The Spirit of the Spirit: A WGBH remembrance

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

By Don Hallock — 8/8/2015

In 2000 I was hired by Montana Public Television to direct a PBS production of the Montana Summer Symphony. It was a sizable piece (outdoors, 13 cameras, and seven regional symphony orchestras – yes 7, in Montana!).

DH - CUThe Montana program manager/producer and I hit it off from the get-go. I had directed nothing for 24 years previously, and it had been a whole 37 years since leaving ‘GBH. I was immediately forthcoming about that, but probably because they’d had good experiences with David Atwood the previous two years, added to the superlative reputation of WGBH, the Montana PM was game to collaborate with this broadcasting antique.

The folks in Montana and I (in Hawaii) worked on the production plans for two or three months by phone, Internet and email. Luckily the scheduling worked out so that I could hire Bill Frances as TD. (I tried to get Chas Norton for lighting as well but, unfortunately, the timing was wrong.) Still, as I expected, Bill was superb, and the Montana people were hugely impressed by his easy way and mastery of the production.

On site, the Montana PBS staff, it turned out, were very professional, capable, immensely cooperative, cordial and wonderfully easy to work with. There was a warm atmosphere of smooth camaraderie among their staff. Working with these folks felt in some subliminal way like ‘coming home.’ And eventually I came to understand that the whole experience was wonderfully, and touchingly for me, reminiscent of my years at ‘GBH.

But here’s the thing: The day after I arrived in Bozeman, several of the local staff and I met for lunch, and got to know each other in person. We spoke about our plans, our histories in broadcasting, and our philosophies. I reminisced on the family atmosphere I remembered at ‘GBH, and how much I valued that. In response, the Montana people remarked on having earlier attended an NAB convention, specifically noting that, in contrast to most of the other Public Broadcasting groups, the ‘GBH people seemed remarkably amiable, close-knit, and mutually supportive.


Once upon a moment of magic (during the ‘Golden Age of Television’ – 1957) there was a lower middle class kid with only a high school education, and a burning passion for the medium, who was taken on at ‘GBH as a scenic carpenter, soon brought into the studio as cameraman and, eventually, promoted to producer/director (for all of which he’s still hugely grateful). There were organizational restrictions in place at the station which should have made that trajectory formally impossible. But bending those rules in favor of who people actually were, and in respect of each individual’s intrinsic value, was actually the unspoken rule of the house.

People, and the talents they brought to the workplace, were always ‘coin of the realm.’

I don’t remember anyone really worrying about losing their job; ability and team effort seemed the most important measures of a person’s worth.

During my time at the station many folks came and went but, by way of testimonial, many stayed for very, very long times. And, though my memory may be faulty, I can recall, during that period at least, only one person who ever earned dismissal.

Certainly there were some frictions – all organizations suffer at least a few of those. There were also, however, times of wonderful fun, impressive loyalties, abundant kindnesses, and very genuine friendships. Internecine politics — while not entirely absent — never seemed to compromise commitment to the greater endeavor. That commitment was a quality within, and between, the people who worked there. It was palpable inside the station and, I believe, made itself felt through ‘GBH’s output, not only outside in the Boston community, but at distances which could only be imagined.

Being part of Educational Television was an education in itself; we were daily rubbing elbows with the finest the world’s cultures had to offer. And I believe we all knew, at one level or another, that we were involved in something noble and admirable. It was that spirit which undergirded the beginnings of ‘Educational Television,’ and with time would build the enormous force for good that is now Public Broadcasting. The philosophy which grounded the functioning of the station was omnipresent. A whole litany of words would be needed to describe what the station stood for: integrity, insight, intelligence, ingenuity, honesty, sensitivity, inventiveness, professionalism, scholarship, idealism, co-cooperativeness, community, creativity, perseverance and team spirit …. just for starters. Of course we didn’t always make it to the tops of those mountains.

Financially, technically and practically the obstacles were often daunting. But pride in overcoming was frequent, and shortfalls were not due to a lack of desire or commitment. These qualities were embodied, day to day, by the people who were WGBH.

Apparently, they still are.

In the early days, one of our Boston University interns coined the phrase, “We don’t say much, but we don’t offend anyone.” If that was ever true, much certainly has changed. A glance at the line-up of the station’s output (particularly in the realm of documentary) shows a great deal of grown-up risk-taking. The maturing of WGBH is something to be proud of, and it must be observed that, if one is proud to be (or have been) part of WGBH, it is automatically true that one is also proud of everyone else who has given their talents to make the station what it is.

Past, present, future, WGBH is us …. all of us. The continuity of the alumni web site and the recurring alumni reunions attest to this fact.

So, pardon me for gushing (just a bit more), but there has always been something magical about the ‘GBH cachet, growing I believe from the station’s spoken, unspoken, and lived, philosophy, and from those who have striven to express it. The WGBH logo inspires, immediately, well deserved respect, not only throughout the industry, but among audiences worldwide.


The kid I referenced earlier is now almost 80. He’s run through quite a few personal and professional incarnations since his 6 years tenure at ‘GBH, but each of those eras have been informed and influenced by what he learned there — not only about broadcasting, but about the spirit at the heart of intelligent living.

He’s invariably moved when, during its station breaks, our local PBS station here in Honolulu intones its two slogans, “It’s not just TV. It’s a relationship,” and “Home is here.”

“Yes Is For a Very Young Man”

This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series The Don Hallock Collection

Dan Beach just rediscovered this image from a play by Gertrude Stein, “Yes Is For a Very Young Man.”  It was shot at 125 Western Ave., and that’s me on the right. (It was while was living in New York, and was hired to come back to Boston for a  few shows, so I’d guess at about 1965 or ’66.)

Gertrude Stein's "Yes Is For a Very Young Man" (1965 or '66)

The 1961 WGBH Fire

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series The Don Hallock Collection

From Don Hallock

In the early morning hours of October 14, 1961, a raging fire at the 84 Massachusetts Avenue studios of WGBH completely destroyed the facility. WGBH FM and TV were located in the second and third floors of a three story roller former skating rink. The fire, which began in the studio-A area, quickly consumed the upper floors of the building, rendering it a total loss. These stills were excerpted from 16mm black and white news film footage shot by Boston area commercial television stations.

Here firemen enter the rear of the building from the fire escape near studio-A control and the projection room. In the background light from the fire inside can be seen through windows which had formerly been covered over when studio-A was created.

Cambridge firefighters worked through the pre-dawn hours in a vain attempt to limit the damage.

By morning the effort had had proved futile, and evolved into one of simply hosing down the charred remains.

The top of 84 Mass. had become an open shell. For the first time in the history of the station the studios were illuminated by natural light. Left: inside studio-B, showing what remained of the grid and the wall over the control room.

Inside studio_A looking toward Massachusetts Avenue. The roof had fallen in and the wall between the upstairs offices and the studio had collapsed making the Mass. Ave. windows visible from the studio floor. Norman Feather’s screening room and film library is upstairs to the right, and below it the studio control room. The FM studio is straight ahead.

Studio lights among the wreckage

Film storage racks in the screening room sagging from the intense heat.

The Baldwin concert grand piano which had been played by the likes of George Shearing and….

