Nat Johnson: My Early Radio Days

This story originally appeared in WGBH & Friends

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.

Nat Johnson

It’s sunset on a Sunday afternoon. I’m eight years old and alone in our darkening living room, listening to a block of creepy radio mysteries crawling out of the Magnavox – Inner Sanctum, The Green Hornet, Lights Out, and the scariest of all, Orson Welles as “The Shadow.”

(Years later, I’d have strange, personal encounters with Welles himself, but that’s another story…)

As a boy, I’d spend hours seated at the console of our Magnavox – a magical machine with a 78 turntable and combo AM/shortwave radio – transfixed by its glowing green dial that drew me into its exotic world: Hong Kong, Paris, London, Tokyo. Strange music and foreign voices, rolling and fading like ocean surf, blending fragments of Morse code or teletype and eerie squeals and squalls, calling to me from somewhere … far out in the ether. This before FM and TV, and the LP, only just beginning to come into our homes.

1964. Fresh out of the army and back home from two years in Japan. I enrolled at the Longy School of Music and Emerson College, and began a part-time job at WBCN, starting on the graveyard shift –Saturdays from 4:00 PM until midnight.

Majoring in organ performance at Longy, I produced my own organ music series at WBCN, “The King of Instruments,” which I later shared with two college stations in Boston – WERS and WBUR. Years later, “The King” also ran briefly on WCRB before ending up at WGBH in 1967. When WGBH abruptly cancelled the show in the 1980’s, it went up on the bird to NPR stations in the Public Radio Cooperative. Long Live the King!

Nat Johnson at WBCN
Me at the WBCN console (c. 1965)

Staffed by true music lovers, a few cranky Bostonians, and super-bright students from Harvard and MIT, there was no better place to work than WBCN, and no finer opportunity to learn the art of music broadcasting. WBCN had an unusually high-quality stereo signal and despite the makeshift apparatus that served as our broadcast console (see photo below), we were blessed with a magnificent Neumann condenser microphone (see photo) that made every announcer sound like a pro!

WBCN was the originator in a string of classical music FM stations on the east coast (the Concert Network) – and we were the Boston Station of the Concert Network. Others stations included WRFK in Virginia, WNCN in New York City, WDAS in Philadelphia, WMTW Mount Washington, New Hampshire, and WHCN in Hartford, Connecticut.

Broadcasts recorded in Boston were “tape-bicycled” to other member stations which worked pretty well, except when the automated Hartford station started playing our Christmas-week programs in July. For economic considerations, WHCN had no “live” announcers. Money was constantly a worry for everyone.

By 1967, WBCN was nearly broke and our blissful existence as devil-may-care broadcast mavericks was coming to an end. WBCN underwent a format switch from classical music to “middle-of-the-road,” so time to move on – to WGBH. Volunteering in the summer of ‘67, I teamed up with Fred Barzyk and Olivia Tappan on their experimental TV series, “What’s Happening, Mr. Silver?”

One night, David Silver, Fred and Olivia visited me at WGBH. They had brought along a brand-new, just-released album by the Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That night, I decided to break with WBCN’s traditionally classical format to air for the first in America, a stereo broadcast of the album. Listeners were astounded – and generally seemed quite captivated.

I aired, for the first time in America, a stereo broadcast of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Listeners were astounded – and generally seemed quite captivated.

In December of 1967, with just one-hundred people on staff, I was officially hired at WGBH. My new boss, Bill Busiek, informed me WGBH wanted to continue my organ program and that I could fill in as a part-time announcer, but that I would be paid as an audio engineer – the position for which I was actually hired. Until my move to TV five years later, WGBH Radio seemed the ideal job, although a few quietly questioned whether newcomer Nat Johnson really ought to be wearing so many hats!

Soon after I was hired, ‘GBH-FM built its first “combo” studio whereby on-air-talent could “spin” their own records. I became the first “combo” operator, but that too raised some eyebrows and garnered more grumbles.

