The World’s Greatest (Non) Job Interview

People were feeding the squirrels with impunity. The squirrels were so docile some people were actually petting them. Yuck!

As soon as I found out my contract wasn’t being renewed I began to reach out to TV stations in-and-out of Connecticut. I knew I’d be in Florida and California (two places I’d enjoy living in) so I ‘carpet bombed’ news directors in those spots hoping for a nibble. Sure enough I soon got this:

Geoff:

What day works for you?

It was from a news director at a station in San Diego. I was excited… very excited until he added in a later email

Monday Jan 17th at 1pm is good – what is your cell?
FYI I do not have a position for you but would love to meet you.

I did the math. This would be five hours of driving from L.A. with no upside. I started to think of excuses to pass on the invite.

I mentioned this to a few friends and they all said the same thing, “Go!”

I did. They were right. It was one of the most uplifting TV days I’ve had in a long time!

Helaine and I decided we could shorten my drive by spending last night with relatives in Orange County. She’d never been to their home (which she now considers perfect for us… can we move in there now… there’s a vacant unit down the block) and, as it would turn out, it gave her a day to spend with my Cousins Melissa, Michael and Max.

Google Maps said my trip would take a little over an hour. Nicely done Googleboys.

Unfortunately, I didn’t trust California traffic and left myself 2&#189 hours. I spent a l-o-n-g time parked up the block and out-of-sight from the TV station.

I would have been even earlier, but there was a scenic overlook on I-5 north of San Onofrio inside Camp Pendleton.

Of all the scenic places I’v seen in the last week this was the least! The stretch of Pacific Coast was pedestrian. The view to the east was worse. The most interesting feature was something that should not have been! Just beyond the “Do Not Feed The Squirrels Or Birds” signs was the largest scurry&#185 of squirrels I’ve ever seen!

People were feeding the squirrels with impunity. The squirrels were so docile some people were actually petting them. Yuck! The whole thing was weird.

I got back in the car and headed south.

I’m not going to name the station nor the news director I saw, but at this moment I would crawl over broken glass to work for him. I am assuming he does not read the blog, so this is not a suck-up… though I am not above that if I thought it would help.

He was supportive of his people, embraced technology and never once cried “woe is me” over the sorry state of TV in general or TV news in particular. He was genuinely proud of what they were accomplishing on a daily basis.

The news facility was recently built from the ground up. It looked comfortable. Being in San Diego some of what went on-air was actually being done outside. There was even a chromakey wall out there large enough park a convertible in front of. It looked like a drive-in theater!

He pointed to an area where the reporters worked in close proximity and talked about collegiality. Be still my heart.

Do I wish there was a job? Yes, of course. Even without one my visit restored some of my boyish enthusiasm which has been partially ground away over time.

To my friends who suggested I go–thanks.

Postscript: Not one cloud all day. Not one.

&#185 – There is some dispute whether there is or should be a name for a group of squirrels. Experts say they are solitary animals. It didn’t seem that way to me. Scurry is the accepted word by those who are willing to look past the solitary nature of most squirrels.

I Owe A Lot To Jack Reilly

“We all laughed in the control room,” he said. “Would you like to come to New York and do some fill-in for us?” he asked.

Jack Reilly passed away today. I can’t begin to tell you how much I owe him.

From TVNewser:

Jack Reilly, the former Good Morning America executive producer and later vice president of news at CNBC, passed away this morning at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York at the age of 84.

Reilly was VP and managing editor of CNBC from 1994 to 1998. Before that, he was the executive producer of ABC’s Good Morning America from 1986 to 1994. Reilly transformed GMA, a faltering #2 show, into the nation’s top-rated morning show – a position the show held for more than five years.

reilly_jack.jpgThe time was the mid-90s and I was working here in New Haven. One afternoon our news director Liz Crane (now Liz Gray) asked me if I’d like to do the weather on Good Morning America/Sunday. “This Week with David Brinkley” was interviewing someone at Yale, had already asked for our satellite truck and then as an afterthought asked if we would also supply a weatherman.

This was a big deal to me and I told EVERYONE I knew to watch. Truth is, this kind of affiliate hit was nice but inconsequential to the network. You do it. Your friends and family see you. Life goes on.

The first hit followed an interview with tennis great Tracy Austin. She had just gotten married. While Dana King (I love Dana King) conducted the interview from New York Tracy stayed at home in a room full of wedding gifts.

Dana finished the interview and briefly introduced me. This was my chance to play it straight–just do the weather. I didn’t.

“Dana, if you talk to Tracy again, would you ask if she got the Corning Ware we sent?”

After the weather ended our sat truck operator ran out of the truck. “The producer wants to speak to you.”

Oh s**t. I was in trouble. I could feel it. On the other end of the line was Jack Reilly.

“We all laughed in the control room,” he said. “Would you like to come to New York and do some fill-in for us?” he asked.

OMFG!

I continued to be GMA’s go-to guy working weeks at-a-time until one winter’s day Spencer Christian got stranded on the West Coast. A lower level producer called and asked me to fill-in. I felt committed to do the day in Connecticut–a big weather day.

That was it for me. The GMA calls stopped. I have second guessed myself a million times on that call.

I aggressively pursued trying to get back in their good graces–but it didn’t happen. A few years ago I gave up.

I liked working at the network. What made it better was parachuting in while keeping this job. It was a very cool place to work–seriously big time with loads of people and pressure to perform.

