My first professional job in television was in 1973 at WTOP-TV, Channel 9 - Washington DC.  I was working with my friend Steve Howard at the University of Maryland RTVF Division.  It was the school year after I did my WOCR Radio thing.

Steve had already been working at WTOP-TV for quite a while as a part time Assistant Director.  Steve used to get calls to go over there and do all sorts of neat stuff from time to time.  All this television stuff really interested me.  I loved working with the complicated equipment and I loved the organization of a team of people all dedicated to getting a program on the air.

After not too long, Steve mentioned that they were looking for another part time AD.  "Why couldn't I do that job", I asked him.  Steve thought for a few minutes and said, " I think you would do just fine".

Steve recommended me for the postion.  There is no question in my mind, that the only reason they gave me the job was because Steve had stuck his neck out for me.  Before long, I found myself sitting in the office of Fran Veal. Fran was the Assistant Program Director and in charge of all of the Assistant Directors.  She was an aggressive woman who clearly was willing to take a chance on Steve's advice.  I am sure she would have easily fired me without a second thought as well.  It is easy for people like that to take a little chance with someone.  Fran said that I could have the job but I would have to train on my own time.  So, if Steve was willing to teach me, I could have a job.

It took about three weeks for me to learn enough that I could get by at all on my own in Master Control.  I had paralleled Steve on his shifts during that time and a good deal of the work was Air Directing in Master Control.  By the end of the training period, I knew enough to muddle my way around an air shift..

In those days, there were several tasks that ADs were asked to perform.

  1. Air Directing
  2. Stage Managing (floor directing)
  3. Running the Chyron
  4. Coordinating Sports Events (hockey and basketball)
  5. Assistant Director during the News
  6. Supervising the editing of news stories
  7. Operating a Teleprompter
Air Directing

There as a control room immediately to the right when you walked in the front door of BROADCAST HOUSE that was called Master Control.  In Master Control, there were two chairs at a console, two TT-50 RCA Television Transmitters, and an "announce booth".

At the console, sat an Assistant Director and the Master Control Engineer.  WTOP was run by an automation system that was event driven.  There were a bank of displays that showed the current event, the next event and a couple of preview events.

AIR DIRECTING At WTOP we had an automation system of sorts. Two of us would sit in the transmitter room and put everything on the air. There was an engineer and the AD. Then downstairs there were four film chains and 5 quad video tape recorders (VTRs).

It was the ADs job to take the log down stairs periodically and make sure that all the right film and tape was loaded. If everything was loaded, the automation would roll the material on cue.

To get a commercial on the air, live, there were a few things that had to be done. First, you had to have the material "racked up", "cued", this meant that the device was paused a number of seconds prior to the first imate. For Film, this was 3 seconds, for tape we used 5 seconds. We called this a "pre-roll".

Five or three seconds before the end of an event, weather it be program material or another commercial, you needed to roll the next event, then switch to it after the specified pre-roll. The automation did all this easily. It would hold some 20 events. Each event contained several pieces of information.

  1. The source, this might be a particular film island, slide or video tape machine.
  2. The duration, a commercial would be usually 30 seconds, but a program segment might be 9 minutes.
  3. A pre-programmed preroll, again, for film, 3 seconds, for tape 5 seconds.
On and on, event after event, the automation would roll one event after another.

The controls for the automation computer were pretty simple. You basically only had a few choices.

  1. Take Next Event
  2. Take Next Next Event

  3. Delete Next Event


After my short but intense training period, I was given a shift to do some Floor Directing. There was a morning show, with Rene Carpenter, (the ex-wife of astronaut Scott Carpenter) and Carol Randolf, (who now works for Court TV), called EVERYWOMAN. This show was live every morning and consisted of guests and other topics mostly concerning women's topics. As the Floor Director, you would build the set, hang around while the engineers would light the set, then wear a headset and cue the talent and be the Director's eyes and ears on the set between and during segments.

This was a terrific introduction to working with live television. You really had to be on top of everything. The talent would rely on you for complete communication with the director. You had to make sure they were looking into the right camera, count the talent down to going on and off the air, and generally run the whole stage operation. It was a job of terrific importance. Everyone looked to you for what to do. It was also really easy to screw things up. One of the things about this job was that you were always the one to take the blame for anything that would go wrong. Generally that is because it was your fault, but even if it was not, you would take the hit.

Floor Managing the news and the news cut-ins was a kick also. Mostly when you would do the news, you were responsible for communication with the talent. You had to make sure they were in their seats at the right time, you counted them to recorded audio with your fingers, you told them to go faster, stretch it out or whatever needed to be told to them while they were on the air. There was a system of hand signals that were customary and a little different for each TV station. I was always amazed how responsive everyone was to me when I would tell them to "wrap it up" by rotating my hands around each other while they were reading.

I have two interesting stories about being a Stage Manager. The "set falling over story" and the "there's no FuXXing audio story.


At WTOP we had four news programs a day. A short one at noon, a half hour cast at 5:30 PM, a one hour cast immediately after at 6:00 PM and then the 11:00 cast that would end the day. There was something different to do at each of these broadcasts.

On a live TV stage there is an audio playback system that allows the people on the stage to hear the line audio from the booth. Just like in every audio booth, when you turn on a microphone, the speaker is automatically muted to keep the system from "feeding back". Therefore, when you would go to commercial or play back a recorded audio segment, as soon as the live microphone on the stage was cut off, you would be able to hear the audio on the floor that was going out over the air. A side benifit of this system was that when you heard audio coming out of the speaker in the studio, you knew there were no mics open.

I was Stage Manager one summer, it was probably 1973 or 74. During summer months, the engineers would try to take all their vacation. This then became a time for new people to be brought in as "vacation relief" a system the would eventually get me my job at WRC-TV.

