Planning the Next Alumni Reunion

We have begun planning the next reunion, and we need your help!

In order to make sure it will be another experience to remember, we need to know your preferences.

To make it easy, we have created a short, 7-question survey that shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to answer … unless you choose to write a lot of comments at the end. In that case, take your time.

If you submit this survey by November 30, 2017, we will include your preferences in our planning deliberations.

Thanks, in advance, for your time!

Now, here’s the survey! (And if you don’t see it below, here’s a link to click.)

Donations to the Archives

The WGBH Archives acquires materials that help document the history of the Foundation.  As such, the Archives is very interested in acquiring any paper, film, video, or audio materials alums may have relating to their work at WGBH. Contact Keith Luf if you would like to learn more.

Here are a few items of note that have been donated to the WGBH Archives this year by WGBH Alums.

Larry Creshkoff papers

Larry Creshkoff’s staff card came to us among Larry’s personal papers that his daughters donated to the Archives.  Faced with the unwanted prospect of disposing of Larry’s (and portions of Nancy Creshkoff’s) papers and audio recordings, the daughters contacted me and we arranged for them to donate the material to the Archives.  We are thrilled to have it and look forward to ensuring it has a good home here in the WGBH Archival Collection.

The papers are fascinating as they document his professional career from his days at Harvard, onto LICBC and WGBH, to his time after he left WGBH in 1957.  Also of note were over 100 audiotape recordings of Nancy’s early work on Children’s Circle from 1951 and 1952.

Fundraiser to help WGBH rebuild

The fundraising poster is something we took out of storage and put on display here in the Archives department recently.

It came to us from Suzanne Morse back in 1996, and as you can see from the caption documents just one of the many small, but wonderful efforts that went into helping get WGBH back on its feet following the October 1961 fire.

This poster was made by me in October ’61 for the girls at Nashoba Country Day School in Concord, MA, who are pictured in their gym uniforms. A large jar was placed beside it & the students soon filled it with coins. Their contribution was sent to WGBH in 12/61 (I think).

I thought you might enjoy having this bit of memorabilia for your archives — in celebration of your fortieth anniversary! Congratulations!!

Suzanne R. Morse (Mrs. Thomas R. Morse, Jr.) 3/96

Innovative casting process from Science Reporter

The horses were given to us recently by Ted Steinke (Class of 1956-57). Ted recounts that the horses were the result of an episode of Science Reporter he directed circa 1958-1960.

The program involved the studies of an MIT professor whose work involved a method of rapidly casting metals by utilizing a Styrofoam model.  A figure would be carved out of Styrofoam, packed in sand, and molten metal would be poured onto the model, taking the shape of the pre-carved figure.  The goal was to devise a way of speeding up the more common “lost wax” process of casting.

The darker horse, made of bronze, is an example the professor created in his lab, while the lighter horse, made of aluminum, was made live on the air during Science Reporter.  You’ll note that the aluminum example only has three legs (the missing fourth can be seen as part of the base), this was due to the fact that the sculpture was not given enough time to properly set and dry.

In each of these cases I cannot stress enough the importance the WGBH Archives places in acquiring materials that help to document the history of the Foundation.  Contact me if you would like to donate any paper, film, video, or audio materials you may have relating to your work at WGBH.

WGBH Pioneers: Michael Ambrosino – Part 1 (1998)

This entry is part 3 of 11 in the series The Michael Ambrosino Collection

Michael Ambrosino — the creator of NOVA — describes his early years at WGBH, an era of live and live-on-tape TV productions at the 84 Massachusetts Avenue studio in Cambridge.

This series presents authorized interviews with early producers and directors for Boston’s innovative public television and radio stations. He was interviewed on June 19, 1998 by Fred Barzyk.

Watch Video — Part 1 (56 minutes)

Transcript — Part 1

INTERVIEWER: This is June 18, 1998 and I’m having a conversation with Michael Ambrosino. Thank you Michael for joining us.

Can you give us a little bit of your personal history, where you were born and where you went to school and how you came to television?

MICHAEL AMBROSINO: I was born in Brooklyn, spent half the year there, half the year in West Hampton Beach where Dad had another store.

[I] grew up being fascinated with science and did a lot of theater, music.

I was a jazz musician when I was 14, had the nicest set of drums on Long Island, and because the war was going on, I got mickey gigs and played every gin mill and polka palace on Long Island.

I changed majors the first day at the university.

I had been admitted as a BS in physics and changed to a BS in drama, because I didn’t want to wake up being an old man of 35 not having had given that creative side of me a chance.

It was a very romantic death wish because, in those days, there was one regional theater east of the Mississippi — it was called the Brattle Theater.

Of course in 1949, when I was a freshman it became a movie theater, so I was preparing myself for a profession that didn’t exist.

After the service I came back and did a Masters in television and that was very helpful because in those days commercial radio stations never thought they wanted to go into TV … it was 20, 30 times the capital.

At Syracuse, we produced directed a whole bunch of programs that went on the commercial station.

As a graduate student I did a series of 13 half-hour shows myself.

A tremendous kind of experience that you can’t get today, but today you can pick up a little camera and make a video all by yourself and edit it on your Macintosh.

The second job was for the Ford Foundation doing a research project in Schenectady, New York.

It was one of the first high schools in the United States to use closed circuit television to expand teaching.

In those days, there was a tremendous teaching shortage: they had 27 physics classes and 1 physics teacher and we would try to multiply his use to see if we could work out, technically, question and answering sessions from multiple classrooms.

We did French with Madam Ann Slack and we did Social Studies and we did a bunch of things.

I was invited along with a bunch of other people from Ford cities to come to Harvard and give a speech and somebody from WGBH heard this speech and I was working here two weeks later.

INT: Had you heard of WGBH?

MA: Yes. While at my first job at the University of Connecticut, I’d actually taken the tour of the station.

I couldn’t find it, drove up Mass Avenue looking for a TV station, drove right past it, and didn’t realize that it was a defunct roller skating rink above a drug store.

I had to work my way all the way back from Harvard to finally find it.

INT: Who was the person that heard your speech?

MA: Hartford Gunn. He was then the Controller of WGBH. He was in charge of money, dispersing it — we never raised money in those days — and he asked me to come and start school broadcasting for the state of Massachusetts.

INT: So, you were in charge of developing school broadcasting for the station?

MA: Yes.

INT: Based upon your experience with your in-school experience?

MA: Based on six months experience, because I was an “expert”.

INT: I see. This was educational television….

MA: Yes it was. It was very educational.

In those days, programs consisted of a series of things. It was an extension of the educational system of Massachusetts.

If you remember, people came back from the Army — Navy and the Marines — and told Conant that Harvard should start a radio station.

Conant, being very wise, said that [it would] always be a Harvard station, we shouldn’t do that.

So, he got Ralph Lowell to get a bunch of other institutions in Boston together and they formed the nascent Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council.

For the most part, they made radio series on poetry, on music, on everything except art, I guess, it’s non-visual, and put those on commercial stations around town.

It quickly became a real pain in the neck to get bumped off every time the commercial station really sold something, or to be allotted Saturday mornings at 7:00 or 6:00 time.

In ’51, the LICBC put on its own FM station. In those days, there were no FM receivers.

Later on, became the provost of MIT, himself had recorded for Lomax, many of the recordings that are in the Library of Congress of folk singers in the South.

went to General Armstrong and had him give WGBH its first transmitter, which was the prototype Armstrong frequency modulation transmitter. I think it probably had a number one on it.

INT: LICBC, what is that?

MA: Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council. I think everyday on WGBH David Ives talks about it turn the station on at 6:00 am.

INT: What was it exactly? What was the function?

MA: It was a coop. First of all, they charged themselves money. I mean the major budget for the station came from Harvard, MIT, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and second from these groups came programs.

So that Edwin G. Boring would do a series of 15 programs on psychology. The Museum of Fine Arts would do programs about art.

There were no children’s programs, or news and current affairs. It was an extension of the educational process of adult education.

The Lowell Institute was created by the Lowells for those people who had interest, but no cash, to further their education.

They could take courses at night at Harvard and if they worked long enough get an Associate Arts degree.

If you go to the Harvard Commencement, at any year as I did this year, because a friend was getting a PhD., the loudest applause are for the Associate Arts because they know that these people worked long and hard to get their degrees.

INT: When you first came to WGBH, can you kind of describe the place? How many people were employed there and what was the place like?

MA: Dinky. You walked in the door with two dark columns on either side and strapped to one of them was a big bronze plaque, that is in the front of this building today, announcing the Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council.

You went up a flight of dark green stairs, turned left, and realized that there was a telephone operator next to a big telephone answering machine.

It was one-half of a defunct roller skating rink. Under the balcony were the radio studios and what was .. Control A for A studio, there was only one studio. and a telecine room, engineering offices.

Above the balcony were the offices for the radio and television staff and audio editing for the radio producers.

The floor was made of wood. And one day all the males at WGBH were invited in on a Saturday to nail the studio floor down, because it squeaked and if you dollied a certain way the cameras kept bumping up and down and you couldn’t move.

There was in the other half of the roller skating rink an engineering company.

When it went out of business it donated to WGBH three brand new galvanized garbage cans full of old bread boards.

WGBH enjoyed that so much, the engineers unsoldered every resistor from those bread boards and straightened out the prongs and put them in the proper cabinet.

It was a different world.

It had two cameras. old tubes that had been donated from commercial stations so that if you sat anywhere very long you burn in a shot.

You could do anything with two cameras that you could do with two cameras.

When we got the third camera everything was really great.

On Thursday night, we did a live half-hour program from the Museum of Fine Arts.

All three cameras went there which meant that any other program that night had to also originate from the Museum of Fine Arts.

Programs consisted of relatively small things.

We ran from something called “What’s Going on Around Boston” which was a drum on which were listed, on little three-by-four cards pinned to the drum, events coming up.

You played music and roll the drum and then pan left to the other card, and then they would roll the drum and then you pan right, and this was one of the first directing jobs that you had to do.

On the other hand, from the beginning days, the station did children’s programming.

Tony Saletan did music, natural history programs with Mary Lela Grimes, programs that dealt with world affairs, politics— but, for the most part, long series of programs on poetry, music, psychology, science. “Science Reporter” was one of the first programs.

But these were interview programs. Basically staged as we doing this little bit right now. Not inconsequential though.

In 1955, the first mention, in television that I know of, of the effect of tobacco and cigarettes on cancer was done by a doctor in a series called “The Facts of Medicine,” which is tremendous when you think of it and that’s what it was like.

INT: How many people Michael?

MA: I remember about 30 or 35.

I remember, I kept thinking I was the 35th or the 36th employee and we all had to cram into one office on the second floor.

INT: I take it money for shows was scarce and hard to come by?

MA: You didn’t get money for shows, you got things.

You got so many hours of studio time.

You got whatever the scenery people could build, whatever the art department could draw.

We all would rehearse our programs in the afternoon and then do them live.

One of the first jobs that you were taught was how to replace the director of the previous live programs.

There were film and kinescope and live and that was it, with one switcher and one control room. This was a juggling act.

INT: So when we started off we were almost like radio shows being put on camera.

two black and white and then we got a third camera which then opened up the horizon.

All the shows were live at that particular moment.

MA: Yes, with the exception of those programs that had been made from other places, and kinescoped and sent to us, or actual half-hour or 15 minute films.

But not all just discussion. The children’s programs were quite active. Children in the studio, dancing, music, etc.

The natural history program was quite active itself. A young Harvard senior, however, complained to Mary Lela Grimes that she had no film.

Mary Leia said, stop bitching and do something about it.

And the senior went out and bought himself an Aeroflex in 1956 for $9,000, bought lenses and designed his own lenses and shot, free of charge for her, for an entire year, beavers and butterflies and all kinds of the most marvelous film.

Suddenly the second year of “Discovery” directed by Bob Larsen was an amazing program because it had the natural history captured, instead of bringing a beaver into a studio and hoping it didn’t eat up all the scenery.

Charlie went onto produce children’s programs here, got his PhD. and he now is in charge of Ornithology, Cornell University, which is the big job for anybody who knows anything about birds. He’s a specialist in bird navigation.

INT: And his full name is?

MA: Charles Wolcott. He was either the grandnephew or great-grandnephew or had some relation to — Ralph Lowell, himself.

So, Charlie, although he had many frayed shirts, had a Mercedes and could well afford to buy an Aeroflex, but he decided to do it. He was an amazing human being.

INT. You started mentioning some names, I think we should go into them a little bit from your prospective.

Robert Larsen, Bob Larson as we called him.

Can you tell us a little bit of what he did, what his influence was on the station, his contribution?

MA: I think he was the only person from Boston who worked at WGBH, he was the local boy.

He worked at the Christian Science Monitor, came to WGBH as a producer. In 1957, when there was a major shakeout, he became Program Manager of the station.

He moved up through the ranks as Program Manager, became, I think, Vice President, when Dave Ives took over as President in ’70.

He was a gentleman, a learned man, a person who, like many of the staff, would spend days attending courses at Harvard, looking for good talent to be on programs.

He had a profound effect on me, on the future of the station.

INT: What would you say was his most lasting –?

MA: The sense that WGBH did things in an honorable manner. That ideas mattered.

This is a great town for an idea. People don’t laugh at you if you’re serious.

And he allowed many of us to do things over the last forty years that had some fun about them because they went deeply into the substance of ideas.

INT: Dave Davis?

MA: Dave Davis came two or three days before I did in 1956.

He’d been teaching at Temple. He had a sense of expertise because he’d worked in commercial television.

He was one of the guys like yourself or Potter, Al Potter, Russ Morash, David Atwood, who can just do anything.

You go into a stadium and you say, “Okay we put the cameras here, there, there, get the lines, do this,” and be on the air in a couple of hours.

Dave had done sports and music and all kinds of stuff. He was a trumpet player and he had his own fake book. He played in jazz bands.

He did a lot of the music programs. He directed the first symphonies before Bill Cosel did. In the I guess you’d call it a putsch in… 1957, he was asked to take over television .

Bob was his Program Manager and they were the two people who formed the station from then until 1967.

They were the two minds that moved the station forward in terms of television.

INT. Hartford Gunn?

MA: Hartford Gunn. Probably the first real strategic mind in public broadcasting. Always thinking ahead.

The story I often use about him whenever giving a talk is that my first task at WGBH, in which I spent two weeks at a drafting board, was to design the University of New Hampshire Television Studio.

Because Hartford was trying to help stations start all over New England, because he knew that ‘GBH would never survive alone, and that public television had to become more than local, had to become regional, and then national.

We’re talking about a time when there was 12 public stations on the air, when the closest one was Pittsburgh and the next closest was Iowa or Georgia or Houston, Texas, or Denver.

There was no station in Los Angeles, none in Washington, none in New York … this was a different time of life.

Hartford wanted me to design that so he could bring that design to the University of New Hampshire’s President …

so that if and when they ever raised enough money to put up an educational TV station, the President, that week, could be persuaded to excavate the cellar of a student union that was under construction …

so that there would be a place that the money could go.

He was thinking seven steps — I hope he played chess, I never knew if he did play chess —but he had that kind of a mind.

Whereas the rest of us would possibly decry the ability of New Hampshire to set [up] a station for itself.

He was working all the angles, trying to figure out how to actual help them.

In the end WGBH offered all of its programming live to WENH to help them get on the air . They built that station in that basement much the way it was designed.

There was no stronger strategic voice for many years than Hartford Gunn. He hired me on a ruse to be his assistant controller, but really it was to start school broadcasting for the State of Massachusetts.

