How I got my job at WCAU-TV (a lesson in Chutzpah)

I’ve been avoiding writing this because as I think about it, some of it is – well – embarrassing. When you’re at the far end of life’s travels and you look back at the things you did when you were 20+, as much fun and exciting as they seemed then, they might be unseemly today. I’ll let you be the judge.

The story begins behind my desk in the offices of WWFM – the college radio station at Franklin and Marshall College where I was the News Director. I was reading my monthly copy of Broadcasting Magazine when I came across an article by the President of TVAR – the sales arm of Westinghouse Broadcasting. The article described the quality challenge commercial television was facing due to the rise of what we then called Educational TV. He cited opera, ballet, and theater productions being produced with quality and having the potential to tear audience from the mind numbing sitcoms and oh-so-predictable cop shows that were the mainstay of commercial TV.

Now, keep in mind that at this moment in my life, I was 20 years old, a junior at F&M, studying English Literature and I’d just completed a semester of Shakespeare with Professor Ed Brubaker, the director of the annual summertime Oregon Shakespeare Festival. (Click here for more info on Ed Brubaker.) Furthermore, I was the local TV anchorman on WLYH-TV’s (channel 15) Lancaster News. It was a CBS affiliate.

As I read the magazine article, an idea began to from very quickly. It rose like a mist and congealed in my head in seconds. I picked up the phone. Called information in Manhattan and got the phone number for TVAR. I called and asked for the president. He answered, “If you really believe what you wrote,” I said,” you’ll fund my plans for the definitive works of Shakespeare on commercial television.” Wow – where did that come from?  And to my surprise, he invited me to New York to discuss how we might pursue such a project. We set a date, and I began planning.

First I called Brubaker. “Professor, I have a meeting in a couple of weeks with Westinghouse Broadcasting folks to talk about producing a series of Shakespeare’s works on commercial television. Would you be interested in directing?” He was interested.

Next, I called my parents and asked if they knew anyone with connections to top Shakespearean actors. I don’t know why I thought my mother, born in Brooklyn, and my dad an immigrant doctor from Poland, would have any clue about Shakespearean actors, but they actually did. They met a Russian Impresario at a dinner party in New York. They got his phone number for me. He invited me to lunch at the Russian Tea Room on 57th Street in Manhattan. (I had to pay.)

This guy was right out of central casting. Black cape, thick Russian accent, a bit rotund and he spoke and moved with a dramatic flair that impressed the 20-year-old me.  After Borscht and Vodka (you could drink at 18 in New York in those days) he gave me the telephone number of Philip Burton – the director of the Academy of Musical and Dramatic Arts in New York. Philip Burton was Richard Burton’s step-father. And Richard Burton and his then-wife, Elizabeth Taylor, were both Shakespearean actors.

I called Mr. Burton at his home in Greenwich Village and explained that Westinghouse might fund my project – a television series of well-produced Shakespearean works. He asked me to bring a potential contract to his home so we could discuss his role as the theatrical producer of the whole deal. (I guess I was envisioning myself as the “Executive Producer.”)

But, I had a real problem. I was 20 years old and did not have a theatrical attorney on my staff at the college radio station or anywhere else. But my family’s lawyer, Harry Greenspan (Harry and Thelma Greenspan were family friends) was somebody I could call for advice. Harry protested that he knew nothing of theatrical law. I told him I was desperate because my meeting with Philip Burton was in a week, and oh, by the way, I won’t have any money to pay you Harry until the show gets underway. Harry was a prince. He studied up on theatrical law and created a contract that I brought with me to Philip Burton’s brownstone in the village.

He looked it over and said it was pretty useless, but I suggested we could work out all the details so long as he was willing to participate. I’d be glad to work with his attorneys to get it straight. To my surprise, he did not rebel at working with a 20-year-old kid.

The most important part of our meeting in Greenwich Village was his agreement to provide famous Shakespearean actors (depending on the available pay). The names we discussed were Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Now this was a list I could bring to my Westinghouse meeting!

When that day finally came, I was armed with Philip Burton’s tentative agreement, Ed Brubaker’s expression of interest, and lots and lots of Chutzpah located in a giant balloon just over my head. So, when I arrived for my meeting with the TVAR president, the first thing he did was burst the balloon. “You’re a kid.” POW! “But I have really big people working on this with me”, I said. “You’re a kid. Maybe we could work out some sort of internship for you, but nobody here is going to fund a project like this with a kid.” Ouch.

I went back to Lancaster and my desk at the college radio station. But I wasn’t ready to give up.  I told my colleagues at the station what happened in New York. One of them, Michael – our radio station business manager, thought he could help. He lived on the same street in Scarsdale, NY (a wealthy Westchester County suburb of New York City) as Michael Dann, the senior vice-president of programs at CBS. “Mike Dann! You know Mike Dann?”, I screamed. Instantly I made the radio station business manager, Michael, a partner in this venture. At that very instant, my new partner picked up the phone, got Mike Dann’s home number from his parents, and called the broadcasting legend responsible for Lucy, Red Skelton, and countless other TV shows that made CBS the number one rated network in America. We had an appointment for the following week at ”Blackrock”, the CBS office building on West 52nd Street in Manhattan – an appointment on the 34th floor. (CBS had an altitudinal hierarchy at Blackrock. Senior vice-presidents were on 34. The president, Frank Stanton and his staff, occupied the entire 35th floor and William Paley the founder and chairman of CBS, occupied the entire 36th floor.) I was going to 34. That was like being very close to God.

When my new partner and I arrived at the building, we had to cross an American Federation of Television and Radio Artists picket line to get in. CBS was in re-runs as all the live and taped shows were cancelled due to the strike. (By an odd coincidence, 3 years later I would participate in turning WCAU-TVs newroom into an AFTRA organization. I’m still a member.)

When we finally made our way to the 34th floor, we were ushered into Mike Dann’s office. He was on the phone, fiercely shouting at a producer in Los Angeles. Red Skelton, it seems, had just been pulled off the set at Television City by union shop stewards who were enforcing the strike. It was a bad day to be making a proposal at CBS (A bad day at Blackrock, eh?). Nonetheless. Mike Dann was gracious and he organized a meeting with 5 of his vice-presidents. These were people who would go on to fabulous careers managing commercial television for decades. Among them was Fred Silverman who later ran Television City, and a fellow named Irwin Segelstein. who eventually moved on to NBC as their Executive VP for Programs.

Well, my partner Michael and I made a fabulous presentation. I thought so anyway. We rolled names like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy off our tongues so glibly, how could they possible not fund the project. But in the end, it was just a fantasy of two 20-year-old kids playing big-time producers for a day in the big city. In the end, there was – zip, zilch, nada. Not even a phone call.

