The Smiling Revolutionary: Remembering Barbara Gullahorn Holecek
By John Angier
Barbara Gullahorn Holecek died in a Boston hospital on August 4th, aged 74. She had been sick for some time, suffering from a genetic metabolic disease that had afflicted her for much of her life. Of her close family she is survived by her brother, Gordon Gullahorn, an astrophysicist now retired from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Barbara was a member of the small group that gathered in the latter half of 1973 in the less than inviting environment of 475 Western Avenue to start production of the new (as yet unnamed) Nova science series. The carpet was unforgettable and so, it turns out, was what we were doing — it was the beginning of the process that put public television’s documentary programming on the national map.
Barbara had been in another corner of 475, working on the debate program, The Advocates, which she’d joined after getting a master’s in documentary film from UCLA. Michael Ambrosino, creator of the science series, had set up three production teams. I was one of the producers, and Michael — only too aware that I needed all the help I could get — wisely put Barbara on my team.
Barbara was a terrific production team member: a tenacious researcher, and a relentless advocate of her views on the best and right ways to approach a subject. She was usually correct, and we learned to get our facts impeccably straight before entering into any kind of argument. By 1976 she was leading her own Nova production team, and there followed eight fruitful years turning out some memorable episodes, on subjects ranging from the changing lives of Canadian Inuit (Hunters of the Seal, 1976) to traditional healing in Nigeria (Doctors of Nigeria, 1981).
Barbara was an exponent of causes — always “saving the world from capitalism”, in her brother Gordon’s words. At UC Berkeley in the mid-1960s she was active in SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), and the anti-war movement. She was arrested in a demonstration in San Francisco against General Maxwell Taylor.
Her revolutionary tendencies mellowed, or perhaps became more constructively channeled, as her professional life developed. In the more than twenty productions she made during her career she was always focused on the victim, the underprivileged, the poor, the less-fortunate — whether the suffering was on the part of humans (in Testimonies, 1993, about treating torture survivors); of animals (in the award-winning The Business of Extinction, 1977, about the global wildlife trade); or even of landscapes (in the prescient and stylish Goodbye Louisiana, 1982). Her imagination and her heart led her often to the other side of the coin, where she’d quite likely stir things up: who’d have thought to make a film about what the subjects of study think of the anthropologists who study them? (Papua New Guinea: Anthropology on Trial, 1983).
Barbara had a great smile, as you can see from the picture taken with Gordon and their mother, Genevieve. It was a charming smile, and she knew how to use it. In Nigeria the forbidding Minister for External Affairs remarked how Barbara and her associate were always smiling. “Your souls are black,” he said as he handed them the permissions they needed. And that arrest at the San Francisco demonstration? She was so charming the cops weren’t going to arrest her. She had to persuade them (smilingly), otherwise she knew that Jerry Rubin (the social activist, her boyfriend at the time, who had already been arrested) would be jealous of whom else she might see while he was in jail.
Barbara left WGBH around 1984, after a subject she was becoming concerned with was deemed not to be a fit with Nova — “not science”. It was a subject that was to occupy her for the next several years: how medicine can approach the treatment and rehabilitation of torture victims. One couldn’t imagine a topic more in line with Barbara’s sensibilities. Not surprisingly, it was a hard film to make, financially and emotionally, but she persisted and in 1993 after almost ten years Testimonies was completed and distributed by, ironically, the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Barbara made about a dozen films on a wide range of subjects after she left WGBH, usually as producer-director, sometimes as writer or co-producer. Life as an independent producer is never easy, and in her case it was made harder by the increasing toll of her disease. Nevertheless she was involved in some notable productions: Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt from the Filmmakers’ Collaborative, co-produced with Michal Goldman, a feature documentary about the famous singer; Sidet: Forced Exile, for the UK’s Channel 4, executive produced with producer-director Salem Mekuria, a portrait of 3 refugee women in Sudan.
During this period she was able to pursue her love of Africa over several years at Harvard: as a visiting scholar in Afro-American studies, and as a Fellow at the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College. She took advantage of this time to produce Voices from Africa: First Person Accounts, an oral history and video/audio archive.
She was always a revolutionary, and she kept smiling to the end.
There will be a memorial service held in the Boston area, details to be announced.
Whether producing documentaries or sailing to a country he had never visited, Zvi Dor-Ner was always searching for an adventure.
As an executive producer at WGBH-TV, he made it his mission to tell stories of daring, and among his career highlights was a 1992 documentary about Christopher Columbus, whose spirit of discovery paralleled Mr. Dor-Ner’s in many ways.