He knew that that was not in the cards, and so, this was the way — either persuading Mr. Lowell or the-then manager to do it.

INT: Now, Michael I know that not only were you planning, but you also had other responsibilities — with only 35 people there — to also produce and direct, correct?

Tell us about some of your shows, the early shows, that Michael Ambrosino did

MA: Well we did some talk shows, some that went out on radio and television simultaneously.

“Youth Speaks Its Mind” was a weekly program which kids would come in and talk about everything except sex, thank god, because the teachers would not want them to talk about such things as sex.

We did a series called “The Ends of the Earth,” which was an Antarctic research with Father Dan Linahan, who was called the “Arctic Priest.”

He was out at the Weston Observatory in Weston, he was a seismologist.

Dan — Father Dan I guess I should call him — would get thousands of dollars from companies to test their equipment on the South Pole.

He’d get some wire from some wire company and he would stretch out the wire and he’d work, do his seismology, and or when his time was up he’d come look for the wire, bend it to see if it was okay, and write a report for the company and that money could pay for his seismological work.

One day, he did not find the wire. All he found was a ball of copper.

It seems that the Skua gulls had eaten whatever neoprene lining was on the wire and he reported that, true it was very flexible after a month in the Arctic, but that they should find some less palatable substance to put around the wire.

We did a lot of plays. A wonderful woman named Adele Thane — who’s probably now known as the person who taught Julie Taymor of “Lion King” fame how to be a good child actress — she ran the Boston Children’s Theater.

and every time they would do a play, Adele and I would adapt it for television and bring it in to do a half-hour version of “Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn” and a variety of things. Some of those guys are in Hollywood, Michael Tiger .

In those days you could do whatever you wanted as long as you didn’t spend money. You were doing plays by Brecht … as long as you could get volunteers and paint the sets yourself and do all that other stuff. It was a different world.

People said, you know, wasn’t it the golden times, and the answer is no.

I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich, and let me tell you, I prefer having money to do research and proper television and film technique.

INT: You also did a lot of science shows even in the early days, didn’t you Michael?

MA: When school broadcasting started.

INT: When was that’?

MA: That was in March the 4th in 1958.

I had to make a couple of hundred speeches and persuaded about 35 school systems to voluntarily contribute money and we did a series with Gene Nichols called “Science Six.”

INT: Gene Gray.

MA: I’m sorry, right. Gene Gray, Gene Nichols directed.

We did a music program with Tony Saletan, a social studies program, and a French program with Anne Slack.

That was the first year.

Then we hired a larger staff and did programs that were complimentary to the curriculum to the schools, broadcasting to a significantly enlarged number of schools each year.

When I left in 1960 there were 135 school systems that had voluntarily come together.

That system is no more.

It’s now called Massachusetts Educational Television and they do satellite programs with their own facilities.

They don’t do that in cooperation with ‘GBH anymore.

INT: A major event took place at WGBH when videotape arrived.

Can you kind of tell us what was the difference at WGBH from the live black and white broadcast to that of when videotape arrived?

MA: Not much. Hartford Gunn would go to all the national meetings . He came back from an NAB meeting and he said to us all, two things.

“I have seen the future and it is videotape,” and the second thing he said was, “Buy Ampex.”

He was paying us our salaries out of public broadcasting salaries, none of us could buy Ampex except Henry Morgenthau and he bought Ampex.

INT: Basically tape meant that instead of rehearsing six or seven programs in an afternoon and doing six or seven programs in an evening, you would rehearse a program in the morning and tape it, and rehearse a program in the afternoon and tape it, and that evening there would be some live programs and some pretaped programs.

All school broadcast programs were pretaped and allowed repeats.

The word editing was not something that we knew about. You made a half-hour program and you shot it all the way through and if there was a glitch you had to live with it.

Even much later there was no such thing as redoing.

I’m talking about ’58, ’59.

Hartford had persuaded someone to give WGBH its first Ampex and he was always the crusader and then demanded that public television, or educational television in those days, get off the kinescope routine and make videotape programs because the quality was so significantly better.

The Ford Foundation finally was persuaded to give all public television stations — not already equipped — a videotape recorder .

Hartford screamed bloody murder and eventually he won and so, WGBH was the first station that had two videotape recorders.

Both of them were badly hit by the famous fire.

INT: I do remember one show in which you were doing a science show and Gene Gray was taking some hydrochloric acid I believe, may be you might recall it….

MA: It wasn’t Gene Gray it was . …the Chief Scientist at the Museum of Science, who he was doing the program with, spilled acid on himself.

INT: It wasn’t that, I was thinking about there was a Styrofoam cup.

MA: Oh, oh, oh, no, that was not acid, I think that was carbon tetrachloride.

INT: Why don’t you give us a little background because that exists on tape.

MA: Oh it does?

INT: Yes.

MA: Oh wonderful. Cut it in …

Gene was pouring carbon tetrachloride in a Styrofoam cup that was on a scale to do some very special weighing — not knowing obviously that carbon tetrachloride dissolves Styrofoam cups — and it just all, you know, started….

INT: … In a live show…

MA: Yeah, in a live show … to spill all over the place.

But the famous stories of live television were there.

Mary Lela Grimes did let some bats loose in her 5:30 children’s program and they were still flying around the studio at 6:30 when Louie Lyons was doing his news program and they were going in and out of the shot.

We just did things like that. Things fell down or cameras fell over, or you heard strange noises and you just went right ahead.

INT: You want to recall the jingling johnny for me?

MA: You know the jingling johnny story better than I.

INT: You were doing a music show and I think it was a school show, it was about various instruments of various. ..

MA: 13 programs, one included a symphonic orchestra….

INT: And your stage manager was….

MA: … John Henning who is now the newsman, senior newsman at WBZ .

I instructed John to hand in the jingling johnny quietly.

This is a brass pole with about 9,000 bells on it that jingled.

It was an ancient instrument. We were doing a program on ancient instruments with the Museum of Fine Arts instruments, something called a … serpent, a very deep bass horn.

At the rehearsal, several nights before, someone was tightening .. the strings of a 14th century lute and the back broke in two.

I’m just glad that didn’t happen on camera.

It wasn’t that you were particularly attuned to things going awry, but you knew that they would and you dealt with them just like Johnny Carson does and all of the live talk shows do now.

INT: Do you remember the famous incident at the MFA when the scoop was placed a little bit too closely to the…

MA: Well ,WGBH had done previous research, quite literally, to see how much light would destroy a painting.

Some fakes and maybe even some paintings of lesser known artists were used for these tests.

We were talking about three and four hundred foot candles and then when color came in it was five-, six-, seven-hundred foot candles to get a shot and the paint would just slowly drip off the canvas.

INT: It was a Renoir.

MA: It was a Renoir. I don’t remember that…

I do remember — because the cameras had relatively long single lenses — the camera sort of panning across and hitting a priceless Egyptian statute, which ended up as a bunch of sandstone on the studio floor.

INT: The MFA had a department of television for awhile I think that ceased to exist.

MA: They did many wonderful programs. They’d bring a whole bunch of art into a studio and a variety of different MFA people — producer/writer/talent — would do “The Age of Cezanne” or “Van Gogh’s Early Days” and use all of the paintings to illustrate these things.

INT: My favorite story was Brian O’Doherty who was one of the very first of the on-camera hosts and actually in many ways public television’s first star, because it was his kinescopes that got shown on many stations.

He would have everything that he had to say on little pieces of paper hidden everywhere inside the Museum of Fine Arts, so as he walked from one to the next, his eyes would scan to read the next section.

Of course, those were all live.

And another thing that’s not known that the MFA is totally wired for television then and not a lot of people know that.

MA: The Museum of Fine Arts was wired for television.

Kresge Auditorium in back of WGBH was wired for television.

Sanders Theater was wired for television and had a microwave dish in its tower which burned down, I think, two nights after I came to WGBH.

We used to use these as adjunct studios.

There was no place big enough to do a symphony orchestra, so the first time I used a symphony orchestra I put it in Kresge and had Dave Davis direct it for me that day.

INT: So we had a Studio A and then when this other company went out there was actually a Studio B and then we had a bus which had the remote equipment in it.

MA: That was rather late in our life.

That was in 1961. It was a million-mile Greyhound Bus that new brakes, new tires, and they were equipping it.

They put the cameras in on, I think, a Tuesday and put the two tape recorders in on a Wednesday and, I think, Thursday we burned to the ground.

INT; Yes.

MA: October 14, 1961.1 have charred papers in my archive file at home.

INT: Where were you?

MA: I was in Chicago. I was giving a speech for the Ford Foundation.

You may not remember, but in those days ,every year or so, there were national air alerts in which all flights would be suspended for 24 hours and the Air Force would play war games.

I got a call from Dave Davis saying that we burned to the ground.

This was about 11 o’clock and about 12 o’clock the air alert went on.

I had to sit for 24 hours in Chicago without being able to get home, worried to death whether or not the tapes from the 21-inch classroom had been saved or not. Indeed they had.

They were thrown out of a window by Bob Mascone and were caught by firemen and volunteers .

At least we could go on the air with school broadcasting.

INT: Before we go beyond the fire, let me go back to … What was the atmosphere like at WGBH in those days, before the fire?

What would you say … the 35 probably grew to what 75 by the time the fire happened? 50? 60?

MA: We thought we were doing pioneering work. I think we thought we were doing God’s work.

Nobody was watching us, but by god, we were doing good work. We were trying very hard.

Most of us had backgrounds that thought ideas were fun.

Most of us would rather attend a good lecture than a bad movie .

Maybe we were a little smug that the rest of the world who would think that was fun, too, because what we were basically doing was presenting lectures on television and radio.

We were trying to advance the medium, but we had such damn few aids to help us. The equipment was old and outmoded.

We were bound into the studio.

You could do anything you wanted as long as you brought it to the studio.

Garden programs were done with a huge vat of dirt You would plant in that and then you had to clean the studio.

You had to make sure you didn’t it up because there was a program coming later and the dirt would have to be picked up.

It was a nice place to be. We all would eat lunch together.

I had one of the few cars so we’d all pile in and go swimming on the North Shore.

After awhile I stopped inviting everybody except for one person.

INT: You mean there was a significant other in the early days at WGBH?

MA: Lillian Akel was a marvelous .. former journalist who was working as a radio producer at the station .

When I reorganized the office plan, I accidentally put her desk next to mine.

We, and many people at the station, did a lot of things together and we became fast friends and the next thing you know we became man and wife.

INT: Terrific. That’s a happy story.

MA: Yes it is. We had almost 40 wonderful years.

INT: I remember that it was sometimes hard to tell the difference between work and play in the early days at WGBH.

MA: It’s interesting because, after Lillian died, I went through a lot other diaries.

We were here on Saturdays and Sundays, we would be doing desk work and editing and rehearsing and doing all kinds of things.

We were all, for the most part, single and we had no children and we had nowhere else to go and we just were here.

Most of us lived fairly close-by. We lived on Marlborough Street. We just walked across the river and be here.

INT: There was some interesting people that wondered through WGBH at that time.

Bob Squire was one of them,. Maybe you can give us a little history of Mr. Squire?

MA: Bob was a torrent. He was a BU scholar.

He produced and directed, stayed on after that, did some programs.

He did some consulting in Saudi Arabia, came back and did programs here.

He’s now one of the country’s best political consultants.

Just a torrent, he moved very quickly.

INT: Added a certain kind of significance to the editorial staff of WGBH.

I remember he was the one that really established the snappy, the snapping of the fingers.

Somebody else who had an impact I think in the directing part was Paul Noble.

MA: Yes, Paul did a lot of the Mrs. Roosevelt programs, did all of them with Henry Morgenthau.

INT: Paul was also part of the BU scholars, wasn’t he?

MA: In those days the crew — the people who ran camera and did the lights and stage managed — were graduate students at BU who were on a two year rather than a one year program.

They’d go to school a semester and come work for us a semester.

So ,there were two groups: those in school would then be replaced.

That lasted a number of years until the complexity of the programs made it necessary for us to have full time people, so that we were teaching them camera work while we were trying to do very complicated programs.

That’s when we went to a full crew, and then the second crew, and I remember the possibilities of a third crew, because everything was studio-based film.

WGBH was doing a film project in the earliest days and the first one was an absolute disaster in 1957 because — except for Paul Rader, who was brought in to do the project — all of us grew up in live-TV terms.

We knew that you did all of your research, and you did all your work, and you did it Thursday night and it either went on tape or it went out.

But with film, you could always play a little bit, a little bit, a little bit and you could never finish.

‘GBH got a contract — in hindsight, a very silly contract — to make programs about existing scientific projects going on around the world in the International Geophysical Year 1957.

You can’t make a film about something that’s going on, because you go out with a group of scientists, into the ocean, and you watch them drop things into the ocean, and that’s exciting, …

and then you watch them look at dials, and that’s very exciting.

Then they say to you, “We won’t know what the results were for about another six months. If you can come back and interview us then we can tell you some more.”

And so, WGBH had been given money for three programs, had finished one and the other two were relative shambles.

The money came for the second three and Hartford wisely at that point said, “We really don’t know the film business.”

He had a meeting with the entire film staff.

This was the first time that I’ve come across a situation in which honorable people can leave a meeting thinking that two different things occurred.

The head of the film department and his assistant came out and said to Jack Hurley,

“Hartford is such a thoughtful man He’s so concerned about our problems. He really appreciates the trouble we’re having.”

And Jack Hurley had to say to them, “Excuse me, don’t you realize that you’ve just been fired?

The film department is being closed. The money is being given back to the National Science Foundation and this place will never do another film.”

That’s not the story they took out of the meeting. It really was a “Rashomon”.

This building, that we’re sitting in, was built without any film facilities in it at all because we didn’t know film.

It was a long time before we did film again.

INT: We snuck it in. MA: We snuck it in.

INT: If there was one moment out of that early period before the fire which really kind of sticks in your mind as being one of the happier moments for you — be it at work and not Lillian— but is there one kind of moment that really kind of said to you, this is why I got involved in television in the first place?

MA: During one of these programs — “Music for Grade Six” that I was directing myself — the folk dancers were late and I couldn’t understand why they were late.

They finally all arrived and they told me that they had met the nicest man on the steps of MIT and folk danced with him for 20 or 30 minutes.

When they described him, it was clear that this was the world’s leading mathematician of the time, who frequented the steps of MIT and the soda joint downstairs — and I’m blanking on his name, Norbert Weiner — who lived in Belmont, I guess, with his mother….

INT: Lived in another world.

MA: Yeah, lived in another world, and was folk dancing with my students.

I guess that would be one of the joyful things. We were doing things with our hands. We were involved in everything that we did.

We produced, directed, wrote, whatever we did.

We built the scenery, determined where the basic lighting patterns would be. It was in our hands.

It was not as much fun as I think we all came to do later when we actually had huge resources at our command.

Then, we were working up to the level of our incompetency — where we were not curtailed by outside influences, but only our own knowledge, creativity, and persistence.

INT: Was there one major disappointment in those early years that you wished you could have changed or something that could have happened that would have made everything….

MA: Not in those… that came later.

INT: All right, so the fire, WGBH and Boston kind of got married pretty tight together at the time of the fire because we went off the air, we were on the air very shortly after that.

Maybe you might kind of recall, after you’ve returned from Chicago, what you found.

What was going on in Boston as WGBH had been burned to the ground?

MA: Well I walk up those stairs into my office and I suddenly realized…. INT: This is at 84 Mass Ave., after the fire….

