Uh Oh, People Are Watching

Lots of you watch me on TV. Thanks. I like that.

This week there are two additional people watching. I don’t like that as much!

Farrell is here from California. Bob lives in Charlotte.

Since they’ve been within viewing distance I’ve been extremely self conscious. How that plays out on the air is beyond me. My current emotional state has been described as “feeling like you’re wearing someone else’s underwear.”

Well put.

It’s possible my performance is better than usual. I don’t know. It could be worse. Definitely different.

I’ve done live network TV. Millions of people were watching. That didn’t bother me. These guys intimidate me more.

They’re gone next week.

Two Old Friends Back In My Life

What a strange coincidence. I spent the last two days with two old friends, both with pivotal influences on my professional career.

Yesterday’s story started in Fall River, MA sometime during the late summer of 1969. I got a job on-the-air as a disk jockey at WSAR in Fall River, MA. I was everything you’d expect in a 19 year old disk jockey in Fall River… and less.

My first day there another disk jockey, known then as Skippy Ross, was assigned to teach me the ‘board.’

Back then a radio board was a mass of round volume controls called “pots.” In a first class station each pot would control sound levels from a single device like a turntable, microphone or cart deck. It didn’t work that way at WSAR!

We had some sort of tiny crippled board where one pot controlled three or four inputs. The disk jockey was forced to throw switches to enable the inputs while reading copy or talking over a song. In other words you had to operate the board without looking.

As far as I know no airchecks from my time on WSAR exist. For this I am grateful.

Skippy and I became friends and remained friends as I changed stations and he changed names. He became Bob Lacey in Charlotte, NC in the early 70s.

Bob’s still in Charlotte. He and his wife were celebrating with a trip to Boston. He’d gotten better than amazing seats to see the Red Sox at Fenway. When his wife Mary decided there were other things she’d rather do, Bob asked me to the game.

That’s where I was yesterday… and it was an incredible afternoon, right down to Kevin Youkilis last play for the Sox.

Where Bob and I have been friends since my first moment in radio, Farrell Meisel and I have been friends from my first moment in TV! It was he and Vicky Gregorian who plucked me from obscurity to freeze my butt off in Buffalo, NY hosting PM Magazine/Buffalo.

I’ve known both Farrell and Vicky over thirty years.

Farrell’s in Connecticut covering for his sister who keeps an eye on their mother.

Where Bob’s stayed put, Farrell has worked around the world. He’s lived here in the states, plus Russia, Singapore, Poland, Afghanistan and a few others I’ve forgotten. He’s about to undergo a new adventure in another exotic land later this summer.

Farrell came by for a tour of the TV station and Hartford Courant plus a trip to West Hartford for dinner.

Even when I haven’t seen Bob or Farrell for a while it’s easy to pick up where we left off. We share the same sensibilities. We understand what makes each other tick.

It was great seeing both of them… though Farrell, you should consider coming with Red Sox tickets next time. Just sayin’.

Our Man In Kabul… In Hamden

It is a scary place. He’s been there 20 months. He flies back tonight and I worry.

“This is the German Embassy. Here’s the British Embassy.”

My friend Farrell was doing the talking while sketching on a napkin at the Hamden Townhouse. He drew another rectangle.

“We’re here.”

It was his TV station.

“They launched the rockets from here.”

He’s in the states on leave, but some of those rockets hit his workplace in Kabul this past weekend. Taliban fighters infiltrated what should have been a protected zone.

It is a scary place. He’s been there 20 months. He flies back tonight and I worry.

Farrell runs a TV station. He is helping bring Afghanistan the kind of political and social discourse they’ve never had.

I wish it was somewhere safer.

30 Years Ago: The Most Important Day Of My Life!

As I barreled around a corner I knocked down a young woman who’d just started that morning. By the time I saw her she was sitting on the floor!

July 7, 1980 was a Monday. It was sunny in Philadelphia. I remember that. I was working mornings as a deejay at WIFI in Philadelphia, an also ran top-40 station.

There was nothing to make me think the day would be special. As it turns out it was the most important day of my life!

I was still on the air when the phone rang. Farrell Meisel. He’s my friend now. That morning he a was offering me a job at WGR-TV where he was program director.

Oh my God! I’d sent a tape with (literally) everything I’d ever done on camera. He was asking me to co-host PM Magazine/Buffalo.

This was my break! Radio was over. I was heading to TV in two weeks. Even though it meant a small cut in pay and moving to Buffalo it was a great opportunity. I am forever grateful.

OK–so far a pretty decent day so far–right? There’s more.

At 10:00 AM my air shift was over. I rushed from the studio to meet some friends and give them the news. As I barreled around a corner I knocked down a young woman who’d just started that morning. By the time I saw her she was sitting on the floor!

That was Helaine.

That’s how we met. It could be a scene in a movie.

Wow! In one morning I changed careers, committed to move and met the woman I’d one day marry.

Helaine and I have known each other 30 years today. That’s half my life and a much larger percentage of hers.

Whatever I am and wherever I’ve gone owes a great deal to her. Plus, I’m still seriously in love.

That was a pretty damn good day!

The Ex-Pat Life, or Farrell Meisel – Man Of Mystery

He called me to offer me a job. It was August 1980. It was the same day I met Helaine. We’re still friends. Helaine and me too.

My first contact with Farrell Meisel was on the phone. He called me to offer me a job, in Buffalo, hosting PM Magazine. It was August 1980. It was the same day I met Helaine.

