Hubs and I were reminiscing about our early years of wedlock. Let’s just call them the floundering first 5. It was the summer of ’69. (Sounds almost lyrical) John was working at the NBC affiliate, KTIV in Sioux City, Iowa as a projectionist. I was a nurse’s aide at a local nursing home. I was on my parent’s shit list, so rather than start another war, we told no one (besides our buddy Dale-the witness) and eloped in Elk Point, South Dakota one Monday night in September. I was almost 19, he was 21. (I’m now convinced it’s gonna last). The floundering first 5 were tough in every category. Getting used to cohabitating, not much parental support, bills up the wazoo and not nearly enough money coming in to pay them, yet when we reflect back, those were some great years. I attribute some small successes and one huge defeat to the gang/job in the very beginning, while he worked at Channel 4.
A highly structured guy named Don who was Channel 4’s station manager. He was well known throughout Sioux City, as was his distinctive voice and big black glasses. (Also for firing Tom Brokaw, wishing him well but concluding there was no future for Tom in television. Ha-ha-ha).
The Rising Star:
By the time we got hitched, Hubs had moved from the projection room into the Control room as a director. Started running commercials during the day during game shows and soap operas (These are the Days of our Lives), and directing the 5 minute mini-newscast at 8:25 am. Soon he was proficient directing the noon news and began producing commercials for local businesses like Toy National Bank and The Red Barn Bridal Shop in Cherokee. After a few months Hubs was requested in the legal contract by several companies when they called Channel 4 to arrange for new commercials to be made.
Hubs was responsible for 2 local programs at Channel 4. Every year during the month of December, various schools and churches were invited to do live Christmas concerts lasting an hour called, Songs in the Night. (What could possibly go wrong with 50 teenage singers and a couple of nuns)? The choirs were lackadaisical about their song timing which really concerned the rising star director after having a couple groups go longer than their time allotments. There were no commercials during this hour. He then insisted they give him their program selections, including the length of each song ahead of time. Why? Because 90% of the choirs wanted to sing the Hallelujah Chorus last-which proved disastrous. Back in the 70’s it was illegal/blasphemous/morally corrupt/atheistic to interrupt the Hallelujah Chorus-after it started. That magnificent song lasts about 5 minutes. The groups could still sing the Hallelujah Chorus anytime during their concert, but never as their last number after Hubs started doing the shows.
The other program Hubs directed weekly was a Billy Graham/Orel Roberts wannabe. Some minister with a huge, wealthy congregation who liked what he saw on the pulpit. (Himself) He’d roll in the lot with his new Lincoln, pop off a few dirty jokes with the guys, then give a sermon on how sinful people are. His hour of worship included special musical groups, famous guests, and his lovely, diamond studded wife, wearing a dress with 30 pounds of sequins. He gave some serious consideration to taking his show on the road across America. (“Love, Brother Love, say Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show. Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies, and everyone goes, cause everyone knows, Brother Love’s show). Preacher offered John the director’s job, going on the road with him. Not only was John completely turned off by this charlatan, we now were parents of Shannon and months on the road apart wasn’t appealing.
There were some quirky perks that went along with being in the station’s control room. The days after we became first time parents, Shannon’s birth and newborn pictures were touted during every newscast. Whenever Shannon and I stopped to visit Daddy at work, a black & white photo session was included because he could develop them right at the station.
The cast of characters he worked with from the late 60’s to the mid 70’s have not yet been forgotten by either of us. There was an arrangement between Channel 4 and Briar Cliff College. Students from the school were hired at a special rate to become cameramen. Now this was not as easy as you might think. Channel 4 had one color camera (the other local station had 2) to do the newscast. And it was the size of our bathroom. Not kidding. They also had 2 black & white cameras for slides and when any of the news or sports were read from a teleprompter, it had to be hand cranked. Literally. There were usually 4 guys doing the legwork on the camera side.
