Thursday, July 26

Crime and (No) Punishment

The good bosses know when to let you off the hook: the good ones know that sometimes "gotcha" is enough.

In the early seventies I worked for KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh. Call it a powerhouse, call it a juggernaut—whatever words you can come up with to describe dominance applied to KDKA. The station was then at the height of its powers, and it was owned by one of America's most powerful ownership groups, Westinghouse Broadcasting or "Group W" as it was then known.

Westinghouse was there at the beginning: heck, before the beginning. The "Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Corporation" made broadcasting history on November 20, 1920, when it signed on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh—to this day the first and oldest licensed commercial radio station in the United States.

Later Westinghouse Broadcasting operated a chain of network radio and TV affiliates all around the country—each dominant in its market: it built WBZ in Boston and bought stations that later became KDKA in Pittsburgh; KYW in Philadelphia; KPIX in San Francisco; WJZ in Baltimore; and a handful of others.

Westinghouse later bought CBS. CBS merged with Viacom. And today you can't tell a player without a scorecard.

But for a time Group W was THE player in top-thirty market local broadcasting and was either #1 or within striking distance in all but one or two of its markets.

Don't worry, I'm getting to my point.
One reason Group W was so successful was its strong management philosophy and its reputation for finding, training and quickly promoting young, aggressive managers. Westinghouse was a hothouse for the growing of tough, no-nonsense, by-the-book managers who walked, talked, breathed, ate, slept and worked (80 hours a week) the Westinghouse way.

They had rules—and the rules seldom changed because the rules always worked! So you didn't…break…the…rules. One of them: a coat and tie for every man, every shift, every day.

I ignored that rule once. ONCE!

I was "Weekend News Manager" in charge of weekend news operations. I was living on the top floor of an old mansion across the Monongahela River from downtown: some steel tycoon's turn-of-the-(20th)-century brick-and-turrets monument long since divided into ten or twelve apartments. Not quite a slum but convenient to work.

One Friday afternoon it started snowing. And it snowed, and snowed, and snowed. By Saturday morning (time to go to work) there were nine inches of the white stuff on the ground, and I had a mile-and-a-half hike through the drifts to get to work. I decided to be practical. I pulled on a pair of ratty jeans, a flannel work shirt, heavy boots, and in my old parka and stocking cap set out for the hike to KDKA.

I hadn't been there fifteen minutes, going over the wires, when I looked up and saw News Director Larry Manne standing in the doorway—in a coat and tie! There were waist-high snow drifts out there and he's not only in the station--early on a Saturday morning--he's in a coat and tie!

He looked at me. I looked at him. He looked at me. I could guess what was coming.

And then…and then…he walked slowly past my desk—stopped just over my right shoulder—bent down—and whispered into my ear, "I think you left your big blue ox double-parked downstairs." He went into his office to push some news director paperwork from the "In" box to the "Out" box and never said another word about it.

Good guy. Anyone know where Larry Manne is today?


Anonymous said...

Last heard from Larry and Susan had moved to Arizona - Scottsdale I think, and he was working for an outfit that does TV barter deals.

I'll check with another friend to see what I can dig up.


Anonymous said...