I can't tell you how much I've been enjoying all the stories about WAAY-TV. Even those from the people I've never met. 16 years there was quite a haul, so I have quite a few stories, some I'll mention below.
I started out at WAAY in September 1982. Interviewed with Lew Koch and took the proverbial "spelling test". I recall calling Lew "Mr. Koch", pronouncing it like the former New York City Mayor's name. Lew said, "Ah, well, call me Lew".
My first job: Studio Supervisor. Sounds pretty impressive doesn't it? Job description: Sweeping the studio floor, ordering/changing lights in the fixtures (trained by John Keel), running camera in the studio (putting artcards on easels for John Stanners, Carl Spurlock and Jeff Davis), and the highlight each day, running newsroom camera for the 4:00pm newsbrief. Schedule: 1:00-4:00 each day. The Big Money! But a foot in the door!!
I was later assigned to other part-time positions…running camera for the news (weekends and weekdays), VCR operator (which included loading over-the-shoulder photo slides in the projector), Vidifont (aka character generator) and audio.
First fulltime job, Master Control (switcher). Weekend sign-on. Trained by Steve Kerr, one of my fellow "Billie's Bandits" (translation: anyone who attended Calhoun Community College with instructor Billie White). Later ran MCR during weekdays and primetime. I remember whenever lightning would strike the tower, which was quite often, every light on the switcher buss would light up like a Christmas tree. You had to re-punch your original source on the air to get the picture back. I also remember the old G.E. transmitter, which we called the pizza oven due to its appearance. And, the transmitter on/off switch on the wall held in place by a jar lid…no, really…a real lid from a jar! Mark Smith took that with him the day the transmitters were sold and hauled away. I also remember loading, and babying, those huge quad machines. Remember the cue-track? Those of you who know what a cue-track is will remember Sharon "Jamaica" Sandford counting down in her strong Jamaican accent…5-4-3-2-1. And the "dub masters" built by Harry Hatfield for the news. There were no commercial dub masters during primetime. You had to run each commercial and station i.d. separate, sometimes using 3-4 different quad machines, and each with it's own 5-second pre-roll! Now THAT"S adventure switching! Harry always built masters for Liz Webb. The guys, we were on our own. Also had to load programs on the old 16mm film projectors. These days, switchers have cart machines and servers. They don't know how lucky they are.
Began directing the 6 and 10 news in 1984 under the watchful eye of Mark Smith, whom I still refer to as my mentor. We even "staged" some newscasts in between the 6 & 10 so I could practice, later referred to as "Mock News". I've still got some of those clips with John Hill, Gary Dobbs ("this hurricane's so strong, these palm trees are losing their nuts!"), Bob Labbe and Heather Burns…reading the news in her best southern-belle drawl. Absolutely hilarious! Mark and Allen Dunkin were both about to move back to Selma/Montgomery. When they were gone, I was directing ALL newscasts, seven days a week. After about six weeks of this, Lew had me train Liz Webb at directing. Funny, less than two years earlier, Liz was training ME to run camera!
I also remember directing the news the night of the '89 tornado. Kip Cole and I shared directing duties from 4:30 that afternoon all the way to the next morning when the a.m. news crew came strolling in. What a sad night for the city, but a real badge of honor for the crew and management of 31. Every employee later got a bonus check for all the hard work from that night.
After eight years of directing, I'd about had it with punching the buttons of that old GVG-1600. Lew started letting me do some producing around 1991 (PSA's, etc.). Just some little things to cut my teeth on. Eventually got out of news altogether and was given the position previously held by Deb Nepolitano. Before all was said and done, the crew and I racked up over 30 Addys...Golds, Silvers, Citations and one Best of Show.
And let's not forget the WAAY-TV Christmas Parade. Yep, produced and directed that too, for 13 long years. Through rain, sleet, snow and hell. But it truly was a blast and excellent experience.
One very memorable practical joke: You may have already read about my famous "loop carts" where I would record myself in the audio booth saying nothing but "Hey!" in a very calm voice. This would loop and replay every 60 seconds or so. We would pipe this audio out in the studio and really freak some people out. Another loop cart event was the time I recorded sound effects of chickens. Before leaving for the night, I left it playing into the studio. Gary McClendon, a sign-on switcher who drove everyday from Albertville, came waltzing through the studio and heard chickens. He then proceeded to call Cactus in Scottsboro at 5:00 in the morning saying "Cactus, there's chickens in the studio and I can't find them anywhere!".
And who could forget all the times we had to "check the transmitter" (wink, wink)!
And, the "31 Staff Cars". Some may recall these old cars we bought from Mr. Earl and Adrian which we proceeded to trash and park along the side of Monte Sano Boulevard (we would move the cars to a different spot each day) one with the word "downtown" with an arrow spray painted on the door. On the other side, "lost our lease, moving soon!", an "Eat More Possum" tag on the front, and "31 News Everywhere" stickers all over for good measure. They were eventually towed away by the City.
Left WAAY-TV in 1998, right about the time many others were leaving…John Stanners, Heather Burns, etc. I just felt it in my bones that things were about to really change at 31. About a year after I left, the station sold to GoCom.
I am now working in Birmingham where I'm Manager of Instructional Broadcast Services & Distance Learning for the Birmingham City Schools. A closed-circuit TV operation very similar to Huntsville ETV, but much larger with 78 receive sites. Two studios (three times the size of WAAY), shooting Sony DVCAM and editing Avid. We're also part of ViaNet, the statewide videconferencing network with over 100 sites across Alabama, and hook up regularly with sites all over the U.S.
Still live in Arab. Commute everyday to B'ham. A real bummer, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Married 10 years now to Kerri. Haley's 14 and a freshman at Arab High, my alma mater.
Thank you M.D. and Lew for all the opportunities and all my friends for making "the 31 years" the best times of my life. Oh, how I miss it.
See ya'll at the reunion,
Instructional Broadcast Services & Distance Learning
Birmingham City Schools, AL