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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

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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!

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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.