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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A WCIX Reunion?

So who’s up for a Channel 6 reunion? Seriously! The old WTVJ Channel 4 gang held a reunion recently. So did folks from WFUN, WWOK, and other local radio stations, with a giant 70s & 80s South Florida radio reunion planned for October 24. So why not us?

Yeah, I know, it’s a logistical nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be. The WFUN reunion was pretty informal, renting out an area at Tony Roma’s and taking it over for an evening. Of course we’d need a nice video set-up to show old skit reels and a photo presentation. Too bad we don’t have any video professionals to facilitate that. Just kidding, guys. Of course it can be done. If we could air instant specials on a wing and a prayer, and a newscast night after night with skeleton staffs, we can pull off a reunion of the hardest-working team in showbiz. Or was it the lowest-paid team in South Florida television? Yeah, that’s it. Five percent, pass it on!

How would this work? Would the 60s & 70s team feel comfortable with the 80s & 90s guys? I think so. Would the stories about Brickell bore the Doralites, or is it all meat on the same bone? What would be the cut-off? Would we exclude WFOR newbies, or throw it open to everyone? I don’t have the answers, but these are some of the questions. What else would need to be worked out in order to make this a reality?

Should this happen, I would be glad to help publicize the event and pass along information, but since I no longer live in South Florida, I do not see myself being part of the organizing committee. Others would need to take the ball and run with it. I can tell you that behind the scenes of this blog, the number one question I’m asked is “any chance of a reunion?” People want this! The question is, do you want it badly enough to help out and make it a reality? I know of folks who are willing to travel from all over the country to attend such a reunion, but where do we go from here?

Please leave comments and let me know what you think. Do it here, on this post. If you contact me via e-mail or Facebook, there’s a chance your message could be lost somewhere down the line. Send this link to your Channel 6 pals, and let them chime in as well. In the immortal words of former executive producer Jeanne Antol-Krull: “GET GOING!”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Behind The Scenes at The Ten O’Clock News

Here's a rare look inside the old Channel 6 newsroom, in that funny old round building on Brickell Avenue. The on-camera dude is sports anchor Andy Leopold, who conducted these impromptu interviews for our annual Christmas skit reel, back in December 1983. Appearing on-camera are anchor Barbara Sloan (who didn't feel like talking to Andy), videotape editor Gary Slawitschka, director Curtis Bivins, assignment editor (and future author) Jan Hollingsworth, and reporter Amanda Moss. Look carefully and you can spot producer Mike Villafana at the typewriter, and there are even brief shots of yours truly walking in and out of the newsroom while Andy is speaking with Amanda.

A few more points about this video:

1. Notice that custodian Guy Thompson is holding the album cover for The Brickell Hillbillies. We had just finished shooting the portion of that skit reel segment where the album cover is thrown in the trash.
2. Barbara Sloan had an office in those days. When Larry Lyle hired Lemar Wooley as his assistant news director, he took it away from Sloan and gave it to Wooley.
3. Hollingsworth, Slawitschka, and Villafana all left the station the following year. Moss and Bivins weren’t too far behind. Andy Leopold’s contract was not renewed in 1985, right around the time of our move to what is now Doral.
4. We sure had a lot of fun then!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Lyle File, Part 3

Note: This is the final part of a trilogy about my experiences with former WCIX news director Larry Lyle. It might be a good idea to read the previous two entries before diving into this one.

I guess it wasn’t completely accurate to say I worked 70 straight nights, since it was actually 69 out of 70 (counting my “sick day”). But finally… finally… Rob Puglisi was brought in as the main news producer. Finally, I could concentrate on producing weekend shows only, along with the public affairs program Newsday and Gail Anderson’s Troubleshooter segment. Puglisi was the perfect choice for a Lyle-run newsroom – a “don’t worry be happy” sort of guy, who always claimed he was having a good day, and who has always “never been better”. Puglisi would allow himself to be a punching bag for grouchy reporters, moody anchors, and of course, Larry Lyle. Rob, was I ever happy to see YOU!