Despite the subjects he chose, though, Mr. Dor-Ner never overdramatized the stories and lives he portrayed in documentaries, said Peter McGhee, his former boss at WGBH.
“Television has great temptations for a producer because you can make things so exciting by manipulating images and sound,” said McGhee, a former vice president for national programming. “Zvi would never cheat. He would look for hard truths and look hard for the truth, but he was utterly faithful in his discoveries.”
Mr. Dor-Ner, an award-winning executive producer at WGBH for about 30 years who as a child lost most of his family in the Holocaust, died April 6 in his Brookline home of pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
There were other echoes of Columbus in Mr. Dor-Ner’s life, in addition to his documentary and his love for sailing. He named his last boat the Nina, after one of the three ships Columbus used on his trip across the Atlantic. Mr. Dor-Ner also had business cards printed with his title when he was aboard his sailboat: Captain of the Nina.
His adventurous spirit was contagious, family and friends said, and he was adamant about encouraging those around him to share his sense of curiosity…
Zvi Richard Dor-Ner was born in 1941 in what was then Lvov, Poland, the only child of Nathan Dor-Ner and the former Joanna Berl. Soon after Mr. Dor-Ner’s birth, German forces occupied Lvov, and many of his relatives were killed during the war.
His father died in Lublin Castle, a medieval castle in a city to the north where the Nazis had created a ghetto. Many thousands of Jews were imprisoned in Lublin before being sent to extermination camps.
Mr. Dor-Ner and his mother survived the war and moved to Israel when he was about 8. He served in the Israeli Intelligence Corps of the Israel Defense Forces, and also worked as a cameraman for a television network in Jerusalem.
He studied at Boston University, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications…
Mr. Dor-Ner, who was a Nieman fellow after college, worked as a producer at WGBH for about three decades before retiring in 2009.
Producing documentaries, he chose topics that interested him, which was the case with “Columbus and the Age of Discovery.” That series “doubled the average PBS prime-time audience with its premiere,” according to Mr. Dor-Ner’s biography on the PBS website. Mr. Dor-Ner also wrote the companion book for the series.
Over the course of his career, his work took home honors including Emmy Awards, for work such as the series “Enterprise”; George Foster Peabody awards for “People’s Century” and “Shattered Dreams of Peace – The Road from Oslo”; and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for the series “Arabs and Israelis.”
“Zvi’s impressive portfolio includes some of WGBH’s proudest moments and reflects his wide-ranging curiosity and intellect,” Henry Becton, former president of WGBH and vice chairman of its board, said in a statement. “He was a master storyteller, and masterful at choreographing the complex international production partnerships that enabled such sweep and range.”
Mr. Dor-Ner’s credits also included “Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back,” the series “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age,” and “The Longest Hatred,” which examined anti-Semitism….
Regardless of where he lived, Mr. Dor-Ner was always in search of an adventure. His daughter Anna said she didn’t understand when she was younger why he frequently left to travel, but realized as she got older it was something he had to do.
“That has always been his passion. It was like his love,” she said. “He wasn’t as happy as he could be if he wasn’t sailing.”
Read the story at the Boston Globe
From WGBH QuickNooz
The WGBH community mourns with sadness the passing of Zvi Dor-Ner, former WGBH Exec Producer. Zvi died yesterday morning at age 75. He had been doing what he loved—skippering his beloved boat around the world—when in late January he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Zvi began his distinguished career in 1966 as a WGBH news cameraman. He returned in 1979 after working in television in his native Israel and honing his journalistic skill as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Before his 2009 departure from WGBH, Zvi executive-produced such milestone productions as the duPont-Columbia Award-winning series ARABS AND ISRAELIS; the International Emmy and George Foster Peabody Award-winning PEOPLE’S CENTURY; COLUMBUS AND THE AGE OF DISCOVERY, which doubled the average PBS prime-time audience with its premiere and for which he authored the series companion book; WAR AND PEACE IN THE NUCLEAR AGE; APOLLO 13: TO THE EDGE AND BACK; the Emmy Award-winning business series ENTERPRISE; and more than a dozen films for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, FRONTLINE, and NOVA.
“Zvi’s impressive portfolio includes some of WGBH’s proudest moments and reflects his wide-ranging curiosity and intellect,” says WGBH Vice Chair and former President Henry Becton. “He was a master storyteller, and masterful at choreographing the complex international production partnerships that enabled such sweep and range.”
