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Monday, December 27, 2010

The Morning After Blues

With New Years Eve approaching, and with it the temptation to coddle the bottle, I felt it was my duty to share this music video by Dr. Steve Greenberg & Rafael (Ralph) Murciano. Doc Steve was WCIX’s health reporter – and a master of creative storytelling--so this was not your usual “don’t drink and drive” message. Nothing preachy, no stiff talking heads, none of the usual TV clichés: Steve and Ralph instead decided to drive the point home, using music. Powered by a Willie Dixon blues riff, they wrote, produced, and directed the video you are about to see.

I opted to use the off-the-air version, because it includes the intro from weathercaster-turned-newsman Bob Soper. Some people have forgotten that he spent many years at Channel 6, following his stint at WSVN Channel 7. One of my jobs around this time was to work with Soper, showing him the ins-and-outs of news writing. Soper, as you’d expect, was a quick study, and made a rather seamless transition to the anchor chair.

The Say Six! Blog wishes all of our readers a safe and happy new year. If you must drink, then follow Steve and Ralph’s advice. And be sure to check out Steve’s Gadget Nation, for a look at his successful post-news career.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas In The Newsroom

December 24, 1989:

General Manuel Noriega is given asylum at the Vatican embassy in Panama City, four days after President George Bush orders an invasion of Panama.

Uh oh.

How dare the indicted strongman-turned-drug-trafficking-suspect give in, and give up… on Christmas Eve?

How could he do something so… how do I say it?... NEWSWORTHY… on a night when there are like three people in the entire newsroom?

Welcome to my nightmare.

So it was off to the phones, first calling manager-on-duty Caryn Brooks. “So Caryn, what do you suggest?” Caryn had some wonderful ideas… for a normal night. But this was Christmas Eve! Where were we going to get three reporters, three camera operators, another editor, and the engineering help we’d need to pull this off?

Caryn went into full manager mode, pretty much telling people they HAD to show up… on short notice… on Christmas Eve.

Oh, they were pissed. One cameraman – I’ll refrain from naming him, because he was basically a nice guy – railed several times how it was Jews forcing him to work, and why didn’t we bring more Jews in instead of him? I never saw this side of him before, and never saw it again after that night. It was Christmas Eve, so he gets a mulligan. But I mention it to show just how much people hate to have their holiday celebrations interrupted by the chance that (real) news might just break out.

I thought of that fateful Christmas Eve after watching this skit reel offering, from the early years following the CBS takeover of WCIX. Reporters Al Sunshine and Stephen Lankford, videographers Ralph Murciano, Luis Medellin, and Tony Jerez, and writer/producers Caryn Brooks, Dan Leveton, and Shannon High (pre-Bassalik, several years before returning as news director) all take part in this light-hearted spoof. You’ll also catch a glimpse of news director Paul Stueber, and feed room coordinator Evy Woods. A word of warning: Christmas reel skits often contain profanity, and this one is no exception. Even without the sound, some might be offended, so you might want to watch this clip when the kids and the boss aren’t around.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Night At The Oprah

It was my first time inside a television studio in more than eleven years. That self-imposed drought ended in a big way this month, not at some small-market network affiliate, but at one of the biggest media outlets in the country.

I’d never even watched a full episode of Oprah… but all of a sudden I was chosen to be a participant in not one, but two tapings that the producers were calling “historic”. An estimated 10,000 men applied, but only 200 were selected. Don Shetterly and I were among them.

Harpo Productions took care of everything. They paid for the flight. They arranged for a Lincoln Navigator to transport us from the airport to the four-star hotel. They paid for the room, and even gave us meal vouchers. They arranged our transportation to the studio, and then back to the airport. It cost us nothing, but in a way, all 200 of us paid a price. A huge price. We are all men who survived childhood sexual abuse.

Getting selected wasn’t easy. All of us had to answer some extremely personal questions. We all had to share our stories with the producers – stories that nearly all of us kept inside for a long time. How and where we were abused, and by whom. How it affected our lives – the shame, anger, rage, dysfunction, depression. How it took a toll on our personal and professional lives. And – here’s the good part – how many of us have overcome these things, and have gone on to lead productive lives, despite having parts of our childhood stolen away from us.

There was never any doubt Don would be selected. His abuse was extreme, and the effects, including a conversion disorder that left him paralyzed for weeks, made him quite the X-File. My abuse happened over a much shorter span of time, but anyone who saw my occasional newsroom mood swings (and the times when I’d lose all confidence in myself) might have been tipped off. I’d worked countless child abuse stories in my time in TV news, including a news series on the topic with former anchor Giselle Fernandez. Yet I kept my own story to myself, like so many others who’ve lived with the shame. Well, those days are gone forever. I flew to Chicago, fully prepared to tell my story to millions of viewers, should Oprah decide to call on me.