The compact-disc era had just begun, so WGBH bought a player. One morning, I aired the first compact-disc ever broadcast on WGBH, but only a few minutes in, it stuck – repeating a passage over and over and over. Fortunately, a listener called in to suggest the problem was probably only dust, or a fingerprint! I took the disc out of the player, apologized to the audience, explained what I was about to do and after cleaning the disc, it played successfully.

For two years, I hosted the weekend edition of Morning Pro Musica, beginning at 7:00 AM, until the indefatigable Robert J. Lurtsema arrived and took over the program in a seven day-a-week marathon. By then, I was happy to rescue my social life on weekends, and be allowed the luxury of sleeping-in on Sunday mornings.

Radio Drama

In 1968, a year after I joined, WGBH-FM received grant money from the NEH, the NEA and the Old Dominion Foundation to produce, record, and distribute 13 radios dramas on LP to educational stations around the country. Joan Sullivan and Lyon Todd produced and directed, Bob Carey and Bill Busiek were the principal audio engineers, and I assisted. With my ongoing interest in radio drama, this was the ideal situation to learn, experiment and apprentice. There was nothing like it then, and probably never will be again.

So, in the winter of 1967, I landed at WGBH – and just in the nick of time. WGBH had just been awarded funding for its proposed series of 13 radio dramas, to be distributed in a 13-LP boxed-set to “educational” stations around the country. The radio drama production teams worked in Studio 1 and out of the adjoining FM Sub-Master Control. The rest of us lived in what was called FM Master Control.

National Center for Audio Experimentation
Click to enlarge

In addition, WGBH produced a heavy schedule of live and taped concerts and lectures from around Boston and Cambridge (including the BSO and Boston Pops), the Gardner Museum and New England Conservatory of Music, Sanders Theater at Harvard, Kresge Auditorium at MIT. We broadcast Ford Hall Forum live from Jordan Hall, plus news, poetry, studio recitals, guest lecturers and recorded programs from the BBC and CBC. WGBH Radio was a wealth of significant cultural activity and a very busy, very happy place to be.

Then, in 1970, shortly after WGBH issued its boxed LP set of radio dramas, another bit of luck: I was chosen to represent WGBH at series of radio drama workshops at the National Center for Audio Experimentation at WHA in Madison, Wisconsin.

These amazing workshops, conducted by Desmond Briscoe of the BBC, were attended by public radio representatives from around the country.

WHA
Click to enlarge

Besides me, there was representation from WILL Radio, University of Illinois; WYSO, Yellow Springs, Ohio; KBYU, Brigham Young University, Utah; KEBS-FM, San Diego State College; KOAC Radio, Oregon; WFCR, Amherst, Mass; KPFA Berkeley, WRVR New York City and WUHY, Philadelphia. WHA Madison and Radio Hall at the University was the host station and provided faculties for our study and actual production.

Much of our day was spent in the studio, reading and recording the assigned radio play, creating sound-effects on a table-top Putney Synthesizer, and then the final mix and editing. Oh yes, in those days editing was still on ¼” tape, cut by a razor blade on a splicing block and then glued together with splicing tape. The afternoons were dedicated listening times, during which Desmond Briscoe played us classic BBC radio dramas.

The play for our group was by Tom Stoppard: “The Dissolution of Dominic Boot.”

Stoppard script
Click to enlarge

These were heady days and over our horizons, the future looked brilliant indeed.

Epilogue

It was at WGBH I first met Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow’s producer at CBS, who spoke to us one memorable afternoon in TV Studio A about the dream about to be birthed for the future of radio and TV. In his talk to us, he called it “the Public Broadcasting Laboratory.”

The last time I saw Fred, many years later, we were both in Grand Central Station and in a hurry to catch trains. I stopped, said hello and reminded him of his visit to WGBH (arranged by GM Hartford Gunn, since departed) and of the dream they had shared with us.