We’re still friends. Helaine and me too.

Farrell’s no longer in US TV. Nowadays he brings his TV expertise to foreign station owners.

He launched the first commercial channel in Russia, for Ted Turner, following the fall of the USSR in 1992, has done consulting in Turkey, ran a huge cluster of radio and TV networks in Singapore, inaugurated Alhurra, the US government funded Arab language TV station for the Mideast, and ran a TV station in Warsaw, Poland. I’m sure I’ve left something out.

At the moment, his consulting hat is on again. He’s in Bucharest, Romania.

Farrell is an ex-pat, the slang term for a foreign national abroad. He seems most comfortable in that role.

To me, the ex-pat life is a throwback to the 50s, with more structure and formality than modern day America. It is a life where there is still customer service and where men are addressed as “sir.”

Obviously, this is all a guess. I don’t even have a valid passport.

Yesterday, Farrell sent me some observations from Romania. I asked him if I could share?

Every city I’ve visited or worked in is unique, special and odd in its own way. It’s not a criticism, but a simple observation. You’d think, with all the traveling, I would have seen it all.

Bucharest has surprised me, too.

There aren’t enough parking spaces and lots in the city, so drivers create their own parking places!

For example: they just park in the middle of the street. That’s right, why park on the side when they can just park their car in the middle of the street or in front of another car, blocking a car?

They also park on side walks. Not just one or two cars, but several. Last night, there were three rows of cars parking on a side street, horizontally around the corner from my apart-hotel. Not in an assigned spot, but on the street.

I found it amazing that my driver, Nelu, could squeeze the company’s VW Passat through the narrow space between cars.

It is simply brilliant. Now I know why Romania is in the EU!

I laughed in amazement and had to explain to to Nelu why I was laughing. He said, “but, sir, this is Bucharest. Since the revolution we have no rules”.

Bucharest has a tram system like many classic European cities. Many of the routes are over unruly green grounds (the grass not cut due to underfunding by the government), but several parts of the routes are on pavement. Since traffic is so bad, and there are only 2 lanes on each side of the main streets, what do drivers do? Simple: They drive on the rails in front of or behind the trams!

This morning was the best. There must have been at least a dozen cars naturally driving on the center medium on one of the main lines in the center in the city . And the trams could not go anywhere.

I must have my camera ready later today or in tomorrow’s rush hour. Simply perfect.

Bucharest, Romania traffic

Bucharest, Romania traffic

Bucharest, Romania traffic

How I Met My Wife

Helaine and I have known each other for twenty five years. I wish I remembered the exact date. I don’t. I know it was around this time of year, sometime in mid-July.

I was working at WIFI – a horrendous top-40 station in Philadelphia. Though owned by the movie chain, “General Cinema,” it seemed more like a mom and pop operation. The equipment was tired and in a semi-constant state of disrepair.

On the air, we used every gimmick possible to try and magnify what meager ratings we had. We even ‘kited’ time checks to try and inflate the amount of time people said they were listening!

Though a true blue radio fanatic, I was getting burned out by my time at WIFI. The final straw was getting calls from nine and ten year olds asking me to play, “We don’t need no education.”

I felt, single handedly, I was leading American society into some sort of social abyss. I made the decision to leave radio and get into television.

Though thirty, I was very young looking. I had only begun to shave on a regular basis. Here’s my 1980 driver’s license. You make the call.

I took everything I’d ever done in front of a camera (and this included telethon appearances, an Evening Magazine audition in Philadelphia, even “Popeye’s 50th Birthday Party”) and started searching for a TV job. On this particular July day the call came in&#185.

I was incredibly excited. Not only would I be leaving WIFI, I’d also be starting a new life a television… albeit in Buffalo.

My air shift ended at 10:00 AM. I ran out of the studio, toward the parking lot&#178 where I’d meet some friends and tell them the good news.

To exit the WIFI studio, you opened the door, turned right, walked down a hallway and then around the edge of another studio, making a full 180&#176 turn! As I rounded that corner I ran into a woman who had just started working in the promotion department.

When I say “ran into,” I am being literal. I ran into her and knocked her to the ground! That was my first contact with Helaine!

We saw each other a few times, but I was exiting Philadelphia in a few weeks. I was a guy who tried to avoid commitment during normal times… much less now, as I packed my stuff.

OK – I’m a jerk. I’m a fool. For all intents and purposes, I should have lost her to someone smarter and more mature. But, I didn’t.

I left Philly and didn’t see Helaine for another year and a half. I’ll tell how we got together some other time. It’s an interesting story with me, again, playing the part of the jerk!

The story you’ve read has been told a zillion times. It needs no embellishment, because it’s totally true.

As it turns out, it might be the best day of my life. The day my career changed and, more importantly, the day I met the woman I’d love for the rest of my life.

Maybe this is why I love the summer and why July is my favorite month. I bet Helaine knows the exact date.

&#185 – The call came from WGR-TV’s program director, Farrell Meisel. I can never thank Farrell enough for that first opportunity. He took a great chance, considering I had no experience in TV at all. Farrell and I are still really good friends, though I can no longer work for his TV station as I don’t speak Arabic!

&#178 – WIFI’s studio were in a mid-rise office complex in Bala Cynwyd, PA (yes, that’s how it’s spelled). In that pre consolidation era, we were in the same building as four other radio stations.