I’m not an early riser, but on this day… I had to be. Our bus left at 5:30AM. Sharp. Upon arrival at the studio, we had to stand in line for a security check. We didn’t have to remove our shoes and belts like we did at the airport, but cell phones and pens were confiscated. We were then whisked upstairs for a very quick breakfast of bagels and bananas. Those who weren’t fast eaters had to choose between the two, since time was so limited.

From what I understand, the vast majority of Oprah viewers – and audience members – are women. The studio has just one men’s room, which has no urinals and just one toilet. No way was that going to cut it! So just this once, the ladies rooms were opened to the men. I can now say I used the women’s bathroom at the Oprah Show. Hey, they told us this was going to be a special show!

Both Don and I wound up sitting three rows in back of where Oprah was standing. I enjoyed watching the Teleprompter, and the way the famous host used, and sometimes didn’t use it. It was fun to watch the producers, director, floor director, and everyone else. TV production was a huge part of my life for so long, so it’s natural that I watched the behind-the-scenes goings-on as much as I watched the actual interviews.

I know how hard it is to coordinate a show with just a few in-studio guests. I can just imagine what it takes to fly in 200 participants, get them where they need to go, ON TIME, and make it all come together. I wouldn’t want their job, for all the bagels and bananas in the world!

The first show opened on a poignant note. We had all provided a picture of ourselves at the age when the abuse was occurring. The show’s producers had those pictures blown up, and turned into large posters for us to hold up and show. It was hard for me to look at that little boy’s face. All I could tell him (me) was “I’m sorry I hated you so much”. I still struggle with that sometimes.

Even though we came from different backgrounds – a superstar Hollywood actor/director, a former NFL football player, and a celebrated gospel singer were among those in that studio – we had a lot in common. Some of the men are just starting their journey, and are still going through their own private hells. Others of us have been dealing with the issue for a while, and our focus has shifted more toward recovery, forgiveness, and moving forward.

TV is TV. People have short attention spans, so every segment has to be compelling. That means focusing more on people whose lives continue to be filled with turmoil, and less on those who’ve turned the corner. I would have liked to have seen more on recovery, healing, and thriving, but I’m not complaining. I’m just honored to have been part of a group of men that is taking their power back. We all stood tall that day, and we will continue to stand tall. I couldn’t think of a better reason to return to a TV studio.

Oprah, featuring 200 male sexual abuse survivors, airs on November 5, 2010. The second part airs the following Friday, November 12.

(Thanks to Donald D’Haene for the Harpo picture.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Shirt Hits The Fan

Mistakes happen! There would be no blooper reels if they didn’t… but as we all know, not all mistakes are created equal.

Just ask WESH-2 News in Orlando. Somebody was asleep at the wheel, when they let this one get on the air. They meant to point out that the Gainesville pastor who planned to burn Qurans put some of his young followers to work making and selling T-shirts, mugs, and hats. Yes, that’s what they meant to say!

But no! Someone had to go and leave out the “R” in “T-SHIRTS”. So not only did the graphic have a huge error, but whoop, there it is, one of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”!

Click image to view it full size

I’m not posting this to pick on WESH News. I’m posting this because of my four-plus years as the main electronic graphics guy at WCIX in Miami. I’m not saying I was perfect, but I never made a mistake of this magnitude. I’m also sure that if I had, that night’s producer, or director, or whatever, would have caught it. I’m floored at the WESH mess, not because the error was made, and not because it aired, but because no one had the presence of mind to cut away from it. Punch out, and go to the anchor, or another graphic, or ANYTHING but the S-word! As my former colleague Ileana Varela pointed out on Facebook, “Quality control today has gone to shit… with no R.” I could not have put it any better!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Intern

Some people refuse to take “no” for an answer.

Some people see only possibilities, and potential results.

Along the way they encounter doubters, teasers, and haters. They get talked about, scorned, and vilified… but they become immune to the roar of the crowd. The reward is great, and so is the risk, but they can see what’s waiting at the finish line, and run, sometimes recklessly, toward it. I worked with such a person at Channel 6. He wasn’t my boss, or one of my paid colleagues. He was an intern.

I was the weekend producer -- a thankless job, if there ever was one. In terms of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I was everybody in the WJM newsroom except for Ted Baxter and Gordy The Weatherman. It felt like I had a million things to do, every day, with very little help. We had no night reporter. We had no night assignment editor. We didn’t even have anyone to help the three of us in the newsroom (yes, just three of us!) answer phones from irate viewers, wondering why their favorite contestant on Star Search didn’t win, or some other similar drivel. We needed help… badly… and management’s solution was to have interns work the night assignment desk. Usually they had no training. Some had no skills. It was a nightmare.

But then… he showed up: a know-it-all kid with an obnoxious streak. The kind of kid that was probably a bully-magnet for most of his life.