…carcasses of cameras 1 and 2, all in studio-A.

All through the day, station staff scavenged the building for any materials which might have been of use. Not much was.

Out on the street, a growing collection of fire and/or water damaged equipment included: A 5K studio light

Empty 1/4 inch audio tape reels from FM control, and a monitor, probably from Studio-A control.

FM engineer, Andy Ferguson, in full disaster gear adds to the salvage pile accumulating to the side of the building closest to the Charles river.

One of the studio clocks stands in mute testimony to the exact moment during the fire when the power went off — 4:40 am.

Books and files are brought out of the building.

A staff member examines the focus yoke from one of studio-B’s cameras, which were completely destroyed in the extraordinary heat generated in that smaller and more enclosed space (that’s a pedestal column lying to the left). In “B” the aluminum microphone boom was literally vaporized, and the control room windows melted into flowing rivulets of glass.

Bill “Woozy” Harris opens the camera equipment cabinet just outside studio-A control. He pulls out what’s left of a 75mm lens.

One of the cameras in studio-A, looks to the sky, while at the left, that vertical structure is the long tongue of the Fearless Panoram dolly.

Outside, in the early afternoon, a few last items are stripped from the building. The station’s call letters are removed from their place on the little balcony above the front door, and the name plaque is removed from the column to the left of the door (it is now on permanent display in the lobby of 125 Western Avenue).

Fred Barzyk lifts the big “W” into a waiting van, while Bob Moscone looks on.

Thoroughly exhausted and hollow-eyed, Dan Beach, Greg Harney and Bob Moscone look on as the last remnants of the station’s tenure at 84 Massachusetts Avenue are hauled away.

Beyond WGBH’s human resources, the only truly useful production asset to survive the fire is the partly completed Greyhound mobil unit. It will play a crucial role in the station’s future viability as a television producing organization.

A camera side-panel tacked to the door identifies WGBH’s interim location on the 4th floor of the Kendall Square Building.

The offices were secured within hours of the fire, and a phone switchboard, run as usual by inimitable Rose Buresh, had been installed by the next day.

The station’s young program manager, Bob Larsen, pores over schedules in an effort to keep the station on the air and on schedule.

And when time permitted, he’d pick up a mop and join those cleaning up the space. In the long run, WGBH missed only one day of programming.

Volunteers scrub down well used replacement office furniture.

Continuous damage control meetings take place around a long table in a back corner of the office space (that’s Greg Harney in the trench coat, second from right).

David Ives sorts through badly soaked files.

George Weiner, WGBH building maintenance custodian, now with no building to maintain, put in long hours doing the hard-core installation of new office facilities.

The station’s accountant sets up his facilities as rapidly as possible in order to keep financial operations running as smoothly as possible.

In the background, the big call letters from 84 Mass. Ave. are carefully stored as a gesture of everyone’s belief in the future.

Very soon, the shell of 84 Massachusetts Avenue is disassembled and trucked away leaving, ultimately, almost no trace of the station’s former location.

While, at high levels, wheelings and dealings between the station’s upper management and the Boston academic community result in the launching of big plans….

Trustee of the Lowell Institute Co-operative Broadcasting Council, Ralph Lowell and Hartford N. Gunn Jr., General Manager of WGBH, are interviewed by a local television reporter (probably for WBZ-TV).

Interview with Ralph Lowell

    (For those of you who’ve forgotten what 16mm double-perf sounded like, there’s a little sprocket-noise surprise in each of these clips.)

    Interviewer: Mr. Lowell, when do you expect to break ground for the new WGBH studios?

    Ralph Lowell: We’re hoping to break ground early this fall.

    Interviewer: And if the luck is with you, when do you expect to move in?

    RL: Within a year from the time that we break ground.

    Interviewer: Have you received all the money you need now to build these new studios?

    RL: As you know, the Ford Foundation offered to match a half a million dollars, and we’re within a hundred thirteen thousand dollars of our goal.

    Interviewer: And what will the building cost you when it’s through. What is the entire cost of this new structure going to be?

    RL: The building alone, itself, will approximate a million two-hundred-thousand dollars.

    Interviewer: Did any other university besides Harvard offer you space for channel two?

    RL: Oh yes, they were all of them most cooperative. Brandies and Northeastern offered us land. Boston University offered us part of one of their buildings.

    Interviewer: Well, thank you very much, sir.

    RL: Thank You.

    Interview with Hartford Gunn

    Interview with Hartford Gunn

    Interviewer: Mr. Gunn, what type of building will this be when it’s concluded?

    Hartford N. Gunn: We expect this to be a modern design, and to incorporate the best facilities that we know that are available for radio and television today.

    Interviewer: Is this going to be a multi-storied studio, or is it going to be all on one floor?

    HNG: No, its…the studio height will be about twenty to twenty-two feet….normal….height. And then the large studio will have an area which goes up to thirty feet, including a stage-house, so that scenery can be lifted off the studio floor and stored overhead.

    Interviewer: Would you say that this is going to compare favorably with any other educational channel in the United States when you’re through?

    HNG: I would think so. I would think that this might be one of the very best facilities of any educational station around the country, and probably the largest, for the moment anyway.

    Interviewer: How do you think it will compare with commercial TV stations?

    HNG: I think it will compare very favorably….larger than many of them and possibly not as large as some stations. But I think it will be an excellent facility.

    Interviewer: Are you planning to have any brand new television equipment put in that perhaps some of the stations in this area may not have?

    HNG: That’s a little hard to say. As you know, many of the stations in the area are putting in new equipment, even now. I would hope that ours would be certainly as new, and possibly there might be a few surprises. I would hope so.

    Interviewer: Right, well thank you very much, sir, and good luck to you.

    HNG: Thank you.

    And here, at 125 Western Avenue, are the first signs of WGBH’s new beginnings….

    The foundations of WGBH: 84 Mass. Ave.

    This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series The Don Hallock Collection

    Many extraordinarily-gifted figures and luminaries of the day — in the arts, science, politics and education — found their ways into the halls and studios of the original WGBH-TV/FM studios at 84 Massachusetts Avenue, which were located just across the street from one of the main entrances to MIT, and close by Eero Saarenen’s beautiful Kresge Auditorium.

    84 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge

    WGBH first moved into the building in 1955, and a major expansion was accomplished in the fall of 1956. The fire, which destroyed it all, ending the station’s rather brief six year tenure, took place in October of 1961.

    During those short six years though, the place was a veritable hot-bed of talent; many very successful careers were begun here, and much that was revolutionary in broadcasting history took place during WGBH’s time in the building.

    Simulcasting (FM and TV) of the Boston Symphony Orchestra was pioneered in this building. The projection room was also home to the very first unit off the assembly line of the Ampex VR1000 2-inch videotape machine (the first videotape machine ever commercially available).

    Much broadcast history was laid down at 84 Mass. Ave., and much accomplished which was the genesis of what WGBH has become today.

    The Eastern Educational Network was dreamed up here, and eventually proved itself a model for vastly more extensive educational broadcast link-ups.

    Even then WGBH was proving itself a production center to rival that of WNET in New York and KQED in San Francisco, the other two major centers supplying programming for NET (the National Educational Network). This was not an easy accomplishment, given that most major talents were located in New York, and had to be brought (lured by superior program ideas) to Boston to perform in WGBH television productions.

