Thursday, January 31

After Andrew, Part II

I've written here before about Hurricane Andrew. Not much more can be said. But pictures are worth a thousand words, and I just came across these on YouTube.

This video does need some setup, though. This is WCIX, Channel 6, the CBS O-and-O. These days it's still CBS-owned, but now it's WFOR on Channel 4.

Our tower toppled during the storm, so we were up only on a low-power "translator." The good news is that most cable companies could pick up the low-power station. The bad news is that no one had cable. Hell, no one had electricity! As far as it goes, this was something of an exercise in futility: the hardest-hit people, the folks who needed us most, had no way to watch our news!

The anchor team is Barbara Sloan and the inimitable John Hambrick. I'll be honest: Hambrick was "high maintenance." I drank a gallon (see previous posts) with John many times. But when the chips were down not many anchors could deliver like John Hambrick. Here he is, at his best.

This newscast is probably from August 25th, 1992 (the day after) or the 26th (two days after).

One thing I'm proudest of is that I encouraged "first person" reporting. I had our reporters tell their storm stories. Dave Game is on this segment. Dave was named "Best Reporter in Florida" by the AP for work like this. His description of what happened to his wife and his home during Andrew is story-telling at its best: truth telling. By the way, if he looks a little disheveled, it's not just because he'd been out traipsing around in the "war zone." It was 95 degrees in the newsroom. You see, our emergency generator didn't supply full power to the entire station--only selected essential areas. The newsroom got electrical outlets--but no air conditioning, and at this point the hurricane shutters were still on. Somewhere in there I took a crowbar and broke out some windows to get fresh air. Imagine our staff of about 75, plus reporters and photographers and editors from all around the country, with no showers, and dragging water from the lagoon out back to flush the toilets. Whew!

Another thing I'm proud of is that we quickly moved past the "Ain't That A Shame" stories to more meaningful information. Eventually we dedicated a whole program (Neighbors Helping Neighbors) to matching people who had with people who needed. Oh, we still did the obligatory "The Perez Family is homeless" stories, but we tried to put meaningful information on the air. That program and that effort went on for months.

Sorry: this "short" introduction really rambled. But the video tells the tale.

Sunday, January 27

Same Old, Same OLD!

This has nothing to do with TV news. It's just me, amazed to be so damned old!

Went to the pharmacy the other day to pick up some prescriptions. Behind the counter was a little old lady--wrinkled, white-haired, slightly stooped--obviously having trouble figuring out how to run the cash register. I patiently awaited my turn, feeling a little annoyed at her incompetence, but also kind of sorry for an elderly woman obviously in way over her head.

When it was finally my turn she asked my name and birth date. I told her both, and she said, "You and I were both born in the same year!"

Now, I just celebrated a birthday. I'm 61. That means that unless she had her birthday early in January I'm older than she is!

Makes me wonder if on the other side of the counter they're saying, "Here comes that old guy again."

My father just turned 89 (God bless him). I sent him a card, On the front it said, "Inside every old man is a young man."

Opened up it read, "Wondering what the hell happened."

I know the feeling.

Wednesday, January 9

Politically Incorrect?

This one borders on the politically incorrect: but dammit, it’s funny.

I’ve mentioned my time as Executive Producer for WISH-TV in Indianapolis here before; and the station’s controversial, colorful, way, way bigger-than-life sports director Chet Coppock.

Did I say bigger than life? How does 6’8” sound? Did I say colorful? The guy at one time was the track announcer for the roller derby! I’ve seen pictures of him in a white floor-length fur coat sporting a white fur gangster’s hat.

Did I say controversial? Chet would say just about anything to get a rise out of people, to get the juices flowing, to spur conversation. Example? Longtime WISH-TV anchor Mike Ahern (now retired) was a Notre Dame grad. Chet would rag on Notre Dame every Friday night during the college football season just to see if he could make mild-mannered Mike take the bait.

Controversial? One night he asked if I’d like to go down to Market Square Arena with him for a quick appearance between newscasts. He was giving away a new Cadillac at halftime of a Pacers game. Just walking into the place with Chet was an experience. He moved steadily forward like a boat cutting through water, leaving a wake behind. In his case the wake was people parting, letting him pass, standing, staring, whispering “That’s Chet Coppock.” “There goes Chet Coppock.” “Isn’t that Chet Coppock?” I’d been around famous people before—but at that place at that time Chet received a kind of jaw-dropped-in-awe reception I had never seen before.

Come halftime Chet was introduced—to the loudest chorus of boos you ever heard. He grinned, waved, and walked (OK, strutted) to center court, drew the winning name, and with both hands waving over his head made his way to the bench. He was almost beside himself with joy.

“Uh, but, Chet,” I said, “uh, you DID notice that 18,000 people were ALL booing?” And he flashed me that klieg-light smile and said, “Yeah, and they ALL WATCH! How great is that?”

In an Indianapolis Star poll Chet was named the area’s most-liked sportscaster, and the most disliked. He still brags about that!

My favorite story, though, is from behind the scenes. WISH-TV was owned by Corinthian Broadcasting—a division of Dow Jones—and the station was run by a man named Bob McConnell, son of the founder and owner of the station, and the man who sold it to Corinthian. Bob stayed on as the hired GM.