At WTOP, summer time usually meant that other operating engineers would get a chance to try different jobs around the plant. There was a woman who was being trained to do audio this day. She had done it for a while, but in television, your greatness usually was not discovered right away. You would have to work for many years to have experienced everything that were capable of screwing up.

Over time, one of the normal operating engineers that normally did the audio on the news, had devised a way to communicate with the floor "pre-air" so they could check out the mics on the stage floor. They did this by simply hooking a mic to one of the other inputs on the audio console and putting it on the counter near the operator. During the "pre-air" check, the person on audio could open this mic, the audio in the control room would mute, then they could talk to the floor.

We had been doing this for many weeks, so most everyone was aware of the system.

Here Goes !!!

We were in the midst of a normal 6:00 broadcast. Things were going along OK, I was on the floor. I don't remember if was in the control room or if he was even on that day. The replacement audio person was at the console. Everyone was aware of this because there were a few minor hickups from time to time, but nothing major. I think there was one of the veteran audio guys sitting at the console with the vacation relief tech.

A Side Note On Using 16mm Film for News

In those days, we used to use quite a bit of 16mm film for television. Particularly during the news, this required some different handling of the way we put news on the air. Now we use all video tape, editing is simple and when a Reporter prepares a story, the story is generally complete unless they need to add some information live from a remote feed. In the early 70's all we could do was shoot film, cut it and run it on a telecine. We did have the old CP-16 (Cinema Products) the 16 stood for 16mm. This camera could use a special film stock with a magnetic stripe already on the side of the stock. The camera had a magnetic head inside and could record live audio as you filmed. Later when the film would be processed at the station, the live audio would be preserved.

Over time, we would learned many unique techniques to liven up a film story. The reporters would carefully lay out their film piece. Live audio form the film would be inter-mixed with a voice over that the reporter would do from the studio. Sometimes there was also a "stand-up" portion on the film where the reporter would complete the story while standing among the action of the story. At WTOP we had a small desk on the stage with a microphone that the reporter would sit at while we would run their film piece.

Running a film piece live on the air was a test of the technical proficiency of any news crew. It was also one of the most exciting things we could ever do. The assistant director would sit next to the director in the booth, they would have a script that would indicate the exact nature of each segment.

{Film with sound 10 seconds....Film with studio voice over 8 seconds....Live video an audio form the studio 4 seconds...etc.}

The team of the Director and the AD would carefully orchestrate the story. It usually went well. Sometimes there was even an A B roll of the film to add dissolves between two film pieces. There were often slides with supers we would run, or sometimes we would have super titles that would come form the Chyron. The Chyron was a character generator that could display electronically generated text instantly while on the air. The "lower third" super usually contained a station logo and there was a custom slide for each reporter.

Observing a news story get on the air like this was a beautiful thing to watch. We had this director named Ernie Bauer who we all thought was the best news director inthe business. Even though Steve Howard was a part timer, he was probably the best AD the station had. You see, Steve understood the entire system and love it, the rest of the ADs only learned the job out of doing it over and over again.

Back to the "There's no FuXXing audio" story:

So, we were on the air. Again, I don't remember who was doing what except that Earnie was directing. We had just led into a film story and we. Typically things would go something like this.

The Anchor would introduce the story.....

"There was a fire in downtown DC today, WTOP was first on the scene with the WTOP news camera and reporter XXXX. Now with that story, here is XXXX....."

During the "lead in" the AD in the control room would count down 5..4..3..2..1.. to the Stage Manger, ME this time, because at 3 the AD would call the roll on the telecine. Film pieces typically had a 3 second pre-roll so you had to anticipate that pre-roll for the "anchor" person reading the lead in. As the AD would count down, the stage manager would hold up 5 fingers, then 4, 3, 2 and 1 then with a strong gesture, would cue the anchor to the film piece.

On this occasion the first audio was on the film. So at the end of the countdown, we all expected to hear the film audio on the floor audio monitor. We heard nothing !!!

As we were all used to being in a live television studio, we all knew if we heard nothing that there was a strong possibility that a mic was still open. WE ALL WERE COMPLETELY SILENT !!! waiting to hear something. The same thing went for the people in the control room. They were silent also. There was a pregnant silence for several seconds. Then on the floor, I heard Ernie shout -- "Where's The FuXXing Audio" -- "Oh Shit !".

Now let's review the situation. I didn't say that we all heard Ernie shout, I said that I heard Earnie shout. That meant that I heard him through my headset. There were only a few people that wore headsets on the floor. The Stage Manager (me), the Camera Operators, and the Teleprompter Operator. Nobody else on the floor heard him.

Now, this was not unusual because we never heard the Director on the floor unless he used his PA. This he hardly ever did. The Stage manager was the one that communicated to the people on the floor by ways of listening to the director on the intercom headsets.

Here's what happened.

Instead of opening the "pot" or switch on the audio console for the film, the person on audio, opened the mic that they had set up for testing sound. Since this mic was in the control room, it muted the speaker. since they had not closed the mic in the studio, our speaker was muted, though we were used to being quite if we didn't hear any audio on the floor. The problem was, that Ernie's exclamation went out on the air. Yes, the whole thing.

"WHERE'S THE FUXXING AUDIO ------OH SHIT!" was heard by almost 1/2 the news audience in Washington D.C. that night.

WE had not delay and we had no way to stop it, I actually think that I might have been the only one that actually realized what happened at that instant. We did hear about it later though. When things like that happened, everyone did.

SIGNOFF  High Flight Film

Running the Chyron

Coordinating Sports Events (hockey and basketball)


Assistant Director during the News 1972 News Open - 1974 News Open

Supervising the editing of news stories

Operating a Teleprompter