    A certain reverence accompanies this presentation, as much broadcast history was laid down at 84 Mass. in six short years, and much accomplished which was the genesis of what WGBH has become today.

    A space designed for creativity

    I’ve taken the time to do this project since there are still a few of us who affectionately remember working in these rather modest, musty, and occasionally ill-fitting spaces, but also because there may also be some alums of more recent vintage with an interest in having some sense of the rather makeshift origins of the station’s facilities.

    This journey into the past includes two annotated floor plans of 84 Mass. Ave. during that brief period. Likely this presentation is unique, since I believe none of the original blueprints exist, and as far as I know no one else has attempted such a reconstruction.

    There are still a few of us who affectionately remember working in these rather modest, musty, and occasionally ill-fitting spaces.

    Please also bear in mind that these drawings are a reconstruction completely from memory, and so there may be unintentional errors or omissions. I apologize for any of these in advance; but the building was configured this way almost 50 years ago, and memory can become a bit vague over time.

    Since (I believe) no helpful dimensional information has survived the interim,these plans could not be drawn to scale. The measurements are quite approximate but, I also believe, give a good idea of what the original 84 Mass. Ave. facility looked like.

    The slight angle of the rear wall is not a mistake.  I had thought I remembered it that way, and made the original drawings to reflect that.  Later, though, I doubted my memory and made the building rectangular.  In a very helpful email, however, Michael Ambrosino said that he remembered the building tapering toward the north, and so I revised my plan again to show that peculiarity.

    I want, also, to offer a second apology here. Since far too many of the WGBH “family” worked in the various parts of the operation at 84 Mass. Ave., I will have forego trying to fit names with the spaces. Instead, I will mention only a few key figures. For those who will inevitably be left out, please don’t be hurt, and please forgive the omissions.

    First some notes on the building itself, and the virtues and drawbacks it presented to a new WGBH-TV, and a somewhat more mature WGBH-FM.

    From roller rink to educational link

    The building was constructed as a roller rink, with the skating surface on the second floor, and balcony spaces for observation and relaxation on the third – as is the custom generally for skating facilities. The street floor was sub-divided into spaces to house several shops, offices and other store-front enterprises. I’d be surprised if it measured much more than 250 feet in length, 70 feet in depth, and about 40 feet in height.

    Possibly the only surviving image of the front of the building, looking approximately north from across Mass. Ave. at the MIT entrance — by Brooks Leffler.

    WGBH did not own the building and, initially, the station rented only the south half of the upper two floors (to the left of the photo). The north half of both floors (to the right) housed a company which designed and built highly accurate atomic clocks — probably for MIT.

    It was constructed of red brick, and judging by the rather stern and gloomy architecture — which may be seen in Brooks Leffler’s unique photo of the façade from across Mass. Ave. — probably dated from the 1920s or possibly the 1930s. It could possibly have been built in the early 1940s, but I doubt it. Renovations required to make the cavernous edifice fit the station’s needs were very extensive, and must have been quite costly.

    Advantages and disadvantages

    One advantage of the building — aside from its being located just across the street from MIT, or even in the same city as some of the nation’s most prestigious educational institutions — was that, while obviously not very fire resistant, it was a sturdy monolith, and didn’t need as much sound-proofing as might otherwise have been required.

    Studio A, during construction - looking south-east toward the control room. Personnel (according to Michael Ambrosino): Hartford Gunn, Parker Wheatly, an unknown participant, and Ted Sherbourne.

    One very major disadvantage, which plagued production work from the beginning to the end, was the studio floors (the original roller-skating surfaces) which were made of maple boards which had been washed too many times. The boards were all cupped from the moisture, and this made camera-dollying in most directions a horribly lumpy business.

    As well, the cameras of the day were very heavy (about 250 pounds for a pedestal unit — God knows how close to a ton when the Fearless Panoram Dolly was used), and the creaking of the boards was heard on countless shows and recordings. We tried many solutions, including hand nailing each and every board down tighter, but all to no avail. For this reason the studios were a sound engineer’s, and camera operator’s, ongoing nightmare.

    Studio A panorama, looking south, from the cyclorama area toward the control room. FM studio and studio A entrance is to the left. Photo by Brooks Leffler.

    Other disadvantages included the fact that only the station’s top four or five executives had reserved parking spaces in MIT’s lot behind the building. The school’s parking facilities were even then over-subscribed. And so the rest of the nearly 100 staff had to do countless daily neighborhood drive-bys in order to find awfully scarce (and very frequently illegal) parking.

    I don’t know who was responsible for all of the renovations that made the old rink suitable for a radio and television facility, but they do deserve abundant praise.

    One notable exception was Bob Moscone, the studio supervisor (affectionately known to the studio minions as “The King”), who managed to convince all and sundry that an illegal spot on the alleyway sidewalk at the front left corner of the building was his (somehow, it was never ticketed). The only person I can remember ever successfully violating this unofficial convention was Al Hinderstein. Such chutzpa Al had!

    And a final major disadvantage: there was almost no place nearby serving any kind of decent food. Under most of studio A the street floor did feature Tech Drug, a soda fountain with a large table area in which to eat lunch. Many from WGBH and MIT did so. But the food was — how can I put it diplomatically? — atrocious. Besides, they only served lunch, which is not very helpful to a staff most of which started work at 2 pm, rehearsed for three hours until 5:00pm when we took to the air, and left around 11:00pm.

    Jerry Adler in video control, with TV master control at far end of console.

    There was an Italian restaurant about a block further into Cambridge, and the food was reasonably tasty, but that place only served dinner and the kitchen was not very clean (witness the many canker sores one could contract after eating there). Otherwise, we had to travel a bit of a distance to find eats. Bag lunches were by far our most common form of nourishment. Ah, but it all made the pioneering effort somehow more of a commitment, and bound us together the more tightly.

    In fairness, I’ll hasten to observe that the two stages of renovations to make the old rink suitable for a radio and television facility were quite well thought out, and with considerable foresight. The layout and facilities were always practical, and served our basic needs quite admirably. I don’t know who was responsible for all that, but they do deserve abundant praise.

    The tour begins

    Well let’s get to the meat of the thing by bringing on the plans.

    Click thumbnail to download floor plans

    As a convention — and to avoid confusion — we will call the street floor of 84 Mass. the “street floor.” But the logic ends there. The second floor of 84 Mass. we will call the “studio floor” (since, obviously, the studios were all located there). The third, following similar reasoning, we will refer to as the “office floor.” Please remember that both floor plans reflect the layout following the occupation of the entire length of the building.

    The drawings — one of the “studio floor” (floor 2), and one of the “office floor” (floor 3) — show the configuration of each floor after the expansion from occupancy of one half of the upper 2 floors of the building to filling of the entire upper 2 floors, from one end of the building to the other.

    I very much hope you find this “magical mystery tour” enjoyable. If you’re one of the “original crowd,” you might test yourself on the floor plans before consulting the key numbers, just to see how well you remember the place — or if, perhaps, you remember it better than I. Maybe this will even coax a tear or two from a few old eyes.