“Zvi was WGBH’s own Columbus,” recalls former VP for National Programming Peter McGhee. “He was resourceful, daring, and creative…a generous and loving man and loyal friend. His body of work is an enduring monument to and measure of the man.”
A service in Zvi’s memory will take place Tues, 4/11, 12 noon at Mount Auburn Cemetery’s Story Chapel. Rest in peace.
Zvi Dor-Ner, a longtime WGBH executive producer and NF ’77, died April 6 at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts from pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
Dor-Ner spent 30 years at WGBH, Boston’s PBS affiliate, starting as a cameraman and going on to produce several award-winning series and historical documentaries. He worked on celebrated programs such as “Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back,” “People’s Centruy,” “Columbus and the Age of Discovery,” “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age,” and “Arabs and Israelis,” along with more than a dozen films for “Nova,” “Frontline,” and “American Experience.” Throughout his career, Dor-Ner and the programs he produced won awards including a duPont-Columbia award and multiple Emmys and George Foster Peabody awards.
Born in Poland shortly before the Germans took the city in 1941, Dor-Ner and his mother escaped to Israel; his father and most of his immediate family members were killed by the Nazis. After serving in the Israeli army, Dor-Ner began his career in 1966 as a news cameraman at WGBH while earning a degree in communications at Boston University. Following his graduation, he returned to Israel to work as a camera operator, producer, and director for various entertainment and documentary programs for several years. After his Nieman Fellowship in 1976-77, he rejoined WGBH and stayed there until his retirement in 2009.
Preceded in death by his wife Alexandra Dane, who died in 1991, Dor-Ner is survived by his girlfriend, three daughters, and four grandsons.
Zvi Richard Dor-Ner, 75, died Thursday, April 6, 2017, at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Zvi was born on July 13, 1941 in Lvov, Poland just weeks before the Germans took the city. His father Nathan and most of his immediate family were killed by the Nazis. Zvi and his mother Joanna (nee Berl) escaped to Israel where Zvi attended school, served in the army and began his career as a cameraman for Israeli television.
Zvi was a journalist and an exceptional story-teller. After graduating from Boston University and spending a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Zvi spent 30 years as an executive producer for WGBH, the Boston PBS affiliate. The historical documentaries he produced won many awards including a duPont-Columbia award, as well as multiple Emmys and George Foster Peabody awards. Zvi chose topics that were fascinating, complicated and often controversial. He transformed them into vivid and compelling stories– he had a natural gift for narrative which he honed, over decades, into a science.
Zvi loved sailing. He built his first boat at the age 12 and launched it from the beach in Bat Yam. As an adult he captained his ketch ‘Nina’ across the Atlantic several times exploring the Northeast, Caribbean and Mediterranean. He made a thorough study of dockside fish restaurants, maritime museums, cockpit sunsets and cold-water swims. Every year after his retirement in 2009, his friends looked forward to a letter from the ‘Meandering Navigator’ that would describe his anticipated four month itinerary and invite them along for two weeks at a time.
Even at home, he was everybody’s port in a storm. His guest room and kitchen were almost always inhabited by the recently heartbroken, the newly arrived, or the otherwise lost. He offered warmth and optimism but also clear-eyed perspective to all of them.
Zvi was married for 23 years to Alexandra Dane. Together they traveled all over the world, lived in Boston and Paris and Jerusalem and had two daughters: Daphne and Tamar. When Ali died in 1991, Zvi raised his 12 and 13 year old daughters alone. In 1997, Zvi had his third daughter, Anna, with his then-partner Win Lenihan. From the beginning, Tamar, Daphne and Anna have enjoyed and adored each other.
Zvi was an exceptional and unusual father. He had high expectations when it came to academics but never missed a chance to take his daughters out of school to travel the world. He cultivated their skepticism and their independence – even when it came at the expense of their alignment to his point of view.
As a father of three daughters, Zvi was delighted by his four grandsons and they were delighted by him.
He is missed by friends all over the world, in Israel, Poland, Paris, Portugal, London and beyond. In addition to his three daughters, he is survived by his four grandsons, Henry, Felix, Gideon, and Abe, and his girlfriend Pesya Altman.
A service for Zvi will be held at noon on Tuesday, April 11th at the Story Chapel in Mount Auburn Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Nieman Foundation (to promote and elevate the standards of journalism, nieman.harvard.edu) or to Etgarim (empowerment and social integration of people with disabilities, etgarim.org).