MA: Yes, I suddenly realized I was not walking on the floor of my office, I was walking on what was left of the ceiling.

The roof of the station had collapsed. I, with a shovel, dug away enough stuff to find what was left of my desk.

The telephone had melted over an uncancelled check that had come in, good gracious, for school broadcasting, no, for the Eastern Educational Network that we were creating at the time.

I had left WGBH and was the founding director of the Eastern Educational Network with offices at WGBH.

I had in the back of my office a huge oak table that had been built into the wall — it was the former dressing green room table — and it had charred underneath and the water hit it and it bent over.

As I lifted it up, that portion was attached to the wall.

The entire wall of my office fell into what was the remaining of Studio B and I thought I’d better back up and get the hell out of here.

There were a few documents, but everything — all of the research that I had amassed on School of Broadcasting, all of the work that we had put together in developing the Eastern Educational Network — was gone.

The first thing I did was to sit down and try to reconstitute my telephone list because I had to call foundations and stations and tell them that we were still in business, that the development of the network would go ahead.

Two days after the fire Hartford Gund and I left Boston and drove to Maine to testify before the legislature of Maine as to whether or not they should start educational television.

Coming from a station whose fire had been in the front pages of every Maine paper, we had to tell them that we were still in business.

The third day after the fire, I flew to Washington D.C., to do the same thing to government agencies that we were looking for grants.

But we all survived — we are the station, the human beings involved. We’ll be back in business.

We were fairly soon in seven different locations around Boston.

A live TV studio was at the Museum of Science.

You paid a quarter and watch the animals make television.

The Roman Catholic Television Center had a little studio with a chandelier in the middle, so that if you pulled back too far the chandelier came in every shot.

The scenery was built for us at Northeastern University.

There was what was called the Red Shack or the Red Building at the Museum of Science where there was staff.

Management was in Kendall Square in the Eastern Educational Network, we moved the headquarters there.

Headquarters of the Eastern Education Network was two desks, two 1930s-style desks given to us by the Christian Science Monitor.

I think the Christian Science Monitor took every piece of old furniture they had — I think this looks like some of them — and gave it to us and that’s what we used.

Old Underwood typewriters, etc. And we survived like that.

I immediately started designing the place to use for fundraising. That design never got built, but later a group went up to Dartmouth and really designed this place.

This place I think was designed with nine or 10 live TV studios.

Not one film editing room, because the whole idea of live TV and needing many places to make it was still very much in our minds.

INT: That’s some change though and ended up I think with three studios. Studio A, Studio B and little Studio C.

MA: A little Studio C which is a radio studio that parroted the studio we had at 84 Mass Avenue.

A radio studio with glass sides in certain places so that Louie Lyons and the news could come out of there and we could shot through the glass.

INT: We were on the air, very shortly after the fire, broadcasting.

MA: Yes I think the School Broadcasting went on the next Monday. TV was off maybe a night or two.

The Junior League of Boston marshaled every woman with a car. Dave Davis got every commercial station in town, both of them — this was ’61, so maybe there were three…

INT: There were three.

MA: Channel 5 had gone on the air and the engineers brought the schedule of when they needed their own tape recorders for their own programs .

School Broadcasting went on the air with tapes being shuttled from station to station to station where a tape recorder was available at 8:30, at 9:00, at 9:30, at 10:00, etc., and Dave Davis organized all of that.

Sometimes tapes would have to be transferred back two or three times. The stations were wonderful.

An immediate cry went up as to how we would need a million or so dollars to put ‘GBH back on the air.

It’s necessary to talk about Ralph Lowell because I think his beautiful picture down in Cahners makes us think of him as a nice, cuddly man who had the money, and that’s what he gave to ‘GBH.

Ralph Lowell had guts.

I remember many occasions when WGBH was about to risk editorially, or with cash, and it was Ralph Lowell who always gave the support to Hartford to do it.

Many of us have been in many positions where we’ve had board of directors or presidents of corporations over us and it is not inconsiderable to have somebody who stands behind you and says,

“Yeah, do it. You’ve presented the case well. Go ahead and do it.”

And that’s what Ralph gave to this station.

Second, he had command of the names and the bodies of this town. So if he asked you to do something it was hard to say no. He had that much respect.

It was more than just raising money. It was ideas and people, a significant guy.

INT: I remember for a period of time, I was one of the BU scholars who was asked to go down to his bank on payday because Jack Hurley, who was then head of finance, was having trouble making the payroll and Daddy Lowell, as we called him, always able to come forward to make sure that we all got paid.

MA: We had a drawing account at the bank.

On the second day I was at WGBH in 1956 I, too, was asked to present myself to Ralph Lowell.

At the same time, I been reading John Marquand’s book — and I forget the title of it now — but he was about a Lowell type person.

He described how you walk in the bank and there was all the marble and then there were people behind the cages and then there were people behind the balustrade and some of them had desks and some didn’t.

And some had desks on rugs and some didn’t and then some had offices and then there was the office.

I walked into the Boston Safe Deposit and Trust Company, and I saw John P. Marquand’s bank and I was ushered into meet “The Mr. Lowell” in the office as he had so described.

I’m certain he had known Ralph Lowell and had been to the bank many times.

INT: Is there anybody else that was as significant to the ‘GBH and who it is now in those days?

MA: Dozens of people at the universities. The people who gave of their time.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra. Ralph Lowell sat down and had a meeting with Petrillo and got us the permission to do the Boston Symphony Orchestra live .

If any money ever came about it would go to the pension funds, but we never paid them a penny to do concerts.

The idea of a live TV concert of this an entire symphony was just unknown in those days.

INT: The history that exists on those tapes downstairs in archives is quite amazing.

MA: Yeah, Charles Munch…Leinsdorf

I remember we did concerts … one of the last concerts Stravinsky came and conducted himself and now it is a history.

INT: MIT’s “Science Reporter,” just as we end off this hour, maybe you should give us just a little bit more history of that….

MA: It was a studio program that was basically a lot of talk and a little showing.

T hen it became a little talk and a lot of showing.

It then found resourcefulness in a man named Russ Morash, in which it became a lot of showing and on the road, so that you didn’t have to bring things into the studio.

It started out with Volta Torrey as the MIT on-camera host, and then John Fitch did that.

I think those programs were instrumental in reminding us that the studio was out there in the world. Russ and Al Potter and Pete Downey just took us everywhere that we could move.

It was one of the first programs that I distributed to the rest of the stations as the founding director of the Eastern Educational Network .

It was one of the proofs we used that programs that we made locally could be distributed by our network by videotape — because we were not interconnected in those days — and that the Eastern Educational Network had a useful thing to do in addition to the national network, which didn’t want “Science Reporter” at the time and later, of course, picked it up and it became a big national show.

INT: Thank you. End of first hour.

WGBH Timeline (1946-1978)

From “The first 24 years: A somewhat random compendium of milestones along the way”


John Lowell Jr., leaves a bequest creating free “public lectures for the benefit of the citizens of Boston.”


The Lowell Institute forms a cooperative venture with six Boston colleges (spearheaded by Ralph Lowell) to broadcast educational programs on commercial stations. Original offices are housed at 28 Newbury Street.



WGBH Educational Foundation is incorporated. Parker Wheatley is first station manager.

October 6

WGBH-FM is on the air with a live concert by the Boston Symphony orchestra under conductor Charles Munch.


May 2

WGBH-TV begins regularly scheduled broadcasting on Channel 2, 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. Studio and offices are located at 84 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, with remote cables and lighting at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium (next door) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

First program: Come and See, “a progra.m. for young children” with Tony Saletan and Mary Lou Adams, from Tufts Nursery Training School. At 6:30 p.m., Louis Lyons, who has been a fixture on WGBH-FM, reads the news before a TV camera for the first time. Transmitter is located (as is FM transmitter) on Great Blue Hill in Milton; thus the call letters.


First BSO simulcast (FM/TV) originates from Kresge Auditorium, MIT, beginning a tradition of musical broadcasts unique in the U.S.



Sunday programming begins, 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.; in May, Sunday hours are extended by moving sign-on to 11:00 am.


Hartford Gunn becomes WGBH station manager.


First “Boston Pops” telecast (from Kresge).

In the Sylvania Television Awards for 1957, WGBH’s Discovery is honored as the outstanding children’s educational series created by a local station. And Louis Lyons wins a Peabody Award for local TV and radio news.



In-school instructional television service commences with eight weekly 6th grade science programs shown “in some 48 separate school systems in and around the Boston area.” In the fall, The 21″ Classroom is formally set in operation.


WGBH acquires its first videotape machine (one of the very first to be sold by Ampex).


Elliot Norton Reviews begins lengthy run.


A high power transmitter (a gift from Westinghouse) doubles Channel 2 signal to 100,000 watts maximum.



WGBH helps set up WENH-TV, Channel 11, in Durham, NH, and the interconnection between the two stations represents the first “network” of educational stations; the Boston-Durham link will become the basis for the Eastern Educational Network.


Eleanor Roosevelt’s Prospects of Mankind, a WGBH monthly series carried on educational and commercial stations around the country, begins with V. K. Krishna Menon of India as first guest.

A Peabody Award goes to WGBH’s Decisions series.


WGBH programs win six Ohio State Awards, more than any other station or network in the U.S.


October 14

A fire in the early morning at 84 Massachusetts Avenue completely destroys WGBH facilities. Channel 2 is off the air for all of Sunday, October 15, but, by dint of herculean efforts by staff, and superb cooperation from the community, manages to sign on at the regular time on Monday the 16th. Emergency control room is set up in Catholic Television Center (WIHS), which also lends use of its limited studio space.

For the next seven months WGBH-TV functions as the “diffuse organization” — control rooms at Catholic Center, large-studio facilities provided late at night and on weekends by WHDH-TV on Morrissey Boulevard, films and tapes (some of which have been salvaged from the fire) originated, via network, at Channel 11 in Durham, as well as other Boston stations. Scenic department finds home at Northeastern, arts department at B.U., programming and production offices at Kendall Square, Cambridge. Full schedule of programs maintained.



A film on the poet Robert Frost is begun by WGBH, encouraged by Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall.


In a major consolidation, programming, production and engineering move to the Museum of Science, occupying the “red frame building” that had been used for construction offices when the Museum was built; space for a studio is found in the Museum itself. FM and some offices remain in Kendall Square.


Three programs on French cooking are produced in a special kitchen constructed in the Boston Gas Company’s auditorium; as a result of their instant success, a full series is decided upon, to begin in 1963. Within a year after that, Julia Child is being seen regularly in New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and many other cities, as educational TV’s first nation-wide “hit.” She is also the first in the distinctive WGBH series of “how-to” personalities that will in time include Thalassa Cruso, Joyce Chen, Erica Wilson, Maggie Lettvin, Theonie Mark, the Romagnolis, and many, many others. History is made!

October 14

By the first anniversary of the fire, over $1,700,000 has been raised to construct new studios for WGBH; a half million dollar matching grant from the Ford Foundation is the key contribution. Construction to begin in spring, 1963.



National Doubles televised from Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline for first time; obscure Boston newspaperman becomes TV star. [Ed.: This reference begs for clarification. Bud Collins? Please help us.]


Symphony Hall is cabled and lit properly. Henceforth, all BSO and Pops telecasts originate there.



Louis Lyons receives Dupont Award “in recognition of the nation’s outstanding news commentator of 1963.”


Louis Lyons retires as Curator of Nieman Fellowships, joins WGBH staff after a dozen years of news on FM and TV.

The Robert Frost film, A Lover’s Quarrel with the World, wins an Oscar for WGBH.

August 29

WGBH-TV signs on from new studios at 125 Western Avenue, Allston. Building is only partly finished, but functional. FM to move in by April, 1965.


Saturday programming begins with the support of the Boston Globe and Record American.

Late Fall

In order to film the two-part South African Essay series, a clandestine organization is set up with money laundered through Texas, a dummy corporation, and a specially trained African photographer, who mails exposed film back to the U.S. as “Zulu beads.” Cover never blown. [Ed.: This reference begs for clarification. Please help us.]



Julia Child receives Peabody Award.

May 1

On WGBH-TV’s tenth anniversary, the new building, work complete, is formally dedicated as the Ralph Lowell Studios. In the course of a live anniversary broadcast, Louis Lyons tells a story: Lady from Boston meets a new faculty wife, who identifies herself as from Iowa, and tells her, “My dear, we say ‘Ohio.'” [Ed.: This reference begs for clarification. Please help us.]


Hamilton Osgood comes to offer his talents to WGBH, and is instantly pressed into service planning first Channel 2 Auction, scheduled for June 1966.



Julia receives Emmy; South African Essay receives UPI Tom Phillips Award and is one reason for a special Peabody Award to NET.

May 31

First Channel 2 Auction begins. It raises more than $130,000, plays to biggest audiences in station’s history.

June 17 – 18

Channel 2 transmitter is moved to Needham.



Vietnam View-In, a four-and-a-half hour special produced in WGBH studios, includes propaganda films, panelists of all persuasions, a studio audience asking questions, and open telephone lines. Well over six thousand phone calls are counted.


What’s Happening Mr. Silver? begins a year’s run.


WGBX, Channel 44, signs on. The first color cameras arrive: four by the end of the year, two more on order.


Public Broadcasting Laboratory (PBL) begins two-year run on Sunday nights, demonstrating potential of national public TV network.


Following Carnegie Commission Report, congress passes the Public Broadcasting Act, establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which will lead to the creation of the Public Broadcasting Service (and National Public Radio). Within three years, public TV will have its own coast-to-coast interconnection and simultaneous national programming.

MIT’s Dr. Jerome Lettvin takes on Timothy Leary in debate about drugs and “dropping out.” Filmed by WGBH and broadcast four times in one week, the debate becomes topic number one throughout Greater Boston.


April 5

The night after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a concert at Boston Garden starring James Brown is televised live by WGBH on roughly six hours notice. Worried that the concert might provide the critical mass to set off a riot, and certain that cancellation would be even worse, Mayor White gets the WGBH commitment and then urges people (via commercial radio stations) to stay home and enjoy the show for free. WGBH broadcasts the entire show, and then immediately begins showing it again on video tape, staying on the air until 1:45 a.m. It is shown twice more over the weekend. The Mayor writes that this “contributed as much as any other event to the atmosphere of conciliation which prevailed in Boston this past week.”


Premier of Say Brother, the first regular program by, for and about Boston’s black community.


After a controversial play — designed to help students understand black frustration in white America — has all but rips Wellesley High School apart, WGBH re-stages it (with some 11 words “blipped” to stay within the law) and follows it up with a lengthy discussion among parents, teachers and students dealing with its propriety and meaning. It is front-page news for two days running.



In the aftermath of the University Hall bust at Harvard and the subsequent strike that paralyzed the school, WGBH places 16 chairs around a table in studio A and invites any and all members of the Harvard community to come in and speak their piece. And for five solid hours in the evening, students, faculty, neighbors, and other people keep coming in and sitting down and talking to each other … and all of Greater Boston. [Ed.: This reference begs for clarification. Please help us.]


The Forsyte Saga arrives in the United States. Public TV has an unprecedented success: telephone calls go unanswered, social engagements are rescheduled and life is generally disrupted throughout the country. To cushion the shock in Boston, channel 2 runs each weekly episode three times, Channel 44 an additional five times. Thanks to various repeats of the entire series, the final episode will be seen in Boston for the last time in August, 1972 … nearly three years later. If nothing else, the Forsytes give American television viewers a case of galloping Anglophilia (also known as BBC fever) that soon leads to other things.

