Gordon Mehlman Shares Memories of WGBH Engineering Innovations

Reading Time: 18 minutes

After working as a specialist 5th class electronics instructor at the U.S. Army Air Defense Command School at Fort Bliss, Texas, Gordon Mehlman became a maintenance engineer at WENH-TV Channel 11 in Durham, New Hampshire. After 5 years there, he was hired as a WGBH maintenance engineer in 1968 and participated in numerous television broadcast engineering innovations over the next 30 years.

By Gordon Mehlman

Engineering in New Hampshire

Each year the University of New Hampshire, where WENH was located, televised a major musical production at the Spaulding Arts Center. Twice during my time at WENH-TV, the old WGBH Greyhound Bus Mobile Unit was rented by WENH to record this musical production. I was assigned as Maintenance Engineer/Technical Director to work with the WGBH crew for both of those remotes.

The mobile unit was an old retired Greyhound bus converted into a TV production truck. At that time WGBH was very actively using this mobile unit for recording college sporting events at L.I.C.B.C. (Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council) schools and programs at both the Museum of Science and the Museum of Art. For about the last year of it’s life, the truck’s motor wouldn’t run, so it was towed with a wrecker to remote locations.

The Mobile Unit had four black-and-white 4.5-inch image orthicon RCA-TK60 cameras, an Ampex VR1000C quadraplex video tape recorder, a quasi-homemade E.M.I. video switcher, and two four input General Electric audio consoles.

The crew that arrived to tape the show were the Driver/Cameraman Greg McDonald, Mobile Unit Supervisor Jack Keane, Cameraman Peter Hoving, Tape Recording Engineer Pat Kane, Video Engineer Aubrey Stewart, and Audio Engineer Don Bullen.


Long before the advent of the WGBH’s Antiques Roadshow, WENH produced a once-weekly 1/2-hour program called Antiquing With George Michaels, who was an antique dealer/auctioneer from Rochester, New Hampshire. The studio crew would go to someone’s home that had a large collection of antiques and bring the best items in a truck to the studio to produce a show that showcased the items.

At that time, WENH did not have any color studio facilities but did have an active film department. Once during my time at WENH a film crew that included me as audio recordist went to the Shelburne Museum near Burlington, Vermont, and recorded two one-hour antiquing specials, one on antique dolls and the other on antique quilts, both on sixteen millimeter Ektachrome color film with a magnetic audio track.

I was assigned to take the films to WGBH to have them transferred from film to video tape. Video engineer Aubrey Stewart and videotape engineer Ray Krause performed the conversion so that they could be broadcast by WENH.

Moving to WGBH

125 Western Avenue

In August of 1968, WGBH transmitter and mobile unit supervisor Jack Keane — who also did all of the microwave system maintenance — resigned to go to work as the Director of Engineering at Connecticut Public Television. So, when I applied and was interviewed by then-Chief Engineer Fran Abramowicz, I had already interacted with the engineering department at WGBH and so was lucky enough to be hired immediately.

Since I had a First Class FCC Radiotelephone License, one of my responsibilities was maintaining the station’s studio-to-transmitter microwave link (STL). The STL at WENH was an RCA-TVM-1 and it so happened that the three WGBH studio-to-transmitter links were also RCA-TVM-1 units. I’d also had over two years of experience as an engineer operating WWNH-AM radio 920 in Rochester New Hampshire.

The State of WGBH in 1968

At that time Hartford Gunn was the President of the WGBH Educational Foundation, Bob Larsen was operations manager, David Ives was the head of fundraising and Jack O’Brien was in charge of buildings and grounds, with George Weiner being the sole maintenance worker and custodian ,and Rose Buresh the only telephone operator.

There were approximately two hundred and fifty employees at two buildings, the first being 125 Western Avenue and the other one, called the Lily building, across the street at 108 Western avenue. 

The employees of the engineering department when I arrived were:

  • Director of Engineering Tom Keller (a brilliant engineer who I believe came to WGBH from the Army’s Walter Reed Medical Center)
  • Chief Engineer Fran Abramowicz
  • Special Projects Engineer John Folsom.