Jack Reilly made that happen. It didn’t matter to him I was working in New Haven. He saw me. He laughed. He followed his gut.

Later on he was squeezed out at ABC. The show was never quite the same after that. Whether the Today Show passed GMA while Jack was there or after I can’t remember.

Jack Reilly is a lot of what TV was and no longer is. He will be missed. My condolences to his family and friends. Thanks Jack.

Making News: Savannah Style

This is compelling stuff… well, it’s compelling to me. I’m in TV news. I watched the whole hour without wanting to turn away.

About a week ago, I received an email from Nick Davis. It was unexpected – totally.

Hi Geoff Fox,

Last year it was a pleasure to come upon your blog wile promoting the first season of a reality show my company produces about the goings-on behind the scenes of local news. As I recall, you started out skeptical about Making News: Texas Style – in particular you were annoyed by the station’s almost complete lack of attention to the more serious side of journalism – but you were, I think, (somewhat) won over by the characters by the end of the season.

Well, season two starts Wednesday night on TV Guide Network. I have my own feelings and opinions about Making News: Savannah Style — but would much rather you came to the show fresh. I really would be thrilled to have you check us out again —

All best,

Nick Davis

Executive Producer, “Making News”

He’s right. I wrote a lot about the station Nick’s crew followed in Texas. I really had mixed emotions, because though some of the ‘players’ were interesting, much of what his camera’s saw showed the worst that local TV news is.

I wanted to give it a peek before I wrote about the new show&#185. Again, this is compelling stuff… well, it’s compelling to me. I’m in TV news. I watched the whole hour without wanting to turn away.

As was the case the last time, it’s on TV Guide Channel, sharing the screen with scrolling program listings. Hey, I used to host a science fact show on the SciFi Channel. I understand not everything is a perfect fit.

The newsroom being chronicled is at the low rated ABC/Fox affiliate, WJCL/WTGS, in Savannah, GA. Whether it’s true or not, it’s claimed to be the lowest rated ABC station in America! There’s a distinction.

Savannah’s a market with two other, much more well established stations, both doing news as well. I’m not sure how this one can hope to compete, especially when they’re underfunded and understaffed.

Climbing in the ratings today is more difficult than ever before. Today’s viewing audience is heavily fragmented because of all the choices (TV, cable, computer, etc.) we all have. Simply put, there’s less audience during entertainment programs to promote your news.

I like the news director, Michael Sullivan. I liked him from the get-go. He’s a grown-up who knows stability is key to success. At the same time, he can only pay enough for employees to consider this station a stepping stone.

Reporters, please understand: Viewers don’t want to think they’re being used to advance your career!

A succession of owners has left this station with bad equipment and worse morale. That’s just not good. Unfortunately, by virtue of age and experience, the staff in Savannah does not yet know no station has equipment that always works nor every tool they need. When I filled-in at ABC, live shots died all the time. We just had enough people to hide the problems until they were fixed.

Tonight, I saw some reporters/anchors who ‘get it.’ This is really good news. They understand their obligation as journalists. They seem bright and willing to work.

I’ve also seen at least one reporter who doesn’t get it. He’s the crime reporter, but he’s really all about himself. He doesn’t understand, people are watching his reporting to gain insight, not to help his career.

The series is just beginning. I’m sure I’ll revisit it over the next few weeks. If you’re watching it too, please leave a comment.

Blogger’s addendum: The email from Nick Davis shows how ‘retail’ TV has become. He literally is fighting for every viewer. I give him credit for doing everything he can to promote his show.

&#185 – It’s on cable. Each episode will be repeated – trust me.

Where You’re From

Helaine started it with a couch conversation Sunday evening. She wondered, as I had in the past, where were you while you were reading this blog? The numbers are in, and I’m a little surprised.

About 100 of you have left a note on my website over the past few days, telling me where you are. Since I average over 1,000 page reads a day, it’s a significant, though not overpowering percentage of my readers. 59 of that group are reading in Connecticut.

That Connecticut number is a stunner, because website stat programs paint a very different picture. I tried to address this a few days ago and was a little confusing. Two of you responded, though it seems my poor choice of words let you miss the point.

Most ‘regular’ readers come in through the home page (or read my most recent entries through my RSS feed using Yahoo!, Google or an installed feed reader). Most out-of-state readers are probably here after following a search engine link which brought them to an older entry. They never saw my home page or my request.

Most of you (not all of you) know me from my job on TV. I’m not sure how that will affect my writing going forward… if it affects it at all. I already parse my words, remaining ever alert that what I say on my private website can reflect on my very public life.

A number of the respondents left their web address. That gave me a chance to take a peek at them.

Marko in Dayton, Ohio also has a blog – though no entries since April. He has built some pretty cool Pinewood Derby race cars with his son, referred to as “#2.”

Doug Harris is also a blogger and also stopped blogging in April. Did something happen in April I didn’t hear about?

Mike, in Arlington, VA has a website with a cool name: RadioMojo. His home page explains he’ll no longer be doing whatever it was RadioMojo did. Its date: April 25th.

You can’t make this stuff up.

A reader name Mumbles linked to his photos on Flickr. There’s a lot to like here. I enjoy looking at other photographers work, trying to find ways to improve mine.

I wonder if Mumbles knew I’d look at his work… or guessed I’d tell you to look? He probably wanted me to look at them. Mission accomplished.

Chuck Schultz sent his photo link too. He’s into racing cars and dogs. You can tell a lot about a person by their photos. Dogs are very photogenic. They never mind posing nor care if you take too many photos.