Since Zvi paid a lot of attention to historical facts, I would like to correct some points mentioned in the obituary:
Zvi was actually born two weeks before German troops took Lvov. His mother did not have a chance to escape to Israel as Israel did not exist yet. It was by chance that he was born in Lvov; they were actually living in Lublin at the time.
His father, with a “Jewish” appearance, had to hide in surrounding villages while his blond-haired mother was working as a nurse in Lublin hospital having little dyed-hair Rysio (Zvi’s given name) with her. His father and an uncle were taken by Germans and later shot in Lublin Castle.
Just before withdrawing in 1944, the Nazis massacred its remaining 300 prisoners and Zvi’s father and uncle were among them. It was a very important fact for Zvi. The names of the father and uncle were put on a monument in Lublin just recently and Zvi was planning to go there in July to participate in an anniversary of the massacre.
After the father had been arrested Joanna escaped from Lublin and, after long voyages, was hidden with little Rysio by a Polish railwayman in Lowicz where they stayed until the end of the war under a fake name Bialozorski.
They lived in Cracow after the war and went to Israel in 1949 where Rysio was placed in a boarding school while his mother went to live in Paris, and this influenced his future emotional life. In Israel, Rysio Dorner (Bialozorski at that time) became Zvi Richard Dor-Ner.
I met Richard when he was already retired and wanted to spend more time sailing; he always had discoverers in mind. Richard, who had sailed all his life, bought his current boat in 1993. With American flag S.V. NINA, he sailed extensively on the US east coast and with which he has crossed the Atlantic in 2000. Since then he criss-crossed the Mediterranean from West to East and from North to South, often more then once. I belonged to that part of his life. We crossed on the Nina East to West in 2013.
This is what Zvi wrote about himself on his sailing profile:
I have sailed since childhood. When I did not sail, I was a TV producer of documentaries on historical subjects. I have done it for many years and as a result know something about documentaries and history. I have published two books: one about Columbus and the age of Discovery and one an Emergency Action Guide for Sail and Motor Yachts. This in addition to more then 300 documentaries. I am qualified as Yachtmaster offshore by RYA and have a 100-ton license from the USCG. I crossed the Atlantic back and forth. I sailed extensively in Europe and the Mediterranean. Now I sail in the Caribbean and central America.
We cruise for several months every year. The boat is left in a different port when I don’t sail then I pick it up with a crew of friends and sail for 5-6 months. While I stay on board all the time, most of the crew changes every 3-4 weeks. I like to have a crew that knows sailing and something else very well. For each segment I like to assemble a crew of 2 or 3 that is diverse and interesting with a mix of talents, skills, knowledge and experience. Most of the times it works extremely well.”
Richard’s wrote this after crossing the Atlantic in 2013 (12/27/2013):
Today, in the morning, Nina entered the “Galleon Passage” between Trinidad and Tobago. It is only thirty miles wide, but we see neither of the two islands. It is disappointing to pass, what is an important marker on our trip without seeing it. One way or another, on the basis of GPS the Atlantic Crossing is over. It did not change, the Atlantic. It is still just the same as it has been for the last few days, gray, overcast, with occasional rain and, as we still sail with wind and swell just astern, very very rolling. We have another seventy miles before we drop anchor or dock.
This is the fifteen and last day of our passage. For a cruising boat our size it was a very fast transit indeed, all of it under sail. In fact, for the whole trip we have been flying just one sail, our large 140 percent Genua. It is rigged with its working sheet lead through a snatch block attached to the end of the main boom which is extended, with a boom vang, to all the way out to port or starboard depending if the trade are blowing from slightly North or slightly South of East.
The only sailing maneuver we carried out was to jibe occasionally and furl and unfurl the sail frequently, almost akin to changing gears while driving.
We have been lucky with trade winds. A very high pressure era above Bermuda and the Azores provided those. We seldom had wind of less then twenty knots, frequently for days and nights at a time, we where powered by 35 knots of wind.
Our speed log registered speeds it has never seen before, of 10, 12 and 13 knots as we surfed down 16-foot waves. This was a blessing, but there was also a punishment. The strong winds produced a huge massy swell coupled with another distinctive wave train from slightly different direction combining in a distracting, disorganized, yet powerful sea that hived and shook us in many uncomfortable ways.
The swell rolled Nina terribly, often from gunwale to gunwale, in the first days inducing semi-seasickness and limiting all of us to only the most basic and necessary actions. Eventually it became just a nuisance requiring a lot of energy and planing for the simplest action, making a sandwich for example.
