By John McCormick
It was Bright with the promise of an ongoing successful auction, and Bright in flashes from the lightning storm passing across the Massachusetts Bay.
As a low-level employee, I got lots of odd jobs from on camera clothes horse during an Auction segment to running the lights for a time.
I also had free time when I wandered around looking for interesting things I could help out with, especially during Auction time when I worked a regular shift and then stayed on to volunteer.
Over the years several times I was called in to Hartford Gunn’s office, but not for something I did wrong. Somehow it got around that I was a car buff and more than once he actually asked me questions and for advice.
That led to even more odd jobs no matter what my actual job description was. The most unusual were during Auctions.
And so, back to the Auction.
The grip at that time was also a welder. He normally set up the lighting and then ran the board when a show was being taped or especially during live broadcasts.
But during one Auction someone picked up a piece of practice welding had made and deemed it a sculpture which sold well.
Since there was lots of scrap metal around he instantly turned from lights to an artist and began turning out more items.
To do so, he left studio control and turned all the lights up full on in all the working studios and went off to make more “sculptures” to auction off.
But there are always unintended consequences.
It was hot and muggy that evening and the heat load from all those studio lights being on all the time was threatening to trigger a systems failure, possibly putting us off the air.
I worked in Building and Grounds at the time and since we were responsible for the AC system my boss came up with the idea that I should sit in studio control and run the lights, keeping them off in the standby studios and thus letting the AC systems cope with all the heat.
I did this for hours on end — it is a simple enough job — I just had to pay attention to when the director (sorry, can’t recall which one) was about to switch studios and bring the lights up in that studio in plenty of time. After the switch I turned down the lights in the last studio.
All was going well and the director had hardly noticed me.
Then, just after Dave Garroway finished showing viewers how to make a tool which would show them how to determine if a skyscraper (or tree) would hit them if it were to fall in their direction*, disaster struck.
We were in the middle of a fun entertainment segment with one of the pioneers of television.
The director was about to change studios and I had anticipated it by bringing up the lights … but just then all the monitors blacked out.
I instantly shoved all the lights up to full on everyplace since I had no idea what had happened and also no idea where the director would want to switch to.
But the director thought I had done something wrong and ordered me out (I didn’t blame him, directing an Auction can be extremely stressful – no time to realize that it wasn’t low light in the studio which completely blanked the control room monitors..)
Of course it wasn’t anything I had done, lightning had hit nearby tripping the breakers on all those expensive Marconi cameras.
But the storm hit, the evening had cooled off, and hours of keeping the heat load down by dimming the lights in unused studios had let the AC system recover so I wasn’t needed.
I treasure my time at WGBH but when a “real” job more in my area came along I joined Wang Labs as a purchasing agent and mainframe supervisor (and in charge of traffic and B&G) at a service bureau in Arlington where we ran one of the largest IBM systems on the East Coast.
I left TV with no regrets but still, many decades later, when I had my animal sanctuary in central PA — after decades as an author and political/science/medical/technology reporter — I did a live cooking segment at WQED in Pittsburgh where I demonstrated my Emu Chili recipe. I mostly did it because a neighbor who helped out at the sanctuary wanted to become a TV news reader so her mother and I secretly planned to get her on-air time as my assistant.
She was thrilled to discover that although his program had ended, Fred Rogers Neighborhood set was still there and when I was being miked she was a bit stunned to find she was getting wired also but she did great and I felt that even at 14 she was going to do well in TV.
Kimmy went on to become Homecoming Queen at Penn State but after a year or two doing occasional standups she met and married a soldier and turned her back on TV.
That cooking show segment with Chris Fennimore around 2005 was only my second time on TV in a studio. I just had no interest in on air work. I was and am a print journalist – that way I can skip makeup and leave my hair long.
I did end up on some news segments locally because of my Emergency Management work and twice on the local news because of the gas well fracking on my property – the wells weren’t the problem, the trouble was the well tenders who kept leaving my ranch gates open so the miniature horses and rare St. Jacob Sheep got out.
Using my knowledge of TV I got news crews out and raised public opinion among other ranchers and farmers against the gas company involved.
BTW, I now live in Groundhog Central, Punxsutawney, PA., am semi-retired, contributing to a professional Science Fiction magazine, an Australia-based international news organization, and the British branch of a Switzerland-based online news service. In my copious free time raising two St. Weiler pups (puppybyday.blogspot.com), I also publish Kindle books and maintain a critical medical news blog where I try to get vital new developments (such as how to tell if a comatose patient is likely to ever wake up) to doctors and patients (criticalmedicalnews.blogspot.com/).
I’m working on my next book right now, a mixture of the latest science and my life with 24 dogs (over 4 decades, not all at once.)
When it is published (probably November 15) I’ll be happy to send a free copy of the Kindle book to any alumnus who requests it. It’s called “Everywhere I Turn There’s A Wet Nose.”
* (Hint, you fold a piece of typing paper you can sight along to see if you are too close.)