Fred was so pleased, and thanked me for remembering. Yet, I could not help but detect a slight wistfulness to his tone, for I think we both knew that times were changing and that perhaps not every part of the dream was to be realized. I don’t remember exactly what we discussed but at the time, I thought I noted a brief flicker of sadness behind that wide and Friendly smile.

At this post, we are aware that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of ignorant, misguided, misinformed individuals and legislators throughout America who want to defund NPR and PBS, sink them forever, and destroy the legacy of quality broadcasting so many worked so hard for so many years to create.

If nothing else, I hope this little blog [WGBH & Friends] will be useful, and perhaps inspirational, to those read it and might choose to participate in the fray.

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

A stranger in a strange land

This entry is part 6 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection
Fred Barzyk (2007)

The story of a BU/WGBH scholar, 1958-59

It all began on a hot summer’s day. The two of us waited, standing on the corner, staring hard at the passing cars. We were searching for our ride.

We waited, not quite sure of our new adventure. Not that one, not that one. Tom McGrath and I waited there for what seemed hours, our overstuffed suitcases surrounding us on the hot pavement.

It was 27th street and Oklahoma Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, just up the street from Leon’s Frozen Custard Stand, an icon of all things dairy in America’s Dairy Land, and right across from Pulaski High School. I had graduated from Pulaski just four years ago. You could tell by its name that this was the South Side, and very Polish. My Aunt Jenny had a sausage shop just a few miles down Oklahoma Avenue; she had all kinds of Polish delights in her white gleaming glass cases. Kiszka, Headcheese, Mettwurst, Kielbasa, and of course, Blood Sausage.

“Hi, guys. Nice to meet you.” As we loaded the suitcases into the car, I wondered if it could actually make it all the way to the East Coast.

A big old black car pulled up and out stepped our fellow traveler, David Nohling. “Hi, guys. Nice to meet you.” As we loaded the suitcases into the car, I wondered if it could actually make it all the way to the East Coast.

Tom sat in front and I in the back, shoved in with everyone’s belongings. We were all to bear the cost of the drive — gas, tolls, etc. — we were all to take turns driving, thus avoiding the cost of having to stop at motels, just drive right on through to Boston. It was going to take 16 plus hours.

And then it hit me. This was a standard shift car! I could only drive automatics! They were kind to me. Don’t worry, we can do all the driving, they reassured me. I felt like a jerk.

On the road

The car lumbered down 27th street toward Chicago. Soon we were on the interstate heading East. Dave had figured out that if we drove at night, the car would be a hell of a lot cooler than it would be driving during the day. His car did not have air conditioning. Dave was a good planner.

Dave had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He was a Communication major, very knowledgeable. Tom and I had just graduated from Marquette University, with degrees in Speech. Yup, that was what they called it.

Why us? God works in mysterious ways. I could understand why Tom was chosen. He had already worked part time at a local commercial TV station, he had experience. I had no experience. I mean, Marquette didn’t even have real TV cameras: we used wooden mock up cameras, faking TV shows. But as I huddled in the back seat, I knew the only reason I was here was because of Bill Heitz.

Paul Noble and Bill Heitz

Bill was finishing up being a BU/WGBH scholar that summer. He had graduated from Marquette the year before. He insisted that I try to get into this scholarship program; he said it was absolutely great. You studied for your graduate degree in communication at Boston University and worked three days a week at the Educational Television station. Free tuition and you got $600 to live on for the year in Boston! Bill said this program would change my life. He was right.

I slept a lot during the trip. Darkness came and went, and we drove on and on. Then Dave gave us his real surprise. He had never been to New York City. Neither had we. He was a good planner.

It was late morning when we drove into the heart of NYC, the big enchilada. We drove through the traffic, staring up at the tall buildings. And then Dave pulled over into a no parking zone, got out of the car, opened the hood and peered at the engine as if the car was having trouble. He told Tom and I to go in first. He had stopped outside Grand Central Station. Tom and I moved though the crowd and into the giant train station.