The Maintenance Department consisted of:

  • Recently promoted to Maintenance Supervisor John LaBounty
  • Maintenance Engineers Bill Johnson, Harvey Hudson
  • Mobile Unit Supervisor Hans Scharl
  • Myself

Shortly after I arrived, Benny Krol was hired and Rich Harrison followed somewhat later. The on-duty engineers for the transmitter were Alden Doughty and John Ackles.


Fran Abramowicz had a penchant for hiring maintenance engineers to satisfy some particular need within the department.

  • Bill Johnson had done a lot of  transmitter installation work for WSBK-TV channel 38 and was soon put to work installing the recently licensed WGBX-TV channel 44 Marconi Transmitter.
  • Hans Scharl, the Mobile Unit Supervisor, had much experience working for the C.B.C., the Canadian Broadcasting Network.
  • Harvey Hudson had a vast working knowledge of both sound and projection systems, having worked for: RCA Service Company servicing RCA projectors; Altec Lansing Company servicing theater sound systems; and for the TNT company servicing Eidophor TV projectors, one of which had been recently purchased by WGBH.
  • All three of the studios had McCurdy audio consoles and Benny Krol was working for McCurdy industries when he was hired to work on the WGBH consoles.

Studio productions

At the time I was hired, the WGBH studios were very busy. Every single week a major production would be produced in studio A and every single day a one-half-hour live-to-tape program would be recorded in studio B. The studio B productions were called strip shows in that the studio set was built on a rolling platform that could be rolled in and out of the studio in a short amount of time. All of the set lighting was done with color-coded preset scoop lights.

Many, many shows were recorded in studio B including several how-to’s with Thalasa Crusoe, Elliot Norton Reviews, Walsh’s Animals, The Photography Show, Maggie and the Beautiful Machine, and Crockett’s Victory Garden.

At one time alone, there were three cooking shows being produced in studio A: The French Chef with Julia Child, The Romanolis Table, Joyce Chen’s Chinese Cooking, and so many others.

Every evening at 7:00, a live two-camera news show called Louis Lyons News and Comment and twice a week at 7:15, Robert Baram’s New England Views were produced in studio C. These two programs were being produced in black and white using RCA-TK60 cameras. 

Engineering staff and facilities

At the time I joined WGBH, there were four full time video engineers, Aubrey Stewart, Steve Rogers, Karl Lorencic and Bill Fairweather.

The audio department had four full-time audio engineers, Will Morton, Harvey Morris, Andy Ferguson and Vern Coleman.

The master control operators were David Eastman and Emmett Massey with soon to be added Joe Pugliesi and Dennis Correia.

Master control

The master control area was where all on-air switching of video and audio sources took place before being sent to the transmitters in Needham. The sources were switched with a 24-input by 24-output Canadian Electric relay-based routing switcher, which occupied five full relay racks located directly behind the master control area. It was lovingly called “Max” for Master Exchange. The 24 output channels were used for the following: Channel 2, Channel 44, three channels each for studio A and B control rooms and two for studio C  control. Each video tape machine had a it’s own router feed for its input source. 

Also in the “Max” area behind master control was the film and slide equipment. There were two RCA TK21 black-and-white film cameras, a pair of RCA BK6 film projectors, and a pair of RCA rotating-drum 35 millimeter slide projectors. The film department would create and deliver a new set of 35mm slides every day as necessary for the breaks between programming.

In addition to the black and white film chains, there was a single RCA TK45 color studio camera that had been converted into a color film chain and was fed by a RCA BK6 projector. This color film arrangement was soon to be replaced by a Marconi 16mm film projector, slide projector, and diplexer paired with a  Marconi Mark 7 film camera. A while after that, when film to tape transfers got really busy, a Rank Cintel flying spot scanner film transfer system was purchased and installed. (It was the only one of it’s kind in Boston at the time.)