The Advocates, produced on alternative weeks by WGBH and Los Angeles’ KCET, makes its debut via a national interconnection of public TV stations. Its even-handed debates on pressing national issues ellicit considerable mail (an early show on abortion brings over 11 thousand pieces), and in the first of its five seasons it wins a Peabody Award.


The voice of the Cookie Monster is heard in the land: Sesame Street, easily the most important children’s program in the history of American television, makes its debut. Shortly thereafter, every kid in the neighborhood can identify can identify the letter R.



Hartford Gunn resigns as General Manager of WGBH to assume the presidency of the new Public Broadcasting Service in Washington. Later in the year, David Ives becomes President and Robert Larsen General Manager.


Evening at Pops’ first summer series brings Arthur Fiedler and WGBH’s Symphony Hall savvy to the whole country.


PBS’ first season begins, with a network of 198 public TV stations coast to coast. WGBH contributes The Advocates, The Nader Report, and a brand new French Chef (in color). Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation dazzles the eye.

Locally, more excitement: The Reporters, expanding the definition of “television news” five nights a week; Catch 44, the first public access TV program in the United States; Dr. Sachar’s The Course of Our Times.



John, meet Sarah. The First Churchills inaugurates Masterpiece Theater, and Alistair Cooke becomes a regular Sunday night visitor.


Jean Shepherd’s America shows what the PCP-90 portable TV camera can do.


WGBY, Channel 57, signs on the air from its studios in Springfield, bringing public television to western Massachusetts. The microwave link between WGBH and WGBY establishes the first state-wide TV network, reaching over 90% of Mass. homes.


The Electric Company arrives to take on the task of reaching problem readers. And reaches them.



ZOOM, WGBH’s revolutionary program for and by kids, makes its PBS debut and the first requests for ZOOMcards come in from all over the country. Within ZOOM’s first two years on the air, more than a million ZOOMcards will be mailed out.


The Advocates, now entirely a WGBH production, moves to Faneuil Hall for its Boston shows (and goes on the road for others).



Are you ready for Lance Loud? An American Family startles the nation.


Death of Robert Larsen.


ZOOM and The Advocates are awarded Emmys.


For the first time, the Channel 2 Auction breaks the half-million-dollar barrier.


The mammoth BBC production of War and Peace marches onto American TV screens (introduction by WGBH).


With the cooperation of the American Broadcasting Company and its affiliates, WGBH’s Captioning Center begins nightly broadcasts of ABC Captioned Evening News for the hearing-impaired.



Philip Garvin’s films of Religious America, produced at WGBH, begin on PBS.

On Masterpiece Theater, Upstairs, Downstairs brings back the bad old days and makes them look good.


Science adventures for curious grownups, some from WGBH, some from the BBC, and some joint efforts, give NOVA a breadth previously unknown on American TV.


Upstairs, Downstairs wins an Emmy as the best dramatic series of the season. And ZOOM receives its second Emmy in two years.


Evening At Symphony demonstrates nationally on PBS what Boston has known for years: orchestral music, even without special guests, makes for exciting television. (Also, Seiji Ozawa wears a turtleneck with his tails.)


A former Advocates moderator, Michael Dukakis, is elected governor of Massachusetts.



The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski’s brilliant bequest, is presented to U.S. audiences with introductions and epilogues by WGBH.


After over a year of preparation and six months of production under conditions that verge on impossible, the WGBH series Arabs and Israelis gets under way on public television.


NOVA receives a Peabody award, with special praise going to the programs produced by WGBH.

Michael Rice, head of programming and Vice President of WGBH since 1973 becomes General Manager.


Channel 2 News moves out of early evening for the first time in 21 years, and The Ten O’clock News is born.


Dying, a cinema verite’ visit with terminally ill cancer patients, moves local audiences, and later the nation.

Club 44 brings live TV back to Boston. The two hour show happens in a pub set in studio A, with live audience and scads of local talent and talk.


Say Brother Salutes Webster Lewis With A Night On The Town, to rave reviews.

Channel 44 cuts the apron strings from Channel 2; within the year, 74% of its programming is unique to it — meaning we nearly double the public TV programs available to local viewers.

The WGBH Declaration of Independence — a major capital drive for equipment and programming funds — goes public. PrimeTime becomes a magazine again after a year as a calendar. ‘GBH radio sponsors the first Boston appearance of legendary Soviet pianist, Lazar Berman; Louis Lyons continues a stellar ‘GBH radio career by launching Pantechnicon, a magazine-format show with Elinore Stout and Frank Fitzmaurice.

Kudos: Upstairs, Downstairs wins its third Emmy in a row — and sixth over all. ‘GBH radio’s The Spider’s Web increases the number of NPR stations carrying it to nearly 100, while wining the Action For Children’s Television Award as “the most positive alternative to television.”

The New York Times is moved to ask, in an August feature article, “what makes WGBH Crackle with Creativity?”


Christopher Lydon takes over The Ten O’clock News; the Boston Phoenix says viewers can now “expect to see lengthier and more professionally produced pieces as the Channel 2 news show moves away from heavy coverage of spot news.”

Ben Wattenberg begins his search for The Real America on Channel 2, and we find the ancient Mid-East at the Museum of Fine Arts and bring it home in Thracian Gold.

WGBH presents tennis for the 15th year in a row and World Tennis magazine says, “For the discerning viewer of this sport PBS is the only game in town.”

Crockett’s Victory Garden maven Jim Crockett’s book of the same title hits the best seller list.

‘GBH radio launches Evening Pro Musica, and a Live Performance series in its own studios – and sponsors another live event in Jordan Hall: Daniel Shafran is the visiting artist.

“Stereo television” takes a giant step forward with improved technology: a new kind of video tape is invented which has a stereo audio track right on it, making the vastly superior sound of FM-TV simulcast an affordable luxury, at long last.

Milestones: Upstairs, Downstairs ends May 1 with a Boston cast party which nets PBS stations nearly $2 million in viewer contributions; and, the series gets its seventh Emmy — making the total to date for Masterpiece Theater an even dozen. Emmy also goes to “ballet shoes” from the Piccadilly Circus series, ZOOM (for the third time!), and a Women’s Special: Rape, by ‘GBH’s own Nancy Porter.


Ralph Lowell dies in May at the age of 87. He founded the Lowell Institute Co-operative Broadcasting Council in 1941, the parent organization of WGBH radio in 1951 and WGBH-TV in 1955.

Awards: Upstairs, Downstairs adds the prestigious Peabody Award to its long list of kudos. Ten O’clock News’ Mike Kolowich captures a Local Emmy for “outstanding news reporting” in his Logan Airport pieces — as the program celebrates its 2nd birthday.

People: Michael Rice departs for the Aspen Institute after a 13-year WGBH career. Henry Becton, Program Manager for Cultural Affairs since 1974 and an 8-year WGBH veteran, moves up to the Vice President and General Manager spot.

At CPB, Henry Loomis steps down and Robben Flemming is appointed to the President’s post. Newton Minow is elected Chair Person of PBS.

Milestones: Public television celebrates its 25th year in March, and, in November, becomes the first network in the country to be linked by satellite.

Two old friends return to WGBH studios: Julia Child to make her first new shows in 5 years, titled Julia Child and Company, and The Advocates returns after a 4-year hiatus to continue the debate tradition begun in 1969.

I, Claudius on Masterpiece Theater earns rave revues; James Lardner, in The New Republic, calls it “probably the best historical drama ever mounted on television.”

After a 2-year run on Channel 44, The Club books its exuberant act on Channel 2.

WGBH provides national and local TV audiences with a feast of new productions, among them World, Solzhenitsyn at Harvard, Mr. Speaker – A Portrait of Tip O’Neill, and three lush specials on exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts: Thracian Gold, Pompeii – Frozen in Fire, and Treasures of Early Irish Art.

Local debuts include Dancing Disco (a Local Emmy winner), The Photo Show, Sports Weekly, At Home, and the fund raising extravaganza, Disco Dazzler.

‘GBH radio adds new local productions: Mostly Musicals, Folk Festival USA, Artists in the Night with Eric Jackson, MusicAmerica, and Poetry in Massachusetts.

Morning Pro Musica extends its reach to the Big Apple itself where it is heard on WNYC radio.

A fiscal-year fundraising gap is narrowed in a month-long on-air “Race To The Finish,” which includes the second biggest pledge night in WGBH history as the regular schedule is scrapped for a marathon effort — viewers call in with contributions totaling $92,000 in just one night.

The Lowell Council Ditty (1949)

From Larry Creshkoff

a song from the past. It’s sung to the tune of "There is nothing like a dame" (from South Pacific) and was performed for the first (and only) time at the Christmas party of the Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council staff in the library of the building at 28 Newbury Street where LICBC was housed before the move to Symphony Hall in ’51. (At the time, 28 Newbury Street was headquarters of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The last time I remember looking, it was the Boston location of Elizabeth Arden!)

The Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council (LICBC) was the forerunner of WGBH. Established in 1946 by Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, and Tufts — with the venerable Lowell Institute as the "spearhead" entity — its mission was to create educational programs using faculty and content from the member institutions.

The programs were to be broadcast by major Boston AM radio stations as part of their public service obligations. At its peak in 1949, some three hours per week were aired during prime time in regular series on such subjects as the humanities, meteorology, music history, behavioral sciences, child care, and international affairs.

The ditty that follows was created for the staff Christmas party in 1949, the same year that South Pacific (with Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza) played in Boston prior to its New York opening.

LICBC Alma Mater

(To the tune of There is nothing like a dame)

I. We are out to teach the masses here at LICBC
All the things they might have learned at Harvard University.
You don’t have to go to college ? you can listen to a station.
What do you get? AN EDUCATION!

Education’s what we share
At L.I.C.B. C.
There is nothing quite so rare
As the stuff we put on the air.

II. We get kudos from professors, we get Peabody Awards,
And our loyalty ain?t questioned by investigating boards.
We get letters from our listeners, who are just like you and me.
What don’t we get? Publicity!


III. We have Howard Mumford Jones1 or Willis Wager2; if you?d rather,
You can listen to Fred Morris3 as he talks with Kirtley Mather.4
We have good old Charlie Havice,5 who can straddle any fence.
What don’t we have? AN AUDIENCE!


IV. We can talk about sex … we can talk about crime …
We can talk about drink … or have a good time …
We can do politics … or Plato for kicks …
But two things we can’t do (though we could)
Are the Old Testament and Planned Parenthood!
At L.I. C.B. L.I. C.B. C!

Chorus Finale


1. Distinguished scholar of American Literature at Harvard.

2. Professor of Humanities at Boston University College of General Studies. (Hard "g" in "Wager.")

3. MIT Professor of Earth Sciences.

4. Professor of Geology at Harvard, social activist in the peace movement, and supporter of organized efforts at population control.

5. Professor of Sociology and Dean of Chapel at Northeastern. As a moderator, he famously asked panelists to share their "kindly insights."

Quo vadis WGBH (1946-2000)

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series The Don Hallock Collection

From Don Hallock

Where, in Boston, has WGBH been?

It may surprise you to know how many places the station has called home.

A converted skating rink on the second floor of this building, and the office spaces on the third, were the home of WGBH from 1955 to 1961. The television operation was launched here and, because of that, many have thought of 84 Mass. Ave. as the place of WGBH’s origins….

….but the adventure actually began here, less than a block uptown of the Boston Public Garden.

The Lowell Institute

The first offices of the Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council (LICBC) were housed in small, cluttered rooms on the top floor at 28 Newbury St. The FM station had not yet materialized. LICBC educational radio programming, originated and taped here, was broadcast on various commercial stations in the Greater Boston area.

A couple of years after the LICBC vacated 28 Newbury Street, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (who’s brass lettering still tops the doorway), sold the building to Elizabeth Arden. Today [2000], it is occupied by a Banana Republic store.

Symphony Hall

With the launching of WGBH-FM, the LICBC offices were moved to Symphony Hall at the corner of Massachusetts and Huntington Avenues. The station’s first radio studio was built here, and WGBH went on the air in 1951 with an evening broadcast of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s season opener.

The facade on Huntington Avenue.

The marquee and box offices on Massachusetts Avenue (looking toward Cambridge).

The north side (or rear) of the building facing on Westland Avenue.

Excerpts from One Way to Run a Railroad by Ray Wilding White:

“The station’s new quarters were in the northwest corner of Symphony Hall . Two utility rooms in the basement under the musicians’ room were Parker’s office and the business office… Hartford’s executive desk was a door and two iron-rod saw-horses…

“Two floors up, over the musicians’ room, the orchestra’s museum was vacated and turned over to the station. In one corner of the old museum space, a small studio big enough for , a seldom used spinet, a couple of chairs, and a mike boom, together with a cramped control room and a minuscule announcer’s booth, had been built.”

84 Mass. Ave.

This is one of the few existing photos of the 84 Massachusetts Avenue building. It was taken in 1958 by Brooks Leffler with his trusty Leica, from just across the street on the sidewalk in front of the steps of MIT.

Today the 84 Massachusetts Avenue lot is a grassy park occupying almost exactly the former building footprint. It might be read, by some, as a kind of unintended memorial.

The alley which ran behind 84 Mass. — and on which we all struggled daily to find parking— is a cement walkway. Hardly a trace of the old building can be found — unless you know where to look, and what to look for….

Our serious young guide points to “where we are”….

….and to the airy space which studio A once occupied.

Kresge Auditorium, behind the old WGBH building, and from which the first BSO telecasts originated, still stands, little having changed but the roof — newly copper clad (in response, no doubt, to the chronic leakiness of the old cement one).

The notorious Frank Lloyd Wright lecture, Handel’s Messiah, and Menotti’s The Gorgon, The Unicorn And the Manticore were televised from here as well.

And the MIT Chapel (round brick building on the right) is there as well. This view looks back toward 84 Mass. from Kresge Auditorium.

And here it is — the original alleyway, replete with sunken curb stones….

….the very ones over which one used to drive to the the Robert Moscone “Executive” Parking Space (up on the sidewalk), in which no one else dared park (except Al Hinderstien, when he was young and brash).


From the Official History of WGBH

October 14, 1961: A fire in the early morning at 84 Massachusetts Avenue completely destroys WGBH facilities. Channel 2 is off the air for all of Sunday, October 15, but, by dint of herculean efforts by staff, and superb cooperation from the community, manages to sign on at the regular time on Monday the 16th.

Emergency control room is set up in Catholic Television Center (WIHS), which also lends use of its limited studio space.

For the next seven months WGBH-TV functions as the “diffuse organization:” control rooms at Catholic Center, large-studio facilities provided late at night and on weekends by WHDH-TV on Morrissey Boulevard, films and tapes (some of which have been salvaged from the fire) originated, via network, at Channel 11 in Durham, as well as other Boston stations.

Scenic department finds home at Northeastern, arts department at B.U., programming and production offices at Kendall Square, Cambridge. Full schedule of programs maintained.

Kendall Square

Dawn first broke on “the new WGBH” in this imposing example of textile-mill architecture bordering the west edge of Kendall Square in Cambridge.

As part of a series of lightning moves to recover our footing as quickly as possible, Rose Buresh and a new telephone switchboard had been installed within days in a vacant fourth floor office space, along with dozens of very obviously pre-owned desks, chairs, filing cabinets and typewriters.

FM was given space on the fifth floor (and was the last department to leave the location, ultimately moving directly from here into the new building at 125 Western Avenue).