Alfred Hitchcock, from Wikipedia

And there he was.

Just sitting in a chair while the rest of the film crew moved around the cameras and lights. Someone came to him and asked a question. He responded, but never left his chair. Tom said “It is Alfred Hitchcock!”

We had stumbled into the filming of “North by Northwest.” There was Gary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. They were walking towards one of the train tracks.

While they were acting inside the station, Dave was doing a wonderful acting job outside. Tom and I came back and now we stared into the engine while Dave rushed into have a look.

We couldn’t believe our luck as the car headed off toward Boston.

Boston at last

I had left behind Milwaukee’s three B’s: Beer, Baseball and Bowling. And now I was in Boston with its three B’s: Brahms, Beethoven and Bach.

Several hours later, tired, sweaty, thirsty, we drove into the Boston area. We had made it, and it took just over 18 hours.

Dave turned on his radio and searched the dial. And there it was… classical music on the AM dial! Can you believe it? The only classical music station in Milwaukee was on FM and wattage so low hardly anyone could hear it. I had left behind Milwaukee’s three B’s: Beer, Baseball and Bowling. And now I was in Boston with its three B’s: Brahms, Beethoven and Bach. This was going to be some kind of year.

Heitz opened his apartment to us. We showered, had some beers, told about our trip, and went to sleep. The next day Bill took us to what he thought would be the perfect place for us to rent. It was just down the block from Massachusetts Ave., right on Marlboro street.

The entrance to Fred Barzyk's and Tom McGrath's little hovel in "Rat Alley," 1959. Photo by Brooks Leffler.

The 3 scholars from Wisconsin rang the doorbell and the landlady opened the door. Mrs. Gautraux. Her hair was frizzed, her elderly eyes had that crazy look after all these years of renting to college kids. She led us to the basement, to a two-room apartment fashioned around steam pipes and the furnace. “$80 bucks a month.” We took it.

She gave us the key and said we should use the backdoor for coming and going. She opened the door, which led directly to the alley. The alley. What can I say? Here among the garbage cans, cars parked in little spaces, lived some of the largest rats in Boston. Bill told us this was known as Rat Alley. Ah, yes and now it was our home.

Getting oriented

That night Bill took us to see the latest WGBH remote. There was a huge arts festival happening in a park called the Boston Public Garden. The three of us stood besides a pond in the middle of the Garden and watched as members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra drifted by in a Swan Boat playing Handel’s Water Music. And our little TV station was broadcasting it live! Wow!

That night as bedtime approached, Tom and I acted like freshman who had just moved into a dorm. Both Tom and I had lived at home while going to Marquette. This was real freedom. Alone at last in our own space. We giggled on about Rat Alley, you know, “Snow White and Seven Rats,” that kind of thing. Stupid stuff.

The big day arrived. The 1958/59 scholars were to assemble at WGBH. We walked down Massachusetts Avenue, over the bridge into Cambridge.

Dave soon made arrangements to move in with another scholar, Brooks Leffler. Now it was up to Tom and myself to make the $80 monthly rent.

Then the big day. The 1958/59 scholars were to assemble at WGBH. We walked down Massachusetts Avenue, over the bridge into Cambridge. On the bridge were strange markings, Smoots, based on a man named Smoot who was placed end to end in the ’40s by his MIT fraternity.

Finally, we arrived at the address. And there it was, right in the middle of the MIT complex of buildings. It was in a low-slung three story building. It appeared to have some non descript businesses, a drug store that served lunch, not much else. In the middle of the building was a plaque on a pillar announcing that this was the home of the WGBH Educational Foundation.

84 Massachusetts Avenue

We climbed the wooden stairs leading us up to the reception area. There sat Rose Buresh, receptionist, the one person who really knew what was going on at WGBH. We were ushered into the studio. It was huge. It was once an old roller skating rink. Its wooden floor proved to be problematical when moving the TV cameras. If you went straight forward, going with the floorboards, you got a pretty smooth ride. But going across the grain, led to some very bumpy dollies. We all took notes.

