Getting to Know You (Again) – Remember When You Arrived at WGBH
Let’s get ready for the reunion! Share some of your own memories ahead of time, starting with your first days or weeks at WGBH.
Throughout the summer, we’ll be asking you to post your stories on the website by asking you some prompts. Here are the first ones:
- “What brought you to WGBH? Do you remember your first days? Your first weeks?”
Please post your recollections in the comments below.
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Let the storytelling begin!
(Read all about the reunion here.)
In the fall of 1963, I was a grad. student in Political Science at U.C. Berkeley. I was not happy in grad. school and was en route to Washington D.C. for an interview at U.S.I.A. where Edward R. Murrow, under the Kennedy Administration, was the head of the agency.
I decided to visit my brother who had moved to the Boston area for grad. school. One of my former professors at Brandeis University, Professor Lawrence Fuchs, who was a frequent commentator at WGBH, arranged an interview for me at the station, which was at that time located in the huts behind the Science Museum.
When I arrived for my interview, the first question was: Can you type? I replied “NO” which was lie. Luckily there happened to be an opening because the station had just received a green light to produce a series of talk shows on international political affairs and two young public affairs producers — Herb Bloom and Ron Blau — were assigned to that project leaving open some of the local public affairs program positions.
Since I had a M.A. in Political Science, I was hired as a Production Assistant to begin work on November 25. I went off to NYC to see friends and was stepping into a cab on Fifth avenue when the news of the death of J.F.K. was announced on November 22nd. I hurried back to Boston and began working that weekend. The first shows I worked on were Louis Lyons’ News at 6:30 followed by Robert Baram’s Local News and Collette Schulman’s Soviet News.
Later I produced the first live evening news show, “The News at 10.” I believe that Don Fouser had created the show, but I was primarily responsible for the content of the program. I wrote the news using information from three wire services: A.P., U.P.I. and Reuters. Since the program was so late at night, there was very little supervision of the content of the program and I was free to write the news as I saw fit.
One of the most enjoyable experiences was participating in the first WGBH auction where I was in charge of a table working with Julia Child.
There is a wonderful video of Julia and me auctioning off a live calf.
Looking forward to seeing some colleagues and friends at the reunion.
I have been looking forward to this reunion since last winter, but I now must decline getting to Boston from Colorado this weekend. I have unexpected family travel next week which has to come first.
I know I have written some memories in here someplace, earlier this year, but I am really sad to miss the people who trained me so well and sent me off to NYC in 1968. Fred, Olivia, Bill Cosel, Austin, Michael A, “Miss Emily”, Russell Connor, Hadley, lots of studio crew whose names I catch here and there in these comments. I shall miss you all, have a great reunion.
Another great memory was after Austin Hoyt became my boss, he tried to get me interested in white water kayaking. Since I had never done that, he decided to teach me how to flip the kayak and get used to using it. We used to go to the Radcliff pool and put the kayak into that very small pool and I would try to flip it and right it. It was crazy. Later he showed me slides of the Snake river in Wyoming and Idaho and what it’s like kayaking down that, and that was enough to scare me off joining him on any of those adventures. Too bad, I wasn’t more adventurous at the time.. Austin, however, kept going…
Having graduated in special education for the deaf in 1969 I set out West from New Jersey to teach at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside. A wonderful beginning to my career teaching deaf kids (method of communication was Fingerspelling only), honing my sign language skills (thanks to deaf friends) while exploring the foothills and west coast lifestyle.
After 2 years, I returned east, thumbed through Europe for 3 months then settled into the Boston area. I was then hired at The Learning Center for the Deaf In Framingham (method of communication was Total Communication). It was there where I met Phil Collyer who was then director of The Caption Center at WGBH. He had secured federal funding to create the captioning for the Nightly ABC News with Harry Reasoner and Howard K. Smith.
Phil toured the school, met the children, deaf and hearing teachers and observed. Before he left he announced there was a position as Language Specialist/Interpreter. That grabbed me! A gateway into a new world while sinking my teeth into deaf culture using my skills. I immediately made an appointment for interview and swiftly got the position. Phil had much of the team in place but, ‘til then, lacked the link to deafness.
What a blast to work with the engineering and studio crew. The Captioning team transcribed the news from 6pm and put it on live at 11. Running back-and-forth from the FM/Caption Center hallway to deliver the edited pages to the vidifont generator in the engineering area. Periodically when the vidifont went down Yours Truly went up appearing in a little oval superimposed on Harry Reasoner to translate the captions into sign language.
There was a point where the Studio crew wanted to learn practical sign language so they could communicate with each other from high on the ladder to down on the floor. So I taught them a few signs.
So here comes the reunion. Looking forward to seeing everyone. At the reunion ask Chas Norton to sign “Your cable is broken.”