The tape floor

On the tape floor were Pat Kane, Ray Krause, Dave St Onge, John Macnight and Walt Cummings. The video tape complement were two RCA TR4 vertical deck units, one Ampex VR1200C horizontal deck unit, one Ampex VR1200 slant deck unit — purchased for the recently built 40 foot TV mobile unit and rolled back and forth between the truck and the tape floor — and two Ampex VR2000 slant-deck machines that were the only units capable of color playback and electronic editing.

Prior to the installation of the VR2000’s all editing was accomplished with a razor blade or Smith microscope editing device with Edivue solution and iron filings. 

In the mid 1970s during the ramp-up to WGBY going on the air (and the use of satellites for routing signals), a big advancement in the tape room was a pair of Ampex AVR1’s. This was the first tape machine developed with a frame buffer to allow the machine to lock up video within one millisecond of rolling the tape. In keeping with his past behavior, Fran Abramowicz hired video tape engineer extraordinaire Charlie Brewer away from Ampex.

FM, studio, and scenic crews

The FM Radio crew consisted of:

  • Bill Busiek was the audio supervisor and audio operator and recordist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and responsible for the WGBH audio control room at Symphony Hall.
  • Control room operators were Nathaniel Johnson and Robert Carey
  • The FM transmitter and studio maintenance engineer was John Moran.

The studio crew was:

  • Lighting director Chas Norton.
  • Switcher Kathy Smith.
  • Studio supervisor Connie White.
  • Floor managers Dave DeBarger, Scott Davis, and John Plausse.
  • Camera operators Greg Macdonald, Frank Lane, Skip Wareham, Bob Wilson, Bill Charette, Larry LeCain, Russ Fortier, and Jim Field.

The scenic department consisted of Supervisor Fran Mahard with Clint Heitman and Coburn Bennet as set constructors.

Changes in 1968

In the summer of 1968 three important things were happening.

  1. The RCA TK60 black and white studio cameras in studio A had recently been retired and replaced with four Marconi Mark 7 one-inch Plumbicon tube color cameras.
  2. A new 40-foot television mobile unit replaced the old black-and-white bus. It was built by Veenam and Weegers and delivered and outfitted by WGBH maintenance engineers. This mobile unit also had three of the Marconi Mark 7 color cameras permanently installed and was outfitted to accept the fourth studio Mark 7 that was installed in a rolling rack and shared between the studio and mobile unit.
  3. Prior to the summer of 1968, all FM on-air operations and recording sessions were performed with an announcer in a studio and an operating engineer in radio master control using one of the two RCA BC7 audio mixing consoles. During that summer it was decided by management that an engineer was no longer required for on air operations and Bill Johnson and I were assigned to rebuild FM Studio Four into a one-person radio combo operation. The announcer and radio personalities were now responsible for spinning their own records and playing audio tapes and tape cartridges.

Somewhere along the line, the 7:00 news program was phased out and a new news show called The Ten O’Clock News was developed and produced in studio B. The competition required that any new news program be produced in color. Since at that time Studio B still did not have color cameras — and because ongoing studio A productions did not allow for the sharing of the only four color studio cameras — it was decided to use the color cameras from the mobile unit that was parked outside the 125 Western Avenue building.

Since the camera control units for those cameras were out in the truck, it meant that a permanent set of camera control and communications cables had to be installed between the truck and Studio B. In addition it meant that the video engineer would be working alone in the parking lot at ten o’clock every night.

During this time there was a channel 50 UHF station located in Lowell Massachusetts. A year or so into The Ten O’Clock News, that TV station went bankrupt and WGBH bought two of their Marconi Mark 7 color cameras. Only then were we truly able to “colorize” studio B.

New technologies

There were many creative and ground-breaking things that were developed over those years with much cutting-edge and original technology.

Field video

In 1968, the only way to shoot a video program outside of the studio was with a film camera or a full size mobile unit. The “Handy Looky” hand-held video camera had not been developed yet.

During the summer of 1969, WGBH produced a show along the banks of the Charles river called Summer Fest with the WGBH 40-foot mobile unit. The director wanted to shoot video along the banks of the Charles River on Memorial Drive. Resident on board the mobile unit was a 33KVA 200-amp-per-leg three-phase Caterpillar diesel generator capable of powering the entire mobile unit.