    Most of the mobile unit: The Boston Globe TV Week, April 20, 1962 (From Al Hinderstein's memorabilia collection - and that's Hindy, topside, behind the camera. From the right: Greg Harney, Dave Davis and a collection of the WBZ-TV staff) Fred Barzyk adds, "The second from the right is Mel Bernstein. He was on my crew and soon became program manager at WBZ."

    Behind 84 Mass. Ave.

    In the rear alley, the new/used WGBH-TV Greyhound bus resided while it was being converted to a mobile unit.  As luck would have it, the outfitting was very nearly complete when the building burned, and the bus became the literal life raft for the TV operation.  We did many productions using it, including parking it outside WHDH-TV, and shooting our own productions inside their studios.

    What we accomplished here

    From this humble home sprang the media colossus that is now WGBH. Sometimes (upstairs, in the heat of summer) we hated the place, but mostly we loved it dearly. What we did there, and who we were with each other, seem to have an ongoing life which can still be felt.

    Looking back, it’s amazing what was accomplished in this place.

    The fire was a catastrophe from which the public face of the station quickly recovered; the viewing audience barely noticed a hiccup. But we who salvaged what little was salvageable from the charred remains, even while pursuing a commitment to continue, did so in spite of a subtle but persistent state of shock.

    It could be speculated that the fire actually catalyzed the station’s growth and rapid maturation, and that without that kick in the pants we might have languished in that old building, and in relative poverty. From adversity often comes strength, and out of ashes….

    WGBH has had two more sets of digs since 84 Mass. For younger alums, and those who stayed on past the middle sixties, these newer abodes will form more of the framework of their recollections. Some of us, however, and with justification, will remember this original building fondly, and recall vividly the day of its demise.

    With warmest regards,
    Don Hallock

    Press and People

    This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series The Don Hallock Collection

    Here, dear friends, is a small collection of images from a series of programs which few will remember, though it was, indeed, quite memorable. WGBH produced Press and People for what was then NET (National Educational Television) in what I believe was 1959 or ’60.

    I found this episode — a kinescope recording of the interview with Edward R. Murrow — on You Tube some years ago, and grabbed stills from the salient parts. The video seems to have been taken down since.

    The program featured Louis M. Lyons — distinguished journalist, WGBH-TV’s nightly newscaster, and curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard — talking with important print and photo-journalists of the time about their work and philosophies. The guest list was truly impressive.

    This series was decidedly over-produced, using the entire of studio A for a simple one-on-one interview format.

    Extreme camera angles and distances were employed, and boom microphones purposely hung in the shots, all for dramatic effect. A rear projection screen can be seen behind Louis, which I don’t remember ever seeing used (and I ran Louis’ camera). In fact, as I recall, it was placed so close to the studio wall that there would have been no room for a projector behind it. A steno-typist, as you can also see, was included in the background of the wider shots of Louis — why? Only for more drama.

    Louis was seated about 35 feet away from his guest, necessitating the practice of voicing his questions at what was for Louis an unusual volume. The guests also had to project their answers, which gave a somewhat artificial feel to the proceedings.

    Furthermore, Louis and guest were never seen in juxtaposition; there were no two-shots from either direction. They might as well have been as far apart as Boston and New York. Empty drama.

    This was the era in which we were trying anything and everything to make our shows interesting, and some of it, such as this approach, simply didn’t make much sense. (It should be said that the director was not one of ours. He was imported from Canadian Broadcasting, and was possibly trying to make an impression.)

    At the close of the show, the program title was shown with “and 30,” “-30-” (or, in this case, just “30-“), an expression traditionally used by journalists to indicate the end of a story. The camera then a dollied in through the “0” of “thirty” (a hokey technique used before we had keying known as a “gobo shot”) to a card showing the steno-typist once again, and the address where one could write for a printed copy of the interview. The repeated typist would have been for emphasis, no doubt. A transcript could much more easily have been struck from the audio tapes we were quite capable of making — even then.

    This slightly irreverent commemoration demonstrates how primitive even our national productions could be, and is further intended to redress, however modestly, the relative scarcity of images of Louis who was, in himself, a WGBH-TV institution.

    Oh, yes, those are old fashioned, hot-pressed flip cards you see in the credits. And they are clearly crooked, as was so often the case in those days.

    Press and People

    Click any image to view slideshow.

    Crew Training Tape – Transcript (1962)

    This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series The Don Hallock Collection

    From Don Hallock

    This tape was shot in the temporary studio at the Boston Museum of Science. It was intended as an in-house training tool, primarily for new BU student interns. It puroprted to be a catalog of many of the most frequently perpetrated production errors portrayed in comic relief. Response at the April reunion suggested that it was at least moderately successful in the humor department.

    Original sin: Title cards are off center.

    Now the titles are centered, but the super is too weak so that Ginny Kassel’s credit is almost invisible….

    ….and so is MINE!

    The dissolve to camera 2 is successful — but the floor manager is standing way off camera right. Poor Russel has to crane his neck to see his cue, and for a long moment we wonder what on earth he is looking at.

    Russel begins, but with plenty of studio background noise (headset conversations and hand jewelry on pedestal rings). He is soon slowing down, speeding up and generally stumbling over his lines due to a deficit in the Teleprompter operator’s attention-span.

    Crew training tape – part 1

    And what’s this? Is Russel sporting a split lip? The rumor around the studio was a highly unlikely story about his having gotten into a bar room brawl. The other, more credible, explanation was that he had slipped in the snow and landed on his face.

    At last, we’re in the groove. But no. There’s too much head-room, a serious light flare in the upper right corner and Russel has “gone soft” again.

    Here’s the classic case of being in sharp focus — on the scenery.

    Compounding the indignity of a slide badly mounted and scratched, a ghostly and enigmatic figure passess between the Cellomatic projector and the rear screen.

    And….ooops! The boom operator was asleep at the wheel. Russel and George Spelvin (who was he really?) rise and nearly collide with the mic.

    Crew training tape – part 2

    The unkindest — and funniest — cut of all dosen’t show clearly on the tape. The sound track, however, betrays the stage manager scurrying to get out of the way as Russel and George move camera right to examine a priceless piece of sculpture. In his rush, stage manager, Steve Gilford, upsets it’s pedestal, sending the porcelain ducky crashing to the floor. As much of a hoot as this was, the spoof proved precognitive, as some years later, at the Museum of Fine Arts, a genuine, ancient, Egyptian marble statue was similarly atomized by poor Greg McDonald’s otherwise impeccable camera craftsmanship.

    The inquisitorial voice of someone we think is Bill Lenz, impersonating “the director,” takes each crew member to task for their errors, and elicits explanations for, and solutions to, the mistakes.

    A thoroughly humiliated Steve Gilford cops a guilty plea to every production crime from bad cueing to visible spike-marks and camera cables, going off headsets, misplacing furniture and destroying priceless objects of art. He promises better conduct in the take.

    Teleprompter operator, Frank Brady, graciously accepts responsibility for rendering Russell’s script unreadable. Frank was always a sweet kid.

    Crew training tape – part 3

    Camera 1, Mark Stevens, catches hell for excessive headroom, jerky dollies (caused by yet another stage manager screw-up — Gilford standing on the camera cable), on-air lens-flips and shooting off the set as a result of running into the boom wheel while dollying back. More promises. (Catch the aluminum foil viewfinder shade.)