Thanks, Andrea! Hope to see you at he reunion!
One day in Sept ’69 Business manager Jack Caldwell told secretary Marguerite Murphy she would have to interview candidates for a vacancy in the mailroom at WGBH.
The guy who interviewed ahead of me had just been released from State Prison. “You got a problem with that?”
As an attendee of Marguerites’ alma mater, I must have seemed by comparison, angelic.
In short order I was working alongside Ralph Schuetz and Peggy, whose only flaw was a fondness for Wayne Newton.
The following May, Ralph recommended the studio crew as a good fit. “Guy’s been there a couple years, they’re driving real cars.”
Wow, he was right! I loved the work. Couldn’t believe they were paying me to learn from Chas, Greg, Frank, Sully, James, Bob, Skip, Kathy, Ron, Russ and Dexter. A perfect fit for a quick twitch, short attention span ex-house painter. Ralph was right about the cars too.
Couple years later, Skip sold me his Fiat Spyder!
Great story Larry and a nice nod to the amazingly talented team that ran the studios back then.
Bill–Hope to see you Sat
It was 1969. I was discharged from military service in Los Angeles and landed a job as an Assistant Account Executive on the Western Airlines TV Account for Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborne (BBD&O). At the time, it was the second largest Ad Agency in the world after J. Walter Thompson. I had majored in Advertising in the School of Journalism at Penn State and knew the language of the business. I found the office work, the suit and tie and the client schmoozing unexciting. However, the days at KTLA shooting commercials on Sunset Boulevard were invigorating and made life at the agency worthwhile. The studio atmosphere was electric, and I met the most interesting people along the way. Annette Funicello, my prepubescent crush and childhood star on Disney’s hit Mickey Mouse Club, was a frequent visitor to our soundstage. Her husband was the General Manager of the station. I knew then that this was the career environment for me. And so, I searched for a graduate program that would credential me for a broadcast career.
At the time, my most sought after programs for TV viewing were all found on KCET, the Los Angeles Public Television Outlet. I regularly watched The French Chef with Julia Child, Making Things Grow with Thalassa Cruso, and The Forsyth Saga, all of which originated from a little TV station in Boston called WGBH. Boston University’s program in Broadcasting and Film was on my list for graduate studies. What turned the tide toward accepting an offer at BU was the Graduate Internship in partnership with WGBH. I thought this would be my gateway to the station that was making the best television on television.
My wife and I said goodbye to our friends on the west coast, packed all our earthly possessions in a small U-Haul trailer and showed up at BU for registration. Right off, I expressed to my graduate advisor my interest in the WGBH/BU Internship. He revealed that the program had been discontinued. I was at first deflated, then livid. We had left our jobs and had travelled three thousand miles in pursuit of an internship that was now defunct. Apparently, I was caught between the publishing date of the university catalogue and the cancellation of the internship with WGBH. We were ready to pack up and return to California. The Dean of the School was sympathetic and agreed to return my tuition if my decision were to leave. After agonizing over our choices, we decided to stay. My family was in the Boston area, we had a year lease on an apartment we could barely afford and my wife had accepted a position at Coopers & Lybrand, a major accounting firm.
As fate would have it, nearly a year later as I was finishing up at BU, my graduate advisor’s wife was volunteering on the Channel 2 Auction. On a bulletin board, she saw a request for a “volunteer” to work on a co-production with the Museum of Fine Arts called Eye To Eye. Rick Hauser and Joan Sullivan were swamped with no staff, little money and a tight deadline…typical for the time. They were desperate for help. I interviewed with both of them together. I liked them immediately and I wanted the experience. But, they tried to talk me out of the job. They were concerned that I was “overqualified” and that the assigned tasks would be beneath me. I pleaded my case and begged them to reconsider. To my relief they relented and instructed me to show up the next morning.
Thereafter, Joan would hand me a yellow lined sheet with a list of things to do and things to acquire for the day. My assignments included smoke canisters for an ethereal woodland scene featuring Alexander Calder’s mobiles at his home near Litchfield, Connecticut; colorful pop art plastic blow-up furniture for a pastoral setting in a field filled with curious Black Angus steers in Harvard, Massachusetts; and the video acquisition of the latest recipients of the coveted Clio Awards, the ad business equivalent of the Emmy. The last assignment was an easy one since trafficking commercials to stations and agencies around the country was one of my duties at BBD&O. I had the award winning commercials delivered within the week. Rick and Joan thought I was a genius. I wanted them to think I was indispensable so I did not deny it.