So, as April 1967 was rolling around and I was facing the coming end of my junior year in school, and a long summer as the anchorman of the WLYH-TV Lancaster News (oh god, spend the summer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania – a horrible thought for a kid from New York) I picked up the phone again. I called CBS in New York and asked for Irwin Segelstein. “Hi Irwin.” You can only call a CBS vice-president by his first name if you are 1, 20 years old, 2, not a CBS employee, and 3, the presumed personal friend of the vice-president’s boss – Michael Dann. “Of course, nothing ever happened with that Shakespeare thing, and while I’m working for the affiliate in Lancaster, I was wondering if there might be something I could do at CBS in New York this summer.” Mr. Segelstein was most anxious to do something for his bosses’ friend. I was setup with an appointment at CBS Facilities and Personnel to determine if I could become a management trainee. They gave me a whole battery of psychological tests and in the end concluded I had only one fault – too much ambition.

I was told that I was to become the first management trainee who did not have an MBA. I spent the summer at WCBS-TV performing studies of how network sports was eating into locally produced (and revenue producing) program time at WCBS (the network flagship station). I spent time running the stations’ operations and traffic departments while managers were on vacation. And at the end of the summer, I was promised an opportunity to continue on a management path when I graduated the following spring.

As my senior year was ending, I called my old boss at Facilities and Personnel and asked where I would start my new management position. We had already agreed I should work in news management and the options were to move me to bureaus around the world and see what positions I fit into best. So, I asked, is it London, Paris, Rome, Tel Aviv (all the places I was hoping for) and he replied, “have you seen our stock lately?” I had. It had dropped over the course of the year from the mid-$70 range to about $35. “We’ve had to cut a lot programs. The management trainee program is now open only to minorities.” “But, I’m Jewish,” I protested. “That doesn’t count anymore”, he replied. Oh.

But he agreed to send my resume to the news directors of the 5 TV stations owned and operated by CBS, including WCAU-TV. During my senior year in school, I worked as a reporter and anchor for a powerful regional rock station, WSBA in York, PA. But I also called the assignment editor at WCAU-TV, a mere 75 miles from Lancaster, and told him I’d worked at CBS in New York as a trainee and if there was any news coverage I could assist with please, call me, as I was active covering stories every day. He explained the union situation at WCAU-TV would prevent my direct involvement but we’d keep in touch if there were stories I could assist with. Nothing came of that except, that when I called Frank “Skip” Oprendek, the assignment editor, in June of 1968 after school ended, he invited me to come to the station for an audition. I had already interviewed at WRGB-TV in Schenectady, New York, and was looking for an agent in New York to help me get a job. But when I arrived at WCAU-TV for my interview, Skip introduced me to Barry Nemcoff. Now, Nemcoff, in case you didn’t know it, was part of the Pottstown Mercury staff when it won a Pulitzer in the 1950s. He then went to work for Edward R. Murrow at CBS in New York and became one of Murrow’s boys. When Murrow went on to head the United States Information Agency at President Kennedy’s request, Nemcoff joined him and worked in  the USIA office in Tokyo. He returned to CBS and Philadelphia in 1966. Nemcoff thought I looked like Bill Stewart (see my blog post on Bill) and while he had no openings on his staff, he agreed to send me out with their political reporter, Dan Cryor, to create a duplicate story of the one Dan was producing for that night’s show. I did it, and Nemcoff liked it. In fact, he was concerned that Cryor had missed the point of the story after seeing my version. But, still, there was no opening. “Would you hire me if there was an opening?” “Yes, I would, but I think you’re fishing for compliments”, he said. And once again that mist rose and congealed in my brain. “No”, I said, “I have an idea. Remember what you said – that you’d hire me if there was an opening.”

I left his office and walked down towards the basement exit where I’d seen a pay phone. I called my old boss at CBS Facilities and Personnel. “If you don’t provide Nemcoff with money to hire me until there’s an opening, I’m going to end up at WRGB in Schenectady (a General Electric owned TV station) and all the money you spent on me last summer will be wasted.”  “Wait a few minutes,” my old boss said,” then go back to Nemcoff’s office.”

10 minutes later, I was working in the newsroom at WCAU-TV with a paycheck that came by mail from CBS in New York every week for 3 months until an opening occurred in Nemcoff’s budget.

And that’s how I got my job at WCAU-TV.

Loretta Swit (Hot Lips) and Me

If you’re not of a certain age you won’t remember that Loretta Swit played “Hot Lips” Houlihan on M*A*S*H*.  So, if you’re not of a certain age, go watch some episodes on YouTube and then come back and read this because it’s a fun tale for those of us who often struggled to maintain journalistic values in the face of management’s idea of television news.

In the summer of 1973, WCAU-TV’s General Manager, Gordon French, invited the reporters to join the advertisers and a bunch of actors from M*A*S*H* at a soiree complete with Lionel Hampton on xylophone, some speeches about how great the new TV season would be, and a pretty good dinner. And I have to admit it was fun to sit at a table with people like Loretta Swit and the late William Christopher, who played Father Mulcahy on the show.

CBS always had very strict policies about mixing news and sponsors. In fact, a few years earlier, when I was writing a story about how then Philadelphia District Attorney Arlen Spector cited a number of supermarkets in the area with health code violations, a sales guy walked into the newsroom asking who was working on the story. I said I was, and he pointed out that one of the supermarket chains threatened to pull all their ads off the station if we ran the story. I introduced this salesman to our news director, Barry Nemcoff, who promptly alerted him to company policy prohibiting crossing the lines of news and sales. The sales guy complained to the general manager. But policy prevailed and, in fact, the sales guy was fired. Those times are long past in television news today.

It seemed they were on the way out at the M*A*S*H* dinner in 1973 too. It was one of many reasons I ended my television journalism career in May of 1974.

One of the key policies at CBS that resulted from the Chicago democratic convention riots in 1968, was a solid affirmation that, as journalists, we must never, ever stage an event, or direct people to perform in front of the camera. So the next day, after the M*A*S*H* dinner, when I was assigned to cover Loretta Swit’s visit to the Army’s Valley Forge Hospital (where wounded Vietnam vets were being treated) I had the policy slapped in my face.

Ms. Swit, while an excellent actress, had no real idea how to behave with the wounded soldiers. She saw our news film camera and said, “tell me where you want me to stand and what to say.”  Uhhh…hmmmm, but..uhhh.”  I tried to explain CBS policy, but from her point of view, I was simply part of a of promotional team. “Well,” I said, “what would you normally do when visiting wounded soldiers?” She looked a bit startled. I guess it wasn’t something she normally did. So, I finally explained all we could do was follow her and she’d have to figure out what to do. She was NOT pleased, but ultimately did her best to greet some very grateful soldiers.

I watch the constant self-promotion of programs and personalities on so-called news broadcasts today and realize those policies we cherished in the early 1970’s are no longer relevant. The question that raises, of course, is this. Is local television news journalism?  In a lot of cases it’s not.