But this wasn’t school. It was the real world, and a real assignment desk in a major market newsroom. The Intern walked into our party like he was walking into a yacht. He had no clue about our limitations as a shoestring operation, and he didn’t care to hear it.

When President Ronald Reagan took an interest in 7-year-old transplant patient Ronnie DeSillers, who then moved to the top of the organ transplant list (not once, not twice, but three times), DeSillers became a national cause célèbre. After the boy died and his mother, Maria, was accused of misusing the funds meant for her son, every station in town was hot on her trail.

We asked The Intern to try to get some kind of statement from Maria DeSillers. Not good enough for him! Before we knew it, he had set up a live satellite interview (utilizing our sister station in Pittsburgh), for Beverly Counts Rodrigues to conduct on The Ten O’Clock News. An EXCLUSIVE live interview.

Management was gob-smacked.

Other times there were exclusives, such as a civil disturbance in Naranja Lakes that the police really didn’t feel like talking about. We had it, and nobody else did. The Intern again. There was some exclusive involving Panamanian President Eric Delvalle, the details of which I can’t remember nearly 24 years later. And the time a former Apollo astronaut who’d passed through town changed his plans… at The Intern’s insistence… so we could talk to him live on the air, instead of settling for a vacuous soundbite from questions fed to him by a cameraman. Our paid assignment editors didn’t always have that good a success rate!

Believe it or not, there was a downside to this. All interns leave after a matter of months. Management was now convinced that we didn’t need to hire any weekend assignment desk help. They used this as proof that interns were good enough to man the desk, even though most just didn’t have the know-how. Most wound up having to ask me, or Beverly, what to do, and of course that wasn’t their fault. He spoiled them. And in a way, he spoiled us too.

The intern’s name was Jeff Liebman, and after his time at Channel 6, he moved on to a real job at WTVJ Channel 4 (which didn’t last long, but it was a foot in the door). He is now the news operations manager at WDIV-TV in Detroit, overseeing a newsroom that includes former WCIX reporter/producer Rod Meloni.

The entrance of CBS into the picture in 1989 would bring more staffing, and much higher expectations. But the network infusion would not signal the first time someone came in believing that he or she could make a difference… and instead of just demanding a better newscast, actually took initiative to personally make it better.

While he came to Channel 6 to learn, along the way he taught us a lesson.

It’s been a long and winding road for Liebman. I can bet you he still doesn’t take “no” for an answer.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Twist Of Fate In '88

(Note: All TV news blooper reels contain profanity, so you might want to wait until the kids and the boss are out of the room to click the arrow.)

This was the end of the innocence.

The 1988 news blooper reel (above) would be shown at the WCIX Christmas party, just three weeks shy of one of the biggest changes in Miami TV news history. CBS was about to take over, transforming our humble newsroom from an independent operation to a network-owned news machine. The bar was being raised like a drawbridge over the Miami River, meaning lots of new faces coming in… and lots of old friends saying Sayonara.

In some ways, this is a bittersweet 8 1/2 minutes of tape. I think it’s hilarious, but I also feel a little sadness for the Mike Bradleys and Jennifer Rehms that were soon forced to look for work elsewhere. THEE Ten O’Clock News was about to become just a memory, as new producers Brian Jones and Zahir Sachedina, and new reporters such as Al Sunshine, ushered in our brand new evening newscasts, with the prime time show (produced by Caryn Brooks) moving to 11PM. Soon Ten O’Clock would belong to WSVN, which was losing its NBC affiliation… and still developing its future flash and trash philosophy. Did I say things were changing? In the words of David Bowie, turn and face the strange!

Look for director Jim Lawrence, Bryan Glazer, Jim Dyer, Barbara Sloan, R.J. Heim, Dave Game, Jennifer Rehm, Beverly Counts Rodrigues, Solon Gray’s nose, John Turchin, Ed Berliner, Ken Ober (MTV), Mike “OK” Bradley, Ralph Murciano, and John Deutzman on here. You’ll also see memorable cameos from Dade County Commissioner Beverly Phillips and former Immigration & Nationalization Service honcho Perry Rivkind.

A few notes about this tape:

1) Jim Lawrence is goofing on the fact that we were being forced to call the show “THEEE” Ten O’Clock News, as though it was something biblical. All pray to the mighty teleprompter!

2) Reporter Bryan Glazer wasn’t just having a bad day. He tended to lose his cool quite often, though usually not to this extent.

3) There is a mix of live TV, and behind-the-scenes bloopers on here. Obviously, Jim Dyer’s “quack sweep” and Ed Berliner mooning John Turchin, never made it to air.