As the shooting for Eye to Eye was winding down and Rick and Joan were prepping for post-production in the autumn of 1971, a position with a pay check was opening up in Scheduling with Mark Stevens as Day-of-Air Supervisor, replacing Penny Watson who was moving on to the Traffic Department. Mark thought I was already an employee, having seen me about the halls for almost six months. October 23, 1971 was my first paid day of work at WGBH.
I was employed at WGBH for almost 20 years. To me, those were the “Glory Years”. When I started, there were barely 70 people employed at 125 Western Avenue. When I left in 1989 to form my own business and pursue opportunities in the commercial world, the staff exceeded 1200 employees and was spread up and down Western Avenue in a half dozen buildings. It was a period of explosive growth that saw the emergence of series that to this day define the WGBH brand for excellence in programming…Masterpiece Theater, Nova, Frontline, American Experience, and This Old House among them.
The station was bubbling with creativity and churning out a plethora of local and national programming. Too numerous to mention, there are hundreds and hundreds more unique and creative series, specials, films and documentaries that come to mind in every genre; music, dance, drama, public affairs, how-to and radio. It was a period of risk taking and experimentation guided by the vision and steady hands of David Ives, Michael Rice, Henry Becton, Peter McGhee and all the extraordinary Producers and support staff that contributed to the success of WGBH during that time.
Looking back, I cannot imagine finding a more critically enriching and creative environment to spend nearly twenty years of my life learning my craft while earning a living. The special people who passed through those doors then were fortunate to have shared in that history.
What a great read, Chris. Thanks for your wonderful recollections of “the old days”.
My only regret about my time at WGBH is that “the old days” didn’t last longer! I moved so quickly from Scheduling to the studio crew and thence to Traffic (the tape library and the mail room) that I didn’t get to know some of the great folks of my era at WGBH as well as I’d have liked. (A few more years on the studio crew would have been fun..but then I wouldn’t have been down in the mailroom hiring the likes of Larry LeCain and Bill Charette!)
That said, of course, in the years that followed, working at PBS, I got to know some of the WGBH engineering folks even better. Tom Keller, Fran Abramowicz, Steve Rogers, Dave St. Onge et al became better friends after I’d left…certainly when I was a more public face in the Engineering and Operations Department. And the late Peter Downey and Kate Taylor, (who I’d hired in the mailroom) eventually joined me at PBS.
Those few years at WGBH were among the best in my life.
I was never an employee of ‘GBH, but composed music for a number of shows, including Sports Weekly with Bob Lobel and Upton Bell, Tennis For the Future, The Boston Marathon 1978 show (I think that was the year) Rebop, Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss and others. My mother, Bernice (Bunny) Olenick started as a secretary for Greg Harney in the Sports & Specials unit, eventually becoming an award winning Executive Producer.
One of my early memories was deciding I wanted to get into TV, maybe start as a PA. I met with Greg in his office. First off watching the way he dealt with phone calls that interrupted our meeting was eye opening. So strong and demanding, but without anger. Big influence on my negotiating skills.
He told me that I shouldn’t start at the bottom, that I should come in through the side door. Use my music. He told me about the NYC PBS station that had an in-house music department run by Jon Adams. Original Music, he’d commission it; Library Music, he’d find it; Clearances of exiting recording, he’d license them. “Perhaps you could start an independent ‘Music Department’ for local Producers?” he posited.
Well that’s exactly what I did, starting Olenick Inc., Complete Music Services for the Television Industry. It worked. Mostly due to licensing 100 LP’s of cleared music and researching and licensing it.
35 years later and my company AudioLink is still thriving. I changed from music to voice over production, lucking into the fledgling Interactive Media field in the days of Interactive Video Discs, and now working for eLearning and Children’s Publisher Developers.
All from that idea that Greg gave me.
I also owe a lot to Fred Barzyk who along with Al Potter and Olivia Tappan gave me wonderful opportunities and guidance.
I came to Boston at the age of 34 in 1983 after surviving a violent storm in the Gulf of Mexico where I made a living as a commercial fisherman. The previous 13 years I plied the same trade on Nantucket Island. For the next 5 years I could find no meaningful or full time work and lived miserably in rent control. My only work, part time was hanging coats for tips at the old World Trade Center. I was down to a few hundred dollars living hand to mouth. I decided to return to Nantucket where my old Captain Charlie Sayle had always left the door open for me to return.
With a month to go before my departure, an old friend suggested I visit WGBH and work as a “Telemarketer” whatever the heck that was! as perhaps earn a little traveling money back to Nantucket. I was nearing the age of 40 at this point and entering a major Television and Radio station with only the clothes on my back— No resume-no experience-no skills.
My interview was brief: professional experience: none, life experience: plenty. A life at sea offers much. A life traveling in Africa, the Amazon and around the world gave me skills I had no idea I possessed.