The Holocaust and Me

Avraham&Lana_Silber_ca_1930

Avraham and Lana Silber – ca. 1930 – Mosty-Wielke, Poland

In this series of blogs about my professional life and the individuals I’ve met who shaped my life and career, I’ve neglected to pay attention to the those who came before me and made possible all I’ve experienced these many years. And in that story, one element stands out in such stark contrast to the life of safety, security, and ever evolving possibilities I live today, that it must be revisited.

This story then begins long before Hitler’s final solution. It begins at Ellis Island, New York in 1900. Avraham Silber and his sister Rose stepped off a boat that had just sailed by a beckoning Statue of Liberty, at the end of their journey from Austria-Hungary, to settle in America as immigrants. That statue  welcomed them to a new land. They began work in the sweat shops of the lower east side of Manhattan, and before long, Avraham had saved enough to open his own shop – a shirt factory. They did well.

Avraham was an orthodox Jew. He practiced Judaism fully, but he was not a Chasid. He wore modern clothes and considered himself a modern businessman. And so it was in 1903 when he attended the funeral of another orthodox Jew in New York, that he realized the ancient Jewish burial custom of being laid to rest in a shroud (no coffin) was against New York State Law. It was the final straw for him. He sold the business, and returned to Austria-Hungary, leaving Rose behind. Avraham used the money from the sale of his business to buy land and create a lumber business. It was highly successful and Avraham became wealthy by the standards of the day in his town of Mosty-Wielke, 20 miles north of what is now Liviv in Ukraine. (In Austria-Hungary, the city was called Lemberg and it was a center of a Jewish learning. After Poland became a country following World War I, the borders changed and Lemberg became the Polish city of Lvov.)

Avraham married Lana and together they had 5 children, 3 daughters and 2 sons. My father, Moshe ben Avraham (known by his nickname “Mundek” and by his Polish name – Maurycy) was the youngest of all 5. Avraham used his wealth to contribute to the town and all its citizen – Jew and non-Jew. He was considered the town patriarch by many. Avraham wanted Mundek to become a rabbi and so my father studied with famous rabbis in Poland. But Mundek saw himself as something else – something more secular and he begged his father to arrange a secular education. Avraham bribed the headmaster of the Gymnasium – the Polish secondary school in Lvov – to allow Mundek to attend class. Jews generally were not otherwise allowed in the primarily Catholic educational system in Poland. Mundek and 4 other Jews sat on a back bench in class. They were often the subjects of anti-Semitic slurs. In fact, Mundek’s Catholic friend, George Progulski would phone Avraham’s house every morning to let Mundek know if it was safe to come to school or if there were anti-Jewish demonstrations in Lvov that day. By 1932, the year Mundek graduated from Gymnasium, it was clear he wanted a career in medicine. Avraham indulged him, but Jews could not attend medical school in Poland. Mundek was accepted into the Medical school at the University of Bologna in Italy, and later, the University of Genoa.

In 1937, Avraham lay deathly ill in Lemberg. Hitler had come to power in Germany and Poland, in an effort to appease him, passed anti-Jewish laws, prohibiting Jews from owning businesses. Avraham and Lana had to sell the lumber business and move in with their oldest daughter in Lvov. Mundek went to see his dying father. Avraham saw the future all too clearly. He made Mundek swear that upon graduation he would leave Europe and find his Aunt Rose in New York. And just in case he needed money, Lana sewed a nail file made of platinum into his coat that he could convert to cash or use as a bribe if needed.

Mundek returned to Italy and with the help of his Aunt Rose and her family in New York, obtained a visa to travel to the US after graduation. He also obtained a visa for nearby Switzerland just in case war prevented him from reaching the United States. Jews from Eastern Europe as well as Jews from Germany, were already being prevented from entering the United States by an isolationist congress. By December 1938, 5 months after getting his medical degree, Mundek boarded a boat leaving Genoa for Ellis Island.

Rose died a few months before he left Europe, but no one in her family wanted him to know, fearing he might not leave what was clearly a dangerous place for Jews. He learned of her death upon his arrival.

And 10 months after he set foot in America, Germany invaded Poland from the west, and Russia shortly thereafter, from the East. Lvov was now in Russian hands. Mundek made his way to Washington every Sunday so on Monday morning he could go to congress and petition for an increase in the Polish immigration quota and get his mother, his sisters, their husbands, their 12 children (my cousins) and his brother out of harm’s way. Congress refused. Mundek, with help from Rose’s new family, was able to arrange a private aircraft to take his older brother Chaim out of the Russian zone to Scandinavia. Chaim eventually made his way to the Dominican Republic and then the US where he joined the US Army and fought in Europe.

By June 1941 Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and soon occupied all of Poland. Lvov was turned into a ghetto with regular transports to the death camps. Lana died painfully of peritonitis in the ghetto.  My aunts, my uncles, and my cousins were all murdered either in brutal so-called actions, violent attacks perpetrated by Nazis and Ukrainian Nationalists, or after transport to  the gas chambers.

(For more on the events in the Ghetto of Lvov, click this link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lw%C3%B3w_Ghetto)

What would have blossomed from those lives saved if congress had simply followed America’s core values and allowed the burning beacon of liberty to welcome all those family members to her shores? What contributions could my cousins have made to our society as doctors, lawyers, teachers, musicians, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers of a new generation; all lost now.

Mundek was offered a commission in the US Army just after Pearl Harbor and served with distinction in Europe with a medical battalion – landing in France on D-day +11. He only learned the fate of his family after the war ended, and some of it, not until a trip to Israel in 1970, from other survivors of the Lvov ghetto.

So today, as refugees and immigrants are barred from our shores, I cannot fail to see the pain and suffering that will surely follow. Oh America, where art thou in their time of need?

The Divine Lorraine and Me

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Shortly after we moved to our present digs in Center City, my wife and I followed up on a newspaper story that said we could take an architectural tour of the old Divine Lorraine Hotel. The abandoned building on North Broad was once a hotel to the famous and wealthy visiting Philadelphia. The nouveau riche of the industrial revolution made it a regular stop in the 1880’s. The Reverend Major Jealous Divine (a name he gave himself), also called Father Divine, bought it 1948 and centered his International Peace Mission movement there. While the hotel was open to all races, mostly African American followers of Divine occupied its spaces. Men and women lived on separate floors. Modesty was encouraged. And Father Divine eventually called himself God.

In 2006, when Vicki and I visited the building, it was in severe disrepair, but architects and developers were making big plans. We toured the building, fascinated by moments in architectural time frozen in place. We visited the 10th floor ballroom where Father Divine broadcast and recorded his Sunday religious services. I sat down and played his sparkling white grand piano.