The notorious Boston University Scholars "Crew of '59." Top left to right: Al Kelman, Phil Fields, Tom McGrath, Fred Barzyk, Don Knox, Bert Bell, Sue Dietrich, Dave Nohling, Jim Hennes, John Sunier, John Engel. Bottom left to right: Lew Yeager, Joe (Mark) Mobius, Brooks Leffler, Mel Bernstein. Not present: Hiromichi Matsui. Caption by Al Boyns.

Introductions

We met our leader, Bob Moscone: from then on to be known as the King. Bob was once an Arthur Murray Dance teacher; a slender attractive Italian man who carried a little note card on which he kept track of what was going on at the studio. And he also controlled when we were to work at WGBH. He was the man in charge. He was the King.

"Prospects of Mankind." Left to right, Bob Moscone, Dave Davis, Virginia Kassel (behind Dave), Paul Noble, and Eleanor Roosevelt, fall 1959.

His second in command was Kenny Anderson. Kenny was a young slender guy with a terrific Boston accent, full of energy. I found out later he was a true lover of women, all women. The King asked him to show us on how to hang and focus a light. Kenny climbed the ladder, moved the light and then to show off, slid down the ladder. The scholars gasped. The King smiled. He hoped we should all be able to do the same in a few days.

Our audio man was Wil Morton. He seemed to be very young but with a keen sense of professionalism. He showed us the mikes, the cables, the endless cables. Eventually we met the TV directors and producers. Jean Brady (The Queen) a sweet, lovely woman with a wonderful southern accent; Gene Nichols (the Court Jester) a quiet man with a great smile; Ted Steinke, a big smiley guy from the mid west; Lou Barlow, who seemed to smoke whenever he directed. I don’t remember him smiling much.

And then there was Paul Noble, who had been a BU scholar in Bill Heitz’s group and had just been hired as a producer/director. It is important to note here that Paul and his crew really set the culture of WGBH scholars. It was family, fun, and camaraderie. His team bonded like no other, still meeting yearly, nearly 55 years later. Paul and his team created a WGBH yellow journalism news rag, The Ille Novi. (Latin for “Here’s the News,” which were the words used by Louis Lyons each night when he opened his news program. Copies of it are in the WGBH archives.) This mimeographed tabloid told all the “real news” for the scholars. Paul once told me his greatest talent was reading memos upside down as they sat on the executives desk. Long live yellow journalism.

Sitting front row: Vic Washkevich, Paul Noble and Ed Donlon.

There was Whit Thompson, who seemed to do all the music shows. His dad was Randall Thompson, composer of symphonies and other pieces, who taught at Harvard; Lenny Bernstein was one of his students. Whit wore glasses and was very erudite. And then there was Cabot Lyford who had a nasty habit of kicking the wall every once in awhile. He was the director of the Museum of Fine Arts show “Invitation to Art,” a big remote production from one of the country’s great museums. (Not many people know that the museum was internally wired with TV cables in expectation that the MFA and WGBH would be doing shows for a long time. I wonder if they are still there.) The host was Brian O’Doherty, a visiting Doctor from Ireland who had come to Boston to study heart related illness at Harvard University.

Brian became a dear friend. Years later, Brian became head of the National Endowment for the Arts Media Panel. His panels awarded many grant dollars to WGBH. Brian was also the fine arts commentator for NBC’s Today show for 9 years and is a celebrated artist painting under the name Patrick Ireland.

Brian would occasionally invite me to have lunch at Ken’s deli restaurant in Copley Square. I mean, we never even did a show together, but he had somehow become interested in what I thought about TV and art. That was really hard to imagine. I was just a kid from the South Side of Milwaukee. It was very unexpected but complimentary. I really enjoyed the talk and the food.

An aside: the culinary arts

Tom and I existed on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pasta and cheap canned tomato sauce, and every once in awhile, a piece of meat.