Life was extremely hectic and work, frustratingly difficult to organize, but the time was characterized by a heady sense of the heroic. Until its next move, to the Museum of Science, the entire station was administered from these offices, and programming originated from a maddening patchwork of disparate locations.

The fire refugees take hold in their new digs.

“Kendall” today, viewed from either end of Kendall square.

As seen from the rear of the building, the offices of WGBH were behind the circled windows.

Bay State Road at Kenmore Square (WIHS)

In a decidedly somber old home on the corner of Grabby Street and Bay State Road, just off Kenmore Square, and not far from the Zebra Lounge, the Archdiocese of Boston maintained a 3 camera, black and white television facility to create Catholic religious programming.

It bore the call-letters WIHS (In Hoc Signum), even though it included no transmitter, and therefore had no broadcast presence. WIHS made itself visible to the community, much as WGBH had in the early years, through local commercial stations.

Following the fire, use of their “studio A,” a large, second floor, mahogany paneled, living room with a tiny music room connected, was immediately given over to WGBH during the weekdays. A small, walled-in yard in the rear of the building was roofed and turned into a master control, tape and telecine room.

At the outset, most WGBH programming originated here, while a deal was soon struck with WHDH-TV to use their large and well equipped South Boston color studios on weekends and evenings for large-scale production work.

According to a recent contribution [1/06] from Phil Luttrell, WIHS/Granby Street was itself consumed by fire in the early 1970s. The building burned to the ground. The Catholic Television Center is now located in Newton.

Clearly, “Granby” is no longer standing, but the spot on which Al Hinderstein stands in the photo would have been just between the white post and the park bench. (Al Hinderstein in the control room at Granby Street: courtesy of Al Hinderstein.)

Here Norm Gagnon (GGN Information Systems) has once again come to the rescue. His apparently voluminous archives contained materials showing Granby Street in its heyday, which he has very generously forwarded to us.

So, here it is. The Granby Street headquarters building of WIHS as it looked in what appears to be the early spring of 1956. Our back is to Kenmore Square, and we are facing the Charles River.

From RCA Broadcast News we have a photo of Sunday Mass as televised from inside the WIHS studio. That may well be Cardinal Richard Cuushing celebrating. WGBH-TV used that same space and equipment for several months until the facility at WHDH and our own remote truck became available. (RCA Broadcast News pictures of the WIHS television facility were made available by Norm Gagnon; GGN Information Systems.)

And here’s the plan of the second floor. If you’re like me, you may remember it differently. Either the actual construction didn’t match this drawing – or my memory may be faulty.

Morrissey Boulevard (WHDH)

The cars roar by here, even in the late afternoon, headed south from the Route 93 off-ramp. We’re standing beside Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester, just opposite the former location of the WHDH-TV studios.

Amazingly (to me at least) the building has been torn down and replaced by a bank and insurance company offices. It had been a very expensive facility, and could not have been in use for long as it hadn’t been occupied for many years before the fire, when WGBH began to use it for larger scale, taped productions. Few people in the neighborhood even remember it.

The WHDH building housed two color-equipped studios, probably the largest in New England at the time. The cameras were RCA’s first color models (TK-41), and will be remembered as about the size, and weight, of a baby grand piano.

At first we used WHDH’s mobile unit which was equipped with black and white cameras. As soon as possible, WGBH completed and pressed into service it’s own half-constructed Greyhound bus mobile unit using three nearly retired black and white field cameras obtained from CBS in New York. They had just come back from the Olympics in Europe. All the labels had been covered over with tape, and the names were written in German.

We were the “back door gang,” parking the bus behind the building, entering and exiting through the loading doors, rehearsing and taping on weekends and often far into the night. Orchestral and choral programs; Music for White Alice, a series on film-scoring with Daniel Pinkham; Tony Saletan’s first NET children’s music series, Sing, Children, Sing; the Dynamics of Leadership series; Epitaph for Jim Crow, a series with Tom Pettigrew on the history of segregation, and quite a few other productions were shot there.

We have no pictures of the building’s exterior. This, however, is a shot typifying the (familiar to us oldsters) programming use WHDH made of it. (Photo from RCA Broadcast News of April 1961; Courtesy of Norm Gagnon, GGN)

Now here, in lieu of the WHDH building itself, we have some photos from a little film clip of mysterious origin. Conversations with Al Hinderstein suggest that these are scenes from several productions shot at WHDH studios soon after the fire.

That’s Frank Vento in picture number one (above) setting up a camera bearing their call letters. Hindy remembers: “When we first went to WHDH we used their B&W mobile unit. The series with Daniel Pinkham was shot using the mobile unit except for one show that was done in color so could chroma key the film clips behind . I remember the title of the program was Music for White Alice. It was the first time Bill Harri
s and I ran the RCA TK 41s.”

Picture number two (above) includes Al Hinderstein, an unnamed Boston University student (background), a foreground man who we still cannot identify, Bob Hall, probably Ginny Kassel, Greg Harney and, in the background, Bill “Woozy” Harris. The production is unknown, but could (Hindy thinks) be Epitaph for Jim Crow.

The last four shots are, according to Hindy, from The Dynamics of Leadership series directed by Russ Morash. The host was Malcolm Knowles from Boston University.

The photo above may show Ken Anderson doing lighting, and the same unidentified BU student. And who’s that running prompter?

Please, if you have any more information on these photos, help us with our research by sending the information to us so that it can be entered here.

Public Garden — Boston Arts

Here, it’s comparatively quiet, even though we’re in the middle of Boston at the Public Garden. For many years WGBH camped out on this location for about two weeks each spring to televise the Boston Arts Festival.

Though the weather could occasionally be chilly and rainy, the talent and presentations were world-class and hugely exciting to shoot (with little to no rehearsal). For the largely studio-confined WGBH crew, the Arts Festival was a sweet ritual of renewal in more ways than one.

From the stage (constructed each year completely from scratch), ballet, opera, orchestral and jazz music was broadcast. The open-air theater sat here, straddling the walkway, right next to the Swan Boat pond. The audience area trailed back behind us into the grassy areas shown in the pictures above.

Museum of Science

In May, 1962 — 7 months after the fire, and countless cab rides and automobile expense sheets later — a consolidation of operations and a semi-permanent home was arranged in an agreement with the Boston Museum of Science. The win-win arrangement had WGBH-TV functioning both as itself, and as one of the museum’s exhibits.

A sizable space was allotted on the bottom floor in the rear of the museum building (which was, at that time, only about a third of its present size). A well traveled hallway ran along side the studio space, and large windows were cut in the studio and control room walls so that visitors to the museum could watch the station’s ongoing operations.

The staff eventually got used to working “in a zoo,” and things went on this way for 2 years and 3 months.

Offices were located refreshingly close to the studio, in what was known as the “Red Frame Building.” This wooden, one story structure had been used as office and workshop space during construction of the museum itself.

Cool enough in the summer, but frigid-windy in the winter, it was located by the Charles River just across a parking lot (now obliterated by expansion of the museum itself). Memory suggests that the “Red Frame” may actually have occupied a pier, similar to the one shown, as it seemed that going to work each day required walking on (or at least over) water.

The station’s new studios had been in planning during this whole time and anticipation became reality in August 29, 1964 (2 months short of 3 years after the fire).

125 Western Avenue

The station’s present home [2000], 125 Western Avenue, was a daring, one-and-one-quarter million dollar project made possible through the imagination and persistence of station management and impressive community, academic and corporate support.

And it was here that the potential, generated by the creativity, drive and resilience of the early staff, took hold, in the form of a very fine production plant, and making of WGBH possibly the most successful Public Broadcasting enterprise in the history of the medium.

Having begun in tiny offices on Newbury Street, and in Symphony Hall, the station has, in recent years, vastly extended its domain, occupying extensive real estate in the neighborhood around “125.”

A huge and labarynthine extension to its space, has been built and connected to the main building by an elevated walkway over Western Avenue.

Having begun in 1946 with a staff of less than a dozen and, in the “84 Mass. Ave.” era, expanded to something under 100, the present operation reputedly employs about 1,500 staff and boasts turn-of-the-century annual budgeting roughly 100 times greater than its 1960 level of $450,000.

Other locations

Unfortunately, we have no pictures just now showing other locations more-or-less regularly used by the station.

We refer here to places like The Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Museum Open House), Sanders Theater (BSO concerts), the showroom of the Boston Gas Company (The French Chef) and the Northeastern University Scene Shop.

Perhaps these omissions can be remedied in the future.

A viable alternative to the vast wasteland

From Larry Creshkoff — 2000

In his piece, One Way to Run a Railroad, Ray Wilding-White observes that WGBH “…was made a reality with hairpins and bailing-wire by the heroic efforts of a bunch of dedicated, overworked and underpaid young maniacs who hardly knew a microphone from a zebra when they started on radio and positively did not know a camera from a Greyhound bus when they went into TV.”

I was one of that bunch of maniacs, having come to work at the Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council (LICBC) in July 1947, just out of college, at $50 per week. (Not bad, considering that I was paying only $48 a month for a basement apartment on Commonwealth Avenue.) My first assignment was to prepare a five-minute summary of news from the Middle East and read it on air (live) at the close of Crossroads of the Future, a weekly round-table discussion program broadcast over WEEI, the CBS O&O station in Boston.

As one of a staff of seven (including two secretaries), I spent the next four years doing a variety of jobs: assistant producer-director, tape editor, publicity writer, administrative assistant to the director, annual report compiler and editor, etc. Twice I spent vacations in New York looking for entrée into the big time, but other commitments kept me from taking the mailroom path to a job at the networks (e.g., “something might open up in October”).

The startup of WGBH-FM in ’51, offered new opportunities. My regular production responsibilities covered a wide range: Old Books, Old Friends, Weekend Trails, and perhaps most enduringly (and endearingly), Backgrounds, with Louis Lyons. As assistant manager for programs, I worked on the program schedule and scheduled performers — this at a time when there was no budget for on-air talent. Other chores included working with the citizens’ committees that were forming to build public support and raise funds for Channel 2.

A Fulbright Research Fellowship in ’53 led to ten months in Paris (accompanied by a newly-acquired bride and two stepchildren). During that time I served as production consultant to the international exchange service of Radiodiffusion Française, and produced a half-dozen specials for the National Association of Educational Broadcasters tape network. Returning to Boston in July ’54, I was disappointed to learn that somebody else would be in charge of programming for WGBH-TV, but along with the others of the old crew, soldiered on. Re-tooling Louis Lyons’s news and Backgrounds programs for the shift to TV provided more than enough challenges as we prepared for the launch of WGBH-TV on May 2, 1955.

The “palace revolt” in May 1957 that led to the departure of Parker Wheatley is treated in some detail elsewhere on this site (see the “In Memory” pieces on Hartford Gunn and Parker Wheatley, as well as “One Way to Run a Railroad”). Ted Sherburne and I wanted us to concentrate on serving the local audience, saving dreams of empire for when a firmer footing in the community had been established. Being fired the day after Parker’s dismissal spared me the agony of deciding whether to stay on when I disapproved so strongly of the way in which that coup had been carried out.

Three months later, New York beckoned with a firm offer: director of a closed-circuit community television experiment sponsored by the Ford Foundation’s Fund for the Advancement of Education. It involved connecting 600 apartments in a public housing project with the local elementary school, settlement house, and public health center — all situated within a two-block radius. Once we got wired and operational, it seemed to me that the job really required a social worker, not a communications person, and I left after two years. I then joined the Television Information Office (TIO) of the National Association of Broadcasters, which was a promotional undertaking designed to improve the image of commercial television in the wake of the quiz scandals of 1959. (During the period when Hartford Gunn was general manager, WGBH joined TIO, the only noncommercial station to do so.)

TIO opened many doors at the broadcast networks, and in 1964, I went to CBS as editorial director of the corporate information staff. Here my assignment was, essentially, as a ghostwriter for Frank Stanton. It turned out to be an egregious mismatch, and four months later I became what was euphemistically called a communications consultant. Over the next two years, I ghostwrote speeches for people in broadcasting and other industries; helped design and write copy for industrial sales brochures; was rapporteur for a conference on violence and the media at Brandeis; worked for two weeks as soundman on a documentary film crew; and produced a film on the application of new teaching systems under a U.S. Office of Education grant to Teachers College at Columbia University.

In the fall of ’67, a new company (Visual Information Systems) was experimenting with the concept of narrowcasting made possible with the recent introduction of helical-scan videotape recording, which ultimately led to the VCR. I joined them as director of project development. The idea — novel at the time — was that TV could now be used to communicate with small, targeted audiences, such as physicians, lawyers, architects, and other professionals, at a fraction of the costs associated with broadcast television. It turned out to be commercially viable only in the field of medicine, where a major industry (pharmaceutical) was promoting its products to physicians entirely through print. The Network for Continuing Medical Education, a bi-weekly medical journal delivered to hospitals on videotape, was the result. I retired in 1994.

All in all, a checkered career. (Even some time in the commercial enemy’s camp.) But for me, nothing that came later compared with the excitement (and fun) of those first ten years in Boston, despite the many frustrations that attended Parker Wheatley’s idiosyncratic leadership style. LICBC and WGBH in those days were something special, and I look back with pleasure and something akin to amazement. Those of us who were “present at the creation” believed that there had to be a viable alternative to the vast wasteland, and we wanted to make our contribution. That WGBH is still here suggests that we were not completely wrong.

One way to run a railroad (1946-59)

Memories of the first days of WGBH

Introduction from Larry Creshkoff

The piece that follows is taken from an unpublished article by Ray Wilding-White and is presented here with permission of the author. Ray was a utility producer/director at WGBH from 1951 to 1956. His range was extensive, including musical performances on both FM and TV, “Children’s Circle” on FM, and “Images” on TV, which brought together in highly innovative ways the visual resources of the Museum of Fine Arts with music and narration, in an ongoing live series five days a week. He also composed and conducted the theme music for two series produced under the aegis of the National Educational Television and Radio Center: “Of Science and Scientists,” and “Action at Law.”

After leaving WGBH, he took a doctorate in music at Boston University. He subsequently taught music in the humanities department of Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, and then at De Paul University in Chicago, attaining the rank of full professor. He is the composer of some 180 works, a number of which have been performed by the American String Quartet, the Chicago String Ensemble, and the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra.

Among his “extra-curricular” activities while in Chicago was “Our American Music” on WFMT — a daily series (366 programs!) produced in commemoration of the U.S. Bicentennial. Now retired, Ray and his wife, Glennie, live in Kewaunee, Wisconsin.

Having lived through or been privy to many of the events described below, I can bear witness to the essential accuracy of Ray’s reportage. As “Rashomon” demonstrated, however, interpretations can vary widely. Here is a very personal memoir. It describes what happened, from the perspective of a highly perceptive participant and observer of the scene.

One way to run a railroad

As it approaches its half-century mark, WGBH, Boston’s PBS station, has built up a reputation as the flagship of the Public Broadcasting System, a reputation derived from the production of such high-quality programs as NOVA. It is, at present, a relatively large and professional operation, and people must think it was always thus — when the topic of how it all began comes up, which it not infrequently does, I always hear a variant of the scenario where a group of civic leaders and educators, realizing the need for such a station, raised the funds and hired a small group of professionals to get it going.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The station was the brainchild of a disorganized, fuzzy-headed idealist and was made a reality with hairpins and bailing-wire by the heroic efforts of a bunch of dedicated, overworked and underpaid young maniacs who hardly knew a microphone from a zebra when they started on radio and positively did not know a camera from a Greyhound bus when they went into TV. I know. I was there.