Before leaving, we stopped in what was left of the old hotel’s restaurant and I was overcome by a feeling that I knew this place. It took me awhile to put it all together. I defamed this hotel and the International Peace Movement in a news story I wrote for Channel 10’s 11 PM Sunday news, way back in 1969. I always thought it was Father Divine himself who called me right after that newscast. But it couldn’t have been. He died 4 years earlier. Still, the threats of a curse on my life shouted over the phone were reminiscent of the legendary minister’s back story. It was said that those who opposed his will and received his curse wouldn’t live very long.  A state trooper in New York was said to be among those. His printed (in all capital letters) 3000-word curse on Sara Harris, an author who published a biography of Divine in 1953 is also the stuff of legend. He even cursed the entire New Jersey Turnpike after his entourage was ticketed once for speeding.

The infamous Jim Jones attempted to pick up the reins of Divine’s International Peace Mission after Divine’s death in 1965, and eventually moved his own cult to Guyana where it ended in a well-known mass suicide. Jones claimed Father Divine’s spirit had entered his body. So exactly who it was yelling at me and cursing me for calling the Divine Lorraine a “…hotel for derelicts” remains unclear. Perhaps it was Jones or it might have been a disciple of Divine’s working for Mrs. S. A. Divine who tried to keep the movement going on her own.

So, why did I disparage the old building? I was relatively new to Philadelphia, and working as a writer on the 11 PM news weekend shift, when the report of a fire at the Divine Lorraine came over the fire radio we kept in the newsroom at WCAU-TV. Weekend evening shifts were typically lonely postings. I called one of our more seasoned reporters and asked about the Divine Lorraine. That’s where the term “…hotel for derelicts” came from.

The threatening caller told me my words were detrimental to the effort underway to support the lives of those who had chosen to live there and follow Divine’s message. His voice was deep and sonorous and filled with a combination of anger and angst. He demanded an apology and a correction. Lawyers called station management Monday morning, and I was hauled up to a VP’s office (Mel Levine) and asked to explain exactly how those words appeared on a teleprompter for our anchorman to read. That Monday night, John Facenda read the apology and correction. Since I suffered no ill effects, the apology and correction must have staved off the effects of any curse.

One further note to conclude this tale. In one of his first stories for ABC news, the late Bill Stewart, covered the mass suicide in Guyana where Jim Jones led his followers to their deaths as they drank poisoned Kool-Aid.  Bill Stewart was the weekend anchor who read my defamatory story.

Bill Stewart and Me

Bill Stewart in 1963

Bill Stewart in 1963

It is not often in our lives that we get to have a very best friend. At least it hasn’t happened to me very often. So this story is about my very best friend, William D. Stewart.

Many of you will remember William D. Stewart as the ABC journalist who was murdered by a Nicaraguan soldier during that country’s revolution in 1979. Bill was a channel 10 reporter until he left for a gig with WCCO-TV in Minneapolis in 1974. WCCO was known in those days as a stepping stone to network news for on camera reporters.

I was first made aware of this warm, gentle and exceedingly professional journalist when I was interviewed for the job of writer/reporter/producer at WCAU-TV in July of 1968. Barry Nemcoff, the news director, commented that I looked like Bill. The story of how I got my job will be the subject of another blog post, but part of it certainly was that I reminded Barry of Bill Stewart, and Bill was off studying at Columbia University having won the coveted CBS Foundation Fellowship for that year.

Bill resumed his work covering stories in Philadelphia and anchoring weekend newscasts at the end of the 1968-1969 academic year. And to my very great surprise, though we had absolutely nothing in common but work, we became fast friends. We often dined out together with our wives, and celebrated birthdays together. My nickname for him was Willy. Bill’s wife Myrna was, herself, a very dear friend.

Bill was aware of my desire to build my own production company and while he was always guiding me in my journalistic pursuits, he recognized the dichotomy in my career – to borrow from Hamlet, whether it be nobler in front of the camera or behind it.

We were often seen together at restaurants after the evening news. Bill, as an occasional anchor, was for more recognizable to the general public than I. That we looked alike was not lost on people who saw us together. So it was a source of great laughter for us both that one maître d’ at a restaurant in town looked at this young man, born in the hills outside Lexington, Kentucky, and said to him “Mr. Stewart. I see you’ve brought your brother with you this evening.” “Yes,” was Bill’s instant response. “This is my Jewish brother from New York.”

When Bill made his way to Minneapolis and established himself as one of their top reporters, he urged me to apply for a producer’s job at WCCO. But I was set on building my business. In 1975 when I came to visit Bill and Myrna, I was already deeply involved in the North American Soccer League, and World Team Tennis film production contracts.

So, when you have a really close friend, you can talk about everything – marriage, finance, the future – everything. He was there for me when my marriage fell apart and there for me when I was ready to start again. I was there for him when the business of journalism at the network level was getting more and more frightening.

By 1979, Bill was a rising star at ABC News. I had an office in Manhattan and we would occasionally meet for lunch near the studios. He introduced me to Barbara Walters in an elevator at ABC one day and that was just after he and I had enjoyed a very memorable luncheon at Tavern-on-the-Green in Central Park.

Bill had just returned from covering the Iranian revolution. “When I saw little puffs of sand at my feet, I knew people were shooting at me” he told me. He was scared. In fact, he was convinced, if he didn’t leave television news, it would kill him. He planned his own funeral after he returned from Iran.

“Bill”, I said, “why you don’t come join me doing corporate film work.” By then, I was producing corporate image films for Phelps Dodge Copper and training films for Zimmer, the orthopedic manufacturer. He thought about it seriously. He knew officials at Ashland Oil in Kentucky and figured he could get us work there. We started to make plans for his eventual departure from ABC and his role working with me.

I was so pleased to be able to call Bill and Myrna and let them know I’d found someone new in my life – the woman who I would marry in 1980. We’d just started living together in Wilmington in 1979 and Bill and Myrna were supposed come by train to Wilmington and spend the weekend with us. On the day he was to arrive, he called in the morning. “What time’s your train, Bill” I asked. “Can’t come. They’re sending me to Nicaragua to cover another revolution. Where the hell is Nicaragua anyway.” I pulled out a world atlas.” Well, if you head south from Mexico, there’s Honduras first and then Guatemala and Nicaragua’s next. South of that is Costa Rica and Panama before you get to Colombia in South America.”

By the next morning, I was watching the ABC morning news and Bill was already on the air. His stories were mostly political analysis of the what was happening in the revolution. But on NBC, reporters were capturing bullets flying at the front. ABC instructed him to get closer to the fighting.

Two days later I was sitting at my desk in my production company headquarters in Valley Forge. The phone rang. It was Chuck Satiritz – an editor and later cameraman at channel 10 who’d worked closely with me not only editing my stories when I was a reporter, but often working freelance on my company’s film and video projects. “I’m so sorry to tell you this, but I just saw a bulletin on the AP wire – Bill Stewart is dead. He was shot and killed in Nicaragua.” “That’s impossible” I said in disbelief. “I just spoke to him Saturday morning. We’re getting together when he gets…” and then it started to sink in. That feeling that all your bones are cold and nothing will ever be right again. “I have to go New York” I told Chuck and hung up. I needed to be with Myrna. I booked a room at the Americana Hotel in Manhattan and drove to 30th Station. I took the next train to Penn Station. I grabbed a cab and headed for their apartment on West 64th Street, near the ABC studios. The cab driver, just making conversation, said “Did you see that video of that reporter getting killed?” I started to cry. I explained he was my friend. How does something so personal get shared with perfect strangers who have seen your best friend die before their eyes?