Enter George Hauenstein and John Mastrobattista and with their help, training and encouragement I excelled at this thing called “TELEMARKETING” astounding everyone including myself. Although successful, the main critique was I was unable to follow the script printed in front of me. Going off script would follow me throughout my career and life.
George and John then recommended me to Margaret Faulkner who overlooked my inexperience, ragged attire, the scraggily fisherman beard, uncouth behavior and hired me to help her Local Corporate Development. CORPORATE??? ME?? Only God knows what Margaret saw in me when she hired me. I saw nothing. Margaret was to mold me, inspire me, and teach me everything I was to use throughout my WGBH “mission”. Our staff consisted of Julie Harrower Diaz and Helen Powell. Later we added Ann Lammers and Kim Thomas O’laughlin. Our department soared and broke all previous marks.
Later, Margaret joined foundations and our department was now headed by Susan Lewis Solomont. Susan was another great supporter and mentor and help bring my personal performance to another level as now we were asking for millions in some cases. Her faith in me allowed me to take chances, work hand in hand with other departments, make speeches everywhere, travel to conferences etc. And finally afford a sports jacket and a couple of ties. ME? A fisherman!
Our department added many other individuals that helped us for the first time ever to win several National PBS Awards. Along with Ann and Kim, Darrell Byers came on board, Christine Carney Bradley (who helped me in so many ways), Andrea Cross, Gene Dubrow, Heather Moore Franks, Dianna Moser,Jennifer, Sarah Bazos, Marion Alper, Lanie Shapiro, Kathy Taylor, Dana and Linda and several others.
Many of us have become lifelong friends and I think that is why we worked so well together. We were a team and still are. They are so many others in so many different departments who made my tenure so pleasurable. Roberta McCarthy and David Liroff stand out as people I looked to. Also, Larry DiNofrio, Michael Burton, Joanne Stevens and Barbara Fountain.
Larry and I used to joke that when WGBH hired him, Michael and me that they had hired a carpenter, a security guard and a fisherman. For a decade the bottom of the deepest barrel was the sales team! I think we did OK, though.
Finally any remembrances of WGBH has to include Henry Becton and Jon Abbott who also accepted my eccentricities and my belief in mission and allowed me to proceed unabated in an unorthodox style I had no control over through many years and a Capital Campaign.
Look forward to seeing everyone and thanking everyone for putting up with me!!
Mark! What a nice recap! I still keep learning more about you….
Thanks Mark– you are the best! Great memories, great times, shared purpose and passion for our work.
Thanks, Susan! I forgot to mention Alice, Jennifer Reagan, Stan and probably others…but you surely had a knack for hiring wonderful people. Sorry, I’ll miss at the Reunion. Hope your progress on your book is coming along. Mark
Like Jane Arsham, my first job out of college (and my time at WGBH) began in 1967 when I got lost looking for the Mass Pike one day while going home from a job interview in Boston, spotted those blue letters “WGBH” and stopped to ask at reception if someone wouldn’t like to give me a tour. Rather than send me packing, Rose called upstairs, and a smallish fellow named Bob (I think) from PR materialized and gave me the requested tour. I’ll never know why.
During said tour, I was introduced to Al Potter who kindly offered me a volunteer job on the studio crew. In a couple of months that became a very enjoyable paying job I held for 3 more years as gaffer, cameraman and stage manager during the Greg McDonald-Frank Lane-Chaz Norton era when you could still get 15-cent draft beers and $1.50 double hamburger plates at Charlie’s Kitchen in the Squayah.
After that I worked at a series of jobs. The first was two years as asst. scheduler working for Jane, and the last was starting and running the distribution dept.
In 1980 I left WGBH, started my own international distribution company and in 2006 sold that company to WGBH and went back to work for WGBH (later PBS Distribution). My original employee number was waiting for me, vintage Nov., 1967, as were many of the great people who I had known when I left in 1980.
In 1973, I joined ‘GBH radio as a Northeastern co-op student and was so thankful that Judy Stoia took me under her wing and introduced me to public radio. ATC was in its infancy then with just a few dozen stations connected by a 5kHz telephone line. (If someone in radio master control broke the line, the whole system went down). During those early years of my 18 years at ‘GBH radio, we had an amazing staff… Paula Apsell was producing The Spiders Web (children’s radio drama) and Rebecca Eaton was producing our arts show, Pantechnicon. Exciting years covering an amazing decade.