4) The idea to have our interns do the watusi came from a record I’d just purchased at a Goodwill store (for a dime). After looking at the label for New Interns Watusi, I thought it would be fun to have the NEWS interns watusi. I recognize Pam Suchman, but can’t recall any of the other names. These were some of the best interns we ever had – and good sports, too. (Some past Channel 6 interns included future success stories Steve Boyer, Jeffrey Liebman, and Shannon High-Bassalik.)

(Click image to view full size)

5) MTV’s Remote Control seemed just made for our blooper reel – especially considering all the Channel 6 references, and the fact that the host was named Ober!

6) Note to Jennifer Rehm: it’s not spelled Boyo!

7) Thanks for showing me your… umm… cat, Jennifer!

8) The tape of Beverly Phillips trying to walk a straight line became a newsroom classic that year. Phillips, a Metro-Dade Commissioner, had been stopped by police on suspicion of driving under the influence. Brian Wilson’s “Walking The Line” provided the perfect soundtrack.

9) Mike Bradley is not a bimbo, he’s a weatherman!

10) Dave Game combing his hair, live on the air, might have seemed funny on a blooper reel… but at the time it was a major deal for everyone involved with that newscast (myself included). News director Larry Wallenstein’s memo is a reminder that behind every blooper is a mistake that affected hours and hours of hard work by dozens of people. Hey, there are no do-overs in live TV. Might as well laugh at ourselves!

(Click image to view full size)

11) Perry Rivkind of the INS was the coolest bureaucrat in South Florida. Here he’s encouraging us to vote “yes” on bringing in a union to represent certain segments of the news and engineering departments. In the end, we said no to IBEW Local 349, but until that happened, management was really running scared.

12) Lyn-rid Skyn-rid? That dog won’t hunt. That bird ain’t free.

This would be the last news blooper reel that I would produce or co-produce. After moving to the special projects unit, I (temporarily) had less contact with the daily newscast grind, and handed the blooper mantle to others. But it was lots of fun to handle that portion of our skit reels for six years (with help from Mike Medrano, R.J. Heim, Bill Retherford, and many others). Still to come: the 1986 and 1987 news blooper reels. I don’t seem to have 1984, so if anyone can help with that one, I’d really appreciate it.

See you later on THEEE Say Six! blog.

Friday, June 4, 2010

And Then There's Rue...

1980: Producer Don Adams had a lot of rules to follow, while timing out The Ten O’Clock News, but one rule was etched in stone. One rule could not be broken under any circumstances: the show must end on time. It could not run long, not even by two seconds. Not even when Liberty City was burning during the riots of May 1980! Rules were rules, after all.

There was a reason for this. The Ten O’Clock News, which was an hour long in those days, was a low-rated show. The program that followed it, reruns of Maude, brought in better numbers -- and as a result, was a more valuable property. Even though we put our blood, sweat, and tears into our nightly newscast, management put more stock in the syndicated rerun, since… well, to put it bluntly… they could charge more for commercials. And that, in a nutshell, is what it was all about to them.

I thought of this on Thursday, after hearing of the death of Maude co-star Rue McClanahan. Long before she found greater fame on The Golden Girls, McClanahan did her thing opposite Bea Arthur in the Norman Lear comedy. I may have resented Maude during those nightly news days, but I watched the show during its original run, and thought McClanahan, in particular, was a standout. One day I decided to write to her, and let her know that she had a fan in Miami.

Usually when you write to a celebrity, you’re lucky to get an acknowledgment. Maybe they’ll send you a picture, and maybe they’ll take the time to sign it. Rue McClanahan was one of the rare ones. She not only sent me a signed picture, and a signed dinner theater program, but she wrote me a personalized letter that showed she took the time to read every word I had written. That meant a lot to me, as a teenager back in 1975. It still does.

Click images to view them full size.

McClanahan’s passing won’t get nearly as much ink as other high-profile deaths, such as Gary Coleman or Dennis Hopper. You won’t see many marathons of her work, and in time she’ll become just another footnote. But in our age of plastic celebrities whose only talent is being bombastic or showing off their booty, I thought you’d like to know what Rue McClanahan was like. How she appreciated her fans. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: they don’t make ‘em like her anymore.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On The Record

I love records! Everyone who’s ever met me is well aware of that fact. I can’t remember how to do some of the simplest things, but I can tell you the name of just about any artist that issued vinyl from the mid-60s on (labels and B-sides, too). It’s both a blessing and a curse to be a vinyl junkie – a curse, when it comes time to move, and to transport tens of thousands of records. But it’s a blessing when a recording artist discovers that someone actually has – and enjoys – that piece of music that they were convinced no one on earth has ever heard of, let alone owns a copy of.

So I guess this post was inevitable. Combine nearly two decades in the WCIX/WFOR newsroom, with a lust for records, and you get this selective discography of Channel 6’s greatest (non-)hits. The recording artists at the station ranged from anchors, to weathercasters, to tape editors, to interns. Here are just some of the musical souvenirs that our illustrious employees left behind.