I wonder if there was a downside to growing up as Charles Schultz… but not ‘the’ Charles Schultz.

Chuck is a ham operator. There are a bunch of them here. I wrote an article recently in the national ham radio magazine, QST. I’m sure that brought some of them to my site.

Jeff in Muncie, Indiana is a ham too, with a blog and a podcast. That’s an undertaking. I listened to some of his latest entry about Hiram Percy Maxim, in many ways the father of ham radio. The podcast sounds like the kind of first class radio production you often hear on NPR.

Jeff has links on his blog… though none to me. I like links.

Am I boring you? You don’t have to read this if I’m boring you.

My father left a message. My sister left a message. My cousin left a message.

Meredith has put much of her life online in a free form way. That’s how this website started, but I found it too difficult to be free form on the web, which cries out for structure.

John, from “The new and exciting Bridgeport, CT” linked to his family’s website. I like this idea a lot, but I like reading “Christmas letters”.

My friend Kevin’s family just put up a family blog with my help. With four girls out in the world, often away from their Connecticut roots, their blog promises to keep the family closer.

Adam left a link for his blog. It is the antithesis of this one in that I have long entries while Adam is often satisfied with a few words or a sentence.

I like his reference to your worst hair decision ever.

When I was a kid, a new barber-in-training cut my hair so short that even pre-teen Geoff knew he was in trouble. I’m still cringing over that. The guy who owned the shop told me to come back in a few days and the hair would have grown back enough to repair the damage.

More recently, a news director sent me to her hair stylist, who proceeded to make me look like Lyle Lovett. Even Lyle Lovett doesn’t want to look like Lyle Lovett. And, I still had to wear the hair on-the-air. Mortifying!

Damon Scott checked in from Lubbock, TX. I’ve written about Lubbock a lot recently, because of the TV Guide Channel reality show about a Lubbock newsroom. They seem to be in reruns, because the DVR hasn’t recorded anything the last two weeks.

Damon is a jock, doing afternoon drive on Mix100. His photo is nowhere to be found on the station’s website. I looked. I always look for disk jockey photos.

When I was a disk jockey, I used to answer the ‘hitline’ trying to pick up girls who were calling to request songs. My first day in radio (really) I got a call from Jeanine, who told me about the sexual failings of a station’s newsman.

There is a medical term to describe his unfortunate haste. Jeanine was a little more blunt.

Damon – don’t pick up hitline chicks.

Actually, maybe they email photos first now? Damon, use your best judgment.

McD is another blogger who wrote back. His home page has a very nice line drawing of him (I think) in the upper left corner.

There’s something very folksy about the sketch. If it’s possible to make a web page folksy, it’s mission accomplished by virtue of this little sketch.

You told me where you were and you told me from all over the United States. Most responses came from people I don’t know, though there are many readers who I count in my extended group of friends.

Seamus. Ireland. Cool. Thanks. I even know how to properly pronounce it! You are are token foreigner,

As long as you’ve read this far, I’ll let you in on something. I really enjoy knowing you read this.

Though smaller, by far, than the audience I reach on television, this is a much more personal medium. I try to speak my mind and hope you will still think kindly of me even as I reveal myself as a guy lots of faults and insecurities.

I worry you’ll tire of me, or I’ll become boring to you. I want to stay fresh and write meaningful things, but is that possible when you force yourself to compose at the keyboard every single day? I don’t know.

More than one a friend in LA has picked up on something trivial I’ve written about and said, “no one wants to know you ate corn last night.” We depend on our friends for life’s true wisdom.

At the bottom of this screen and on every computer I use on a regular basis, there is a counter. Every 15 or 20 minutes it tallies the page hits to my website. I look at it all the time.

At 3:00 AM EDT it resets to zero. I don’t like that part.

TV 2.0

I seldom do this, but it’s my blog! This entry is an explanation and expansion of a comment left in the previous entry by Mike Sechrist.

Geoff:

If anyone had any questions about the revolution going on in our business you just answered them. An interesting piece shot on a $30 camcorder and edited with software that can be found on most PC’s. It may say Meteorologist on the resume but you should add VJ underneath. I wish we could have seen the deli.

A little background on Mike. He hired me in New Haven 23 years ago. He was news director then, but later became a TV general manager, running WKRN in Nashville.

Mike is one of the biggest proponents of VJs, or video journalists. The whole VJ concept is based on the assumption technology allows greater productivity in TV without injuring the product. If a crew is one, rather than two, people, you can cover twice as many stories with the same number of people.

Of course, the fear within the universe of TV employees is, you can cover just as many stories with half the number of people… and what business wouldn’t cut their costs like that if they could?

I remember counting heads in the ABC control room, back when I used to fill-in on Good Morning America. There were better than a dozen folks on the payroll in the control room. I walked into our control room in New Haven on Friday night. Three! Technology at work.

I produced my little travelogue with a minimal amount of equipment. It was not broadcast quality, but it wasn’t terrible. And, for a motivated audience, where content is much more important than production values, my $30 camcorder is all that’s needed.

Mike worked hard to unlock the value of technology for his station. Going forward, I think the real value lies elsewhere. VJ type equipment can allow one or two people to produce narrowly focused, very salable content. Think of the show being the end product, not the station.

The example I often use is a fellow employee at the TV station who’s a prolific knitter. She’s got the skills necessary to produce a daily, weekly or even unscheduled video knitting show.