I came to Boston in 1967 jobless and confident that it would all be OK. After a few months of knocking on doors, I walked into WGBH and asked Rose Buresh (who, in my opinion, ran the entire operation from her seat at the reception desk) if there were any openings. She said I think Hindy (Al Hinderstein) needs someone. Can you type. “Sure” I replied not mentioning it was only 20 WPM . Crimson Travel offered me a job for $80 a week and travel sounded good, but GBH upped the ante to $85 and the rest of my adult life has followed from that $5/wk decision :)
I started typing air logs for Ch2 & 44. and learned to count in 60 seconds. Signing on at 4:44:30 with Test Pattern before The Friendly Giant at 4:45… Soon Ralph Schuetz was off to the Studio Crew and I inherited the Operations scheduling position which I did full-time for the next 7 yrs. until my daughter was born. I never did learn to type much more than 20wpm
It was the best of times at WGBH both television and radio and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many talented, creative and dedicated people.
I do recall those logs! Essential reference for us at the switchboard.
I came to Harvard in 1956 to give a short speech about a Ford Foundation funded closed circuit TV experiment I was directing in a Schenectady High School. We transmitted from one classroom to a string of others wired for video and sound for questions back to the teacher. (In the 50s, the teacher shortage in America was a crisis and seeking ways to expand the use of teachers was urgent.)
Hartford Gunn was in the audience and two weeks later offered me a job as his assistant. Hartford was Comptroller of WGBH at the time and became the Manager in 1957.
His real reason was clear shortly, when he asked me to help administrators of the Newton School System create a school television project for the state of Massachusetts. After pursuading 35 school systems to join, we began “The 21″ Classroom”, which WGBH ran for a number of years before it was taken over by the State Boad of Education.
Hartford was indeed the necessary vision guy to align all the other great talents.
In fall ’67 I came “back East” from Wyoming to Harvard, and my freshman roommate Alex Swistel turned out to have a friend who worked nights and weekends at ‘GBH as guard/switchboard operator/PR report maker. This friend must have loved the station because did nine shifts and then flunked out, turning the job over to Alex, who decided not to flunk out and so shared it with me.
Jack O’Brien of building and grounds was our boss, Rose Buresh was the daytime ruler of the switchboard (who informed us never to page Hartford Gunn and other crucial details). Around the same time I discovered Bernstein’s Mahler recordings and needed money for vast improvements in my stereo etc. I would often turn down the sound on 2 or 44 and turn on GBH-FM.
So while I never flunked out, I didn’t apply myself fanatically enough to Slavic studies to get help with graduate studies.
I had been noticed by radio folks so that while Jack got me into the business office weekdays, Bob Carey hired me onto the FM weekend shifts, promising that I could take on Morning Pro Music when this new guy Robert J. Lurtsema gets tired of seven days a week.
Robert J. gave me my only announcing lesson (read the news like you just came from the scene). Bill Cavness or Bill Busiek advised me that a highway was a “root” not a “rout” and a building roof was similarly “oo” not “ow” sounding. And that started me off in the almost invisible world of GBH Radio. Well, actually, radio is invisible, which remains its great asset. And the creativity and commitment were just as inspiring on that side of the hall at 125 Western Avenue.
We got to read Watergate transcripts for hours, Wes Horner organized live relay of the Salzburg Festival when satellites were young, radio led GBH into gay pride month observances, Elinor Stout did us a wonderful brief fling of Masterpiece Radio Theatre, Paula Apsell’s The Spider’s Web went out to the growing public radio network, Victor Campos played classical master tapes with no limiter on the transmitter (Busiek and John Moran nervously watching the needles).
Dozens more things I would mention from the 1970s, not counting the regulars (Robert J, Ron, Bill, Hayes, Eric, Louis) who made up 90% of the experience day after day. [And one PS – the Chicago guy named Rosenstein who was FM program director for a bit and ended up a notable DC lawyer is Mace not Rod – not the one holding the fort at the Justice Department.]
A magical vortex, and an abundant justification for LBJ and company tacking on “and radio” to the Public Broadcasting Act of 1968.
Those were the days….so nice to read, John– thanks for sharing!
Yes. I came from an operatic career to train and pick the kids for Zoom, and I was at GBH-Radio in that mix ‘74-76-ish, spinning The Spider@s Web when Paula left, producing Performance, the Rose Hill drama, and other shows, and later, happily creating new music programming. You bring back wonderful names and memories.
Later I went back to GBH TV and then on to California to continue what proved a long classical singing career and to make films for PBS. It has been a good ride, and GBH Radio provides some wonderful memories.
A random memory from ancient times – pulling up with our 1948 Greyhound, less than sumptuous, way overweight mobile unit at the nuclear reactor building at the Watertown Arsenal and the flummoxed security people when our international crew – Greg MacDonald, Canadian; Jerry Gruen, Israeli: Peter Hoving, the Netherlands; Rolando Lastres, Cuban; Don White, former paratrooper and suspicious for being black and having a copy of Jeune Afrique sticking out his back pocket, assembled for an MIT Science Reporter set up.