The station was made reality by … a bunch of dedicated, overworked and underpaid young maniacs who hardly knew a microphone from a zebra when they started on radio… I know. I was there.

At the time, I was newly out of the New England Conservatory and Tanglewood, with some respectable credits as a composer to my name, but much in need of some way to pay the rent. “Tod” Perry, who managed the Berkshire Music Center and would soon manage the Boston Symphony, mentioned that there was a new radio station about to open in town and suggested that I give it a whirl.

I took his advice and took myself up to the top floor of a building on the south side of the first block of Newbury Street where I found the cluttered office of the Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council (LICBC for short).

Here a man whose eyes were as baggy as his pants sat me down at a large, round green table and conducted a somewhat rambling job interview that was more psychoanalysis than interview, a sort of open-ended free-association session. It ended by his setting up what I thought was a dead mike (I was wrong), handing me that day’s Boston Herald, and telling me to pretend I was on the air and to give the news paraphrased from the paper — which I did in my best imitation Edward R. Murrow style. The man with the Fred Allen eyes, it turned out, was the boss and founder, Parker Wheatley. He hired me, against the advice of most of the existing staff, largely because I came cheap … $40 a week. Nearly five years later I would leave at the staggering pay of $85 a week with no pay for overtime and no rights to unemployment compensation due to a quirk in the Massachusetts laws that exempted “charitable” institutions.

Education on Commercial Stations

The LICBC was a co-operative of seven educational institutions in the area started in 1946. At that time, commercial radio stations were required by the FCC to provide a certain number of hours of public service programming; it was the mission of the LICBC to provide such programs on tape. The commercial stations were only too willing to tout their great public service deeds in their promotional material, particularly at license renewal time. Privately they saw the requirement as a pain in the butt. Since, then as now, they saw the only conceivable program as being a commercial program, the nature and possible sources for a non-commercial program were as remote to them as Outer Siberia. Understandably they were quite happy to have the LICBC assume their responsibilities.

Productionwise, the programs could not hold a candle to such present-day shows as All Things Considered, but the content was often excellent, and their very rarity gave them a special appeal. I may be one of the few left who remember the weekly radiocasts by Boston University’s Willis Wager. Wager was a truly Renaissance man who wandered, as the spirit moved him, through wondrous then unknown worlds, opening vistas into the music of the American Indians, Monteverdi’s operas, Elizabethan Folk Music of the Appalachians, or Balinese Gamelans. The 78-rpm recordings were often grittily recorded in the field and just as often scratchy, and Wager was alternately recorded in a tunnel and in a woolen blanket, but there came through a passion for knowledge and its dissemination not to be found in any of the polished present-day broadcasts. …

The Lowell institute had been established by the Boston Lowells — in the days when lectures were a major form of both instruction and entertainment.

The LICBC was not the first time Parker had tried to put together a co-operative of this kind; he had tried the idea in Chicago and the very successful Northwestern University Reviewing Stand and the University of Chicago Round Table came out of it, this latter run by one George Probst who was later to join the WGBH executive staff with dubious results. However the members of the Chicago cooperative got at each other’s throats, and the organization did not last. He had better luck in Boston, where he managed to get the Lowell Institute as the principal backer.

The Lowell institute had been established by the Boston Lowells — in the days when lectures were a major form of both instruction and entertainment. This era was long gone, but the Institute was alive and prestigious, and important names were still invited to lecture. Since these lectures were held at the Public Library, and often during the day, the lectures became the lunch and siesta hangout for the bum and panhandler contingent that used the Library as a shelter from the elements; the great opera director Boris Goldovsky remembered givin
g a six-lecture series on opera to an obbligato of crumpling paper, chomping jaws, and snores.

Getting WGBH-FM on the Air

It was [to become] obvious that producing taped programs for commercial stations was a stop-gap and that the next logical step would be an LICBC non-commercial station. The decision to go that route was triggered by the appearance of FM and its chief promoter, Major Armstrong of the Zenith Corporation. …

As the prime producer of FM sets, Zenith and, until his suicide, Major Armstrong decided to promote Zenith by promoting high-fidelity and with it “good music” broadcasting. Of course, WGBH with its proposed live Boston Symphony broadcasts was a natural. Zenith’s support, technical and otherwise, was a key factor in the birth of Educational Broadcasting.

The FM project also got a major boost from another source, one which many would have considered unlikely.

James Caesar Petrillo was one of the great labor leaders of a generation that produced such men as John L. Lewis and Sidney Hillman, men vastly different in style and temperament but united in their dedication to a better deal for their members. Petrillo was tough, arrogant, not above gangster tactics and often tactless and unaware of the need for good PR — as when he quite correctly went after the cute kiddies at the Interlochen Music Camp and got the worst press in the history of labor for his pains.

Petrillo belonged to a generation, now past, that held the classics in awe and as a result he gave the station virtual carte blanche to broadcast any concert it wanted to. If the performer or performers agreed and put it on paper, the event was then cleared with a local union representative appointed by the National office who operated pretty much on his own. The rep turned out to be Rosario Mazzeo, the personnel manager and union steward for the Boston Symphony. Luckily, like Petrillo, he totally agreed with the idea of Educational Broadcasting and so clearances were strictly pro-forma.

The crew of the good ship that sailed off into uncharted waters was armed with ideals, imagination, and ignorance, and not much else… With less imagination they could not have done it, with less ignorance they would not have tried.

Thus, when it went on the air, WGBH would broadcast, free of charge, the Boston Symphony every Friday afternoon and Saturday evening, a weekly concert from the New England Conservatory, and a wide variety of events, taped for later broadcast, from Sanders Theatre in Harvard, the Museum of Fine Arts, MIT, and other locations. Lowell may claim the fame but Zenith and Petrillo really put the station on the air.

The crew of the good ship that sailed off into uncharted waters was armed with ideals, imagination, and ignorance, and not much else. They all believed that they could change broadcasting for the better and if, sadly, we now know that most of broadcasting has changed for the worse, some changes did happen and much of it can be traced back to that gallant little crew. With less imagination they could not have done it, with less ignorance they would not have tried.

The Original Staff

There was Larry: slender, nervous and intense and an inveterate tinkerer; the engineers hid things when he came into sight. There was Hartford: the perfect Harvard MBA business school preppie who, for all his neat attire, got nowhere with the ladies and resented the more flamboyant social life of the others. Larry and Hartford were recruited from the Harvard student radio station and this and Larry’s four years at Newbury Street qualified them to be Program and Business Manager respectively.

Jordan was unique. Tall, long faced, slightly balding, he kept himself in perfect shape and dressed with meticulously studied carelessness — tight fitting slacks, spotless tennis shoes, a shirt with its sleeves rolled back with mathematical precision. His most salient characteristic was a voice like a cross between a fog horn and a bull in heat. He was one of the few who never did announcing duty. Jordan was also a Harvard man and was recruited into the music staff on the basis of a huge record collection.

Nancy M (not to be confused with Nancy H) was the station beauty; she may not have been hired because her father was a Harvard professor, but it didn’t hurt. Midwestern Wheatley was in total awe of Harvard and this tended to reflect on the station’s psyche. In one way or another the little red schoolhouse, as Harvard was affectionately known, had a pervasive influence. The station’s transmitter was on the Great Blue Hill (hence the call letters, though wits said they stood for God Bless Harvard) partly because the hill was the highest piece of land in the Boston area and partly because it was on the grounds of the Harvard Meteorological Observatory.

I, of course, was not Harvard; nor was Production Manager Ralph, a phlegmatic counterpart of the wiry Larry; or Jan, who was just looking for an office job and found herself editing tape; or Jack or Andy who very shortly left for greener pastures, one to eventually head a religious station, and the other for the Ford Foundation’s new Omnibus project.

The engineers were a group apart; they were the working stiffs of the station; unionized, higher paid, and as totally bemused by the whole circus as an Allman Brothers roadie setting up the Joffrey Ballet. The two exceptions were Gabe, a free spirit far ahead of his time, and Bill, the nicest guy at the station and the only really well-read radio engineer I have ever met.

Starting Pains

We opened on Saturday, October 6, 1951, with an evening broadcast of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s season opener, after which we shut down. Regular, if you could call it that, broadcasting started on Sunday, and Larry remembers it well because the evening feature was the BBC World Theatre Hamlet, which came to us on the big transcription discs and in this case they were defective. Larry got through by phone to Basil Thornton, the BBC Honcho in New York, who took a fresh set personally down to Grand Central Station and persuaded a conductor on the Boston train to take the package with him. Larry met him at South Station, further decorated his palm, took the transcriptions back to the station, auditioned them and put Hamlet on the air. However, “To Be or Not To Be” was not to be since the transmitter chose this time to break down.

When the microwave link went down … we shipped a producer, announcer, sandwiches, etc., and the day’s programming on reel-to-reel tape out to the transmitter to spend a day of monastic peace and tranquility far from the madding crowd at the Hall.

The transmitter, I might add, had a mind of its own and, if it didn’t go down, the microwave link — did. In the first case we were out of luck, in the second we shipped a producer, announcer, sandwiches, etc., and the day’s programming on reel-to-reel tape out to the transmitter to spend a day of monastic peace and tranquility far from the madding crowd at the Hall.

Work Environment

The station’s new quarters were in the northwest corner of Symphony Hall. Two utility rooms in the basement under the musicians’ room were Parker’s office and the business office, where my first assignment in the field of radio broadcasting was to nail together a large work table from some old Boston Pops tables and some sheets of plywood (what! and quit show business?). Hartford’s executive desk was a door and two iron-rod saw-horses (The same two horses with a new door are today the retouching table in my photo-workshop). Two floors up, over the musicians’ room, the orchestra’s museum was vacated and turned over to the station. …

In one corner of the old museum space, a sm
all studio big enough for the old round Newbury Strippable, a seldom used spinet, a couple of chairs, and a mike boom, together with a cramped control room and a minuscule announcer’s booth, had been built.

Knowing that the Symphony would be blasting away at all hours right next door, expert consultants were brought in and great pains were taken to soundproof the walls of the studio. The job was very well done; even at Mahler’s best, not a peep from the hall could be heard in the studio. The designers and consultants, however, forgot that the musicians’ room was directly below and they didn’t do a thing about the floor; only too late did we find out that downstairs was the favorite place for the tuba player to practice. Though many a red-faced producer/director asked him to move, many an interview wound up with an oom-pah obbligato.

The rest of the upstairs space was filled by the production staff and their desks or, in some cases, doors and saw-horses (the engineers had their own small den), the tape library (there was no record library) and a bank of rack mounted Magnecord tape machines used for editing tape.

Ah yes! the Magnecorders, or Maggies for short. The station had a fleet of them and they were the backbone of the operation and every backbone in the station knew it. Built like Mack trucks and weighing almost as much, they came in two solid 8″ by 18″ by 12″ boxes, one for the tape drive and one for the amplifier, that you could drop down a flight of stairs without damage. They were built to last, which is more than you could say for the poor operator. If you went on a remote (and the station practically lived on them) you had a Maggie box and probably a mike stand in each hand and a large rucksack full of cables, connectors, mikes, tapes, tools and what-have-you on your back. To get the full impact of this we must look at one aspect of the station’s programming.

The Lectures of Academe

Parker took the “Educational” in Educational Broadcasting very seriously. Thus a number of college professors were talked into putting their courses on the air. We are not talking radio adaptations or in-studio recordings here, but straight, in-the-classroom, as-it-happened, taped courses all the way through from “Welcome, the required text is…” to “The final exam will be….” Thus a crew of one loaded down like a marine on discipline detail would, rain or shine, tear out to Harvard or BU or wherever and huff and puff down corridors and up flights of stairs (elevators, like the police, had a knack of not being available when you needed them) in order to set up and record an exhilarating hour of geology, then tear down and huff and puff to the next exciting event.

If the professors were not always balls of fire, they were, to be fair to them, a co-operative and long-suffering bunch. This was years before those dinky little tie-clip things you see Gumbel put on, and the cordless mike belonged with Dick Tracy’s wrist radio, still science fiction. The workhorse microphone was the “saltshaker” or “bullet” mike that was about the size and weight of a slightly ovoid billiard ball.

The first try was to put it on a stand on the professor’s desk, but professors don’t stay put. Thus the professor’s voice would drift in from China and drift off to Europe as he paced the floor. Then someone thought of putting the mike in a reflector — looking something like a three-foot-wide satellite dish — and chasing him around like a follow-spot from the back of the class; this tactic got us fairly consistently on-mike if you consider the sound of the Carlsbad Caverns on-mike.

The halter microphone … was an ungainly piece of pipe that hung around the neck and curved out and back from the chest with the mike on the end which gave the impression that the professor was trying to charm a fairly large and rather bad-tempered snake.

Then someone came up with the halter. This was an ungainly piece of pipe that hung around the neck and curved out and back from the chest with the mike on the end which gave the impression that the professor was trying to charm a fairly large and rather bad-tempered snake. The halter was, understandably, unpopular. The whole problem was never really solved until Altec came out with a small mike (the “lipstick” or “pencil” mike) that could be hung from the neck.

As time went by the system was automated. A microphone, cable, and an amplifier were permanently left in the classroom in a locked box, to which the professor had a key. Through a dial system taken from a rotary phone, and using the same system of stepping-switches, the control room could turn the amplifier on or off. With patience and perseverance, a sufficient number of professors were trained to jump through these electronic hoops, and trips with the Maggies became mercifully rarer.

Many a Splice

Though co-operative, the professors were by no means up on microphone technique — it’s not one of those things that gets pushed very hard in graduate studies. They snorted and coughed and hemmed and hawed and occasionally knocked their pipes out on the mike stand and all of this acoustical garbage had to be edited out.

This was done with a grease pencil, a pair of scissors, and splicing tape at one of the editing setups. This was a Maggie PT6 mounted at seat level with a shelf in front, the amplifier mounted below it, and an additional feed and take-up mechanism to handle large reels mounted above it. Since the heads were exposed and stuck out horizontally and there was no brake to stop the tape when you cut it, the setup was ideal. When we found out that there were such things as splicing blocks, we had all become so good without them that they were never bought. And we were good, damned good, at editing anything — even, when necessary, reconstituting fouled up passages and doing some acoustical cosmetic surgery.

There was one catch with the editing machines; when rewinding the tape, the speed kept increasing as it does for all reel-to-reel machines. The large reels, in particular, could work up a hell of a head of steam; the metal flanges could literally take a finger off. Tension being slightly uneven on those early machines, slowing down by turning the tape off and on was asking for a tangle of tape that would be beyond salvage, so we had to let it run out, splattering a small shower of tape fragments as it did so (long leaders were a must). Then we turned it off and deftly used our bunched fingers on the hub to slow it down, a feat of derring-do we all got good at with only minor flesh wounds.

Reaching Out

As time passed, WGBH went after, and got, grants to originate specific programs or series such as a docudrama on Soviet factories or “They Bent Our Ear,” dramatizations taken from writings about America by early European visitors to the Republic — Dickens, Trollope, and others.

One program involved a fairly complicated procedure. Questions would be put to Americans and the taped answers would be sent to a variety of European stations who would play them to locals, record their answers, and send them to us. All of this, and some commentary, would be edited into a cohesive whole by Ralph, the program’s producer.