Unlike the conventional TV model, older content stays online forever (How many changes are there in knitting from year-to-year?), using search engines and word of mouth to attract new viewers along the way and providing a library of revenue producing programming. In computing parlance, this evergreen content is called ‘long tail.’

Because the programming would be narrowly focused, each viewer would likely be worth more to an advertiser (knitting needles, yarn, patterns, etc). The whole concept of comparing CPM for an ad buy is turned on its ear because there are so few wasted viewers.

To a certain extent PhotoshopTV is doing this now. So is or-live, which presents surgical procedures live and recorded on demand, on their website.

Programs like Diggnation or Rocketboom, which are more broadly aimed, do not fit my revenue model, even though they are using the technology as I picture it being used.

There is money to be made for specialists who can produce their own material. It could be a show on ham radio or child rearing or golf or any number of topics. Content rules! If there’s an connective interest and someone selling a product your audience might buy, the rest is academic!

Even better, distribution is much easier than TV or cable, since anyone can set up a website instantly&#185 and bandwidth costs continue to drop rapidly.

Startup costs for a TV station are in the millions… often tens of millions of dollars. Start up costs for these web narrowcasts can be in the thousands, though often, hundreds of dollars!

I’ve been toying around with an idea for a web show myself. All I need is a little motivation. I figure a half dozen episodes in the can should get me started. I already have everything I need to produce it at home!

That’s crazy, isn’t it? I already have everything I need at home.

&#185 – How instantly can you set up a site? My boss bought an iPhone and set up a website to go with it! If he’s spent $25 on the website, he’s gone overboard.

Making News: Texas Style – Still Watching

OK, who am I kidding. I’ve become hooked on this damn show – Making News: Texas Style!

I really didn’t want it to happen. It just did. Some things are beyond your control.

Over the past few weeks I’ve written about the superficiality of the stories being covered and the people covering them. That’s still the case. What’s changed is, I now care about the people on the screen. All it took was three weeks of seeing them, flaws and all.

I feel really bad for Melissa Correa&#185, the extremely self conscious reporter desperately trying to lose weight on-the-air. She set herself up in a task that had little upside and lots of downside.

How embarrassing to do a ‘me-roll’ story on weight loss and lose none… or very little. You could see her desperation as she talked about the diet pills she was now taking and the cigarettes she’d like to stop smoking.

As it turned out, she did bail on the weight loss series! Long before the story was over, but after she had promised a payoff in on-air promos, she decided it just wasn’t working. Credit to Jose, the news director, for letting her walk away. not every news director would have made that ’employee friendly’ decision.

Michelle is as close to a mental breakdown as anyone I’ve ever watched on TV. It’s a combination of low self esteem and constant introspection. Was this really a good career choice for her? Can she survive much longer under the pressure?

Bill Warren, the ousted anchor is my second charity case. His bio doesn’t mention it, but I’ll bet he made his way from radio to TV. He’s got that ‘grown-up disk jockey’ persona (and matching voice). I’m not sure how else to describe it.

I feel bad because at age 62 he’s taking a major career step backward. It’s obvious there’s no real future for him outside this market… probably outside this station. His salary and prestige will continue to dwindle before his very eyes.

Bill Warren is living the career equivalent of staying married for the kids. It’s a shame because he seems like a nice guy, and probably a little too intelligent for the room.

What’s bothered me from Episode One is how little meat is in this show and how much time is spent recapping what’s happened and advancing what’s to come. Making News: Texas Style would have made a much better half hour show.

Last Monday, after the show aired, my website got a nice traffic boost. If you Google the show’s name, Making News: Texas Style, my entries come in second and third, right after the TV Guide Network itself.

That is more a comment on the show’s lack of publicity than my site’s great value in critical commentary. On the other hand, it was fun to hear from my fellow addicts.

&#185 – I originally wrote Michelle instead of Melissa. My error.

Making News – Texas Style Has Got Me Worried

A friend emailed me the ad you see on the left. It’s for a new reality program on the TV Guide Channel, “Making News – Texas Style”.

Yeah, it surprised me too. I thought they only ran character generated listings.

The ad scared me. Some people already look upon us TV types as shallow or trivial. This won’t help.

“Meet Jay, the station’s future anchorman and “Star of West Texas”; Bill, the longtime anchorman who worries about his recent demotion to reporter; Melissa, the reporter with a sense of humor, who’s out to prove she’s great at her job; Kara, the feisty young reporter who’s always up for a challenge; Tatum, the anchor and former Miss Texas who balances family and her career; and Jose, the news director pushing hard for his team to be #1. This news team will do anything to get their stories on the air and beat the competition.

That ad represents everything superficial TV news can be with none of the substance. I’m not saying we’re teaching college level courses on-the-air, but there really is more than pageant winners and cat fighting in the newsroom.

Actually, I can’t guarantee the ad’s copywriter saw the show, because “Making News – Texas Style” was a lot closer to this reserved blurb in a TV Guide press release.

The network is making an especially big bet on original content this year. On June 13, it will debut Making News: Texas Style, a 13-episode reality series about a TV station

Don Fitzpatrick

If you’re not in TV, you probably don’t know who Don Fitzpatrick is. If you are in TV, but haven’t been in long enough, you don’t know what he once was and the power he held.

Don died over the weekend in Louisiana. He was from there originally and moved back a few years ago. He will be most remembered for his years in San Francisco.