Fastened to the rear of the truck with steel cables was a 6-foot by 8-foot aluminum plate upon which was mounted a Marconi Mark 7 camera on a Vinten friction camera head. Beside it was the seat mount from a full-size Chapman crane. A camera operator sat on the crane seat running this camera while the full mobile unit crew was working inside, powered by the generator … all while the truck was traveling down Memorial Drive recording the action in remote EFP [electronic field production] style. (This was likely WGBH’s first EFP style remote recording.)

Hand-held cameras

The first hand-held color camera acquired by WGBH was a Norelco PCP90 three-tube Plumbicon camera which was a Norelco PCP70 studio camera repackaged into a hand-held format. It had a fairly large backpack that contained the operating controls and electronics and connected to the camera head by an umbilical cable.

The first use of this camera was for a famous WGBH program called Jean Shepard’s America when a remote crew went all over the USA shooting novel American enterprises.  This camera was paired with an Ampex VR3000 portable two-inch quadraplex video tape recorder that recorded on fifteen-minute tape reels.

The highlight of this machine’s life was when tape operator Dave Hutton, recording while standing waist deep in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, was knocked over by a wave and the machine became completely submerged. It was never the same again as the salt water residue kept eating away at the circuit boards.

Symphony Hall

The mobile unit and Symphony Hall

From 1969 to 2002, WGBH recorded and aired Boston Pops concert programs produced with the WGBH forty-foot mobile unit until 1986, when the unit was stripped and  sold to All Mobile Video in New York City. After 1986 the shows were produced with various vendor’s mobile units.

Symphony Hall was originally pre-wired for four Marconi color cameras. In 1977, the WGBH studios and mobile unit were upgraded to Ikigami HK312 color cameras, and so Symphony Hall was rewired with triax camera cables to support five camera positions. 

The WGBH mobile unit only had one videotape recorder available to record the switched output of a concert, an Ampex VR1200.

Link between the Hall and the station

New England Telephone had a video link with a stereo-audio pair permanently connected between Symphony Hall and the Telco frame room at WGBH.

The video and audio from the mobile unit were sent on this link to the WGBH video tape room to make a master recording of the program. Due to a design flaw in the Marconi color cameras (called the Marconi Blinks), it became necessary to provide a full-time backup camera feed of the orchestra conductor camera located in the organ loft. Any time there was a Marconi blink, the editor could later edit in a shot of the conductor.

Microwave links

A microwave Associates MA2 2-ghz transmitter was placed in the loft at Symphony Hall and a four-foot parabolic microwave antenna was installed on the roof. The feed from the the truck to the loft was then microwaved to the WGBH-FM transmitter tower on Great Blue Hill in Milton, Mass., where a matching receiving dish and Microwave Associates MA2 2-ghz microwave receiver was mounted at the first walkway level of the tower.

It was then rerouted from Blue Hill back to the WGBH penthouse via the Raytheon intercity microwave system and routed to the tape floor.

Synchronizing multitrack audio and video

Long before the advent of multiplex-stereo audio for TV, WGBH was recording stereo audio tracks for music productions. When those programs aired, at the beginning of each show, announcer Bill Pierce would inform the viewer that, if they wished to hear the program in stereo, it was being simulcast on WGBH-FM. If the viewer turned off the TV audio and turned on the FM radio sound, the show would be heard in stereo.

To be able to do multitrack recordings, WGBH purchased an Ampex MM1000 2-inch 16-track audio tape recorder with sixteen channels of Dolby audio processing. This system allowed for fourteen tracks of audio and two tracks for control signals:

  1. A sine wave derived from vertical drive forced through a ringing transformer.
  2. A video tape control track signal.

The multitrack audio was then mixed down to stereo tracks on a four-track audio tape recorder.

A Magna Tech film controller then synchronized the four-track audio tape recorder and a video tape playback machine to play in synchronicity.