These camera guys were about the same age as Hubs, very smart, but with the mentality and maturity level of a boundary pushing toddler. One of them was a wild and crazy guy named Jake. Jake is the only person I ever knew who actually went to Woodstock. John was telling someone about his brother Arly who was in the Navy, doing a tour in Vietnam and had recently sent us his new stereo system to use until he was discharged. Enormous Pioneer speakers, Roberts reel to reel, turntable, along with every recorded song by the Beatles and The Doors thus far in their careers (1970). Jake happened to be walking by and said he had just bought a new record by a (yet) unknown group he thought we’d enjoy. So he made a tape for us. The band was The Virgin Fugs. Some of the raunchy tunes were, Saran Wrap, The Ten Commandments (they did acknowledge God as a co-writer for the song), and Coca Cola Douche. Lord have mercy. We listened and thought it was hilarious but not very good. We saved the tape and gave it to Arly when he came to collect his fabulous stereo system.
The Brains behind the scene:
The chief engineer, Al was the guy who drove to Rock Valley and offered the projectionist’s job to John. Al was a genius. When Channel 4 was changing from black and white to color news film (the ABC station used color film for their news stories), Channel 4’s owner balked at the idea. Too expensive. He was frugal. Al (the genius) designed and built a homemade color film developer for Channel 4.
The Talking Heads:
Carl, the news guy was appalled when the young snot nose director of the 6 & 10 o’clock newscasts insisted on getting a copy of every story before the news started. If the story lacked documentation or hadn’t been verified, it was John’s responsibility to deny letting him read the copy. Used to drive Carl nuts. Wasn’t a power trip, just Hubs job.
The sportscaster was a guy named Roger, who was in his 40’s. One night John was directing the 10 o’clock news and had cued up a commercial film still frame for the next break in between the news and sports. That was so their bathroom sized color camera could be shifted from Carl to Roger. Right before the break, cameraman Doug (the biggest prankster and worst offender of everything) would grab the humongous circular handle on the camera and slowly ease it backwards, allowing both Carl and Roger in the same shot. Roger would have a short introduction of his first story, then John would start the commercial film at the break.
The commercial was for DX Super Boron. In the beginning of the commercial there was a Super Boron mascot monkey climbing up the DX sign. Unfortunately at the same time Roger’s sports intro was a story on “Broadway Joe Namath” which is the slide that should have been used instead of the adorable monkey. (Hubs fault) But Roger was a basket case. He bit down hard on his lip but could not stifle a huge guffaw which turned into a hearty laugh. Which turned into a five minute hysterical giggle fit including tears, slapping the desk and a bowing his head. He could not stop laughing. It lasted the entire length of his sports segment. John finally broke away, Roger left the news set and the weather segment lasted an eternity.
The Revolving Door:
The weathermen/women at Channel 4 never stayed long. They were like disposable gloves. The station usually hired recent college graduates because they were inexperienced and inexpensive. I remember a nice guy named Al and a neat young gal named Kathy (who got teased mercilessly but could dish it out too) but both were gone to greener pastures before we really got to know them.
Chief Financial Guru who refused to spend a buck:
His name was Flaherty and he was past retirement when Hubs was hired. He didn’t come to the station very often but his idiosyncrasies were well known on a daily basis. You’d think he’d get upset about the 10 minute giggle fest during the sports section but nah, that stuff never bothered him. He had one standing rule that was not to be broken. Ever. John wasn’t permitted to let the NBC network run a Preparation H commercial on Channel 4. I am freakin’ serious people. John got a list daily of the network’s commercials 24 hours in advance. He’d go through it, noting when the Preparation H commercials were scheduled to run. He couldn’t just let those 30 or 60 seconds of air time be a blank screen so John would run Public Service Announcements (PSA’s) while every other NBC affiliate station in the country was learning how to relieve your painful hemorrhoids. He was totally anal about it.
To this day, Hubs says working at Channel 4 was the best job he ever had, and he was superb at it. He loved the pressure of directing newscasts. He was innovative, creating commercials that were technologically advanced, discovering new ways of editing and using special effects. He had an unusual vision producing programs. He enjoyed meeting famous people (Chet Huntley & David Brinkley). But the pay was pitifully meager and we were falling farther and farther behind. We almost accepted a job offer from a larger market share station in Minneapolis but dreaded moving to such a big city to raise our young family. To make big bucks we would eventually end up in Chicago or New York. That did nothing for either of us. But I think he would have enjoyed his work career much more and I know he would have been highly successful…