Any look at Channel 6’s recording artists has to start with the one and only Hambone. Future superstar anchorman John Hambrick first started recording in the ‘60s – while based in Ohio. Before striking out on his own, Hambrick recorded this folk-inspired obscurity with two of his brothers. The oddly-named “John Jud Mike” appeared on the Fraternity label, which had several hit records in the 50s and 60s (including “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” by the Casinos, “The All-American Boy” by Bill Parsons (nee Bobby Bare), and “Memphis” by Lonnie Mack). This record, engineered by former Floridian Lee Hazen (whose credits include “The Little Black Egg” by the Nightcrawlers) went nowhere, but undaunted, John Hambrick pressed on, eventually winding up on Terry Knight’s Brown Bag label.

Hambrick’s 1972 LP “Windmill In A Jet Filled Sky”, featured a who’s who of Nashville studio musicians, including Southwest High grad Charlie McCoy and Harold “Pig” Robbins. Knight, whose main claim to fame was managing rock bands such as Grand Funk Railroad and Bloodrock, had high hopes for the album, but it failed to take off, leaving Hambrick to pursue his long career in TV news. Hambrick told us many stories about this LP, and his brushes with some of Nashville’s finest songwriters and artists. If ever there was a natural born storyteller, it was John. An unforgettable character in many ways.

(My personally autographed copy of John's 1972 single. Click images to view them full size.)

I remember when Don Franklin recorded his remake of the “A Deck Of Cards”, the T. Texas Tyler/Wink Martindale hit of several decades earlier. Franklin was a terrific announcer and weatherman, but he wasn’t a singer… which was okay, considering this record falls in the “spoken word” category. Don Franklin was a real class act. It’s a shame so few people seem to remember him, and I’m sure even fewer have any idea that he ever made a record.

Chuck Zink didn’t come to work at Channel 6 until the 1980s, but during his amazing run as Skipper Chuck on WTVJ, he took part in this children’s recording on the Vak label. Music played a big role in the Skipper’s program, though I’m sure few would remember songs such as “I Love Little Kitty” or “Wiggle Nose, The Flop-Eared Bunny”.

Steve Hass started working at WCIX in either 1970 or 1971, and I’m sure there were those that didn’t know about his past. Hass had been the drummer for the Gents Five, a Miami band that recorded a couple of very elusive singles back in 1967. “I started as a projectionist, then ran the video and audio boards,” Hass remembers. “Operated the camera in the studio mostly, and went on to shoot news footage. Those 16mm mags were a bitch to load.” The A-side of the Gents Five’s record was written by group member Dave Tubin, who is better-known to South Floridians as Cosmo Ohms, the long-time sound man at Tobacco Road.

Jim Hayek is best-remembered for his graphic designs, but his guitar was never too far away. (Jim was the first guy I’d call on, when producing my K-Tel album spoofs for the Christmas reel.) As half of Danny & Desi Doodrop, Jim entertained children on Duck Duck Goose, and entertained the rest of us at parties and during down time. It should come as no surprise that Jim won 4th prize in Creem Magazine’s national songwriter’s contest. That was in 1978, and it resulted in the release of a single the following year, on Hayek’s own Black & White label. As a guy who designed graphics for The Ten O’Clock News, it was sort of an inside joke that Hayek would come up with the band name The News (years before Huey Lewis’ gang). WSHE-FM liked the single, but declined to play it, being on a local label and all. (Boo!) Hayek is still active in music, and plays with a band called On Eleven in Denver.

The Final Say was the name of a project that included WCIX videographer Rafael “Ralph” Murciano. Ralph played drums and piano on the group’s only release, which came out in 1984 on the band’s own TFS label. Who can forget Ralph’s music video, “Morning After Blues”, with Dr. Steve Greenberg? It’s too bad that tune never came out on vinyl!

The Rubber Thongs first appeared on WCIX, when a song they performed at the 1980 John Lennon Tribute in Downtown Miami made it on to one of our newscasts. Years later group leader John Paris would work the assignment desk at our Doral newsroom. John was a great guy who unfortunately became a scapegoat, at a time when management felt they needed one. Like so many that were fired from WCIX/WFOR, Paris landed on his feet, getting a much better job at CNN in Atlanta.

Robert Lyon joined the station a little later, becoming a news videotape editor after the switch to WFOR. But to me, he was Robert Lyon, guitarist of the pop-punk band Caught Inside. WFOR’s Shane McLafferty also joined the band on drums. Caught Inside is still well-remembered in South Florida for their fun, lighthearted songs that capture the late 90s so well.