When I arrived in Bill and Myrna’s apartment, there was a crowd of other friends, ABC executives and some of her relatives. Her brother asked me if I could disable the cable system so she couldn’t see the horrible last moments of her husband’s life. I quickly removed the appropriate cords. Myrna was aware the video existed but agreed it would be best not to see it now.

I stayed there until I was convinced she would be OK and then headed over to the Americana. After checking in, I turned on the late news on New York’s channel 11, WPIX-TV and there it was. The crew was shooting from inside their van as Bill was led at gunpoint to a line of soldiers. He was protesting in broken Spanish that he was an American Journalist. They forced him down on his knees, and then to lie flat on the ground. He saw a soldier aim a rifle at his head, and he turned just as the shot tore through his brain. At the funeral, his father would remark at how amazing the morticians had been in restoring his features.

“What did they do to you Willy,” I cried out at the television. “Oh my god, what did they do?”

The funeral Bill planned after his scare in Iran included a small service in a country church outside Lexington with a fire and brimstone preacher. The crowd of friends, dignitaries from our industry, executives and leading journalists from around the nation, filled the little church to capacity. He even planned that I would be one of his pallbearers.

And we put Bill in the ground, ending the story of Bill Stewart and me, except for this. Every year, on the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) we have a service called Yizkor. It’s a remembrance of those we’ve lost. Every year I remember my dad, the family we lost in the Holocaust, and my dearest friend, William D. “Willy” Stewart.

Frank Rizzo and me

Rizzo_NightstickWe all have our own special Frank Rizzo stories. The guy was bigger than life in so many ways.

I first met Frank when I was assigned to the roundhouse (Police headquarters) to cover a news conference. Rizzo  immediately recognized the new face in the crowd. It was 1968, I’d just turned 22 a few months before. So, when the news conference was over, and Rizzo invited me into his office to chat, I was very pleased. The crew was packing up the gear, and Rizzo sat me down in a chair at the corner of his desk – sort of where a detective would place a suspect he was interviewing. After welcoming me to Philadelphia, he started to complain about how our culture was degenerating. “Just look at the stuff you can see at any newsstand. I mean kids can see this.” And with that, he opened up a desk drawer which I could peer into, and showed me a stack of pornographic magazines, Penthouse and many that were far more explicit. He held them up, leafed through some pages and said “Look at this. You can see girls’ snatches in these pictures.”

I actually didn’t know how to react. I think I mumbled something like “yeah, that’s terrible.” And excused myself knowing the crew and I needed to get back on the road.

Over the next two years, I covered a few more Frank Rizzo news conferences and events as he was heading towards his first run for Mayor. Along the way I also covered quite a few anti-war demonstrations in town. At one, protesters were amassed in a line of about 40 or 50 people chanting and waving signs complaining that the University City Science Center on Market Street was designing weapons for the military. One of the protesters was a college buddy of mine from my days at Franklin and Marshall. He was now getting a Master’s degree at Drexel. So I pulled him out of the line and began to interview him. As the interview progressed I noticed another camera lens in my peripheral vision – and it wasn’t my cameraman. I turned and saw what then was a very advanced video system, – a black and white video camera recording on to reel-to-reel half inch tape. The news crews all shot 16mm motion picture film. Portable video cameras were unheard of in 1969.

I was intrigued by the technology and when I asked who the cameraman was shooting for, he explained that he was a cop. He said he was getting footage for training materials on crowd control. I found out who he reported to and arranged to do a story on police technology and crowd control. What I found was the police were using the tapes to identify anti-war protesters. They had a log book with the identity of every protest leader in town and from out of town. I asked to see the tapes of the great 1969 anti-war protest that nearly shut down the whole country. When they set the tape player’s counter to 0, the lieutenant in charge could tell me exactly who every protest leader was by matching the counter number to a reference in a police log book. Then I learned, they maintained files on everyone they thought might become a problem.

Well, we do that today as part of our regular homeland security practice following 9/11. But then, it seemed like a huge violation of the constitutional right of assembly and free speech. What have we lost in the name of national security?

Shortly after gathering that footage and starting to prepare a story on police surveillance, I received a phone call from the leader of a commune at Temple University that published an underground, anti-war newspaper called “The Free Press.” One commune member, David Kairys, recently a dean at Temple Law, filed a federal law suit against Rizzo aimed at stopping what they claimed was harassment. Indeed, police cars were parked outside stores that advertised in the newspaper. Worse, when they were about to release an edition that had a headline opposed to Rizzo’s potential run for mayor, the police attempted to hi-jack the entire press run. The paper’s front page had a “Stop Rizzo” headline, but the ‘z’s in Rizzo were spelled with swastikas. And the picture under the headline was the famous photo of the ‘big bambino’ with a nightstick protruding from the cummerbund of his tuxedo. But Rizzo’s nose in the photo had been replaced with that of a pig. As red cars (Philadelphia police cars were bright red in those days) halted the printer’s truck outside the commune’s apartment near Temple and as police tried to seize the entire press run, Kairys spoke up and cited the unconstitutionality of what they were attempting. The police backed off, but Kairys did not and finally filed his lawsuit. That sparked the most significant story I’d ever produced at WCAU. It was called “Rizzo and the Free Press.” It included the footage and interviews I’d developed over the police use of video tape to catalog anti-war protesters and concluded with a long interview with Frank in his office with the big wall sized police shield in the background. In it, he maintained that society had broken down to the point where police had to act pre-emptively to identify those who might someday, in some unknown future, commit crimes. Hence, files had to be maintained and the identities of those exercising their constitutional rights had to be known to police. When I pointed out to Frank the many instances of civil disobedience that had advanced our country from revolutionary times, through to civil rights gains, he dismissed those as if they didn’t count as part of the American story. In the interview, he actually came off as a fascist. It was a shame, because he really meant well. He really thought it was his job to protect his vision of America from those he thought were out to destroy it. With Frank, you were either with him or against him.

CBS picked up the ‘crowd control’ story footage as part of its documentary “Surveillance in America.”

Frank never forgave me. I never forgave him for having all four tires on my car slashed in the WCAU parking lot the very night that story aired – Sunday after football – in our highest rated news show, anchored by my dear friend, the late Bill Stewart. That night, Frank Rizzo decided I was against him.