I first heard about Don right after I got into TV news. He was a headhunter of broadcast talent. He, or someone working for him, would comb the country, making videotapes of every on-the-air reporter and anchor they could see. That was then, and still is, a stunningly daunting undertaking.

Don’s company back in San Francisco, Don Fitzpatrick and Associates, kept those tapes cross referenced in an intricate filing system.

If you were a news director, looking for a reporter or anchor, you could go to San Francisco and look at everyone in a hurry. And, those you were looking at never had to know. It was cleaner that way.

Back in those days Don’s biggest client was probably the CBS owned stations. If Don had your tape, and if you were liked, he had the power to get you moved along. He was a giant in that way.

There was another side to Don. He was one of the first computer publishers. I want to say Internet, but he really was here before the original DARPA Internet became the World Wide Web we know today.

In the early 80s, his daily “Rumorville” was a must read… at least for the few of us who had accounts on “The Source.” There was little interconnection between the many networked services, like CompuServe and Prodigy and The Source.

Rumorville was fearless. Fitzpatrick would often print what his name implied – rumors. More often than not, they were true. Often they concerned powerful people in lofty positions.

Most of the Rumorville subscribers were news directors and other managers. As an on-the-air person, I was an exception.

I remember Don having trouble accomplishing some bit of computer minutiae. I sent off an email with some tips. This was nearly 20 years ago. I expected everyone using a computer then to be a geek. Don was not.

More important than knowing their inner workings, he was able to see the power of interconnected computers to pass timely info back-and-forth. Again, we’re talking about the early 80s!

As time went on, and the face of broadcasting changed, Don’s business seemed to become more marginalized. Finally, he was out of the talent aircheck business.

Later, Rumorville became ShopTalk, a daily newsletter. It, unfortunately, became a lot more mainstream and fact based. I miss the days when it was freewheeling. I missed the juicy rumors.

I met Don twice. The first time was in Charlotte, NC. I was there giving demos for a weather graphics company at the Radio TV News Directors Association convention. Don tapped me on the shoulder and introduced himself.

I looked and saw a rumpled guy in an poorly fitting sport coat and vaguely matching pants. I had expected to meet a slickly packaged giant. Instead, he was a real person.

Don and I traded emails a few times a year. Though we seldom chatted, I kept his screen name on my Instant Messenger friends list. I’ve watched him sign on at all hours of the day and night.

It’s sad to hear he’s died. He and I were separated by just a year in age – though he seemed so much more worldly and mature, early in my career. I knew he had health concerns, though nothing this serious.

He was one of a kind. He was a trail blazer. He was a king maker. He will be missed – certainly by me.

I Cannot Tell A Lie Radio Shack Style

What’s Radio Shack’s slogan: “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers?” As it turns out, not all the answers were true – at least as they applied to the CEO. He resigned yesterday after revelations that the two degrees from non-accredited colleges he claimed, didn’t exist.

First of all, as long as you’re going to lie about it, why a non-accredited bible college? Why not Yale or Harvard?

I’ve never lied about my lack of education. I am an official high school graduate. I went to Emerson College on the accelerated dismissal program, flunking out during the height of Vietnam.

That probably tells you more about my intellect than anything else. Were it not for my high draft lottery number, who knows how my life would have changed?

My resume has always said, “attended Emerson College,” which of course I did (though infrequently). It was more like, “lived in dorm,” but that’s beside the point.

Now that my three years at Mississippi State University are complete, I’m still just a high school graduate.

MSU’s program is a certification curriculum. It’s as if you were allowed to attend college and only take your major subjects, no humanities, math or language. I learned everything I would have learned in an Earth Sciences BS program – no more.

I work with a PhD in physics, Dr. Mel Goldstein, and when I’d tell people I was completing my education at MSU, they’d often ask if I was getting my doctorate. I wish.

This Radio Shack guy, David Edmondson, lied and got caught. He probably deserves what’s coming to him, but the story is much deeper than that and it goes to the core of what college confers upon you.

I have a daughter in college. Steffie, stop reading this right now. I don’t want to throw you off the track.

There are many things college prepares you for, and many ways it broadens you. But college is not always necessary to succeed in a job or career – even some careers that are associated with specific courses of study.

Did I suffer in my career because I didn’t have a degree? Who can say for sure. I’ve certainly done OK for myself.

On the other hand, before I got the job here, I got a call from a news director in Boston. He had seen my tape and was interested in hiring me. Was I a meteorologist?

End of story. He said he liked me but he’d be lambasted in the papers if he hired me. I understood.

Back to this Radio Shack guy. He didn’t just come in from a craigslist.com ad. He was inside the company for well over a decade; a guy who worked his way, literally, to the top. He had been judged on what he could do, and really, it didn’t matter that he did it without a degree!

If you look closely at higher education, you will see it is designed by academicians, not practitioners. When we get interns here at the TV station, they learn more on-the-job than they ever learned in school. The same goes for fresh grads.

I’m not saying college is worthless. That’s just not so. I think it serves a valuable purpose and provides a good background and, hopefully, broadening. It is not the end all, be all, in career preparation.

It would serve companies well if they stopped using a college degree as a crutch and began looking at an applicant’s real skills. That’s what they’re going to use anyway.

This guy from Radio Shack – I feel bad for him, but he lied. There’s really little excuse for that, especially when he’s is the company’s credibility.

Wrongly, instead of proving what he could do without college, he felt it was necessary to lie. He felt his skills would never have been recognized… no one would have looked past his lack of academic credentials.