    Crew training tape – part 4

    The Cellomatic projectionist (who we can’t identify just now) acknowledges slides left over from other shows, a picture which probably fell on the floor and got stepped on and not stopping crew members from crossing behind the rear screen — on the air.

    Crew training tape – part 5

    Linda Hepler (later Linda Tucker), the switcher, comments on mis-takes (thought she was cutting in the dead-row), poor handling of the faders and not checking the title slides before the run-through.

    (A touchingly youthful) Peter Hoving on camera 2 promises not to keystone the visuals, and rehearses an in-focus ZOOM.

    Crew training tape – part 6

    Our unnamed boom operator apologizes for locking down the boom and then relaxing on a stool. He asks for a monitor so that he can check his microphone height. And the “director” encourages better workmanship in the dress rehearsal.

    Crew training tape – part 7

    The closing credits bore the names of a few other friends who didn’t show up in the tape.

    And finally, Russel reads from the gloomy reminiscence of Michelangelo Buonarroti. The famous renaissance artist sounds as if he may have been reflecting on a life spent in broadcasting studios. More likely, however, is that the master’s words simply put voice to Russel’s feelings about years of almost endless emotional stress, writing and performing the weekly MFA television program.

    Crew training tape – part 8

    Living Places of the Not-so-rich and Occasionally Infamous (1957-63)

    This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series The Don Hallock Collection

    Just around the corner from the former Zebra Lounge, (the present-day Crossroads Tavern, shown in this photo to the right of center) was a pair of apartments at 27 1/2 Massachussetts Avenue, over a greasy spoon eating place which shared a kitchen with the Zebra.

    The second floor was occupied by Bill Heitz, Stewart White and Don Mallinson, while Jean Brady (Moscone Jolly) lived in the flat just upstairs. The place demonstrated, according to Vic Washkevich, “how blankets can give you privacy in a thumbnail studio….and provide lasting memories.”

    Stew White remembers this:

    “27 1/2 Mass. Ave. was the place, right around the corner from the Zebra which I think our class found and then slowly took over. Bill, Don, and I shared a one bedroom small (very small) apt. on what I think was the 2nd floor. Jean lived alone on the 3rd floor in an apartment that was a little bigger than ours because it didn’t lose space for the stairwell.

    There are probably several hundred stories that go with 27 1/2 and you should bug Don, Bill, and Jean for some of them. Like the Christmas we put a Christmas tree in Jean’s toilet while she was out shopping.

    Like the post live opera (La Fintingera or something like that [La Finta Gardinera: ed.]) held in Jean’s apartment on a week night starting at about midnight. The entire opera cast was there, the ‘GBH production staff probably including you , and some big name from New York who directed the entire three hour live show . At some late hour the cops arrived because the neighbors were complaining about the noise. We were merely drop kicking dozens of empty beer cans out Jean’s living room window into the alley below. Heitz hid in the closet/roof access area in Jean’s apartment hanging on a ladder while the rest of us (probably still 20-30 people, wandered the alley picking up all the cans under the watchful eye of Boston’s finest.

    There was also a trip to some beach late at night when Moscone’s big old Olds got stuck in the sand. I’m sure there are more.”

    The year was 1957.

    This photo is of Vic and Olga Washkevich’s kids Michael and Kathy. It was taken by Don Hallock at a Christmas party in 1957 in the Heitz-White-Mallinson digs mentioned above. Vic remembers that: “Carols by Odetta were on the record player.”

    1958: Twenty-nine Massachusetts Avenue (Heitz, White Mallinson, Brady) stands to the right, and 31 to the left, of Public Alley 104, AKA “Rat Alley.”

    Behind the rear windows of the third floor of 31 Mass. (as seen here from the alley), Brooks Leffler, Paul Noble, Dave Nohling and Larry White maintained their domicile.

    The place came with all the amenities. As I (Don) recall, there was no TV set, but that lack was more than offset by a clear view into the rear windows of the BU women’s dorms, about 50 yards away at the other end of the alley.

    The notorious “Rat Alley” abode in 1957.

    “Rat Alley” was named in recognition of (you guessed it) the multitude of extremely territorial rodents, which were measured not in inches, but in feet or meters.

    Fred Barzyk and Tom McGrath holed up in the tiny hovel comprising the right half of the little structure shown at the center of the above photographs. In the right-hand picture, it will be observed that, quite remarkably, the place bears an address: “437” (Rat Alley?).

    The window visible to the right of the little door is one of two — the other being behind the wooden fence. Taken together they offer a view of precisely nothing.

    This modern-day version of the “Lower Depths” seems still to be inhabited. In those days, the interior color scheme was an inspiring example of way-off-white dingy. Let’s hope the landlords haven’t waited yet another twenty years to repaint the place.

    Despite the rather oppressive “modesty” of the premises, many many parties and wild rumpuses were held here (a testimonial not to the hospitable atmosphere, but rather to the eccentric personae of its occupants).

    This sculpture, fondly entitled “Sno-Boobs,” was an early Barzyk-McGrath production, and stood for one shining moment directly in front of their door. (It will be noted that, in those kinder, gentler days, bars over the windows were not considered necessary.) (From the WGBH Archives)

    1957: Paul Noble and John Musilli lived here at 414 Beacon Street, the motherly protectorate of Mrs. Moltz.

    In 1962 and 1963, the first floor of 52 Revere Street on Beacon Hill was the home of Don Hallock and Kay Mote (who had been for several years Bob Larsen’s secretary, and was succeeded in that post by, I believe, Emily Lovering).

    It looks today almost exactly as it did then. The front room (distinguished from the bedroom by virtue of a tiny kitchenette) served as a painting studio for Don. The tiny bathroom was a darkroom for Kay.

    The list of WGBH “staff crashers” was lengthy, including, on occasion, Frank Vento, Bob Giuliana, Paul Neff, and Mark Tucker. Upon Don and Kay’s departure for New York, the premises were taken over by Steve Gilford.

    • All photos this page by Don Hallock; except where noted

    Then and Now (1955-2000)

    This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series The Don Hallock Collection

    The Buildings

    Then: The station in 1958, occupying a rather dusty second and third floor roller-skating rink in an old brick building located opposite MIT at 84 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge. (Photo by Brooks Leffler.)

    In 2000, WGBH sprawled over extensive real estate near Harvard. This is the main studio building at 125 Western Avenue, connected by a skyway to offices on the opposite side of the street.

    In the old days we had never been awarded one of these….

    ….or any of the rest either.

    Studio A and Studio A

    In the 1950s, Studio A (in 84 Mass. Ave.) looked like this….a wooden-floored, sixty by eighty foot production space frequently utilized to the last available square inch.

    (Photo from Brooks Leffler.)

    (Photo courtesy WGBH Archives.)

    In 2000, Studio A (in 125 Western Avenue), much larger and far better equipped, compared favorably with any such facility in the country.


    Now (above), and in the late ’50s (below).

    The RCA TK-30 black and white camera weighed about 100 pounds, took about a half hour to tune up, was equipped with four fixed-focus lenses, and was not equipped even with fittings on which to mount a TelePrompter.