An early use of this system was for a series of operas. What was unique about those productions was that the whole Boston Symphony Orchestra was set up in studio B and played to the performance of the actors in Studio A, all while watching the action on a 12-foot wide picture from studio A that was projected by an Eidophor television projector.

The synchronized video and audio recordings of the opera could then be broadcast in stereo by any PBS station that had an FM affiliate station in the same way that WGBH did.

To do so, Chief Engineer Fran Abramowicz loaded his personal station wagon with the video tapes, the Magna Tech synchronizer, and an Ampex AG350 four-channel audio tape machine with the mixdown and control tracks and delivered them to PBS stations in New York City, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia so they could be broadcast in stereo with their FM stations.

Open captioning

In 1974, long before the development of closed captions for television, the engineering department of WGBH developed what was likely the first captioning system that allowed the deaf to read what was being said during a television broadcast.

The termination point of the ABC Network video and audio feed for all of northern New England was on the 52nd-floor penthouse level of the Prudential building. A microwave system provided this feed to WCVB-TV in Boston, WMTW-TV on Mount Washington, and WMUR-TV in Manchester NH. A WGBH engineering crew was tasked with installing a microwave link between the roof of the Prudential building and the microwave penthouse at WGBH which received a feed of this ABC audio and video.

At exactly 6:30 pm every evening, a split feed of the ABC evening news was sent via this microwave link to WGBH to be recorded in the tape room. This video tape recording was then sent to the Caption Center to be transcribed and the caption information recorded on a Vidifont Mark 3 caption generator connected to a pair of Caelus hard disc drives. The caption text were recorded and a string of visible captions could be called out on demand.

At exactly 11:00 pm, a crew working In the Studio C control room would play back the news tape and add the captions to the news broadcast in real time.

Remote feeds

Another unique thing about the microwave link from the Prudential building was how we were able to somewhat reduce the difficulty of getting live video and audio signals from a remote location. Usually the only way to accomplish this was with a very expensive microwave set up by the telephone company or some other common carrier company.

We solved this dilemma by installing two 270-degree 2-ghz microwave receive antennas on opposite corners of the roof of the Prudential building. These antenna outputs were diplexed to the input of a 2-ghz microwave receiver, and the output was then routed into the link that sent video and audio to WGBH.

This system provided the ability to get video and audio signals from any remote production location that had a line of sight with the top of the Prudential building.

New interconnections

In addition to this capability, another set of conditions in 1978 routed video and audio signals to WGBH. 

Prior to that year, WGBH received the feed from PBS via permanent, dedicated video and audio lines leased from the telephone company that travelled up the East coast from Baltimore to Boston. Programming received from PBS arrived by these circuits.

(Signals going north of Boston were then either taken off air from WGBH or from a microwave system owned by Maine Public Broadcasting that transmitted from the penthouse at WGBH.)

In 1978, the Kellogg Foundation provided a grant that funded a system to interconnect one hundred and sixty one PBS stations with satellite and microwave capability. A large receive-only satellite dish was installed in the parking lot at WGBH and two International Rockwell satellite receivers were installed in the penthouse racks. In addition, WGBH had a 10-meter uplink satellite transmitter co-located at the Needham transmitter site.  

A Raytheon KTR2 and KTR3 7-ghz microwave system was also installed to connect the WGBH control room with the WGBY control room. The path for these microwave signals went from the penthouse at WGBH for approximately nineteen miles to the WGBH-FM building on Great Blue Hill and then routed up the FM tower to travel 50 miles to a tower on the top of Mount Asnebumskit in Worchester, and then another 50 miles to the WGBY transmitter building on the top of Mount Tom in Holyoke. From there, it was approximately 19 miles to the WGBY studios in Springfield.

This was a bidirectional link with the unique ability to insert video and audio at any of the tower sites from a microwave receiver at the 70-mhz IF level and sent back to the control rooms. A portable 2-ghz microwave systems used during WGBH remotes was outfitted with a 70-mhz IF output. Thus, any remote production location in the state that had line of sight with any of the microwave towers could be used to get audio and video to the control rooms. 