Advance the time line four years. I’d just left the station to pick up the reins of my new production company as a full time job. But I was helping my lawyer, Joseph Della Guardia, in his campaign to capture George X. Schwartz’ seat on City Council. Schwartz had made a few missteps in public at the time. Most of us knew the rumors that George was corrupt and the (now defunct) Evening Bulletin even ran an investigative series that led to the conclusion George was somehow getting kickbacks from developers as he controlled the Zoning Hearing Board and City Council’s Zoning Committee. My lawyer and friend Joe was gaining on Schwartz. Rizzo was invited by Joe to attend a rally at the Overbrook Italian American Civic Club – part of the district Schwartz represented. Joe asked me to arrange TV coverage. I called my friends at stations in town and the event was well covered on the 11 PM news that night.

Afterwards, the Mayor’s chief of staff, Marty Weinberg asked me to join the mayor, Joe and some other city and political officials at a backroom dinner in the club. I told Marty that Mayor Rizzo really didn’t like me. Marty insisted saying it would be good for Joe. So there I am at a Formica-topped, long kitchen table surrounded by Rizzo’s cabinet, guys like Al Gaudiosi – the former Daily News editor turned deputy Mayor. There were a bunch of other Italian guys Rizzo had running various departments like Streets (trash collection), License and Inspections and the like. Joe Della Guardia was there. Marty Weinberg sat opposite me in the middle of the table, and Rizzo was at the head of the table. After a while Marty looks at Rizzo and says, “Mayor – that’s Jay Silber over there who arranged all our TV coverage tonight.” Silence from Rizzo. I motion to Marty to leave it alone, but he repeats himself: “Mayor, that’s Jay Silber over there who arranged all our TV coverage tonight.” Rizzo had steel gray eyes. And he turned them on me with a look I’ll never forget. “I remember Silber. He used to take shots at me when he was on TV. Now he’s on my side, heh, heh…” Think Darth Vader speaking of the power of the Dark Side. I wanted to shrink under the table and crawl away, just to avoid the stare if nothing else.

A few weeks later, at an outdoor rally just outside Joe’s law office, Rizzo meets with Joe and me inside. He insists we all drink schnapps. We each have a shot glass. Rizzo proposes a toast to Joe’s success and we each throw back the shot in one gulp. Then he looks at me and says “I know it wasn’t really you behind those stories. It was that lousy leftist news director of yours – Barry Nemcoff. I know it wasn’t you.” What I wanted to say was Barry and I thought exactly alike on the subject of Frank Rizzo, and goddamn you for slashing my tires, but instead I mumbled something like “Yeah, I always liked you.” And that was true on one level. He was personable, and in his gruff manner, he could still be charming, and I knew he thought he was doing the right things to keep the city safe. He just had no real clue how unconstitutional and really un-American his actions often were.

 

Footnote to history:

Joe Della Guardia’s campaign was working so long as Rizzo and Schwartz were political enemies and vying for control of the Democratic Party in Philadelphia. But Schwartz and Rizzo came to some agreement, and Joe was asked to drop out. Interestingly, the next week Joe was named Deputy Commissioner of Licenses and Inspections.

John Facenda and me

John Facenda and me

John_Facenda_ca_1980

Many journalists and others in Philadelphia had a connection with John Facenda. Mine was certainly not the oldest or perhaps the closest but it was so special. For those reading about John Facenda for the first time – a little history. John was anchor of the first 11 PM local news broadcast in America. That was in 1947 – the year after I was born. He became the “dean” of local television news in Philadelphia as the WCAU-TV anchor for both the 6 PM hour long news and the 11 PM half-hour show daily until 1974. And there were indeed many in Philadelphia who simply wouldn’t sleep well until hearing John Facenda say “Have a nice night, and a good day tomorrow.”

What perhaps only a few knew, was that John Facenda, along with another WCAU notable, Tom Brookshier, became my business partner in 1972. They were both investors in my film and video production company – DBS Films, Inc. – started while I was still a reporter and producer at the TV station.

As a novice news writer/reporter/producer, John took me under his wing in 1968 and became a friend, a mentor and sometimes a tormentor. He was exactly the same age as my dad – born in 1913. When I took a leave of absence in 1970 to form a 24-hour cable TV news network with a group of Philadelphia investors, John protected my job. CBS wanted to fire me for competing with their cable operation (then known as Viacom). I returned to my job at WCAU, hat-in-hand, when the stock market collapsed in April of 1970. Some of the key people I was working with moved onto join Ted Turner’s organization a few years later. It was the 24-hour news network that became known as CNN. In fact, they called me asking if I wanted to work in their Washington bureau as a producer. But by then I was committed to my own production company. (The paths we choose, eh?)

Everyone has his or her favorite story about John. I have several. Among the most endearing is the story of the horse. (Channel 10 colleagues are now rolling their eyes remembering the horse.) The horse story began with reporter Ron Miller’s excellent series on recidivism amongst ex-cons. He shot most of the story at a state correctional facility in Reading, PA. There, he met Lou. Lou, an ex-con, was instrumental in the story, and Ron asked our news director if Lou could join our team as a sort of handy-man fixing gear when needed. Lou would repair teleprompter typewriters and other devices around the newsroom.

One day, Lou walks into the office and tells us that he won a carriage race horse in a poker game. Since gambling was a violation of his parole, he asked if we would purchase ownership of the horse. He would take care of it for us, and it was a real winner, guaranteed to generate cash for us. So, for $100 each, ten people in the newsroom bought the horse. I started at WCAU making $140 a week. So when Lou offered us the horse in late 1968, I really didn’t have $100 to spare. John Facenda offered me 25% of his share. So for $25, I bought a piece of horse. (You can guess which piece.)

One day, Lou failed to show up for work. And the next day, we received a letter from the track where the race horse was housed in Northeast Philly. It said the horse was pregnant (we had no idea it was a girl) and the track was owed $5,000 in storage and medical fees. John Facenda, absolved me of my debt and assumed his share of the cost. The horse, as far as we knew, never raced.

So that’s one story. Here’s the other side of my complex relationship with John Facenda. John was anchor of both the 6 PM and 11 PM news programs in 1970. I was producing the 11 PM show several days a week. My colleagues Bill Baldini, Mike Quinn and Joe Daley rotated as producers with me. I prided myself on taking complex stories and making them useful for the audience. But there was one problem. Between programs, John would often go out for dinner and have a few drinks with the guys at a restaurant south of the station on City Line Avenue. I found that his ability to read the 1” high type on our yellow, sprocketed teleprompter paper, was sometimes slightly impaired. So, I would tell John that I suspected there were teleprompter errors caused by the high school kid who typed it (true enough by the way) and he and I should review the entire prompter paper from top to bottom before the show. When I did that, reading errors were reduced.