The same thing happened at a Lincoln Labs location – fortunately Russ Morash and staff had done the right thing around security clearances so we eventually passed muster, barely. Hmmm, whatever happened to that reactor? The only mall in America that glows after dark?
Science Reporter was always, as we said back in the day, a trip! 12-16 hour days, thousands of Coffee Ann doughnuts consumed, arguing with management about turn around time/time and a half when we got called in early the next day. Jack Kane fixing the bent frame of a TK-60 with the jack from the bus and a brick, and Greg MacDonald getting into a loud argument with an MIT Prof. about quicksand. Getting completely lost and winding up on a dwindling dirt road in nether Maine on a trip to a remote tracking radar station. Coming back from somewhere on a blazing hot late summer afternoon and stuck in crawling traffic in front of the MFA when the air brakes gave out completely – the decision, stay in bottom gear, ease ahead and hope that the truck in front of us wouldn’t mind a nudge if we all came to a complete stop. A good plan until some idiot in a convertible cut in front of us and in between and we yelled and waved to get him out of the way or be squashed. He did get the message.
In late 1967 I was serving in the Navy on the USS Wasp (CVS-18), homeported in Boston. My hitch was just about up and it was time to look for a job. I was hopeful that two summers I spent taking television production courses at Northwestern University might lead to a position somewhere. I found I had a connection to pull. It was at WNDT (now WNET) in New York, where I interviewed for a position on the Robert MacNeil Report. Talk about underqualified! It took about two minutes for the show’s producer to figure that out, but he said he’d call a friend at WGBH. A week later I had an interview with Jack Caldwell.
Jack must have liked (underqualified) me and hired me as the Supervisor of Scheduling and Facilities, responsible for assigning engineers and equipment to meet WGBH’s broadcast schedule and support studio productions. My boss was Al Hinderstein. My trainer was Dave Debarger, who had been doing the job on loan from the studio crew and was anxious to return. I shadowed him for a week. After that it was sink or swim and I barely knew the terminology, let alone the people, policies, and procedures. My office partner and friend was Janie Arsham (Morton). She held my hand, and Al Hinderstein held his breath, as I learned the ropes.
Just a few weeks after I started work I came down with mononucleosis and was out for two weeks with no accrued sick leave, but Jack and Al held the job for me and WGBH continued to pay my salary…of $100 per week…while Dave Debarger begrudgingly returned to the office. I don’t have a lot of specific memories but I recall one difficult exchange with Greg Harney when he realized how little I knew about scheduling and facilities. Fred Barzyk and Michael Ambrosino could also intimidate me, but folks like Peggy MacLeod and Rick Hauser, among many others, helped nurse me along. Somehow I survived.
Whether it was because I was a quick study or because of my incompetence (I’ll have to ask), after only a few months in the office an opening came up on the studio crew and Al Potter gave me the job. As it has been for so many, working on the crew at WGBH was a dream come true. I especially recall working on the Longwood tennis remotes as Videograph operator, relief switcher to Kathy Smith, and relief Slo-Mo operator to Phil Collyer. Back in the studios I switched more “Elliot Norton Reviews” shows than I can remember and I had one disastrous turn at directing and switching the “Evening News” with Louis Lyons. (I couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.)
Despite loving what I was doing, I realized that I wasn’t terribly good at it and so I eventually left the crew to become Traffic Manager (with Larry Lecain and Bill Charette among my first hires as “mailboys” and Penny Watson, Howard Lowe and Kate Taylor as assistants along the way.). It was this job that prepared me for my move to PBS a few years later…where I spent the next thirty years.
Oh my, how much do I owe to Jack Caldwell and WGBH for my start and my career in educational/public broadcasting? A lot! Every chance I get to tell folks that I got my start at WGBH I do so with great pride. 125 Western Avenue and the folks I worked with there will always be in my heart.
Hi Ralph! Hope to see you at the reunion.
My path to work at WGBH
My introduction to WGBH and some of its people started when I worked at WENH-TV channel 11 at the University of New Hampshire from 1964 to 1968. Twice during the four years that I worked there, WENH rented the old WGBH Greyhound bus mobile unit with its RCA TK-60 black and white television cameras and single Ampex VR-1000 two-inch quadruplex videotape machine to shoot and record a concert held annually at the University. On both occasions, I was assigned as the maintenance man/switcher for the show. The mobile unit pulled into the theater driven by the driver/cameraman Greg Macdonald and the rest of the crew arrived shortly thereafter. The crew consisted of Jack Keane-mobile unit supervisor, Aubrey Stewart-video engineer, Pat Kane-video tape engineer, Don Bullen-audio engineer and Peter Hoving as the second cameraman. (It was a superior crew.)