    Below, the station’s first first full-time cameraman, Frank Vento, shoots Discovery, with Mary Lela Grimes.

    And in the department of conspicuous anachronisms we have specimens of cameraman anciencis with camera modernus.

    Control Rooms

    Studio control at 84 Mass. Ave. looked like this.

    Over the shoulder of Bob Larsen, seated at the director’s console, we see the video control monitors below.

    And to Bob’s right, Bill Busiek operates the RCA audio console. The announce booth is in the background just beyond Bill’s head.

    This is today’s Studio A control. Vastly more elaborate — and luxurious — than the one at “84.”

    We have no pictures of the old WGBH-FM facilities, but one thing’s for sure — they never looked the way these sophisticated, state-of-the-art, radio studios and control rooms do.

    Master Controls

    Here’s what ran it all in the distant past … seven- foot-high racks of tube-operated, marginally stable, massively heavy, heat generating control and distribution units. Remember them? All this, and vastly more, would now fit on a microchip no larger than your fingernail.

    Above we have the video/master-control console at “84.” At the near end are camera controls #1, #2 and #3, followed by the “Line Out” monitor and beyond that, at the very end of the console, the station’s entire Television Master Control. It consisted of nothing more than a fourteen inch by six inch aluminum panel in which was mounted a single-bus gap-switcher with probably four active source buttons. They were: Film Chain, Studio A, Studio B and Remote.

    Today’s WGBH Television Master Control has developed into something a bit more elaborate.

    Recording Devices

    So what’s this? A mechanical Mickey Mouse? Nooooo….it’s the first device for the continuous recording of television material.

    During the late forties and early fifties the kinescope recorder was the only alternative to live broadcasting, and was the only way of archiving audio/visual content until the late 1950s, when Ampex produced the first videotape machine.

    The “kine” machine was a noisy and fickle beast consisting of an un-blimped 16mm film camera (the square-headed “Mickey” to the right), its lens pointed at an ultra-hot kinescope picture tube (hence the name).

    In order to produce the considerable image brightness necessary for the low-sensitivity film stock of the day, such high voltages had to be generated and applied to the tube that a metal housing impervious to X-rays (center) was incorporated to protect the machine’s operators from radiation injury.

    Synchronized sound was recorded on 16mm sprocket-driven magnetic film (the audio recorder can be seen in the equipment rack to the left). The shutter of the camera had been filed by hand to a very fine tolerance, since every image was actually made up of two halves (top and bottom), and the edge of the shutter blade determined whether these two image sections either overlapped, were separated by a thin black bar, or met exactly and, therefore, invisibly.

    The temperature of the of the machine effected this function as well, and so it had to be warmed up for several hours before use. Constant “mothering” was necessary on the part of the operating engineers (Frank Harvey, Art Richardson and Larry messenger, most often) in order to achieve an acceptable recording.

    The final product was a 16mm, black and white, composite print (picture and optical audio track) which had to be reintroduced to the system through a film projector and vidicon camera (known as a film-chain) in order to be broadcast. WGBH achieved a reputation for producing very high quality “kines.”

    In about 1959 rumors circulated throughout the industry that Ampex had finally achieved a design breakthrough by creating a system of magnetic television recording using two-inch wide tape wound on 15 inch reels (rather than the four foot diameter reels required by machines being researched by Bing Crosby Industries).

    Several of our engineers reportedly purchased stock in Ampex, and the next year WGBH became the proud owner of one of the first Ampex 1000 machines (serial number 11, I believe). Production changed drastically thereafter, making possible instantaneous recording (after some le
    ngthy tweaking of the machine), and almost immediate playback.

    The video tracks were recorded across the width of the tape by rotating heads (which assemblies were quite expensive, and wore out after only a few hundred hours of use). There was no way to edit the tape electronically. It had to be spliced manually (much like the audio tape of the time), after being “developed” by the application of a volatile fluid bearing iron oxide dust, so that the frame intervals became visible to the editor.

    The tape was then sliced with a razor blade (used one time only) under a microscope, and painstakingly spliced with pressure-sensitive tape. Often edits would have to be remade three or four times before a clean one could be accomplished.

    The machine shown above is not one of those original ones (they were about three times larger) but, since the format for video recordings has changed radically, and the newer tapes are only one inch wide, this one is being kept at the station in order to play back those older tapes still in the archives.

    In more recent years recording and editing of videotape has advanced impressively. The equipment is smaller and much more versatile. The on-tape signal is digital, meaning that copies are virtually as good as the original. Razor blades have long since disappeared from the scene; editing is entirely electronic, and frequently computerized so as to make it possible to automate much of the process.

    Image Quality

    Back then (in the ’50s) symphony broadcasts looked like this one from Kresge Auditorium….low definition, black and white imagery. No modification of the standard, distressingly flat, auditorium lighting was permitted, as the musicians claimed that any change would interfere with their ability to read music and see the conductor.

    But today, all that’s changed. Symphony and Pops broadcasts are aesthetically lighted and many programs include elaborate light changes, ranging from the brightest high-key to dramatic, near darkness with only back lighting for accent. Color brings the concert further to life, and impressively high definition images add to the excitement.

    And more change yet is in the pipeline. “High definition television” is a reality, and programming is now being produced in the new medium. In wide screen, and sporting resolution so acute that it makes the use of painted scenery virtually impossible, the picture is astoundingly good (as Chris Sarson could tell you).


    • All photos by Don Hallock, except where noted.
    • Old master control photo coutesy of WGBH Archives
    • Kinescope recorder taken from the film “Discovering Discovery”
    • Tape recording and editing bay photos courtesy of WGBH Archives
    • Old symphony broadcast photo courtesy WGBH Archives
    • “Throwback” photos: Sean Hallock
    • Old camera pictures taken from the film “Discovering Discovery”
    • “Cameraman anciencis”: Sean Hallock
    • “84 Mass. control” taken from the film “Discovering Discovery”
    • Equipment racks photo taken from the film “Discovering Discovery”

    Last, a large photo of “84” provided a background for at least this pair of throwbacks, Don Hallock and Fred Barzyk ….

    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.

    The original dream factory — Mass Ave. Studio A (1950s)

    This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series The Don Hallock Collection

    How best to explain the extraordinary reverence with which studio A is remembered by so many of its former denizens?

    This is a deeper and more difficult subject than it might seen at first glance.

    Photo from From Brooks Leffler: Studio A, 84 Mass Ave, 1959. Visible are Don Knox, Bob Moscone, Fred Barzyk, Mel Bernstein, possibly Al Kelman, and Lew Yeager. [It was shot] by me — three exposures with my old trusty Leica III (long gone, alas), pasted together with tape and tweaked a bit in photoshop. (Upon looking at it again, I think that’s Dave Nohling coming through the door to the control room.)

    Oh, you might begin by thinking of the place, perhaps, as a homely seed pod … housing an almost primal urge to produce a kind of life peculiar to its spirit. Or imagine, maybe, a dry, dim, dusty womb. Anything like that will do.

    For years, from the time of it’s construction as a roller skating rink, until the fire collapsed it’s roof, studio A was literally a place where the sun never shone. But was it ever full of light! The bright scoops and fresnels that television production of the era demanded notwithstanding, the light of shared vision, creative endeavor and a remarkable group spirit illuminated the place in very special ways.