There was a hitch. Standards and quality control were variable throughout the world and the tapes that came back had slight but obnoxious variations in speed. Ever the gadgeteer, Larry found a way to alter the speed on a Maggie, a very laborious procedure that also wrecked the poor Maggie. After hours of work, Ralph and Larry got what they needed and, after more hours of editing, Ralph got his program completely assembled on a large reel on one of the editing machines. With a sigh of relief, he clicked the switch to rewind. The tape cranked up to high speed
and then suddenly jammed — and feet upon feet of tape were sprayed out in tiny fragments throughout the room; the rest of the tape was spaghetti. Ralph did not openly burst into tears, in my opinion an extraordinary feat of self-control.

Feet upon feet of tape were sprayed out in tiny fragments throughout the room; the rest of the tape was spaghetti. Ralph did not openly burst into tears, in my opinion an extraordinary feat of self-control.

The station went on the air for a limited number of late afternoon and evening hours each day. Nearly all the programming was produced in-house, and this put a severe strain on the small staff and limited resources. The source material, be it remote or in-studio, was all from the Boston area, which made it a truly local station; however, all programs had to be affiliated with one or another of the members which, of course, ruled out some interesting possibilities.

This could be gotten around the Spanish have the saying “Hecha la ley, hecha la trampa” (Made the law, made the trick). Nat Hentoff was, at the time, an announcer on a local commercial station which let him do a late night jazz show on his own hook (good jazz broadcasts were even rarer then than now). We had been using Nat as a part-time announcer and we wanted him to do a series called The Evolution of Jazz, but the commercial station was certainly not an LICBC member. Nat, however, was a graduate of Northeastern University, a smaller and hungry member which had, so far, had little to offer. They promptly appointed him an honorary faculty member and put their blessing on the program. A wonderful series was the result and one, by the way, that gave jazz historians the term “mainstream” without which Gunther Schuller’s term “Third Stream” could not have been invented.

Later, at the time we were on TV, George Wein, the owner/operator of the two major jazz clubs in town, Storyville and Mahogany Hall, finagled an appointment to teach a course at Boston University on the history of jazz. A sometime pianist and an expert booker and operator — he would later be the prime mover of the Newport Jazz Festival — he was, however, no scholar. So he struck up an arrangement with me and borrowed Hentoff’s tapes, two at a time, from the station through me and used them as the basis of his course. The students were happy, George was happy, the station was none the wiser, and I got carte-blanche at both jazz clubs, which made me happy.

Music for the Millions

The broadcasts of the Boston Symphony were the jewels in the crown followed by all the other live and taped concerts in town. Of the in-house non-music programs, the two that rose to the top were Louis Lyons and Children’s Circle, followed by a melange of talk, talk plus records, round tables, remotes of conferences, lectures, poetry, theatre, and so on; it got so hardly anybody could open his mouth or his instrument case in Boston without a mike and a Maggie popping up in front of it.

The exceptions to the in-house programs were transcriptions from France and from the BBC, but the latter had yet to admit Educational and later Public Broadcasting into the British Empire. Following the Hamlet problem, all transcriptions were being auditioned; one of my very first assignments was to audition a BBC transcription of Ibsen’s The Doll’s House with an all-star cast; if this was what I was being paid for, I figured I was robbing the station. No such luck. Within a week I had joined the ranks of the overworked, and time pressures brought an end to all such auditioning.

One thing we did get from the BBC was the coronation of HM Elizabeth II, a day-long, wall-to-wall coverage of the event which, for some reason I now forget, Parker saw fit to re-broadcast not once but, like a royal I Love Lucy, six times. One spot stuck in everybody’s mind; this was not the moment of coronation, not the magnificent Walton music, not the new queen’s words, but a fatuous Arthur Treacher of a BBC announcer saying, as the parade passed by, “Ah! There is nothing quite like the splendor of horses!” Somehow it seemed to sum up the collapse of the British Empire in a nutshell.

And finally, to round out the programming picture, there were, of course, the courses. All told an ambitious schedule; it leaned heavily on the word “educational” and may have been a bit dry on that account but, certainly, it saw its audience as intelligent and mature. It was a far cry from the present plague of too many cooks, English comedians good and bad, and fix-its of every stripe; concessions to the middlebrow, let alone commercial bottom-of-the-barrel, were not in Parker’s vocabulary.

Each day at six our listeners got to drop onions in their Gibsons to the sounds of the Australian Didjeridoo, Tibetan monks or Chippewa love songs.

Parker’s idea of concession can be seen in our dinner, or better, cocktail hour, music program. This was not your usual breeze from Windham Hill which in those days would have been David Rose or Percy Faith. These were the years when Moses Asch was turning out his wonderful Ethnic Folkways recordings as if there were no tomorrow and Parker thought that, in keeping with our mission of being educational, one could mix drink and erudition at the same time and get smashed and sophisticated in one blow. So each day at six our listeners got to drop onions in their Gibsons to the sounds of the Australian Didjeridoo, Tibetan monks or Chippewa love songs.

Star Attraction: The BSO

The Boston Symphony, as I have said, was the jewel in the crown. Because of its drawing power and prestige, it was crucial to our success in those early weeks. NBC had organized its prestigious symphony under the baton of Arturo Toscanini, and CBS had imitated it (with less eclat) with Bernard Hermann; but nobody had done regular, live broadcasts of a major orchestra. Not only the administration but also every member of the orchestra had to agree, and getting all of that was no easy task, musicians being the most crassly materialistic of all artists.

Also this was the dawning of the age of high fidelity, when the dream of hearing a concert as it actually sounded in the hall (whatever that is) was really coming true; the day was yet to come when the term Hi-Fi meant any piece of Japanese junk. New technologies for pickup (condenser mikes), for recording (tape and LP), and for playback (bass reflex speakers), were emerging daily, and with them came a new language and a fanatic sub-culture of hi-fi nuts who monitored and calibrated every wiggle of the wave-shape the Symphony broadcast, from its highest highs to its lowest lows. The Symphony broadcasts were essays in culture, aesthetic experiences, and audio laboratories all in one.

To make the broth even richer, across the river the MIT Acoustics Lab was at its peak and more than ready to contribute a few more cooks. Everything about the Symphony broadcasts was touchy and had to be handled with kid gloves. When the opening broadcasts went off without a hitch, the collective sigh of relief blew off toupees in Providence, R. I.

Maureen, tall, slender, and up-tight, was the first producer of the Symphony broadcasts. She was dedicated but she lacked the musical wherewithal. Eventually Maureen was replaced by Gene, a smart-alecky New Yorker and a gin rummy shark. He lasted one season and his demise was not entirely his fault, but he was powerless to do anything about it. The single-mike pickup philosophy, which said that one microphone exactly placed gave the best results, was the recording credo of the day; to be sure to get the correct placement, the Symphony’s rehearsals were all carefully monitored.

The broadcast of the Bolero became a drum solo
with a slowly vanishing orchestral obbligato and the whole hi-fi subculture was up in arms.

The conductor at the time was Charles Munch who was notoriously unpredictable. One Friday Ravel’s Bolero was on the program and at the last minute Munch had a brainstorm. The snare drummer, he said to himself, is the real star of the piece, so he moved him down to the soloist’s position next to the podium and directly under the single microphone. The first the aghast Gene got to know of this was when the drummer, Harold Farberman, took his position. The broadcast of the Bolero became a drum solo with a slowly vanishing orchestral obbligato and the whole hi-fi subculture was up in arms. Though it was entirely Munch’s fault, there was no way anybody was going to come out and say so.

The third man to get the job was Jordan. He was the right man for the job, and he had the advantage of having learned from watching two years’ worth of other people’s mistakes. He stayed in charge of the Symphony broadcasts for many years.

The Talk-free Intermission

With the Symphony broadcasts, Parker came up with his most inspired and controversial idea. The problem was what to do with the intermissions. The standard solution was, and usually still is, to fill it with all kinds of inane gabble, and this was quite unacceptable to Parker. His solution was simplicity itself; long before Tom Lehrer’s dictum “If a man has nothing to say, the least he can do is shut up,” Parker said we will do nothing. The mike was turned up and one listened to crowd noise just as the people in the hall did. He had to fight for this idea, even with his own staff, but in the end he was right.

The idea was integral to Parker’s philosophy of “Do it the way it is.” The concept applied to concerts where, unlike commercial practice, nothing was cut, not even the encores. Thus, when recording a concert for later broadcast, we always got the names of the encores from the performer after the concert. After her Jordan Hall concert, pianist Nicole Henriot slipped through our fingers and was halfway back to France before we noticed she was leaving us with four unidentified encores.

With a little thought we nailed the first three, but the fourth drew a blank. We shanghaied a whole parade of Symphony members and had them listen to it with no results; then we went across the hall and recruited management: Manager Perry, Personnel Manager Mazzeo, Program Annotator Burke, et al., still with no results, until finally Leonard Burkat said: “Why not just say that it’s the Impromptu in A flat Major, opus 53, Number 5 by Caesar Cui?” Why not indeed, and not a peep was heard from our listeners who were famous for not letting anything get by. So, to this day, as far as I (or anybody else) is concerned, that fool piece is the Impromptu in A flat Major, opus 53 Number 5 by Caesar Cui, which Cui never wrote.

Remotes: The Technical Challenges

Since the Orchestra recorded there, Symphony Hall was properly equipped for the purpose. Not so the rest of our musical venues.

The New England Conservatory had agreed to do a weekly Wednesday night broadcast by students and faculty members. Being a graduate of the school, I was given the assignment which, like all assignments, carried the thundering title Producer/Director. The Conservatory end of the broadcasts was handled by Jean Demos, a wonderful lady, beloved by all and one of the very few deans I have met with a ticket to heaven and not to hell. The programs were well planned and prepared, and students and faculty gave their all — sometimes a bit too much.

Felix Wolfes was a German musician of the old school and looked much like “Cuddles” Zakal; an old bachelor living only for music of which he had an encyclopaedic knowledge, and neglectful of anything but his one love. His concerts from the vocal repertoire were Wagnerian in length and filled with such arcana as a whole act from an opera by Pfitzner. Three hours was minimum and at intermission, oblivious of the broadcast, he would retire to his room for a nap; when after a half-hour the already meager “crowd noise” had dwindled to silence, I finally had to go and wake him in the face of Parker’s dogma that all faculty and what they did were sacred.

Only once did we cancel a concert. Ten minutes before air time, Arnold Moss, scheduled to narrate L’Histoire du Soldat, declared that he had not been properly cleared and refused to go on. It was a blessing since I was running a fever of 104. I told the engineer to pack up, let the station fill as it could, went home, called the doctor and found that I had viral pneumonia; I was out four weeks. Arnold, I love you!

Once Jean Demos had set up the program, I had to obtain the clearances, write the script, tote and help set up and tear down, run the broadcast and, on occasion, also announce myself — sometimes literally; I once announced a concert with a work of my own on it.

Back then, performers were only just coming to terms with, and were understandably leery of, the creeping technological invasion of their sacred playing space.

The Conservatory’s Jordan Hall concerts were live so we only took over, and later permanently installed, an amplifier, mikes, and other gear. To set up we had to drop stage lines, climb over catwalks, play catch from the balcony and generally improvise until, slowly, permanent solutions were developed — all of this to get a good sound while staying as invisible as possible. Modern rock performance has not only inured us to the forest of sound equipment, it has made it part of the event. Back then, performers were only just coming to terms with, and were understandably leery of, the creeping technological invasion of their sacred playing space.

Problems were similar at another favored venue, Sanders Theatre, a peculiar structure inside an even more peculiar High Victorian structure built to have a romantic silhouette by moonlight which is Harvard’s Civil War memorial. By happenstance it had the best acoustics in town; it also had a booth of sorts but no telephone line and no way to hang anything. Larry came up with a laundry line of the pulley type you run between apartment balconies and ran it from the balcony to the useless (since there were never any minstrels) Minstrel’s Gallery over the stage. It looked like Saturday at Mrs. O’Leary’s, but it worked. …

For all the concerts in lecture halls, student lounges, museum galleries and whatever, the old tote-the-Maggie procedure went on for a long time; the machines were unwieldy, and their fidelity could be questioned, but they were reliable, and with them WGBH stockpiled a massive file of local performances. By comparison, in the recent past I spent 20 years in Chicago and noted that WTTW, a well-heeled PBS-TV station that gets 75% or more of its money from local fund-raising, broadcast NO Chicago theatre, concerts, blues or jazz, and almost no dance or opera. Different times, different values.

Louis Lyons and the News

Feisty and crusty and something of an earlier-day Studs Terkel, Louis Lyons was a journalist of an older vintage … he talked about what was really happening and he told it like it was with the voice and delivery of a tug-boat captain.

Parker wanted a newscast but he did not want it read off the news ticker and he lucked out in finding an experienced newsman on the Harvard faculty. Feisty and crusty and something of an earlier-day Studs Terkel, Louis Lyons was a journalist of an older vintage; he had no patience with “featurettes,” “human interest,” “breaking stories” and all that window dressing; he talked about what was really happening and he told it like it was with the voice and delivery of a tug-boat captain.
He was an instant success and when he predicted the outcome of a presidential election ahead of the (then uncomputerized) networks, he not only made the network news himself, he became something of a legend.

Lyons had left the city room to take charge of the Harvard Nieman Fellowships in journalism, and ensconced as he now was in the roll-top-desk atmosphere of his cozy office, getting him to do the news was almost impossible. Larry did all the stroking that was needed and clinched the matter when he fixed it so that the news could be piped directly from Lyons’ hideaway. After the Symphony, Lyons’ idiosyncratic newscasts became the second mainstay of the station’s programming.

Programming for Children

Parker also wanted a children’s program that would be based on some educational theory and that would depart from the hysterical mayhem personified by Howdy-Doody, at that time the king of the kiddie mountain and generally regarded as the perfect small-fry fare by the commercial stations.

By our rules, there had to be a member source and, in this case, the only potential one was a Nursery Training School run by Tufts College; the biddies who ran it, however, were about as exciting as two hours of static. Once again the station lucked out. Working in public relations and placement for the school was an attractive woman in her thirties with a low, sexy voice that would have made a great torch singer had she had any idea of music, which she didn’t. On the air, however, it had an infectious warmth and from her standard opening “Hi!” she had the kids, and a lot of adults as well, eating out of her hand.

Jack, the original producer, left within a few weeks. There being no one else available, I acquired the show, and a partnership, that I look back on fondly, ensued which lasted some four award-winning years. Nancy H. (not to be confused with Nancy M.) wrote all the scripts herself, a mix of stories, playtime, and instruction, whose tone, long before Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan was still on Howdy Doody), was laid-back and relaxed, talking on an even footing with the kids rather than down or at them. The often-complicated sound effects and the music were in my domain.

The powers at the Nursery Training School had a dictum that children’s music must be simple; I soon discovered that this meant music you can play with one finger.

The powers at the Nursery Training School had a dictum that children’s music must be simple; I soon discovered that this meant music you can play with one finger which reflected more on the NTS staff’s inept piano technique than on the children’s ears. So I went for the peppier passages by Stravinsky and Beethoven and Bartok with an occasional march or stomp — our opening theme was by Ibert, and our closer by Villa-Lobos (played by Rubinstein yet). The NTS was upset and Parker called me on the mat.