Also while working at Channel 11, long before the start of production of the current Antiques Roadshow series, WENH produced a weekly series of programs called Antiquing with George Michaels, an old-time auctioneer/antiques dealer from Rochester NH. One day each week the studio crew would take a truck to some museum or private antique collection and bring the items back to the studio to be appraised. These shows were all in black and white because this was before the time that either WENH or WGBH had color studio cameras, however, WGBH did then have an RCA TK-45 color film camera with two attendant sixteen millimeter sound film projectors. In the winter of 1965, the WENH antiques crew went to the Shelburne Museum in Vermont and shot two one hour specials on dolls and quilts on sixteen-millimeter Kodak Ektachrome color film with magnetic stripe audio. I was assigned as the audio engineer on the shoot and after the film was developed, and since WENH had no color facilities at all, I was assigned the task of delivering the film to WGBH for the film to tape transfers. Aubrey Stewart (a master at his craft as a video engineer) did the video portion and Ray Krausse did the tape recordist portion of the film to tape transfers.
In 1968, when I decided that it was time to make a job change and WGBH was looking for a maintenance engineer to fill the maintenance portion of the position recently vacated by Jack Keane who had been the mobile unit and transmitter supervisor and had gone to work at the Connecticut Public Television Network, I was fortunate, maybe in part because of my prior dealings with WGBH, to have been hired as a maintenance engineer by then Chief Engineer Fran Abramowitz.
Just as an aside for those who can remember way back then, the members of the engineering department were as follows. Tom Keller was the director of engineering, Fran Abramowitz was chief engineer and John Folsom was the special projects engineer. The maintenance department consisted of John LaBounty as maintenance supervisor and Bill Johnson, Hans Scharl, Harvey Hudson, and myself as maintenance engineers. The video engineers were Aubrey Stewart, Bill Fairweather, Karl Lorencic and Steve Rogers. The audio engineers were Wil Morton, Harvey Morris, Vern Coleman, and Andy Ferguson. The videotape engineers were Ray Krausse, Pat Kane, John MacKnight, and Walt Cummings. The FM radio engineers were John Moran and Nat Johnson. The transmitter engineering crew consisted of Alden Doughty and John Ackles.
I continued to work at WGBH as a maintenance engineer and engineer-in-charge of the WGBH mobile units for just short of the next forty years.
What a fun read, Gordon. I’m not sure we actually crossed paths at WGBH or if I’d left before you arrived and didn’t make your acquaintance until I was at PBS. Whatever, all your recollections of the folks in the Engineering Department at WGBH in your early years brought back great memories for me as well. That was a wonderful group of folks.
Thanks for reminding me of all of the brilliant engineers that I had the pleasure of working along side.
I hope that you are well.
Film production in its many facets had been my passion since my early teens. In the late 1970s, I’d become a freelancer in Boston. I could light and but really didn’t know it yet. I worked as a grip. I was the shittiest grip you could imagine. Being completely ADD, I’d put down a hammer or a crescent wrench and it would take me a half hour to find it. My wife used to say, “If I ever get in your car and it’s neat, I’ll know you’re having an affair.”
Luckily, in 1980, I went to a lighting workshop run by Vilmos Zsigmond up in Rockport, Maine. My lighting work was praised by Vilmos which suddenly validated me back in Boston. I met Chas there and he started using me as his grip/gaffer on productions in ‘GBH’s studio A. Sadly, I reverted to some of that ADD stuff and fears of being found out on that score. I was intimidated by Chas and, therefore my condition worsened. Chas did have compassion for me and continued to hire me.
Eventually, I began being hired by Russ Morash for THIS OLD HOUSE and VICTORY GARDEN, where I felt a lot more capable.
I went from there to being Matt Lauer’s lighting director at WNAC down near Government Center and Quincy Market. Matt brought me to NY with him where I became Head Lighting Director at WWOR, winning one Emmy out of three nominations.
Through it all, WGBH has been a centerpiece of my career and fond memories. Living out in LA now, I have a novel set on Nantucket with seventeen 5-star reviews on Amazon. I’ve gone there a few times but my schedule has always kept me from dropping into WGBH.
Now my wife’s health has pretty well been keeping me on the west coast but I’d love to come back there and see you all someday.
All the best!
I got a call from a friend alerting me to a WGBH-TV Help Wanted ad in the Boston Globe that read, Wanted – Mail Board. It was a typo that was meant to read Wanted – Mail Boy. This was 1970 when help wanted ads were listed under Men and Women sections. My friend, Tom had applied but was rejected because he drove a Volkswagen Bug that did not have a trunk big enough to hold sacks of mail one would retrieve daily from the Allston post office. I drove a 1964 Chevrolet Impala four door sedan with a trunk big enough for a hot tub, this was a good omen.