Remote productions

WGBH had a sports production unit located in the Lily building. Producer/Director Greg Harney was in charge of this unit, Al Potter was the unit manager, Bunny Olenick was office manager, and Julie Pienes was production assistant.

For many years tennis was the primary remote activity of the sports unit. Over the years, we covered the U.S. Tennis Professional Championship at the Longwood Cricket Club, The Colgate Grand Prix U.S. Tennis Tour, The Volvo Grand Prix Tennis Tour and masters tournaments all over the United States, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Bud Collins did the play by play action, Vic Braden provided color commentary, and Kim Prince was the roving reporter. Over the years we used the WGBH 40-foot mobile unit, the Kentucky Public TV Network Gerstenslager mobile unit, and the WGBY mobile unit.

Other remote productions included many years of An Evening of Championship  Skating as well as non-sports productions including The Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Boston Pops both at Symphony Hall and on the Esplanade, and many seasons of The Advocates, some of which were shot in Washington D.C., Miami Florida, and historic Faneuil Hall. In addition, several seasons of The French Chef were produced at the French Chef remote kitchen at 475 Western Avenue. Likewise many recordings of Crocketts Victory Garden were shot at the garden location at 125 Western Avenue and at many remote locations. Also included in the remotes was This Old House and many, many Antiques Roadshows. 

Mobile unit transitions

By  the late 70s, several camera manufacturers had developed what was to become the “handy-looky” style hand-held portable color camera and portable 3/4” Umatic format video tape recorder, so that many of WGBH’s remote productions no longer needed a full-size mobile unit. Because of that, for a long time the 40-foot mobile unit was only needed for The Boston Pops.

Management decided that the 40-foot mobile unit would be leased out. After mobile-unit supervisor Hans Scharl resigned, Karl Lorencic was appointed engineer-in-charge of mobile unit operations.

The 40-foot mobile unit was then leased to two former WGBH employees, Scott Davis and Richard Keating who formed a company called Mobile Television Services. They managed to keep the mobile unit very busy and hired Karl Lorencic to be their mobile unit supervisor.

After about three years, WGBH formed a department called Production Services and took back the leased truck and started booking outside clients. I was appointed engineer-in-charge of remote productions. In 1986, WGBH decided that it no longer wanted to be in the mobile unit business; at that time we were operating four mobile units. The forty-foot unit had been upgraded in 1977 with six Ikigami HK312 three-tube color cameras using triaxial cables. This truck was stripped of some of its equipment and sold to All Mobile Video in New York City.

Some of the equipment was repurposed for the soon to be designed and built studio B control retrofit. I was assigned to strip the truck and install whatever equipment that was salvageable into a daytime editing/nighttime news control room that I was assigned to design and build. This new facility had a Grass Valley 100 electronic editor, four Sony BVW75 one inch tape machines and two Sony BVT 1100 one inch tape machines. It was used as an edit suite all day and at night with the flick of a switch became Studio B control with three Ikigami HK312 cameras.

The station also acquired a 27-foot truck from WGBY that was totally self contained with its own onboard power. It had Fernseh KC35 studio cameras and one Ferseh KC35 hand-held camera. We shot many tennis tournaments with this truck.

There were two memorable moments with this unit. At one tournament in Indianapolis, I was in my hotel room at 10:00 at night when I got a call from security: a severe thunderstorm had ripped through the field. Thinking quickly, I brought over plywood and chains to secure the center camera to its platform high in the stands. Unfortunately, the Indianapolis crew had neglected to secure the platform and the wind carried the camera, platform, and all onto the court totally destroying it. We were only able to salvage the viewfinder.

Another time at a shoot in Lousiville, Kentucky, a hand-held camera had been put to bed, wrapped in canvas, the night before the show. Turns out the unit was parked directly over a sprinkler head that turned on at 5 a.m. and sprayed water onto it for the duration of the sprinkler cycle. Took us a couple of weeks to make that one work again.