My good friend Laura Regalado made many friends during her brief time at WCIX/WFOR. She’s still in the business, but living in Maryland now… and playing bass in the band e.joseph & the phantom heart. You might remember Laura (also known as Mia) as part of the band Bionix, during her Channel 6 days. One very talented and beautiful person.

WCIX also had some talented interns, with at least three of them having brief recording careers. In the 60s, Mark Ostrovsky was the lead singer of the Missing Lynx, whose single on the nationally-distributed DynoVoice label is now very collectable. Intern Matt Cooper was part of the trio Dream Time, whose 12” single received quite a bit of airplay on college station WVUM in the early 90s. Matt never made good on his promise to get me a copy of the record, so I don’t have a scan to show you! Hey Matt (or Omar), if you see this, help me fill a hole in my collection!

Another late 80s intern, Jimmy Deal, was a member of local hardcore band FWA, whose self-titled album included the underground hits “Warehouse Party” and “Vanna White”. Well, maybe hits is too strong a word, but those are fun songs that still sound good to my ears.

I’m sure there were other WCIX recording artists, but I can’t think of them at the moment. Any additions, corrections, and vinyl goodies will be gratefully welcomed, as always.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Versatile, A Plus

Tony LaRussa would have been proud. The St. Louis Cardinals manager, with a fetish for versatile athletes who can play multiple positions, surely would have loved the way WCIX stretched, pulled, and jostled its employees. Like LaRussa having his second baseman play the outfield, or a pitcher running out to left field, the old Channel 6 would sometimes let employees try unfamiliar jobs, either enriching or embarrassing themselves in the process.

Where else in the Miami market would a reporter (Jerry Fisher, Rod Meloni) have spent months at a time doubling as a line producer? Where else would a Chyron operator (me) have been allowed to write the Wall Street business reports, paving the way for a future career as a producer? As one who had to prepare the credit rolls that followed the newscasts on Fridays, I had to keep a score card (well, actually a score sheet) to keep track of who did what that given week. Switchers ran audio; audio operators ran tape; tape editors ran the Chyron. “Versatile, a plus” was more than an ad in an adult magazine back in those days. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!

Keeping track of who did what for the weekly credit roll. Click image to enlarge.

Our versatility didn’t end with the newscasts. We had actors, disc jockeys, musicians, comedians, and comic book artists among our ranks. (Oh yeah, authors, too.) We were one talented bunch, if I do say so myself. Memories of that talent live on in our minds, but some of the old 6’ers left behind tangible souvenirs of their endeavors, in the form of records and, later, CDs. In the next entry, I will look at some of the WCIX alumni that were also recording artists. There will be names you’ll recognize, and others that you won’t, but I think you’ll find that our musical notes were as powerful as our reporter’s notebooks. I bet Tony LaRussa would agree.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The White Baron

“Look out, it’s the White Baron,
Dressed in white from glove to boots.
Zoom in, it’s the White Baron,
He can ride and fight, and fight and shoot,
But he never gets a spot
On his pretty white suit.”

Just exactly who was this lean, clean, but never-mean White Baron, and why are people still talking about him more than 40 years after his departure from the South Florida airwaves?

First, a little background. When WCIX signed on the air in September 1967, the station pretty much started from scratch. Mixed in with endless reruns (anyone for Make Room For Daddy?) came the brainchild of Channel 6 Assistant Operations Manager George DeVries: a children’s show with an on-the-go lead character who made Mr. Clean look like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoons.

“I designed him after the Red Baron, and the Tony Curtis character in the film The Great Race,” DeVries told David Rutman in the late 80s. “He dressed all in white, and his teeth sparkled!”

DeVries didn’t have to audition anyone to play the title role. He himself became The White Baron, shooting interviews with kids at various sites around South Florida… sometimes arriving in a snow white 1930s Biplane! The interviews, mixed with cartoons and sketches with typically ridiculous plot lines, somehow resonated with kids, giving the show a healthy three year run before the Baron took his final ride in his flying machine.

“There were some children who got lost in a cave,
Couldn’t find their way out, it was practically grave.
The White Baron was out riding on a milk white horse,
It stumbled and threw him with tremendous force.
Sailing through the air, he slid down the shaft
In that very same cave, oh how he.laughed.
The sparkle of his teeth, oh for over a mile.
They found their way out, just by the light of his smile.”

Today, there are few souvenirs to remind us of this part of Florida’s television history. The White Baron theme song exists on a hard-to-find 45 on the one-off Dazey label, sung and performed by the Funky Five, who I’m told were actually members of Wayne Cochran’s C.C. Riders. (There are those to this day who insist the real White Baron was Cochran himself. A fun theory, but merely apocryphal.)

George DeVries stayed at WCIX for about five years after the end of the White Baron’s run. “People still recognized me. I had good teeth,” he told Rutman. Unfortunately there are no known surviving copies of any White Baron shows. As one who was ordered to throw away our old news film, I can attest that the station was just not interested in preserving its past. Sad but true. Yet questions about the show and its host are among the most-asked about the station and its history. I see it all the time, in the search words that bring people to this site.