Two years earlier I had interview with Al Potter for a studio position without success. Here was another chance to get in the door through the mailroom. There was a tradition of promoting from within and this was my best shot at getting to the studio crew.
I had three interviews, first with the head of personnel followed by Traffic Manager/Mail Room Supervisor Ralph Schuetz and finally with the President of the station, Bob Larsen. Mind you, we’re talking about a job in the mailroom. Larsen asked me several questions about my family background that would be inappropriate by todays standards, but at the time whatever he wanted to know was ok by me. I just tried to give him answers that put me in a good light, as someone from a trustworthy family with a strong work ethic and a burning desire to be part of the GBH staff. He impressed on me the seriousness of the position in that I would be tasked with delivering irreplaceable videotapes to the Post Office for shipping to stations around the country. (Remember the giant destruction proof blue plastic canisters housing two inch tapes?) Tapes of programs like Julia Child’s French Chef. I assured him that I was up to the task and apparently was convincing enough to get the job, $90 a week.
I will never forget pulling the Impala up to 125 Western Ave on my first day in May of 1970. I sat for a moment, took a deep breath as my eyes actually welled up, the unimaginable was about to happen, it was the first day in a career that spanned forty three wonderful years.
The guy I replaced in the mailroom was making the transition to the studio crew. His name was Larry LeCain. Six months later I did the same. Ten years later Larry and I started our own production company, which we ran for twenty-seven years.
I’m sure you have no idea who I am. I was a super minor blip at WGBH. But in the spring of 1972 I was graduating from high school and volunteering for the auction. Because the auction warehouse took up half of studio A, and I was stocking things in that warehouse, I got to know the folks on the studio crew – who very generously and wonderfully invited me into their lives.
When the auction came around, crew members, knowing my interests, generously let me take their spots on camera and floor managing (especially late night). Every one of you took time to mentor and support me. And I was a 17yo nobody. As a result, that summer I ended up being on-call as a studio technician, and the following summer worked full time on the crew ($117.00 a week). You, Bill Charette, were one of those folks who helped me live a dream during those two summers. As did Larry LeCain. And Skip Wareham. And Frank Lane. And Greg McDonald. And Kathy Smith. And Connie White. And John Sullivan. And Chas Norton. And…
I’ve gone on and I have done a lot of different things with my life since then. But when people ask me what the best job I ever had was, I never hesitate to tell them that it was those two summers I spent at WGBH with you amazing and generous people. It’s a special time in my life.
I know you surely have no recollection of me. But I remember all of you. Thank you. You were incredible.
Bill, what a hoot! I had no memory of what you had to go through to land a job in the mail room! I’m not surprised to hear of your first round interview in HR but the story about your interview with Bob Larsen is priceless. I’m glad he liked you! I always did. And yes, I prided myself in hiring some totally overqualified folks who I was well aware wouldn’t last long in the mail room. You and Larry and Basil and Kate Taylor and Howard Lowe and Penny Watson and a minister who graduated from Harvard, as I recall (and maybe others) He might have been the only one not to move on at the station.
Now, having read your thoughts and Gordon Mehlman’s, et al, I’ve got to get busy on my own. Still not sure whether we’re making the trip to Boston in October but the reunions have always been fun and an excuse to make it up to New England. We’ll see.
I was never WGBH staff, just “talent” as writer/host of Museum Open House, 1963-7, but I remember great times and great people, like Fred Barzyk, Mike Ambrosino, Dan Beach, Deedee Morss Decker, Bill Cosel. Deo Volente, I hope to see them in October!
My first day on the job at Fred Barzyk, Henry Morgenthau, and Olivia Tappan’s pioneering 1973 portable video magazine show, WHERE TO GET OFF IN BOSTON, I reported way early to the new annex of WGBH, 125 Western Avenue. The building was completely uninhabited… not a sound. I climbed a creaky circular staircase to discover in the empty office the writer of the new show. That’s when and where I met my husband of thirty-five years, Tony Kahn.
The conversation that followed was a lulu – but I’ll save that story for the reunion.
I meant 110 Western Av!
Like the other members of the Scholars ’58 crew, I learned about WGBH from a Boston University poster on a bulletin board at my university (Cornell). Vic Washkevich drove me up in his convertible; the only songs on the car radio that week of June 10, 1957, were “Old Cape Cod” (Patti Page) and “Diana” (Paul Anka). Firsts for me that week: seeing Ted Williams hit a home run at Fenway; attending a Pops concert at the Hatch Shell; eating Whale Steak (with grape jelly) at the Blue Ship Tea Room; seeing Walden Pond; learning that Harvard is pronounced without an “r”.