Well one night, I had a particularly complex tax story that took a lot of effort to get just right for our audience. Let’s just say that John’s reading of the story was imperfect. I’d worked so diligently on the story that I was upset it was bungled on the air. I confronted him after show. He blamed the teleprompter. So I grabbed the prompter paper, found the script and showed him that it was accurate. Wrong move! The earth began to shake as John Facenda, with that magnificent, deep, resonant and powerful voice scolded me for questioning his abilities and his authority. It was monumental. And it tore me apart. This man, who had become so important to me, was so angry at me that I was moved to tears. I fled the office. Hopped in my little Alfa Romeo and sped through Lower Merion on my way home to Bryn Mawr, nearly hysterical with sorrow. The tears, however, failed to convince the Lower Merion cop who stopped me for speeding to give me a pass. “But John Facenda just yelled at me” I pleaded. It was a plea only those of us who really knew John would understand.

The next day I apologized to John and all was well. Our relationship grew over the years. There were gifts for my boys at their birth. And, after I left the station and started producing sports films for the North American Soccer League, John (as an investor in the company and as a friend) agreed to narrate those films for $1 over union scale. He narrated the 1973 and 1974 Philadelphia Atoms season highlights films, the 1975 Tampa Bay Rowdies season highlights film and the American Airlines film we produced called Soccer Goes American featuring Pele (who joined the New York Cosmos that year). He also appeared in a couple of commercials I produced after he left the anchor desk at WCAU. Annually, John and Tom would join me and the other investors in my company for a luncheon at the Sheraton in Valley Forge where we had our offices. We’d disburse profits to the investors and catchup with each other.

A week before John Facenda passed way, I visited him in the hospital. They wouldn’t let him wear his famous toupee, so he wore a baseball cap at all times. I was accompanied by the former news director, Barry Nemcoff – now also a dear friend of mine and at that moment an employee of my production company. Barry and John also had a strong personal relationship. John asked to speak privately with me. I sat on the edge of his hospital bed and he told me he had a dream about me. I was really touched. This dear man who had done so much for me, lying quite helpless on his deathbed, had me among his final thoughts.

The Former Vice President Wore Boxers

HHH

Hubert Horatio Humphrey came to Philadelphia in January of 1972 to announce his candidacy for the office of President. That night he addressed an AFL-CIO convention at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel on Broad Street and I was there. How I knew Hubert wore boxers and not “tighty-whiteys” is a tale that begins a couple of years earlier in the newsroom at WCAU-TV.

Not long after I started at Channel 10 in Philadelphia, my boss, Barry Nemcoff, noted that I had been a management trainee at CBS in New York the summer before while still a college student. Among the skills I learned was PERT – Project Evaluation Review Technique – a US Navy management tool developed to oversee the original Polaris Nuclear Missile Submarine project. He asked me to use PERT to solve the consistent problems of getting our 6 PM hour long newscast together. And when I completed my study, he made me the producer of that same program. PERT allowed me to completely design the entire hour long program by 1 PM in the afternoon. Oh, yes – if news occurred after that I’d have to scramble to fit it in, but it worked. And I was bored.

I missed reporting. And I discovered, that no one in Philadelphia really covered news for television or radio after 5 PM. TV stations were all still using film. This was years before satellite and portable television news cameras. So to make it on the air, a news story’s film needed to be in the film processing machine in our basement by 3:30 PM.

I asked the radio news director at WCAU-AM if there was a way I could cover stories. And what I learned was that among its network of hundreds of stations, CBS set up a freelance news network of 8 radio stations around the country where freelancers could feed stories and get paid $25 each time a story aired on any of those stations. Soon, I was to be heard in Washington, Boston, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, as well as Philadelphia. Generally, I would find stories on my own and create features that could run for several days. Union rules prevented me from covering any planned and pre-announced events. But I could go to these events and attempt to speak to key newsmakers beforehand to get around the union rules. And that was the case with Hubert Humphrey. The former vice president fresh from his return to the senate in Minnesota and hungry to capture the democratic nomination for president after his narrow loss to Richard Nixon in 1968, was a favorite of organized labor. So it was appropriate that on the day he announced his candidacy he would speak to an AFL-CIO dinner at the Bellevue – a dinner I couldn’t cover because it was a pre-planned event.

Ever the enterprising reporter, I discovered the suite of rooms he was using at the Bellevue and knocked on the door. When it opened, I was facing a room full of donors and supporters – key leaders in the Philadelphia business community. I knew a few of them. One – S. Harrison “Sonny” Dogole – owner of the nationwide detective agency, Globe Securities Systems, based in Philadelphia. He was also a member of the synagogue I attended and he welcomed me in. When I explained I couldn’t record Hubert’s speech later that evening, he knocked on the door to Hubert’s room. Muriel, that is, Mrs. Humphrey, opened the door and Sonny told her I was from CBS but was unable to attend the event. She said she’d see what she could do. And moments later she opened the door and invited me in. Hubert Horatio Humphrey, the 38th vice president of the United Sates and now the junior senator from Minnesota, was standing in the bathroom – his face covered in shaving cream. He was in a white undershirt and tan boxers. With a huge smile he asked me to join him while he shaved. I explained my problem. He told me to turn on my recorder and he began repeating key parts of his speech in response to questions.

Later that night a prophecy was fulfilled. In 1958, My PS 188 4th grade teacher, Mrs. O’Brien, wrote in my elementary school graduation book that my “…oratory would be heard in Washington.” It was heard that night when WTOP radio in Washington, DC ran my story and the Hubert Humphrey interview.

The Riot

MLK

THE RIOT

“The CBS eye,” the cameraman stated matter-of-factly “….makes a helluva target, don’t it?” The Channel 15 news car with its CBS eye painted on the sides was being pelted with beer bottles as we drove toward a demonstration in Lancaster’s southeast neighborhood. It was April 4th, 1968 and Americans, especially black Americans, were horrified at the news of Martin Luther King’s assassination. And many were more than horrified – they were angry.

I was a senior in college at Franklin and Marshall in Lancaster, PA. The previous school year, I had been the Lancaster News anchor and reporter for Lebanon, PA based WLYH-TV – channel 15. My friend and classmate Barry (not his real name) now had that position. My part time job in my last year in school was as Lancaster reporter for regional rocker WSBA Radio in York. But I resigned that position a week before the assassination so I could study for final exams.

The news director at WSBA called me shortly after the assassination hit the airwaves. A crowd was gathering in the southeast in Lancaster. Would I please cover it? I was a 21 year old kid, and I was deeply drawn to news. In fact, I couldn’t say no. I gathered a up a portable reel-to-reel recorder from the college radio station (I was that station’s general manager in my senior year), called my friend Barry at the TV station and he and his cameraman picked me up so we could drive to the gathering crowd together. As we approached the area of the demonstration, flying objects started hitting the car. We turned a corner, found a quieter place to park the car and stepped out. I had my recorder hanging from my shoulder, with a microphone in hand, the cameraman had his sound camera, battery belt and battery powered lights, and Barry was holding a microphone too.