We overlook too many talented people this way, every day. Where’s the upside to that?

Advice To Newcomers (Looking For My Job)

A weather newbie posted a request on a bulletin board I frequent. He wanted advice on putting together a tape for a first job.

Historically, applicants for on-the-air broadcasting jobs have sent audition tapes, usally containing some short snippets of ‘outstanding’ performance followed by full length reports (whether that be reporting, weathercasting or anchoring).

Though I think the concept of audition tape is outmoded, and random access digital media should rule the day, I thought I’d answer anyway.

Your weathercast should be a meaningful story with beginning, middle and end. Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell it to them. Tell it to them again.

Honest.

Be confident. Be composed. You are on-the-air because you are an expert. I don’t want to learn anything from you but how to be prepared for the weather.

Don’t use jargon. I’m not impressed. If you use any term you had to identify on a meteo test or quiz, I will get a gun and shoot you.

Don’t let your appearance or actions distract the viewer from your presentation. You don’t have to be pretty, handsome, slim or have all your hair. If that’s what counted, we’d have the CBS Evening News with Daisy Fuentes. Just be neat and business-like.

Among the tidbits Don Fitzpatrick&#185 had in his classic audition tape advice was, do not confuse a good situation with a good presentation. His example had to do with reporters showing the President coming to town. It’s a big deal and might show the pecking order at your shop, but local reporters never get anything meaningful in these brief controlled events. Seen one, seen them all.

For weather the analogy is: does your tornado coverage showcase you as well as airchecks from more normal days might?

There is an apocryphal story… though I believe it is true. Three decades ago, Mark Howard, trying to leave Hartford and go to Philadelphia, sent a tape of the show from hell! Everything went wrong. He told the potential news director, anyone can send a perfect tape, here’s what I do when skills are really needed!&#178

After you make your third, fourth, fifth dub of the tape, you will see every imperfection. You will anticipate that millisecond pause or glitch. Your tape hasn’t gotten worse. Trust me, no one else will watch it five times, even your folks.

In fact, the sad truth is, your tape is made or lost in the first few seconds. Put your best stuff first – right at the top. No one is getting to minute eight.

Finally, when you send your tape, don’t go after my job. The world is lousy with meteorologists who are younger, smarter, better looking and will work for less. I hate you all.

Of course I haven’t gotten a new fulltime job in over 20 years. What do I know?

I expect most of you aren’t in the ‘biz’ and will never put together a tape. For you, the sobering point to bring home is how little of a tape is watched before an initial go/no go decision is made.

Obviously, the final hiring decision takes a lot of time (because everyone is scared to make a wrong decision). Most people don’t get that far. I’ve seen tapes watched less than ten seconds before they were ejected.

Actually, I think solid negative decisions can often be made that quickly. Tough business.

&#185 – There was an earlier reference on the bulletin board to Don Fitzpatrick, who ran an amazing talent search business in San Fransisco. Don was a trailblazer. He published advice for TV news applicants seeking a job, from the perspective of someone who truly had seen everything.

&#178 – If someone knows Mark, will you ask him if this story is real? I’ve been telling it forever, but I just don’t know.

On My Way To Nashville

My friend Mike runs a television station in Nashville. Another friend, Steve, is the news director. They are in the midst of an interesting experiment. Depending on who you ask, you will be told it’s the future or the demise of local TV news.

On Friday, I’m going there to make up my own mind.

WKRN has decided to eliminate the line between reporters, editors and photographers. At that Nashville station, everyone’s a reporter who shoots and edits. They are called VJs, even though, to me, that name brings up memories of Mark Goodman, Allan Hunter, Nina Blackwood and Martha Quinn.

When I told this to some people at my station, they wondered how you could concentrate on getting the meat of a story while you were also worried about running the equipment? I don’t know. I want to see.

I think the vast majority of the photographers I work with could easily be reporters. They have to think like reporters to shoot well (and most of our guys are phenomenal shooters).

I don’t know about the reporters going the other way. Shooting a video camera is as much an art as anything else I can think of. It doesn’t seem to be something easily learned in a short time.

Reporters like to be seen in their stories. Stations like their reporters to be seen. How do you do that when you’re shooting and reporting? I want to find out.

What this rejiggering of resources does buy is a much larger head count on the street. You can cover many more stories, or assign people a longer time to cover a story, or you can use this technique to spend less money.

It would seem that last one is a very tempting outcome for a station’s owner. I am assured by my friends that’s not what they’re doing.

Moving to this new method of electronic journalism also brings new editing and storage techniques which should make the melding of TV news department and Internet news website easier. It’s all a brave new world, but will it be successful?

Is this how TV news will be done in the future? There are lots of vested interests who say no. In the right to work state of Tennessee it’s easier to give it a try.

I do know the hot breath of the Internet is being felt on the back of TV’s neck. At Yahoo, an ambitious plan is underway to add all sorts of video programming. It will all be on demand and without many of the content or time restrictions of over-the-air television. I’m still trying to decide if it will be a more or less expensive method of distribution?

Anyway, I’m excited about seeing my friends and spending time with them. I’m also excited, and in some ways petrified, that I might be taking a peek at the future of television.

The Mind as a Relational Database

One of the most powerful functions a computer can perform is to manipulate a relational database. How are two or more seemingly non-connected things related?

Our brains work very much this way. You think of one thing, which reminds you of another thing, which… well, you get the idea.