To many, The White Baron is a hazy, foggy memory from somewhere in the mirror of their mind. But it IS a memory, of a time when a man in a spotless white suit fought for children, and always won. A time when kids’ imaginations ran wild, and when an upstart independent station with a bad signal dared to try something different.

And he never got a spot on his pretty white suit.

Thanks to David Rutman and the Facebook group “M.T. Graves & Other 1960s Miami Kid Shows”.
* The White Baron theme song by Jerry Mann & Marcie Knight.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Grandfather Clause

“I don’t remember growing older.
When did they?”

Sheldon Harnick‘s words from “Sunrise Sunset” came to mind when I heard that two of my former WCIX colleagues became grandpas in the past couple of months. It’s such great news, and definitely something to celebrate. But at the same time, it made me realize just how frozen in time people and places can become in our minds, when we have not seen them in a long time.

I don’t remember when Rick Lasch left Channel 6, but I think we might have still been in the round building on Brickell. I still see Rick as a 20-something guy, wearing blue tennis shoes, ready to party at a moment’s notice. That could have described any number of us, I guess. Time marches on and people grow up. More than 25 years later, Rick now lives in Virginia, operates his own video production company, and is celebrating a new milestone – the birth of his first grandson, Bryce Kaiden Busic, who came into this world on New Years Day 2010.

Rick Lasch, 2010, with Baby Bryce

Another happy grandpappy is former Channel 6 graphics guru Ron Laffin. If you still think of his daughter Meredith as a little girl, you’re in for quite a surprise. Meredith, her fiancée Nick, and of course Ron and Nancy welcomed 7-pound, 13-ounce Lacie Marie into their lives in the early morning hours of January 28th. The Laffins are loving the grandparent stuff, and hey, why not? As Ron likes to say… “she IS cute!”

Meredith and Nick, with Lacie

When I think of my grandparents, I think of elderly, frail people who came from the Old Country, with old ways, old thoughts, and old bodies. Appropriately enough, that’s old thinking that needs to be tossed out in the trash. Or in Lake Willard, for you Brickell folks. “It’s a new day,” as James Brown once sang, and Brother James was always right.

“I don’t remember growing older.
When did they?”

All too often, our reminders that we’re not kids anymore hit us like a ton of bricks. When life wants to get our attention, it will, and it doesn’t care that we’re just not ready for its setbacks, its slowdowns, and its roadblocks. But other times, we’re reminded that things don’t always get worse as we grow older. Other times, we’re reminded that in many ways, our lives are just beginning.

Thanks, Rick and Ron, for that reminder. And thanks for allowing me to share your joy.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cooking Without Looking

This blog has featured several stories about former WCIX anchors and reporters, and the great success they’ve found since leaving the station. They are people with names you may recognize, and might even see on the tube while surfing around. You probably won’t recognize the name of the subject of today’s post, but she’s another Channel 6 success story. This long-time behind-the-scenes employee moves into the big time today, with the national debut of a show she’s poured her heart and soul into.

Her name is Ren’ee Rentmeester, but in her time at Channel 6, she was known as Ren’ee Hagen and Ren’ee Morales. Most former 6’ers will remember her time in the promotions department, but I really came to know Ren’ee during her stint as a news writer and associate producer. There are good people to work with… and there are REALLY good people to work with. Ren’ee was one of my favorites, thanks to her infectious smile and easy-going manner. Our running gag had to do with the obligatory “did anyone win the lotto” copy stories that aired every Sunday evening. Either Renee or Traci Cloyd would always get stuck writing those 16-second lotto block enders, and it became a contest of sorts to see how many ways we could say the same thing, week after week, without totally repeating ourselves. To this day, I still ask Ren’ee how the lotto story is coming, even though I’m 10 years removed from TV news, and she is now the creator, executive producer, and driving force behind a program that’s moving from local TV, to a national stage, starting this morning (February 22, 2010) at 6AM on the Fine Living Network.

The show is called Cooking Without Looking, a sort of Galloping Gourmet for the blind and visually impaired. The show, which teaches cooking skills and kitchen safety, is taped in Boynton Beach, and up until now has only been seen in South Florida. I asked Ren’ee about the show, and how she came to create it… and of course I could not help but ask about her time at a certain TV station.

SAY SIX: How did a sighted person happen to come up with the idea of doing a show for the visually impaired?

RR: After working in Community Relations with some of the largest non-profits in the country, I wanted to create something myself. I wanted it to be something that could affect anyone, no matter what race, gender, or financial status. I thought about doing something about blind babies/children, but fortunately, less than three percent of the babies in this country are born without eye sight.