Another of our mobile units was the “Ambulance” that was built by Wolf Coach in Auburn, Mass. They were a company that manufactured ambulances for all over the country, but this was the first TV truck they ever built. Tom Keller designed it, and we outfitted it, in a specially-designed box that could be removed from the truck chassis and shipped to Europe in a Boeing 747 cargo airplane to be used for European productions because their 525/50htz/sec scanning rate standards made terrible-looking video conversions. This travel feature was never used but was available if the station wanted it.

This truck had three Ikigami HL53 Triax cameras which were HK312s repackaged into hand-held cameras, a Sony BVW500 one-inch portable tape recorder, a Control Data switcher, and an eight-channel audio mixer that was self-powered by a Kohler 5KW Kohler generator.

One of the first shows it ever was used on was the Scarlett Letter in Newport, Rhode Island, and Greg Macdonald was the camera operator. The first three seasons of This Old House and several years of Crockett’s Victory Garden were shot with this unit. Wolf Coach ultimately got out of the ambulance business but they became one of the largest TV mobile unit builders in the country. This truck was also stripped of its equipment and sold to WPIX, and they converted into a microwave truck.

Another mobile unit was a retired Greyhound MCI7 motor coach that was converted into a beautiful audio mobile unit by a Western Massachusetts company called Rockets. The WGBH engineering department installed an API audio console, control room speakers, and audio recording facilities. This was the only unit that wasn’t sold, it was transferred to FM for their remote operations.

Transitions

When I went to work at WGBH in 1968 there was no outside union representation. There was an in house agreement between management and the engineers and studio crew members called the B.E.S.T. (Broadcast Engineers and Studio Technicians) agreement.

After several times negotiating a new B.E.S.T. agreement, difficulties necessitated looking for outside help in being able to secure a contract. After holding meetings with the I.B.E.W. (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), Teamsters, and N.A.B.E.T. (the National Association of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians) it was decided to select N.A.B.E.T as the group’s Union labor representative.

Over the years, WGBH increased the number of buildings from the original 125 Western Avenue building to many more buildings either by leasing or building new facilities. The number of employees also continued to become larger as the years went by, so that at one time there were well over a thousand. 

Sometime in the early 2000s, Harvard University chose to not renew the lease on the land where the 125 Western Avenue building was located and WGBH was forced to move. A seven-story never-occupied building at Brighton Landing that was owned by the New Balance Shoe Company was acquired and the B.F.I. transfer facility site across the street was also acquired. Two new buildings were constructed and connected  by a bridge. This is the current location of the WGBH Educational Foundation. 

17 Comments

  1. Stevan Vigneaux on February 16, 2024 at 2:44 pm

    What a fantastic overview. I had the privilege of spending 3+ years in WGBH’s Maintenance Shop seated next to Gordon whose patience and kindness to me has been even more appreciated as time has passed. Harvey, Karl, Allan, Benny, and Dave were fantastic engineers whose friendship and mentoring meant a lot. I traveled with Dave Crane on the mobile unit for several live music shows from Wolf Trap in DC to a club in Detroit. Steve Colby and I rebuilt the Symphony Hall control room and three FM control rooms. I even participated in The Scarlet Letter at Fort Adams. What an education, what a great team to be part of.

  2. Michael Ambrosino on October 28, 2023 at 4:01 pm

    Thanks for that wonderful slide through those early days.

    In September 1956, four new folks joined the Foundation: Dave Davis, Bill Cavness, Lillian Akel and me. I was told I was the 35th staff member of WGBH-TV.

    Michael Ambrosino, 1956-1976

  3. Ralph Schuetz on October 27, 2023 at 2:42 pm

    As an old-timer, but just a short-timer at WGBH (then and forever!) from 1968-1972, I was amazed at how many memories you brought back of so many names I might otherwise have forgotten, like (especially) the transmitter guys, Alden Doughty and John Ackles who I think I met once but whose names were still there in this 82 year-old head full stuff!