In 1976 Chet was involved in negotiations for a new contract. There was a lot of back-and-forth. How do I know? I heard the play-by-play. Chet delivered not only the PBP but also the color commentary on his own contract negotiations!.

You see, the WISH-TV newsroom had its own PA system: newsroom only, not heard anywhere else in the building. Chet got into the habit of coming downstairs after a bargaining session, picking up the PA mic, and giving us a running commentary—as if it were a prize fight.

And here’s where I’m going to get into hot water. Bob McConnell spoke with a pronounced lisp, and Chet could imitate him with dead-on accuracy.

So one day we heard:


"McCONNELL THROWS HEAVY LEATHER: Chet, no one in thith market ith making the kind of money you’re athking.

COPPOCK COUNTERS WITH A SERIES OF STINGING JABS: Mr. McConnell, you know my value. You hear it in word-of-mouth on the street, and you see it in every rating book. Since I arrived here every book shows that every newscast on which I appear has experienced constant and dramatic audience growth. I wouldn’t be silly enough to claim full credit, but I do want to be rewarded for my part in our success.

Lithen, Chet, all of uth think you’re doing a nithe job. But my father didn’t thine this thtation on the air twenty-theven yearth ago for me to hand it over to thome thporthcaster on a thilver platter.


And the crowd went wild!

Honestly, now: we were all in hysterics, but I don’t think we were laughing at Bob McConnell’s speech impediment. We were just amazed at Chet Coppock’s audacity, his chutzpah, his perfect mixture of self-confidence and impudence, his bad-boy persona, his gift for mimicry. I’m still laughing, 32 years later.

Tho thue me!

Sunday, January 6

Super Bowl Memories

It was Sunday, January 12, 1975. The Pittsburgh Steelers were in the Super Bowl for the first time: Super Bowl IX (as in “Nine”). No, my young readers, 33 years ago players did not wear leather helmets. And no, television news coverage wasn’t in black-and-white, it was in color (although at KDKA-TV, the kick-butt #1 station in Pittsburgh, our news stories were shot on film, not tape). And covering the activities in New Orleans for the week leading up to the big game meant shipping film back to the station. No satellites, no same-day coverage.

Good thing KDKA had “The Mouth of the South,” Bill Currie, as our sports director. He had a nose for…uh…detail! He was there when the motor homes carrying “Gerella’s Guerillas,” the fan club for kicker Roy Gerella, pulled into Tulane Stadium. Currie was rambling on about the arduous trip down from Pittsburgh, the non-stop hours on the road, the testing of man and machine when the RV convoy creaked to a stop. The doors burst open, a bugle charge was sounded, and the first five guys to pile out were balancing cases of beer on top of their heads.

Currie turned, paused a perfect beat-and-a-half, and said, “Obviously involved in some sort of religious observance.”

Super Bowl Sunday

Remember, in those days the game started at 4:00 or 4:30. There was no nine-hour pre-game show with 1,000 Elvis impersonators riding wildebeests around the stadium side-saddle with the reins in their mouths while shooting live wombats into the crowd from T-shirt cannons while scantily-clad cheerleaders passed up and down the aisles handing out complimentary packets of Purina Wombat Chow. Yeah, in those days the Super Bowl was already wrapped tightly in the American flag (you know; if I have ten flags on my lawn and you only have five, I'm twice as good an Amur'can as youse): but for the most part it was a football game!

Problem was, the game was on NBC, and at KDKA (CBS) we were scheduled to air a newscast at 6:00.

But what are you gonna do? The game was far from over and far from decided when 6PM rolled around. On NBC, it was 2-0 Steelers at the half after Minnesota Vikings QB Fran Tarkenton fell on a fumble in the end zone and was covered by Dwight White for a safety. I guess an ought-ought tie would have been closer, but certainly not as dramatic!

Our newscast open rolled, anchor Dennis Holly was cued, and said “Good evening, I’m Dennis Holly. What…are…YOU…doing…HERE??????”

After he tossed to the first story, I leaned into the IFB and said, “Holly, if station management is watching you’re in big trouble.”

Of course, they weren't (watching) and he wasn't (in trouble). No one in Pittsburgh was watching us that night. We were hardly watching. In the control room and down on the studio floor, the entire KDKA production staff was watching the game out of the corners of our eyes.

In the end the Steelers beat the Minnesota Vikings 16 to 6 for their first Super Bowl victory (with many more to come). Franco Harris ran for 158 yards on 38 carries and was named MVP. Other Steeler names you might remember: Terry Bradshaw, “Mean” Joe Greene, linebackers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, receiver Lynn Swann and—of course—coach Chuck Noll. Ten members of that team made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Any arguments? I didn't think so.

I left KDKA not long after, and lost track of Dennis Holly. Even a “Google” search couldn’t tell me where he is now and what he’s doing. I was able to track him to KXAS in Dallas in the eighties…but the trail goes cold after that. Anyone know where Dennis Holly is today?

I did come across a fascinating site run by Pittsburgh photographer Ron Newcomer:
He gave me his permission to use this photo from way back when.