As we turned the corner we saw a crowd gathered about a block away. A guy was standing in the bed of a pickup truck shouting through a powered megaphone. I knew that guy. It was Justin (not his real name). Justin was a New Yorker like me. But he was not a New Yorker like me. He was black and he lived in Harlem. I am white and lived in an upper middle class neighborhood of a decidedly white section of Queens. On school breaks and occasional weekends, I would drive Justin back to Harlem on my way home. Justin had a phenomenal, powerful voice, not unlike James Earl Jones. He would lecture me on race relations. He was deeply involved in black community affairs in Lancaster too. He once told me “the dumbest thing the white man ever did was allow the black man an education.” It was the age of black power and to be honest, some of Justin’s rhetoric frightened me.

As we began to approach the crowd I tried to make out what Justin was saying through his megaphone, but I couldn’t. Just then, the cameraman, an experienced guy who’d moved back to his home in Lancaster after years at NBC in New York, said “Here we go.” He turned on the lights. At once, the crowd stopped listening to Justin and turned towards the lights. Some started running towards us. Others shouted “I have a statement…” and some hurled epithets at three white guys who were suddenly very, very scared. We turned at once and ran back to the news car. The crowd followed. We literally dove into the vehicle, and while the cameraman fumbled with the keys, hands began to rock the car. Another pair of hands reached into the back seat through the open window and grabbed a camera. I grabbed it back. He grabbed it again. I grabbed it back and the car pulled away. We were safe! About a block down the road another car sped out of an ally and blocked our path. “They got us” the cameraman screamed. Two plainclothes Pennsylvania State Troopers exited that vehicle. “Are you guys OK?” they asked, flashing their badges. “OK” I stuttered, “OK” I shouted. “You saw what was happening and didn’t come to help us?” I was incredulous.

“Are you kidding?” the cop said. “You got yourselves into that mess.” It was only then that it dawned on me we’d done something improper. I told myself we were just doing our jobs. But, something else had happened there beyond my comprehension at the time.

The TV crew drove me back to the college where I returned the recorder to the radio station. I sat at my desk there going over the frightening moments of our encounter with the crowd. And then the phone rang. It was Justin. “Do you know what you did?” he asked. “I was just doing my job.” I responded. “No, you started a riot. You are responsible for starting a riot. I was trying to calm that crowd down when you turned on those lights and incited a riot.” In fact, that same crowd ran into downtown Lancaster, broke windows in the city’s main business section, looted stores and more. There were injuries, arrests, and lives ruined. “You have to answer for what you’ve done” Justin said angrily. And I left the campus immediately. I stayed at my brother’s house a few miles away, and only returned to campus for classes and exams for the few remaining weeks of the school year. I never saw or heard from Justin again.

So what did we do? We made the same mistake news crews from all over the world made a few months later at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. We turned on the lights. In Chicago, where Abby Hoffman’s Yippies and so many others gathered to protest the war in Vietnam, a confrontation between police and protesters would take place every time a crew turned on the lights. CBS President Frank Stanton commissioned a study that resulted in rules journalists followed for decades afterwards. No lights in the midst of civil unrest. The lights altered the story. The lights created the event. We started a riot.

As I was contemplating writing this story, I decided to find Justin. I am pleased to report that he became a hugely successful professor of sociology. He is currently called “Professor Emeritus” in California. He is a nationally recognized expert on race relations, and the author of many books and articles on the subject. I pointed out to him that no white man ever ‘allowed’ him an education. He clearly did that on his own.

Walter Cronkite – “I think that’s my cab”

Cronkite_11-22-1963

Walter Cronkite (1916 – 2009) telling America the president was dead – Nov. 22, 1963

My journey in broadcasting took an unusual turn in 1967. I’d been news director at my college radio station, a news writer for a small rock radio station in Lancaster, PA, and an anchor, reporter and occasional film processor for WLYH-TV in Lancaster. (Yes – I was a television anchor making the big bucks – $1.35 an hour – minimum wage in 1967.)

How I got to CBS in New York for the summer of 1967 as a management trainee will be the subject of another blog post. But what was significant were the people I met who influenced my life and the experience I gained which shaped my future even to the present moment.

From my parents’ home in Queens, I would make my way by subway or car to the CBS Broadcast Center on 57th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues every morning around 7:30. I’d sit down in the company cafeteria and have coffee with Charles Kuralt and others who anchored the CBS Morning News. I would gape at Eric Sevareid – too star struck to have a conversation.

After work, I sat either in studio 31’s control room watching Cronkite’s news program unfold, or in the WCBS-TV control room while the hour long news with Jim Jensen made its way from script to air in an amazing bustle of producers, production assistants, directors, technical directors, projectionists, and tape operators.

I had some key accomplishments that summer. I produced a management study documenting how the network’s broadcast of North American Soccer League games were eating into local broadcast time and revenue. The irony was that 7 years later I’d be producing soccer highlight films for NASL teams.

One week I filled in for the WCBS-TV traffic manager. I’m proud to say I rejected a Ty-d-Bowl TV commercial featuring a little guy in a little row boat being flushed down a toilet. “Bad taste” I told my colleagues. I was overruled by sales.

But the one single moment that stands out in my memory of a very memorable summer occurred in my first week. I was instructed to report to the CBS Television Stations Division headquarters on the 25th floor of Blackrock – the CBS office building at 51 West 52nd Street in Manhattan – a cab ride away.

I stood in front of the Broadcast center on the West Side of Manhattan, arm outstretched hailing a cab. The taxi pulled up and I began to open the door. A voice behind me spoke in clipped, authoritative, important, world shaking tones. It said “I think that’s my cab.” Walter Cronkite. Unmistakably Walter Cronkite. “Where are you going?” he asked. “Blackrock” I managed to squeak out. “So, am I – let’s ride together.”

I couldn’t believe I was riding in the back seat of a New York City cab, at the age of 20, sitting next to the most revered individual in American Television Journalism – the man who inherited the mantle of Edward R. Murrow, and the man who 10 months later would return from Vietnam and tell us all that the government was lying to us about body counts and the war’s progress much as Murrow told us the truth abut Joe McCarthy.

He asked me about my job and I told him I was a college student working as a management trainee for the summer. But I explained that news was my real goal. “What do you see yourself doing in news?” he asked. The answer was the kind of thing you can only say when you’re 20 and life has no limits. “Actually, Walter” I said, “I want your job.”

Graciously, he did not stop the cab and throw me out. Instead he offered advice. “Well, you need solid writing experience – newspaper, wire service – and you have to work out of town for at least 5 years.” His answer was the advice of a journalist not a TV anchorman.

As best I could, I followed Walter’s advice. I went back to Lancaster, worked for WSBA Radio in my senior year. And when the following summer I started my 6-year adventure at WCAU-TV, sports reporter Hugh Gannon assigned a nickname to me. He called me “Network.”

Oh yes, Walter paid for the cab ride.