Sixty feet up from the deck, the top of the mast will move violently through such rolls, inscribing a very large arc. Frequently this would force the air out of the sail which will then snap violently as it refills with wind on its swings back to the other side. The sound of this routine was like a gun shot and as wrenching. You kind of know that the sail can’t take this kind of punishment forever, sometime it will have to give in and tear itself to shreds, or destroy its fittings…It did not do that, but the possibility was constantly on my mind and it was it scary…
We had equipment failure on small and large scale. Often, I was able to deal with problems then and there, while other remain waiting. The Genset, which creates electricity to charge batteries and toys, died on the second day. A sunny, happy Spanish mechanic fixed the atomizer of its little diesel just before departure; he changed the two bolts holding the injector down and one of those tore. We had to charge batteries by running the main engine two hours a day and face the fact that this was our only way to generate electricity.
Our automatic pilot worked great in the worst conditions but gave up eventually, now we mostly have to stear manually. Steering manually in a following wind and great swell requires a total concentration and doing it for six hours a day is just tough.
However it sounds, none of it was grim, it was not even hard, even if often tiring. We had great time. For me there was the added tension of being in charge, and having, presumably, have answers to every contingency. I did not, and often there are no good answer beside endurance.
Now it is all over, the Atlantic is smaller. The experience of dealing with it in such an intensive way will sink in eventually and be digested on another level than the nuts and bolts, both actual and figurative.
Ward Chamberlin Jr., a leading architect of the nation’s public broadcasting system who revitalized PBS stations in New York and Washington and nurtured the career of the documentarian Ken Burns, died on Thursday in Bedford, Mass. He was 95.
The cause was complications of dementia, his daughter Carolyn Chamberlin said.
Ward B. Chamberlin Jr., left, then WNET’s executive vice president and managing director, with Tamara E. Robinson, vice president for national programming and William F. Baker, president, in 1996.Mr. Chamberlin’s four-decade television career began circuitously. A corporate lawyer at the time, he was working for the nonprofit International Executive Service Corps, where Frank Pace, a former Army secretary, was the president.
The two men were close: Mr. Pace had earlier been chairman of General Dynamics, the military contractor, and Mr. Chamberlin had worked for him there. They were also squash partners.
When Mr. Pace was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to be the first chairman of the newly minted Corporation for Public Broadcasting early in 1968, he recruited Mr. Chamberlin to join him as chief operating officer.
Mr. Pace promptly asked Mr. Chamberlin to determine what challenges and opportunities public broadcasting presented and gave him the latitude to meet them. Mr. Chamberlin proceeded to pioneer an enduring decentralized network model of independent public stations.
He remained chief operating officer until he retired in 2003. He was also senior vice president of the Public Broadcasting Service, executive vice president and managing director of WNET in New York and president of WETA in Washington, which he transformed into the third most prolific producer of original programming after WNET and WGBH in Boston.
PBS was created in 1969 to connect local public television stations and to distribute programming. National Public Radio (now just NPR) was formed the next year under the corporation’s umbrella.
From 1975 to 1989, under Mr. Chamberlin, WETA introduced programs like “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report” and “Washington Week in Review.” At WNET, he was responsible for many of the station’s signature cultural productions and other original programming, including the series “The Secret Life of the Brain.” He extricated both stations from financial distress.
Mr. Burns was seeking financial support for his third documentary film, about Huey Long, the Louisiana governor and presidential candidate, when he arranged to meet Mr. Chamberlin to pitch it.
Mr. Burns recalled in a phone interview on Monday that he had been stunned to leave Mr. Chamberlin’s office with a check for $25,000. “They never did that before,” he said.
He was even more surprised by Mr. Chamberlin’s response years later when he learned that Mr. Burns’s series on the Civil War had grown longer than the originally projected five hours.
“Seven, eight?” Mr. Chamberlin inquired, as Mr. Burns recalled.
“I said 11½, 12,” Mr. Burns replied.
To which all Mr. Chamberlin asked was, “Is it good?”
The series, called simply “The Civil War,” was broadcast in nine episodes in September 1990 and watched by about 40 million viewers, setting a PBS ratings record.
“Ward never sought to take the limelight, as opposed to many of us who gravitate to it,” Mr. Burns said. “He was flabbergastingly generous and courageous and indispensable to my professional life.”
Ward was a giant in our industry and a special person to me, having taken me under his wing, so to speak, early in my career at WGBH. We all owe a great deal to him for the wisdom and energy with which he helped shape CPB, PBS, WNET and WETA.
