) the previous night’s newscast. Klaas (who was Larry #1 in a succession of three Larry’s that would be in charge of the news in the ‘80s) usually made an effort to be fair, but everyone who’s ever been around a live program knows that things can, and do, go wrong. All the Monday Morning Quarterbacking in the world won’t change that fact. I would take Larry #1’s critiques over Larry #2’s any day. (Larry #2 was a real piece of work, and even though he’s no longer alive to defend himself, I’m going to have to tell his story eventually.)

It’s nice to see the names of my old friends Nick Bogert (Mr. Cubs fan), Natalie Segal, Marianne Murciano, Dave Levine (who taught me a lot about conversational writing), Frank Lasko, Bill Lobean, and others. I was fortunate to run into both Bogert and Segal in the past few years.

While The Ten O’Clock News may have been a joke on some fronts, we had some talented folks who gave their all day in and day out. That’s why critiques can be so demoralizing. It’s great to get feedback, but you’ll notice there’s no criticism of the anchorman in here. I do agree with a lot that Larry #1 said (and not just his praise of my crafty Chyron work). We did need to pay more attention to things such as half track and match cuts. The best critiques are the ones that offer solutions and not just criticism. Little did we know it at the time, but things would get a whole lot worse, before they’d get any better.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Larry #1

This memo signaled a much-needed change in philosophy, when it came to management of The Ten O’Clock News. With our only newscast being at night, and with News Director Dick Descutner working only daylight hours, something had to be done to strengthen our nighttime management situation. Harlan Levy (the assistant news director) was simply too ineffectual to get the job done, and after yet another Larry Klaas memo complaining about him, Descutner decided to make Klaas the managing editor, and “reassign” Levy.

This, as you’d expect, presented problems. Klaas was both the anchor and the managing editor. When news would break, or when the producer would make any kind of in-show call, it was Klaas who had veto power over those decisions… while the show was on the air! Klaas was smart and quite competent, but he also had a gigantic ego, and many times there was just no reasoning with him. Still, it was a big step-up, news-wise, from what Harlan Levy offered in the evenings.

A year and a half later, Klaas was let go, replaced on the air by Barbara Sloan. Descutner would soon be out the door as well, but that’s a different story for a different day.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The 1980 Anchor Team

This was the main on-air team when I first started working at WCIX, on March 24, 1980. Larry Klaas took the anchor's chair once occupied by Prescott Robinson (whom I had previously worked with at WNWS Radio). John Loesing moved from weekends to weekdays, replacing Bob Sheridan (I believe). Don Franklin was a veteran announcer and a super nice guy. Klaas had come over from WCKT-Channel 7, and had quite a bit of Ted Baxter in him. He was basically a good guy, but what an ego! Loesing was low key and soft spoken, and I remember his wife was a fan of the group The Buckinghams. The things a record collector remembers!