My tolerance for Lyle’s mood swings continued to grow shorter. At the same time, he gave us few resources for the weekend show. There was me (producer); Gail Anderson (anchor); Amanda Moss (reporter); Tim Woodberry (photographer); and Woody Woodriffe (tape editor & Chyron operator). That was it for the Saturday and Sunday news staff. Lyle further tied our hands when he decided that Amanda Moss – our sole reporter – would no longer be permitted to do stand-ups in her reporter packages! And then he decided that she would do two packages a day, both without stand-ups!

With no one on the assignment desk, we missed all the spot news that occurred after Moss and Woodberry hit the streets, and before I arrived for the day. Even with the police scanner turned way up high, I still missed a lot, with all the other stuff I had to do. It got so bad that Gail Anderson hired local tipsters Bob & Carolyn Sherman, and paid for their services herself! Imagine that – an anchor having to hire tipsters, just so we wouldn’t look foolish by missing so many stories!

One way Lyle kept control was by secretly pitting employees against one another. He told me to keep an eye on Gail Anderson, and to make sure she didn’t overstep her boundaries. It turns out he also told Anderson to watch me, and gave her authority to overrule decisions I had made. So that begs the question of who can overrule whom? Fortunately Gail and I were usually on the same page, and were constantly amazed at our news director’s shenanigans.

In time, Lyle brought in Eric Seidel, and later Lynn Kubik, to watch the assignment desk. But the deeper problems weren’t resolved. Not by a long shot.

We became the laughing stock of this news market when Lyle decided we would no longer cover spot news. Instead, we would make our name with special assignment reports and enterprise stories. If there was a major fire, he didn’t care about the nuts and bolts of the story. Our focus had to be how the firefighters felt, when they entered the burning building. How did the police feel when they investigated the murder? It was touchy-feely news, without any meat at all! (I agree that special assignment reports and enterprise stories are extremely important. They help make a newscast distinctive, and done right, can help a station stand shoulders above the competition. But their purpose is to compliment the news of the day, not to replace it. That was a huge miscalculation on Lyle’s part).

Larry Lyle was the news director when WCIX made its move from Brickell Avenue to Doral, in September 1985. Just weeks after the move, we were soundly beaten by the competition on election night. Lyle flew into a rage, and slammed the door against the wall of our brand new newsroom, putting a big gash in it. He seemed to go through the motions in the two months that followed, until finally, on December 4, 1985, Larry Lyle was ousted. Assistant news director Lemar Wooley would replace him, temporarily, until Larry #3 – former assignment editor Larry Wallenstein – took over, restoring some of the morale that was lost, and guiding us through the end of our time as an independent station.

(Click image to view it full size)

We knew Lyle was a secretive man, and that the turmoil we saw at work was a reflection of a tortured soul who could never really accept himself. Yet it’s never easy being on the receiving end of that misplaced anger. I could cite many more examples of what life was like during his reign, but you get the picture. Those were some difficult years.

Lyle’s turmoil ended in December 1992, when he died in Indiana of AIDS-related complications. He was only 41.

I bear no grudges against Larry Lyle, though I did at one time. I used to blame him for turning me against newscast producing. It was during my marathon producing session that I became dependent on sleeping pills, so I blamed him for that, too. But that’s not fair. I take full responsibility for my addiction. (I’ve been drug-free for more than four years now, after a 21-year-long sleeping pill dependency. It feels great to say that.)

Under Larry Lyle’s watch, Channel 6 switched from a single-anchor to a dual-anchor, began to produce live specials, put a new emphasis on investigative reports, and went back to doing local news seven days a week. We also lost some amazingly-talented people, through his inconsistent policies, his mood swings, and occasional divisiveness. The newsroom went through radical changes during his time. By the time Larry Wallenstein returned in January 1986, it was a completely different place. And a completely different Larry. Once again, it was time to move forward.