I will always consider him as one of my key mentors in public media. He was one of the few people in the industry who understood our unique challenges in creating a culture where creative people could work and thrive. There were only a handful of places where that was achieved and Ward was responsible for at least two of them! Our views of our mission and values were closely aligned.
A former WCVB photographer was honored Saturday by having a corner of Cambridge dedicated to him.
The city of Cambridge renamed the corner of Copley and Fayweather streets the Robert N. Wilson Square in honor of the late Robert Wilson who passed away in 2014.
Wilson worked at WCVB for 22 years. While working as a television photographer, he received many honors, including being recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for outstanding achievement as a pioneer African-American news videographer and recognition by the Boston Association of Black Journalists for his achievements.
Wilson got his start in television at WGBH, where he progressed from a stagehand to a television photographer. Wilson was also a U.S. Army veteran and served during the Vietnam War.
“It is people like Bob Wilson that made a difference in this community,” City Councilor David Maher said. “He was a celebrated newsman and contributed to the change in the culture of news in Boston over a 30-year period.”
James Albert Kaup of Watertown, 71, with grace and courage, died at home on January 25 after a long illness.
Son of the late James A. Kaup and Ruth Connolly Kaup, he is survived by his wife, Deborah Myerson Kaup of Watertown, his sister, Susan Kaup Kelley and his nephews, Andrew, Matthew, and Daniel Kelley.
Jim was quiet and unassuming, unless he felt called upon to make a stand on a principle. An autodidact with a vast knowledge of many subjects, he listened more that he spoke. His sense of humor endured to the very end. Some people thought Jim “could do anything.”
From the mid 1970s until 2006 Jim was a scenic carpenter at WGBH, a job that utilized his many talents. As president of AEEF, the in house union, he negotiated for fairness and safety.
In his youth he was involved with Club 47, a folk club in Harvard Square. Later he designed posters for the local concerts. While taking courses at Boston Architectural Center he interned at The Architects Collaborative.
A celebration of his life will take place in the spring. Donations in his name may be made to Good Shepherd Community Care or the charity of one’s choice.
Published in The Boston Globe from Feb. 2 to Feb. 7, 2016. Source
From Chas Norton
A celebration of Jim’s life will take place on April 30, 2016, at 9:30 am at Story Chapel, Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge.
“OK RCA, if you build a stereo television transmitter and TV sets, we will prove to you that you need to.”
I can take no credit for this. Credit goes to Hartford Gunn, the visionary in whose shadow many of us have built our careers.
He believed, and I concurred, that, back in the late 1960’s, the absence of stereo sound for television was not a feature WGBH management, staff, listeners, or viewers would wish to endure for a very long time. Indeed, WGBH-FM was already attracting listeners who cared about the quality of sound. Why just radio? Why not television?
“Why not” became a buzzphrase that Hartford passed on to me … and I have embraced it ever since.
Back then, all TV sets had mono sound.
All TV transmitters transmitted mono sound.
TV set makers and transmitter manufacturers pointed fingers at each other. If the transmitters only delivered mono sound, why build TV sets that could deliver stereo … and vice versa?
So, Hartford, with me in tow, went to Hollywood to observe and learn — in a few days — how the recording of stereo was being accomplished in the film and LP recording businesses. (I did my thesis research on AMPEX — another story of how the video recorder came into being)
When we returned to Boston, I reorganized part of our engineering department to create a sound department. Bill Busick, engineering leader for WGBH FM was a reluctant player in this new undefined pursuit to establish WGBH as the leader in sound production for any media. Tom Keller was the EIC (Engineer-in-Charge) and welcomed the challenge.
Why wait to follow? Get out and forge new ground. That was WGBH. That is WGBH. We had two TV stations, a film department, and a radio station. Where would this pursuit of stereo sound for television take us? We didn’t know. We had bright people on staff, and Boston was rich with talented new companies that were focused on sound. KLH was founded by Henry Kloss in the late 1950’s. He came in to help. As did others.
I came to WGBH from Ann Arbor where the-then NET (National Educational Television network) had the largest videotape duplication center in the world. I managed the national distribution to all public (then educational TV stations) of all kinescope, film and videotapes. And I managed the duplication of all film and kinescopes.