Then, someone told me about descriptive television. It was new, and it was an accessibility solution for blind people in the same way that closed captioning helps hearing impaired people.

Well, now you had my two loves together: television and helping people, and it was hard to say 'no' to that. So, I found e-mail groups of blind/visually impaired people known as listservs, and I signed up for as many as I could handle. Since I didn't know any blind people, this would help me research the issues near and dear to many blind people.

In a way, when I first started to do the research, I felt like blind people had a secret underground, and unless you were blind, you didn't know about all the solutions available. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I couldn't imagine going blind, and then having to find out how to help yourself.

Since TV is such a pervasive medium in this society, the show could work in several ways:
-help newly blind people find answers;
-show people who have been blind a new way to do some of the basic tasks in the kitchen;
-educate sighted people to the world of the blind person, so they didn't feel awkward, and so if something happened to them in the future, they would immediately know where to go.

I find that as I produce more and more of these shows, I'm really a translator between the different blind and sighted groups of people. There are so many stereotypes associated with being blind that we have to overcome. My point in doing all of this is that we all need to focus on the ability of each other, and not the disability.

So someone doesn't have sight or hearing...there's so much more to that person.

SAY SIX: Television is such a visual medium, yet the show is geared toward people who can’t see. How big a challenge does that present?

RR: Actually, it presents a very small challenge. We can't use teleprompters. Scripts are written in 36 point type for the people with macular degeneration. Everyone describes exactly what they are doing when they are doing it. What we have to remember is that because these people are blind/visually impaired, most have residual eyesight even if it is shadows.

Our real challenge comes in the form of changing people's minds about people with disabilities. One lady I helped as the result of this show was blind. She kept saying how stupid she felt, even though she was a MENSA person. Intelligence has nothing to do with blindness...our creativity to overcome the challenge is much more important, and our mindset on a daily basis. A sense of humor is almost crucial.

SAY SIX: If there’s one thing about the show you want viewers to come away with, what would that be?

RR: I want people to know that there's actually something good about being blind. It's that when you're blind, you have to trust others with all of your heart. You enjoy meeting people because of what's inside of them. It doesn't matter what the car is that they drive, or the clothes they buy at the exclusive stores. You just enjoy the person who you're speaking with for who they are. Nothing more.

And, no matter what the challenge we all face, we have to keep our head up and keep on making our life something we can be proud of. And, oh yeah, have FUN!

SAY SIX: Since this is a WCIX blog, I want to ask you your favorite memories of Channel 6. You can give me one serious one, if you’d like, and some “fun” or not-so-serious ones.

RR: Well, there were a lot more "not-so-serious" ones than there are serious ones.


All of us in the Promotion Department dressed up like Promotion Director Brian Blum
for Halloween...beige sweater, dark pants, mustache and all!

I remember Nelson Milton, his hearty laugh and his breakfast of sardines. I remember someone working late night, and recording an adult movie....which, oops, went over the air.

I also worked in the old building which was a lot like a layer cake. Someone from the traffic department would yell out, and slide the logs down the inside of the glass window to the various floors that needed them.

The serious, and a sincerely heart-warming memory was when Hurricane Andrew blew through South Florida and the President of CBS and many of the higher echelon people came to town and spent time talking to each of us, and finding out what we needed. They also helped chop down some of the trees that had fallen at the station, and I believe they also brought supplies, and helped people with their homes.

Oh, yes, and my own personal fun was to be called into the General Manager's office right after the weekend when an employee or two did something that we shall call, "newsworthy", and we strategized about how we would present it to the media.

Explaining the channel change to the viewers was also a hoot. A couple of viewer calls/conversations on how the whole switch was going to happen, and my head was like chopped lettuce in a salad spinner.

SAY SIX: How many years were you at WCIX? And how much of that was spent in the news department, and the same for promotions?

RR: I was at WCIX/WFOR for just about 13 years. I started in Promotion writing the VOC copy for the end of the shows, as well as press releases. They had to make budget cuts but wanted to find something else for me to do, noticed that I have a journalism degree, and put me in news on the weekend assignment desk, as well as associate producer. I was also on the Broward assignment desk for about a year.

Then, they created a PR position for me, Media and Community Relations Manager, where I wrote the station newsletter, was the station spokesperson when the media called, and produced the PSAs.

Thanks Ren’ee. I have to tell you, your life is about to change. Prepare to be overwhelmed, as your brainchild starts to touch lives all across the country. The Fine Living Network has not made a long-term commitment to the show, so it’s important for those who enjoy the program to let them know. To become a sponsor of Cooking Without Looking, or for more information about the show, contact Ren’ee Rentmeester at 305-200-9104.

Oh, and Ren’ee, please tell Glo we need the “Jumpin’ Jackpot” graphic for that Lotto story!