    Many of the WGBH folks from my short tenure I continued to see year after year at PBS Engineering (Technology) Conferences, like Fran and Tom and John, but seeing the names of Harvey, Hans, Benny, you et al, brought such a smile to my face. Thanks for the time and effort you put into this magnum opus.

    Wonderful memories of some of the pioneers (though I know I am too young to qualify!).

  4. jeffrey dunn on October 27, 2023 at 2:27 pm

    Gordy, What a great fabulous recap. I have learned a lot talking, working with, watching and listening to you. All productions were lucky to have you and many times you solved problems to keep the cameras rolling. You are the best. Hope to see you sometime soon.

  5. Karin Giger on October 26, 2023 at 6:07 pm

    As one of those non technically saavy Ten O’Clock news reporters, I always enjoyed and respected working with the crews. This is a monumental parade of information about the evolution of broadcasting during exciting times. Great history.

  6. Dan Beach on October 26, 2023 at 10:52 am

    What a wonderful look at ‘GBH thru your time there, Gordon. So many wonderful names to recall, contributors to the powerhouse that our little station has become. I think that when I first started there in 1960, there were no more than 40-50 employees, if that. Just wow!!

  7. Chas Norton on October 26, 2023 at 7:25 am

    A great documentation of the technology and technologists I have worked with for a long time – Thanks!

  8. Dave DeBarger on October 25, 2023 at 7:20 pm

    Gordy, I loved recalling all that history! Some minor errors, but on the whole a delightful, fulfilling recounting of “our” history! Thanks so much for dragging me out of my lethargy and back into the 60’s-70’s when we were all so young!

  9. Amy Meyers on October 25, 2023 at 5:41 pm

    Thanks for this fabulous recap. So many familiar names and memories of my years at ‘GBH (’73-’78) and then PBS (’78-’83). Such creativity, innovation, dedication, and camaraderie. Enduring friendships, too.

  10. Larry LeCain on October 25, 2023 at 5:09 pm

    Gordy, you are a treasure chest of information! Thank you!

  11. John Voci on October 25, 2023 at 5:08 pm

    Gordy, A great comprehensive history of an innovative team of engineers and so many names of wonderfully talented people that made GBH what it is. Thank you.

  12. Susie Dangel on October 25, 2023 at 4:36 pm

    Thank you Gordie. This is amazing. Slightly disappointed that you left out our memorable Miami millennial moment with Blondie, whose dancers weren’t wearing much. I was allowed to take one WGBH person on that trip and what fool wouldn’t take you as a first choice? Thanks for everything. Even seeing your name made me smile.Wish the entire world could be like Gordie Mehlman!

  13. Deborah Popkin Schuster on October 25, 2023 at 1:24 pm

    Thanks for this trip down memory lane! From writing captions for World News Tonight to working on The Ten O’Clock News with all the greats, the ’70s might be my favorite professional decade. Were it not for being stuck at work there for an entire week during the Blizzard of ’78, I might never have accepted the job that took me to Los Angeles!

  14. Fred. Barzyk on October 25, 2023 at 8:30 am

    Gordon, you are born historian and we are so lucky to have you. This is an amazing effort and really important, especially when the historian sits down to write the history of America’s most important TV station. One note: Hartford Gunn was the head of WGBH. Bob Larson worked for Hartford.

  15. Larry Goldberg on October 24, 2023 at 11:32 pm

    I loved seeing the names of all those great engineers and designers (and PA Julie Pines!). But the best was how we pulled off “live captioning” of “The Captioned ABC Evening News” – with only a 4.5 hour delay! Open captioning of course.

    Now, how about the rollout of closed captioning in 1980…?

  16. Mark Steele on October 24, 2023 at 8:42 pm

    Gordy, Thanks for your comprehensive and knowledgeable history of the early years of WGBH. Your value as a historian, engineer and team player are very much appreciated.

  17. Hillary Kimmel on October 24, 2023 at 8:16 pm

    Wow, thanks, Gordon for your fabulous post. Your memory of the details is encyclopedic. I really enjoyed reading about and remembering all the folks who made WGBH tick way back when.

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