There were various processes to put sound on film products. And key producers of video programs would often come to Ann Arbor to edit sound and pictures. So, I had some background in putting sound with pictures for television distribution. But I was not the engineer/tech guru. That was Howard Town. He and I were the two VPs of NET, based in New York, that oversaw the Ann Arbor based duplication and distribution center. (On any given day we had 10,000 program units bicycling through the system)
Shortly after I left to join WGBH, my old buddy and colleague Howard Town left NET for AMPEX. (Back then, an AMPEX quarter inch tape recorder was the best there was.) Howard’s assignment was to develop a 24-track audio recorder using two-inch tape. All the “mechanics” for the VCR were in place. Why not use the concept for audio — where multiple tracks could be edited down to mono, stereo and four-track composites for the recording industry?
Naturally, Tom Keller, WGBH chief engineer, Howard Town, and myself (and Bill Busick, I think) started a conversation about syncing the AMPEX device (finally, I believe, named an MM1000) with a two-inch VCR. That took us to New York to talk to the folks who used the Selsyn Interlock system for syncing sound and pictures for motion pictures. Was there something we could learn?
While the technology development was underway, the creation of program material — and ultimate delivery of same — was front and center. The Boston Pops quickly became the lead contender for the experiment.
With all of “players” working as a team, we reached out to England to purchase a Neve audio board. We bought a truck to house it as a mobile sound recording facility. And we arranged with Howard Town at AMPEX to acquire an early MM1000. Serial number two, I believe, and that, too, went into the truck with the Neve board.
Someone, probably Bill Cosel and Hartford, worked with the Pops, Fiedler, the union and stage hands, et. al., to allow us to put cameras and lights and staging on the stage of the Pops. I remember Fran Mahard creating flats that would help us with the sound and the pictures. Back then, the lights were bright and hot. We needed the musicians to wear blue tucks instead of black, and we had to dig up the street in front of Symphony Hall to put in special transformers to handle the power we needed for lighting.
Yes, we had our big mobile television truck already in hand. Think Tennis.
A genius gentleman — Bill Pierce — produced the mix. We saved a track for mono TV, two tracks for stereo, a rehearsal track or two, and the rest of the 24 tracks were dedicated to the various sections of the orchestra. I’m sure Bill Cosel has a lot of memory and details to fill in.
After a concert by the Pops, the video came back separately (with a mono track) and the sound came back to WGBH in the sound truck. In post production, even a single note could be corrected — and was. The sound was edited to perfection. Then the video was edited to match. Now, remember, back then, editing video was done with a razor blade and a very expensive “splicer” where the cut two-inch tape was joined with aluminum adhesive tape. And the splice mark pulse was revealed by applying stainless steel “dust” in an alcohol base to the tape. (That’s another story!)
With some trial and error, we learned that we could place the video tape on machine A and the take up reel on machine B — some 20 feet or so to the right — in order to get the MM1000 and the VCR in sync. I don’t remember what it was we developed to sync the VCR and MM1000. It was a “black box.”
The broadcast, finally, was mono to channel 2 and stereo to WGBH FM. Viewers were taught to put their stereo speakers on each side of their TV set, turn off the TV sound and turn up their stereo FM amps. And the press in Boston was encouraged to watch and listen. They did … and they liked it. The new clippings were then delivered to RCA — who made both TV sets and transmitters. They “got it.” And, you know the rest of the story.
Hartford Gunn was the one who dreamed about what isn’t happening — and could or should be — and then made it happen. And that took a team of folks who had no experience of failure. Indeed, all we had was the thrill of inventing a then better “tomorrow” in the evolution of our chosen career of television.
Among the manny lessons taught to me by Hartford — from almost my first day at WGBH — was a critically important message on leadership. The first principle was, without reservation, to have no interest in WGBH being a follower or a second place player. Then, secure the most advanced technology the world has to offer, let the world know you have it, and the most talented will beat down your door to gain access to it. Hire the most creative who come forth, give them objectives and goals to be met, give them the necessary financial resources, give them encouragement and mentoring, — and get the hell out of the way!
Why is WGBH what it is today? Look around WGBH, then and now, and consider pioneering stories like this one. That’s why.
As the first African-American student admitted to the Cambridge School of Weston (MA), Virginia native Conrad White lived in two worlds.
A popular student at the private boarding school, he started the first campus radio station and was elected president of the class of 1954. “He was sort of the center of our class,” said his classmate and longtime friend Joan Walther.
Back home in Hampton, Va., however, Mr. White lived under Jim Crow laws and segregated public schools. When friends from boarding school gave him a ride home for winter break, they had to plot their trip carefully as an integrated group riding through the South.
“Once they got past a certain area, they couldn’t stop,” Walther recalled. The students made sure they had plenty of gas and plenty of food in their big old car, a former hearse nicknamed “Mehitable,” a Hebrew variant word for “God rejoices.”
