Sunday, October 21, 2012

WBRZ and the Mike Boom Era


When WBRZ (Channel 2) first took to the air in 1955, I had the good fortune of gaining favor with some of the producers. In addition to my short-lived weekly assignment on the FOR KIDS ONLY show (see my “Shirley Temple” post - May 2012), I became a production assistant with the late Brooks Read.

Remember the name John Ferguson? Ferguson was a newscaster and shared sports-casting assignments with J.C.
Politz.   Ferguson didn’t like me.   I know, I know -- how can anyone possibly dislike such a lovable and charming little cherub as me? Well, it did happen and I will tell you why … if you really care to know.

Back then (the 50s) everything was “live.” Video tape had not yet come into existence. Recordings were made via kinescope (on film). Routine daily shows such as news and weather were generally not recorded.

On one particular occasion, Brooks and I had just concluded rehearsing an historical piece with a full cast that was to be kinescoped and aired following John Ferguson’s news. In 1955 lavalieres (wireless body mikes) had not yet been invented. Audio was produced almost exclusively with boom mikes. The broadcaster (in this case John Ferguson) would sit at his desk and the boom mike would be positioned above his head, just off camera.

For whatever reason on this particular occasion I was fidgety. Well actually I knew why I was fidgety. I’ll explain that a little later. Suffice it to say that that day had not been a good day for me. Anyhow during Ferguson’s newscast I stood with my hand near the top of the boom’s upright support. At that point there is a spring thumb lock, which, when pressed, releases the telescoping elevation support. On this occasion, the boom itself was fully extended both upward and outward with the mike above Ferguson’s head. I’m sure you’re way ahead of me by now.

Suddenly, right in the middle of a news item, the boom dropped and the horizontal mike support whipped and popped Ferguson in the head. There was a quick cut to a commercial while Ferguson’s bleeding forehead was tended to. Brooks and a floor tech rushed over to me saying “Jerry, keep your hands off the boom.” I had squeezed the thumb lock releasing the elevation support thus causing the drop and whipping action.  
About 2 minutes later we were live again and Ferguson started with “Sorry about the unsightly band aids, but we had a little mishap.” He then continued with his newscast. When it was over and the studio was no longer live, he said to me “What the hell were you doing with that boom?” To which my only reply was “Just goofing off. Sorry.” This drew laughs from everyone except Ferguson. He never spoke to me after that.

 My fidgeting that day had begun some several hours earlier. I had a regular daily radio show on the LSU campus’ 500 watt FM station, WLSU. My show ran from 11 AM to 2 PM each weekday. My format alternated between classical music and prose and poetry readings. I loved it. Nestled within my time slot was an hour of Campus-wide broadcasting when I would flip a switch and during the noon hour each day the WLSU broadcast would be piped over the speakers of the Campanile (LSU’s historic landmark tower). Everyone on campus would then be treated to lovely classical and semi-classical music. Vocals were not permitted during the noon hour. At the end of the noon hour at 1 PM the Campanile speakers would be shut off with WLSU programming continuing according to schedule. In my case there would be readings of selected poems and some occasional prose.

On this particular day I had decided to have some fun with some home-made limericks. You know the kind …”There once was a mason named Brick, who clearly was ….”, etc. Anyhow most of the limericks were fairly tame, some were slightly racy, but fell within acceptable FCC guidelines. Why I decided that day to cut loose with limericks, I just don’t know. I do remember that my late and dear friend, Dave Lewis, also a DJ on WLSU, would himself pull little stunts. Perhaps he had inspired me. Anyhow I was enjoying my final hour that day alternating between legitimate classical poetry and goofy limericks when suddenly the control room door slammed open and my boss, Lucile Ruby, charged in, dashed over to the console and flipped the Campanile switch to OFF. Oh sh*t! I had failed to turn off the Campanile speakers. She scratched on a sheet of paper for me to come see her when I sign off…. all this while I am reciting a William Wordsworth poem (thank God it was not a limerick at that point).

After signing off I dutifully went into her office and, to my great disappointment, got my walking papers. That’s when the fidgeting began. A few hours later … well you know the rest of the story. Ever have a bad day?

At least I didn’t lose my Channel 2 internship. And a few months later, producer Bob Reed launched a hit parade type of weekly show called HIT OR MISS and cast me and some 10 other locals as regulars.

 May I “name drop?” Among those in HIT OR MISS, besides myself, were future actresses Dot Bourgeois ( Donna Douglas of Beverly Hillbillies fame) and Elizabeth Cole (Elizabeth Ashley of Broadway and Film fame), future movie critic Rex Reed and composer Dick Holler (Abraham, Martin and John).



No comments:

Post a Comment