I was on the phone today with my friend Paul. I’ve known him for 35 years and we’ve been friends all that time. Paul has been referred to as “Raider of the Lost Archives,” because he has found obscure and often unseen television programs and found a way to get them on the air and make money with them. Good skill to have.

Over the past few years Paul has produced DVD compilations of old TV series. His joy, and what makes these DVDs stand out, are his special features where the original stars come back to comment today on what went on decades ago. It’s Paul’s work on the Dick Van Dyke Show DVD series and many others that make them so special and worth collecting.

He’s working on The Twilight Zone now. It’s amazing how many big stars appeared on the original Twilight Zone before they were big stars.

We were talking today and the conversation got around to a Twilight Zone episode that no one who ever saw it will ever forget, It’s a Good Life. In this episode, a pre-teen Billy Mumy&#185 is able to ‘punish’ people for their bad thoughts by ‘wishing them into the cornfield. I always felt it was incredibly creepy and judging by what I’ve read as I did a little research tonight, I am not alone.

Here’s where relational databases or at least their human equivalent come in.

As I was thinking of this episode, I thought of one of the actors, Max Showalter. Max played one of the neighbors,.. the man who played the piano. He’s in the credits as Casey Adams. I don’t know why.

Max was in a zillion movies and TV shows, He might be best known as the piano playing reverend who presides over Bo Derek’s wedding in “10.” He was also in Niagara, with Marilyn Monroe.

Max, who died a few years ago, was a Connecticut resident who came to the television station many times in the 80s and 90s. Other than being charming, Max was fun to be with because he had lived the ‘real’ Hollywood life when Hollywood was in its heyday and had stories about everyone.

Believe me, I’m not doing this on purpose, but this is how my pea brain is working today; finding relationships between unconnected names and events.

Anyway, Max came to the television station to promote an event. He was doing some sort of theater tribute in Chester, where he lived. He had convinced his long time friend, Debbie Reynolds to appear – and I believe there was even a retrospective of her films shown.

So, Debbie Reynolds, big time Hollywood star, is in our little TV station and she’s going to be interviewed on the news at 5:30. Diane Smith, who was anchoring that newscast at the time, wandered into the makeup room only to find Debbie there with a make-up kit the size of a large tool chest.

“Where’s the make-up man honey?” Debbie said to Diane.

I can tell you, though at the time Diane didn’t think she could tell Debbie, we don’t have a make-up man. Not knowing what to do, Diane said she’d get the news director. In this business everyone in the newsroom reports to the news director. He’s the chief. But Debbie was Hollywood.

“Forget the director,” she said, “bring me the producer.”

As it turned out, Diane ended up doing Debbie’s makeup – something she’ll never forget!

Anyway, this story came to me because of that Twilight Zone DVD talk. It’s funny how the mind associates.

One more Debbie Reynolds story before I go. It was 6-7 years ago at Paul’s son’s Bar Mitzvah. We were in Los Angeles for the reception at the Sofitel across from the Beverly Center.

Helaine and I were seated with… you guessed it – Debbie Reynolds. She’s a friend of Paul’s.

Meanwhile, in the middle of the affair we ran into people we hadn’t seen in years. So, I picked up the camera and motioned to Debbie. I’m sure she was ready to get into the picture, something I know she’s done graciously a zillion times. Except, now I have a picture taken by Debbie Reynolds!

&#185 – Billy Mumy later became Bill Mumy. At separate times, he and I both hosted Inside Space on the SciFi Channel.

Showing Hurricane Forecasts Differently

Over the past week or two I have followed a few conversations on weather bulletin boards considering the accuracy of hurricane forecasts. Usually, if you hear a hurricane forecast, it is couched with mentions of how hurricane forecasts are very difficult to make.

Let’s use layman’s terms: inaccurate.

This is a given. It is a part of my field I wish was better – though I understand why it’s not.

After Hurricane Charley, there has been a lot of thought given to how people in the Fort Myers area weren’t prepared for the storm even though they were in the Hurricane Warning Area. Maybe… just maybe… it has something to do with how we on TV, and the Hurricane Center, display these forecasts.

The projected path is a line and is bordered by an area of possible error, which expands over time. The thought is, get rid of the line and just show the larger area that displays our margin of error.

It’s a good idea and I’m going to implement it in my system later today.

The problem with the line is, it makes people think we’re more accurate than we really are. Here’s an example of a similar situation. Last winter, the news director for one of my competitors told a magazine reporter that her meteorologists could predict snowfall to the fraction of an inch. What probably happened was, she saw computer outputs that went to 2 places to the right of the decimal point and thought, because it was printed that way, it would be that way!

In order to produce forecasts we often make assumptions and use numbers that imply more accuracy than we have. It’s my job to keep those numbers hidden and just show the usable, trustworthy results. She had seen something not meant as a final product and without any background in meteorology latched onto it.

That’s the problem with the track line. Yes, it’s in the center, but to dwell on it implies more accuracy than we really have.

Blogger’s note: I continue to display ‘live’ links to the latest hurricane info on the right side of this page. It’s a neat feed from the Hurricane Center which I update about 100 times a day.

Birthday Tradition

Every family has its traditions and ours is no exception. One of our more recent traditions started three years ago when Steffie decided she’d like to have her birthday dinner at Lenny’s in Branford. The fact that Steffie wasn’t a seafood lover and Lenny’s is a seafood place left us confused at first. But, it was her birthday and her decision.

This year we brought along Steffie’s friend Ali. They have known each other since grade school.