“As I see it,” he explained, “Nancy is a mother who has her child on her lap and is telling her a story; now in this setting she wouldn’t have a hundred-piece symphony behind her.” I was forced to point out that, outside of the fact that most of the music was not orchestral, the child would not have the foggiest idea if it took one or a thousand people to make the sound it was hearing. Besides, in this audio age, given the unlikely possibility that some mother actually acted out his scenario, there was a very good possibility that an orchestra would be playing in the background. Our music policy remained in place; my criterion for selecting the music was a broad extension of one-armed jazz trumpet player Wingy Manone’s saying “If you cain’t march to it, it ain’t music!” I figured this would get the kids up and hopping, and it did. …

The Perils of Production

Of all the incidents connected with producing the hundreds of Children’s Circle shows, one is engraved in my mind. At five o’clock there was a regular routine. Louis Lyons’ news would be recorded by telephone line from his Harvard office as the Children’s Circle tape for the day (recorded earlier that week) was on the air; the engineer had a tape specially for this purpose. Just before five he would erase the Lyons tape, put it on one machine, put Children’s Circle on another and, as soon as this latter was on the air, dial in Lyons and record him. One day, at 10 minutes to 5, I was sitting at my desk when dependable-as-a-rock Bill came up to me and said:


“Yes, Bill?”

“I just wiped the Children’s Circle.”

“How much of it, Bill?”

“All of it.”

“All of it?”

“All of it.”

“ALL OF IT !!!!?”

Panic! Everybody stopped what they were doing; I called Nancy H. and had her grab a taxi; assembled what we could in music, sound effects, etc., jury- rigged what would have been “post-production” and we winged it live. We were a bit rough, but only five minutes late.

Children’s Circle was radio; three days a week Nancy H. sat cross-legged on the floor of the studio with her materials in an arc around her — a mannerism that her occasional guests adapted to — while the engineer and I operated from the control room. With this, and extended editing sessions, we cranked out five shows a week until TV came along. …

It would seem that I have concentrated on my role — but then this is a personal memoir. I carried a weekly live Jordan Hall concert, five Children’s Circles and at least two or three other concert pickups a week plus minutiae. All the staff carried equally heavy loads and we all averaged 70 to 90 hours a week for the first few years without, I might add, the benefit of either overtime or unemployment compensation when we left. Jordan carried the Symphony and our only DJ, G. Wallace Woodworth, the conductor of the Harvard and Radcliffe Chorus, who did a weekly pre-symphony program.

We built him a mobile pair of turntables where he played a game of Drop-the-Needle, while Briggs and Briggs (the Harvard Square store that loaned us records) gritted their teeth, exclaiming the while “Oh that’s not it!… yes, here we have it….now isn’t that superb? Tum-tah-dee-tum-tah (He “sang” with the records)..then there is this mighty chord!..Bum-da,” and so on. He never said much, but he gave you the impression you had learned a lot. …

Imagination Plus Elbow Grease

I could list the work of the others, including the miles and miles of tape edited from courses by Nancy M. and Jan, or the long list of poets reading their own works — including Dylan Thomas’ last such recording — or Jacob Bronowski’s brilliant MIT lectures years before his TV series. Real contributions, however, are just as often found, and more often ignored, in the mundane.

Much too much emphasis is placed nowadays on “qualifications.” Colleges, for example, demand that before teaching you have a doctorate, which only means that you have spent four more years and a lot more money in college and damn little else.

Neither Larry nor Ralph had “qualifications” that would get them anywhere near jobs as Program and Production Managers in a radio station in this day and age; yet they met the host of little problems that cropped up, like roaches in a tenement, armed only with native ingenuity and dedication, and they solved them as no broadcast executive I have since met could have. …

Announcers were a particular problem. Parker had co-opted the Symphony; his laid-back approach came across like Will Rogers without the jokes, but it got by. For the day-to-day announcing we
went through an array of full- time and part-time people and the occasional production staff member without ever getting really on track. Two major issues were avoiding the rapid fire, high pressure delivery of the commercial announcers, and getting people to pronounce the names of composers and performers accurately.

Of all our failures, Hugh was the worst. Hugh had no intention of staying in Educational Broadcasting and was using his stay at WGBH as a place to practice his fast-paced delivery, to the point where he could make a car salesman sound tongue-tied, and he paid no attention whatsoever to Ralph’s admonitions.

And as for names, he could not have cared less. Moussorgsky was unfailingly Moussgorsky. He introduced the orchestral version of Pictures at an Exhibition as being by “Moussgorsky Ravel.” Ralph took him aside and explained that the piece was by Moussorgsky and was arranged by Ravel. When we later broadcast Scheherezade, Hugh told our audience that it was by Rimsky, arranged by Korsakov. That did it.

Bill Pierce to the Rescue

When Parker at last relinquished his hold on the Symphony, we finally got a full-time man who understood our needs, William Pierce. Besides a fine voice, his delivery was relaxed without being somnolent, informal without being folksy; add to this an ability to stay clear of the internecine strife that bedeviled the station in its TV days, and as a result Bill Pierce remained the voice of the Boston Symphony for many, many years.

In spite of the overwork, the staff was a partying crowd. The parties ran late, and usually somebody there was next day’s announcer, since this was generally a weekend and on weekends everybody pitched in.

At the end of the first week of broadcasting, the Boston Symphony threw us a party and a grand celebration it was. The job of tending bar was given to the Symphony Hall maintenance men, good Irishmen all, whose idea of a drink was a shot of soda in a water glass, fill with bourbon and light on the ice; they had the station and Symphony staffs and a lot of the orchestra hammered beyond recall in no time at all.

For an anniversary party, a couple of the producers put together a half-hour “program” which was a parody of the then very popular Dragnet. It had send-ups of the various WGBH programs all run together by a search by Friday and his sidekick Bill Gannon for the murderers of Educational Broadcasting. The climax of the show was the exchange:

Friday: “I’ve solved the case, it wasn’t murder”

Gannon: “Not murder?!”

Friday: “No”

Gannon: “Then what was it?”

Friday: “Suicide!”

… and the Dragnet theme crashed in fortissimo.

The words were somewhat prophetic, not for Educational Broadcasting as it grew into Public Broadcasting as we know it now, but for that special kind of naive enthusiasm that marked the early days.

Gearing up for TV

TV was still new and it was still glamorous. We were barely out of the Milton Berle era and coast-to-coast hookups had just come in. In many ways it was the golden age of television with such programs as Playhouse90 and Studio One presenting serious new plays by talented new people like Paddy Chayevsky. Videotape had not come in and everything was live.

The Ford Foundation funded Omnibus and we all went forward into the new medium feeling that we were to be the saviors of the wasteland. As it has turned out, we were not; all that Omnibus left behind was Alistair Cooke, and Educational Broadcasting fathered the middlebrow magazine formats of many modern Public TV stations. But we are getting ahead of the story.

WGBH moved out of its Symphony Hall quarters, which went back to being a museum, and moved into a disused roller-skating rink on top of a strip of stores facing MIT on Massachusetts Avenue.

WGBH moved out of its Symphony Hall quarters, which went back to being a museum, and moved into a disused roller-skating rink on top of a strip of stores facing MIT on Massachusetts Avenue. The radio production crew, all hooked on the tube and dreaming God knows what dreams of glory, were retreaded into a combination of producer, director, and technical director. All three functions — preparing the program, ordering the cameras around and pushing the buttons and the fade bar — were handled by the same man.

Hartford went on being business manager and more, as we shall see. On the grounds that TV, being more complex, needed experienced people, Larry and Ralph did not move into administrative spots. Judging from what happened, they would have done as well as the men that took over.

George Probst had been brought in by Parker before the move and now became “Number One” (in navy parlance). Tactless remarks to faculty members got him fired and he was replaced by Ted, a pleasant man, who said of one of the old timers, “The trouble with him is that he is too talented. …”

The new Director of Production was Colby Lewis, who was experienced, able, and sympathetic. Parker’s deals and many ideas were in the right place, but his administrative style was lamentable. Colby couldn’t take it and quit just as the production staff was shifting into gear for the opening. With air time only a few weeks away, a hurry-up decision was made, and Paul, who had been hired to be in charge of film, was promoted to Director of Production and proved to be both incompetent and vindictive. The “experience” the new men brought proved illusory and, more important, they lacked both the conviction and with it the ability to improvise that the old crew had had; no 90 hour weeks for them, thank you very much!

Programming also changed. Remotes were now impossible. Concerts had to be set up so that they could be brought into the studio, which was both more limiting and more complicated. Louis Lyons had to abandon the safety of his office, and professors retired to the safety of their classrooms. The talking heads proliferated like Brussels sprouts. Children’s Circle vanished; however, a nature show for older students was superbly put together by an indefatigable and iron-willed lady called Mary Lela Grimes, who had an awe-inspiring ability to walk rough-shod over any obstacle in the program’s path. She had an volunteer assistant who, with the aid of special lenses and things, could set up the most amazing shots; by dint of careful planning and timing, the two of them had a bat born on the air in close-up — both the bat and the program were live.

The Museum of Fine Arts & Images

One interesting program came my way and took the place of Children’s Circle, for me at least. Parker had found that the Museum of Fine Arts had a large file of slides and pictures mounted on cards. He thought that here was an inexpensive way of filling a daily half-hour and conceived of a program called Images, which would show a dozen or so pictures to the accompaniment of music; again there was nobody else available so I got the call.

It became obvious right away that Parker’s original format was not going to work. Asking someone to stare at an unmoving picture for two to three minutes might be OK in a lecture, but it would have TV viewers reaching for the dial in no time at all and with good reason. The Museum, however, had a competent educational department and my counterpart there was a very able lady called Narcissa Williamson; under her guidance, they turned to with a will and did their best to turn out the necessary number of scripts. At the station we designed a setup of rear screen
projectors and easels so that two cameras could pick off details, pan across or dolly in and out (electronic zoom was not yet available) for anything up to 120 slides and/or pictures a program. Recorded music would be played with the visuals and a reader — as often as not a guest — would read a synchronized script.

Images often wandered off into old clocks, bugs, old ships, sports cars, and even dramatizations of such stories as Wilde’s The Happy Prince or Poe’s The Telltale Heart.

All of this was done live five times a week. As anyone who has seen The Civil War knows, this kind of technique is now commonly used (though never live) but back then it was an innovation. The Museum could not keep up with the daily pace, so I filled in with programs using slides from other museums and from private collections; thus Images often wandered off into old clocks, bugs, old ships, sports cars, and even dramatizations of such stories as Wilde’s The Happy Prince or Poe’s The Telltale Heart. It is a pity that, since tape had not yet arrived, none of these programs was preserved.

WGBH-FM went on the air explosively with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; WGBH-TV was born with much less fanfare. We started late in the afternoon and shut down fairly early. To a new children’s program, Come and See, went the honor of putting the station on the air (unless you count Bill Pierce’s sign on). I then followed with Images, then Louis Lyons and a film about Shakespeare that cleared the studio in preparation for my evening feature which was a mixed bag from the New England Conservatory — a brass ensemble, a couple of solos, and two opera scenes, closing with the first act duet from La Boheme. Not an overwhelming presentation but what do you want, Cecil B. De Mille? There was no big party and if there had been it would not have been the same, since the Symphony Hall maintenance men would not have been thereto hammer us into oblivion.

Tight Quarters

Next to the TV studio there was a radio studio about the size of the old one, with its own control room, and here a much reduced radio schedule was continued. The radio studio had a window into the main TV studio; Lord knows why it was put there but it turned out to be a fortunate idea since the Louis Lyons news was done by shooting him through that window and simulcasting him through the radio control room. Outside of that, everything not on film (or better, kinescope) had to be set up, rehearsed, and broadcast in the one main studio, which sported a total of one boom mike and three cameras — two dolly and one tripod (no crane of any kind). The traffic problems were immense and frayed tempers a matter of course.

Radio had had its frictions, flare-ups, and conflicts, but it was surprisingly low on internecine politics. Atone point the crew threatened a strike, primarily because of the hours, but it is characteristic that, in good faith, they offered a list of suggestions for improving the station’s efficiency. However, the engineers, without whose support it wouldn’t fly, had far better deals than the production staff and were therefore lukewarm; thus the strike faded away but nobody got fired.

TV was different. Paul had earned no respect from the old timers; he knew this and resented it, and he wanted them out. At the same time Hartford had been exasperated by Parker’s inefficiency for a long time and he had his own agenda. Hartford — wanted to introduce “proper business procedures” and stamp out the old free-and-easy ways. Boardman (Boardie) O’Connor and Rocky Coe were our set designers; they were brilliant, hard working and drinking, and pure theatre to their very eyeballs. When a prestigious MIT professor, who also happened to be its “Radio and Television Co-ordinator,” knocked the large camera tripod clean through the cyclorama, tearing it to shreds, Boardie was understandably furious and cursed the professor out in language that would have made a Mississippi river boat pilot proud. Boardie was fired and the professor was apologized to.

There had never been any personnel files at the station; someone would say “You’re hired” and you went to work. Hartford felt that this was poor business procedure, that there should be complete files and that they should be retroactive. So he designed, and told us all to fill in, ludicrously detailed forms. The attitude of the old hands was “Are you serious!?” and we filled them out in as jocular a manner as we could dream up; so help me they went into the files just that way. Sometime later, after I had left the station, I applied to the Voice of America for a job and the FBI checked me out. They found that form in the station files and, since they had even less humor than Elliot Ness, they ran around town asking all kinds of embarrassing questions. Dear Larry didn’t help when, being asked if I was homosexual, blurted out “Hell no, quite the opposite!” and the FBI now went about its inquiry with me pegged as several degrees riper than Dorian Gray.

The Blow-up of ’57

Then came the Spring Of The Long Knives. Parker had made the mistake of letting Hartford handle all the business dealings with Ralph Lowell and, since this made up the major part of these dealings and since these two men could talk businessman to businessman, which Lowell and Parker could not, Hartford had a very big foot in the door. Rule number one: Never give the Grand Vizier the keys to the gun closet.

The Byzantine details need not concern us here. Ralph, sensing the direction the wind was blowing in, had left on a project of his own. I went next and then came Parker, no less, fired by Lowell? Finally the very next day, with the way clear, Hartford unloaded Ted and Larry, and the slate was almost clean.

Hartford was stuffy but not stupid; he could not possibly have wanted to share power with the likes of Paul over the long haul, so he must have known that Paul would self-destruct; that, given time, he would hoist himself on his own petard, and he did.

This was the time of a grand piece of international co-operation called The International Geophysical Year. WGBH got the job of making a series of documentaries covering the IGY; Paul was the producer, and a grand job of posturing he did too, including trips to Antarctica. However, when the time came to show some finished product, there was blessed little of it to show. Paul left under a cloud and Hartford was king of the mountain until he moved up to take over the helm of the national PBS, where he remained until near his death.

The Great Fire — and Beyond

The station had acquired some young men with ambitions in the TV field, young men not unlike the youngsters who started radio, who were willing to work very hard for very little and who were primarily used as grips. One of them was Bob Moscone.

One night he was passing the closed-down station when he detected suspicious signs; letting himself in he found the station aflame. He called in the alarm and then made heroic attempts to save the film library. The station, and the whole block of stores, and with it all the audio tapes that recorded the FM station’s achievement, were reduced to ashes.

There would be support from the public, from commercial broadcasting, from foundations, from everywhere, and WGBH would rise from the ashes with its own building up near the Harvard stadium, but now it was just a television station. The fire brought to an end the era where that group of badly overworked, grossly underpaid, imaginative young maniacs who did not know a microphone from a zebra when they began made, for better or for worse, what is now a Public Broadcasting reality.

Excerpts from One Way to Run a Railroad: Memories of the First Days of WGBH by Ray Wilding-White © 1993