    So many careers were launched, or at least nurtured, its environment. None, to the best of my knowledge, ended there.

    The studio was a rather shabby place, with little character of its own, a chameleon space, created to mimic other environments than itself. (Film, television and radio studios tend to be like that: Selfless in a sense. But studio A had a ‘self’ that those who worked there knew with a loving intimacy.)

    It was, for its brief time, a truly magic place.

    For many, the place has been strongly emblematic of its time. And if anything, it’s magic blossomed from the power of paradigm, having had so much to do with the drive to produce programming that one could feel pride in, with the ongoing and exhilarating drive to overcome obstacles, with the almost mythic experience of being forced by necessity to achieve the impossible through sheer persistence and ingenuity. This creatively aggressive attitude seems, in a broader sense, to have characterized the entire station’s approach to its place in the world (and is probably, to a significant measure, responsible for its ultimate successes).

    WGBH has always been a multifaceted entity, its activities extending to an ever widening range of enterprises and venues — and its human element possessed of a remarkable spirit and sense of mission. That spirit showed itself dramatically in the studios (FM and TV) at 84 Mass. Ave.

    The FM Studio

    The life of the FM operation and studio (you’d find it just through the window to the left of the photo, behind the microphone boom) was somewhat of a mystery to us, in television. There were, after all, no sets or props or costumes to dramatize the content of the radio programming.

    Though we knew all the folks in FM, and that they were doing just as challenging programming as we were in TV (though probably of a higher production quality), we were somewhat in the dark about their undertakings and their output.

    Beyond the low partitions, over on the radio side of the big third floor office space, were collected some of the sharpest intellects one could hope to find in the aural tradition. Throughout their work day, they could be heard periodically bursting into gales of laughter, playing word association games so clever, erudite and abstruse that we, the cretins over in TV, could barely follow them, much less participate.

    And a dedicated bunch they were too: Bill Cavness and Tom Conley, particularly, could be found prowling the station at almost any hour of the day or night. They were frighteningly bright, seemed to love deeply what they did, and were both a challenge and a pleasure to work around.

    Sometime in the late 1950s I attended a tiny get-together at Bill Cavness’ home. At one point Tom Conley insisted that Bill play for us a little project he (Bill) had been working on for a couple of years. It was a work in progress, on audio tape, consisting of various sized music fragments drawn from probably a hundred classical works. Bill had painstakingly assembled them so that the key signatures matched, the transitional notes and instrumentation were continuous, and the whole had a strange and beautiful non-sensical sense to it. It was a full-fledged musical work in it’s own right, alternately comic and touching, grand and intimate. Brahms was suddenly and seamlessly Hovannes; Corelli, became Barber, and just as unexpectedly, Satie and Schostakovich.

    I’ve never heard anything like it since. It was a work of genius, and to call it a pastiche would have been an insult. It was a righteous collage in the finest artistic sense.

    The TV studio

    In television, too, the spirit was alive — or, more appropriately, ‘live.’

    For years, before the advent of tape, the vast majority of the production to emerge from studio A was live. And lots of production emerged from that room. Anywhere from one to four hours of television was pumped daily through that control room and directly out onto the air waves.

    Anyone who hasn’t done abundant ‘live’ television will have at least a little difficulty imagining how it would have been to do almost nothing but.

    Here’s a little of what that was like. In the early days of the station, there was, as I’ve said, no video tape. The existence of such stuff was only a tantalizing rumor (though, in the long run, the station actually procured one of the very first Ampex 2″ machines).

    There was ‘kinescoping’ (recording through a modified 16 millimeter film camera, live and live-style programs from a television image on a tiny, very intense, black and white monitor tube, the entirety of which machine was constantly hovered over by Frank Harvey, Arthur Richardson, and Larry Messenger during every second of it’s operation). The results of our kinescoping were, compared to the rest of the industry, of a very high quality — though by modern standards the product would be considered awful.

    There was film (and its production, as you know, bears no resemblance whatever to ‘live’).

    Live and back-to-back

    And then there was ‘live’ itself, the closest thing to which would be classic theater performance, with, given the primitive state of the television art, dozens of times the chances for disaster. Anyone who has done much live television knows that, while the obvious goal is to produce a good piece of TV, the deeper imperative is to avoid, if at all possible, embarrassing one’s self to death. In the days of live television, potential disaster skulked within every vacuum tube, behind each tick of the clock, and sat silently perched, like Poe’s raven, on every shoulder.

    As a director, for instance, you would be on the studio floor cleaning up a few (hopefully final) details with the crew. Bill Pierce would elegantly announce his way through the station break and promos. From the control room speaker the switcher would call out “1 minute to air.” And that was it. Did you forget anything — and , if so, what?

    There’s now time only to run to the control room sit down, take a breath, and listen to the master control operator on the intercom intone, “You’ve got it!” From that moment the ball is irrevocably yours, the master control operator leaves for a soda, and absolutely anything you do, right or wrong, the audience at home will witness.

    Now let’s up the ante. At WGBH, in those years, all programming was broadcast in the evening, and it was not uncommon for a couple of hours of productions to emanate from the studio “back-to-back.” (“The studio,” because for the first three or four years, though it was affectionately known as “A,” there was no studio B to relieve the intense usage of that space. Studio B was an afterthought — but an important one, and extremely well advised.)

    Now on any given evening there might, typically, be an hour-long children’s’ program, a half hour news show, a program on famous art works, and a jazz show, one after another, with nothing but a station break separating each of them. That meant that all the rehearsals for those shows were done, also one after another, in the afternoon; and hopefully those hundreds of shots and camera moves, audio cues, lighting changes and talent directions would be correctly remembered hours later, on the air. One director would finish a show, vacate the chair, and the director of the next one would slip in and, one minute later, start theirs.

    And some days in each week things got worse, yet. In the ’50s the station owned only 3 cameras and no mobile unit! If there was a field pickup (every Monday, for instance, the Museum of Fine Arts program Museum Open House), two of those cameras were out of the building — only one being left in the studio to do those three or four back-to-back shows we mentioned earlier.

    Sets and lenses

    The choice of lenses for a given show, for instance, became critical (because, as you may remember, there were no ZOOMs). Lenses could not be changed at any time during a one-camera program. A 50 millimeter lens enabled a cameraman to dolly reasonably smoothly, but approaching a subject for much of a close-up was impossible. A 90 millimeter lens (closer to a telephoto) enabled dollying to a close-up, but dollying smoothly, especially across its seriously flawed floor surface (more on that below), required intense concentration and unusually fine coordination. Emergency maintenance to a malfunctioning on-the-air camera (especially if it was the only one in the studio) often consisted of a swift fist to the side-panel.

    Much of what was done in studio A was “stuck-together” television. Few shows had a budget that would buy more than a few phone calls. Materials were constantly and chronically in short supply. There was one roll of gaffer’s tape, for instance, which lasted a year or more, and was measured out by Bob Moscone by the inch. You almost had to sign for each piece. Cheaper tape (something like 1 inch wide plastic stuff, in red and blue and black) lived locked in the desk drawer of Bob’s mobile office. (In truth, Bob had no office; only a wooden desk on casters which was never to be found in the same place two days in a row.) Spike marking with masking tape was more freely permissible — the tape was cheaper.