Helaine and I have been going to Lennie’s since we came to Connecticut. My impression is that Al Blinke (now news director at KDKA in Pittsburgh, but then our assignment editor) led the way and everyone else just followed.

There is probably a Lenny’s-like place in every community. It’s the kind of restaurant that has grown successful in an organic way, with little planning. No one could put up a restaurant and say, “Let’s make it like Lenny’s.” It is, for the most part, unchanged since I’ve been going.

They still don’t take credit cards, and never took checks. There’s now an ATM machine, allowing Lenny to ‘sort of’ accept credit cards, make money on them, and still be in an all cash business.

Adjacent to a salt marsh in the Indian Neck section of Branford, the parking lot is gravel. It used to be dirt and as I remember was quite nasty after a heavy rain. Now, for the first time, there are lines painted on the gravel. This is a major improvement.

During the summer, on the weekend, you just can’t get near the place. It is jammed without fail.

What makes Lenny’s is the seafood, especially shellfish – specifically lobster (the photo on the left shows live lobsters – even a box of 5 pounders – squirming around in the freezer). I don’t think I’ve ever ordered anything but the “Shore Dinner” which is corn on the cob, clam chowder (New England or Rhode Island), two clams on the half shell, steamers, a lobster, a huge slice of watermelon and coffee. Helaine gets bisque and fried shrimp. It’s always great.

Today, since Helaine had gotten a birthday cake for Steffie, I came off my diet. I’m down 25 pounds, my goal, and have been stuck for a while around 175 pounds. Still, I’ll be back on tomorrow.

Being off the diet allowed me to have birthday cake and corn (and some oyster crackers – what the hell).

Earlier, when Steffie had opened her presents, she was happy with every gift. Now, she and we were happy with dinner. It was a great day.

Stefanie’s turning 17 was a lot easier on me than I feared it would be.

Seven Thousand Three Hundred Five Days

Seven thousand three hundred five days ago, Connecticut still had toll booths on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway. There was no state income tax. Our governor, William O’Neill, was a tavern owner.

Back then, WTNH was a middle aged television station, owned by Capitol Cities Communications – before it bought ABC. It was second place in what was, for all intents and purposes, a 2 station market. A station with an identity crisis, not knowing whether to be Connecticut’s station or just concentrate on New Haven. It was making money hand-over-fist, which tended to minimize their concern.

On May 21, 1984, One thousand forty three weeks and four days ago, I walked into Channel 8 as an employee. If you would have told me twenty years ago that I’d still be there today, I’d have called you a fool. In my 11 years in radio, I had worked all over the country. No job had ever run more than 3 or 4 years – and most were much shorter.

Al Terzi (WFSB), Gerri Harris (who knows) and Diane Smith (WTIC radio, CPTV), were our main anchors. Bob Picozzi (ESPN radio, UConn Women’s basketball play-byplay) was our sports director. Our news director, the guy who hired me, was Mike Sechrist (General Manager WKRN – Nashville). His assistant, Wendie Feinberg (Executive Producer Nightly Business Report – PBS). In the control room, Tom O’Brien (General Manager KXAS – Dallas) and Jeff Winn (Fox Sports “Best Damned Sports…”).

Of all the on-air and management personnel at the station that day, only I am left. I have survived 4 different owners, 4 general managers, 10 news directors and countless dozens of assistants, producers, reporters and anchors.

Still, I often ask myself, where have I gone wrong?

That’s not to say my professional life hasn’t been good. In fact, it’s been great. This is a very rewarding job and the people who watch have been generous in their support, while my bosses have been… well, they’ve been generous too. I just wonder, what if?

Have I missed the bright lights of the big city? Would I have been able to compete at that level?

Today, if I were looking for work elsewhere, would I be taken seriously? A few years longevity is a good thing, but twenty years in New Haven makes it seem like I’ve been unable to escape.

Since I have been at WTNH, only four of the on-air people hired were older than I was at the time – and three of those came within my first year. This is a business of the young… and I say that even though this station isn’t anywhere near as youth obsessed as some others.

I remember early in my radio career, seeing people who’d been in one place too long, who were now just going through the motions. I promised myself that would never be me. I’ve kept my word.

It is still important to me, after all this time, to know whether I’ve entertained or not. There are no gimmes. A bad Friday night 11:00 weathercast can ruin my weekend… ask my wife.

Even tonight, I brought home a snippet of tape because a few seconds of well timed on-air chatter with the floor director seemed memorable. Every show counts. I am never unhappy to go to work. I have never taken, or needed, a ‘mental health’ day.

I still have my fantasy jobs – things I’d like to do and sometimes even dream about. I’d like to do a game show. I’d like to do a sit down fun chat show. I’d like to fill-in again on Good Morning America. Who knows?

I worry about losing a little off the fastball – about someone up-and-coming who might want my job. I worry about a new owner or manager who might not care that I’ve put twenty years in. After all, in the 21st century, company loyalty is something employees have toward companies… not the other way around.

About 15 years ago, my agent said there would come a time when I’d want to shave ten years off my age. I think I could actually pass with that lie. Until recently, I’d regularly get viewer mail telling me to stop coloring my hair… even though it’s never been colored. But, I won’t lie about my age because I’m proud to have the experience and knowledge that only comes with being 53.

I am not sorry that I’ve made it to 20 years. I am not disappointed in what I’ve accomplished. I have a wonderful life. I only wonder where the other paths led.