Mr. White, who often credited his experience at the Cambridge School as the foundation for his confidence and multimedia skills, worked at WGBH on popular public TV shows including Julia Child’s “The French Chef” and spent 27 years at Harvard University, where he retired from the Media Production Center.
A former longtime Cambridge resident, Mr. White died Nov. 9 in Miriam Hospital in Providence following a heart attack. He was 80 and lived in Providence….
Mr. White was in the studio audience for a WGBH show called “Folk Music USA” when he inquired about volunteer opportunities at the station and wound up with a new career. “I walked up to someone I knew who worked there, explained my background in television, and asked if they took volunteers,” he told Harvard Community Resource. “It was one of those ‘and the rest is history’ kind of jobs.”
He worked for WGBH for 15 years, holding various positions in production for shows including “Crockett’s Victory Garden,” “Say Brother,” and “The 10 O’Clock News.”
After “The French Chef” ended, Mr. White gave a piece of Julia Child’s cutting board to his longtime friend Lou Greenstein, a culinary consultant and chef who appeared on the Boston television show “Good Day” for many years.
Mr. White and Greenstein first became acquainted as young men on the docks at Community Boating in Boston, where Mr. White was a longtime member.
“He was wonderful with people. He was a gentleman, as everybody should be a gentleman,” Greenstein said. He recalled that Mr. White was a favorite guest at the Greenstein family’s Thanksgiving table for several decades. Mr. White always brought deviled eggs to the party.
Sailing was one of Mr. White’s passions. He enjoyed skippering and sailing on what are known as Shields class boats in Newport, R.I., which he initially visited for the folk and jazz festivals…
“I wish I had 90 more years to do all the things I still want to do,” he said in the 1997 interview.
In conjunction with UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, WGBH and the Library of Congress are pleased to announce the launch of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) Online Reading Room.
With contributions from more than 100 public media organizations across the country, programs that for decades have gathered dust on shelves are now available to stream on the AAPB website. This rich collection of programs dating from the 1940s to the 2010s will help tell the stories of local communities throughout the nation in the last half of the 20th century and first decade of the 21st.
Initially launched in April 2015 with 2.5 million inventory records, the AAPB website has added nearly 7,000 audiovisual streaming files of historical content from public media stations across the country. The Library of Congress, WGBH Boston and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have embarked on an unprecedented initiative to preserve historical public television and radio programs of the past 70 years. This extraordinary material includes national and local news and public affairs programs, local history productions that document the heritage of our varied regions and communities, and programs dealing with education, environmental issues, music, art, literature, dance, poetry, religion and even filmmaking on a local level. The project ensures that this valuable source of American social, cultural and political history and creativity will be saved and made accessible for current and future generations.
Nearly 40,000 hours comprising 68,000 digital files of historic public broadcasting content have been preserved. On the website, nearly 7,000 of these American public radio and television programs dating back to the 1940s are now accessible to the public. These audio and video materials, contributed by more than 100 public broadcasting organizations across the country, are an exciting new resource to uncover ways that common concerns over the past half century have played out on the local scene. Users are encouraged to check back often as AAPB staff continue to add more content to the website. The entire collection of 40,000 hours is available for research on location at WGBH and the Library of Congress.
“The collective archives of public media contain an unparalleled audio and video record of the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st,” said WGBH Vice Chairman Henry Becton. “These treasures of our times aren’t available elsewhere and it’s essential that we preserve them and make them available as widely as possible.”
Vanya Tulenko — now an alumna but formerly in charge of the Ralph Lowell Society — reminded me recently of this letter from Alistair Cooke.
In 1987 with encouragement from our Board we decided to create the major giving society named after our founder. The intention was to encourage annual fund donors at the $1,000 level and above with special events and recognition in our annual report.
I don’t recall whose idea it was to solicit some of our on-air stars, but in any event I sent a solicitation letter to Alistair. He replied promptly with this characteristically dry-whitted, tongue-in-cheek response. It was one of those letters that makes one’s day!
The text went as follows:
Easter Monday 1987
Dear Mr. Becton:
I am thrilled to receive your invitation to join the Ralph Lowell Society. I am not a clubman, but I have always yearned to rub shoulders with some of the glamorous starts of television. And even though I dislike champagne almost as much as its frequent accompaniment (caviare), I cannot resist sending you the enclosed in the hope, one day, of meeting such breathtaking celebrities as Vincent Prince and Julia Childs. Do let me know if a Ralph Lowell T-shirt comes with the membership.