    Sets were mostly of the reusable type. You, as director, might have got a little initial budget for set and design, but then you were almost always stuck with that for the run of the series (frequently several years). Otherwise, you, as director, designed your own sets, and probably built them as well.

    They might be made of standard (and ubiquitous) studio drapes, occasionally swagged; ugly but useful modular risers; a variety of chairs (almost all ugly also); literally anything you might find by rooting through the scene dock (like those endlessly reusable, always in fashion, 7-foot high Corinthian columns — yes, or even cannibalizations of sets from someone else’s show, turned upside down, sideways, or cleverly redecorated with books, Books, BOOKS!).

    Very strange materials were pressed into service such as used audio tape strung between light poles, or stuffed baby elephants (we almost had one, and by God we would have used it!). In short, giving your show any kind of distinctive look was a chronically desperate undertaking.

    But talk to anyone who worked in that space in those days and fondness is what you will hear.

    A workaday atmosphere? Hardly. Starting in the morning we were up in the offices scripting (when there were scripts — mostly there were run-down sheets, if there was anything on paper at all) and preparing the programming, in the afternoon, rehearsing, and until 10:30 or 11 pm, shooting, striking and setting up for the next days shows.

    On weekends, when no special projects like A Time to Dance were on the boards, Ginny Kassel, John Henning, myself, and often others would hang out in the conference/guest/dressing room (just off the studio) and do what? … watch television, of course! In those days weekend TV was rich with Omnibus, Camera Three, Wide, Wide World, and our favorite piece of trash, Whirlybirds. At Christmas the whole staff would come in after hours and all night long to tape a holiday show consisting of send-ups of the regular programming.

    Frank and the crane

    One night, on a live presentation of Performance,” I was running camera 1, on a pedestal, and Frank was operating camera 2 — the Fearless crane. (This contrarily named machine was a large dolly supporting an 8-foot crane upon which a 100-pound camera was mounted. Since there was no accommodation whatever for the camera operator, the possession of some simian talents became a virtual necessity.)

    Now, somewhere around the middle of the show, Frank was doing a slow dolly-in with the crane extended all the way up to maximum camera height — a position which obliged him to balance precariously on a couple of the top rungs of the crane arm, and hang on for dear life.

    While repositioning my camera, I heard a zip-clank-BANG-CRASH and, glancing at the studio monitor, saw the picture from Frank’s on-the-air camera which was now pointing almost straight upward. Swinging wildly from side to side, the camera was panning the light grid, the microphone boom, and virtually all of the studio except the performers.

    About six feet behind the dolly, lying flat on his back on the floor was poor Frank, his face reflecting an odd combination of stark amazement and something like beatific rapture (I think the fall nearly knocked him out).

    His headset was dangling from the camera, which was, at this point, exercising a completely deranged mind of its own. Apparently the crane had begun to swivel. In trying to shift his weight to regain control, Frank had lost his grip, and tumbled helplessly out into mid-air, narrowly missing the person pushing the dolly.

    I fumbled up a usable shot, and the director quickly cut to it. Frank got up from the floor, brushed himself off, checked for injuries, and finding none, remounted his unruly steed to finish the program.

    Not too fancy

    Studio A was in no way perfect. It wasn’t really spacious (measuring only about 50 by 80 feet). And in the early days, since there was no scene dock, and the set shop was housed in a tiny office measuring about 10 by 15 feet, sets were constructed, and even stored in the studio itself.

    A converted skating rink, Studio-A’s floor was made of maple boards which had been washed so many times they’d ‘cupped,’ transforming the surface into something resembling a washboard. Dollying a camera along the grain produced an even enough effect, but trucking smoothly across the grain was almost impossible (though, to be fair, the blessing was mixed; it was a wonderful floor for dancers, and the studio crew never got shin splints).

    The facility was a second-story affair, its only large-scale access to the outside world being nothing like a loading dock door, but only an 8 by 8 foot freight elevator through which everything of any size at all came and went (often in a disassembled form).

    The studio was definitely not sumptuously equipped. Three camera
    s and one microphone boom were minimal amenities. All varieties of equipment were in short supply, and in that environment technical problems posed a continuous threat to the station’s production capability. Every resource had to be stretched for the maximum effect it could provide.

    Yet, for all that, literally thousands of hours of often remarkable and impressive (for the time) television emanated from that space, and it was from here that WGBH first put itself on the national map, becoming known for quality concept, high-powered talent, and excellence in production.

    In this studio, for a short span of time, a few young professionals, eager groups of college students and starry-eyed volunteers worked together to achieve a quality of broadcast output which, in time, compared favorably to that of New York.

    Visitors to the dream factory

    The élan, and body of skills, generated in Studio A set the philosophical tone, and established the resources of craftsmanship, for all the struggles which followed the fire. Throughout the post-inferno diaspora of production facilities borrowed from the Boston Archdiocese, WHDH-TV and the Museum of Science, that spirit has probably carried over into the station’s permanent home.

    Here are only a few of society’s heavy hitters who’s talent passed steadily through Studio A.

    • Dimitri Shostakovich
    • Aaron Copeland
    • Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein
    • artist, Marc Chagall
    • Max Lerner
    • Henry Kissinger
    • Arthur Schlesinger and Herman Kahn
    • Norbert Wiener (the father of cybernetics)
    • Isaac Asimov
    • psychologist B. F. Skinner
    • photographers Ansel Adams and W. Eugene Smith
    • Buster Keaton
    • Marcel Marceau
    • playwright Harold Pinter
    • MGM production chief Dore Schary
    • Jazz greats like George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, a very young Gary Burton and Cannonball Aderly
    • Choreographers and dancers Jose Limon, Jose Greco, Alwin Nikolais, Maria Tallchief, Andre Eglevsky and Geoffrey Holder

    Those who worked there were consistently exposed to some of the best that culture had to offer.

    In the ’50s, the romance of WGBH was heavily influenced by what took place inside Studio A. The personality of the station became indelibly colored by the atmosphere emanating from within its television operation, and from within the walls of its only (at the time) studio facility.

    As an organization, the station never paid extravagant attention to the intentional creation of team spirit and group synergy. That was never really necessary because the station community was, from the very beginning, galvanized and unified by an innate and remarkable passion for the medium, for the love of creativity, and for the “spin” of high ideals.

    For some inexplicable reason, the station’s ‘family’ has in general been comprised of uniquely agreeable people who’s shared vision made working together memorable as an exhilarating, challenging and rewarding experience. And the origin of that tradition can be traced directly back to the early days of “Studio A.”

    Inasmuch as the history of WGBH has been synonymous with the history of National Educational Television and its successor the Public Broadcasting Service (and the evolution of “educational television” into “public television”), Studio A and those who worked there made, in their time, a seminal contribution to the creation and nourishment of that endangered species, intelligent television.

    Finally, with all due respect, if these sentiments have sounded a little overblown, don’t bother voicing your objections in earshot of those who worked at the station in the days of ‘Studio A.’ You’ll find it a hard sell. The experience had a deep personal meaning for them which seems persistent, even to this day.