Yes, the food. Food was a constant concern at our apartment in Rat Alley. Tom and I existed on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pasta and cheap canned tomato sauce, and every once in awhile, a piece of meat. Milk, when we felt really rich.

I remember one day, I traded my jelly sandwich with cameraman Don Hallock for his tongue sandwich. Tongue! I wasn’t sure about eating tongue but what the hell, it was meat. After all, I had eaten a lot of weird things in my mother’s Polish kitchen. Czarnina, a black duck blood soup with prunes and raisins; boiled chicken hearts and gizzards over mashed potatoes. I sort of liked the tongue sandwich, even though it was kinda chewy.

Brian, I can still taste those big Reuben sandwiches at Kens. Thanks. It meant a lot. More than you ever knew.

Back to introductions

Russ Morash, who would soon become one the most important producer/directors at WGBH, had just married. He and his wife took an extended honeymoon in France that summer. Russ eventually returned to direct a French Language show for kids called “Parlons Francais.” He had studied acting at BU and his wife had graduated with a degree in set design from BU,  fellow theater artists. I ended up using Russ in a number of dramas that I did for PBS. The most memorable is when I cast him as a fellow TV newscaster with actress Lily Tomlin. They were perfect together.

There was also Bob Squier. Talk about energy. He was the quickest, the most animated of our directors. He took more shots in one show than most of us ever thought about. Bob soon moved on to become an independent producer and eventually became the Democrat’s PR spokesman. He appeared often with Roger Ailes, the Republican counterpart (now head of Fox Cable News). Bob passed away a few years ago. Sad.

Don Hallock, Al Kelman, and Tom McGrath

A reflection: As I now look back at the staff of WGBH in those days, it dawns on me how young we all were. I mean, the average age of the camera people, lighting, audio was 23. Even the engineers were young; Bobby Hall, blond, happy guy; Jerry Adler, FM engineer, the only practicing Jew with a Southern accent I had ever met; Andy Ferguson, the only African American on staff, were all in their late 20’s. And the staff camera people, Don Hallock, a true artist and one of the greatest TV camera operators I have ever known, was not even 20. Bob Valtz, a recent Harvard grad who wore his tie flung over his shoulder while running camera, was 23. Frank Vento, a dark haired, intense camera/lighting person was probably near 30. Even the executives were only in their thirties.

Frank Vento and Mary Lela Grimes

The executives

The Executives. The visionaries who helped make WGBH so special. There was Dave Davis, manager of the station. He was a former trumpet player and lover of jazz and good music. In addition to his duties as station manger, he also directed the Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts. His was a tightly run production, which created the most sophisticated music/camera shot list ever.

It was amazing that he could take a bunch of BU Scholars along with this young staff, and make the broadcast seamless and professional. (The BSO and WGBH have paired up to release some of these early TV concerts on DVD, to be released in 2011.)

It is fair to say that Dave was the paternal figure in the organization. He didn’t say much and it was expected of you to present your questions in an exact and quick manner. He would then give a quick answer back.

Dave appreciated hard work and creativity. Once, after a music show that I did, he called and complemented the staff and me. It was really a big moment for us. That didn’t happen too often. We celebrated by going out and having a few beers at the Zebra Lounge.

Aside: The Zebra Lounge

The Zebra Lounge on the corner of Mass Ave. and Beacon Street. The home away from home. (Now, called The Crossroads.) The corner booth covered over with fake Zebra cloth. Our corner booth. A place for the young scholars to relive the day, laugh at what we did and did not do.

Our BU Scholar group broke into three groups. First, there were those who had come back from the war and were going for their master degrees. They were older, married, some with kids. Second, there were the serious scholars who wanted their degree. They studied hard, did their WGBH work and acted like adults. And then there were the rest of us.

We thought all of this was fun and games. A great time to learn, try new things, drink beer, laugh, what me worry? Not many of us finished the degree. We went to class and were responsible students, but spent most of our time at WGBH. I mean, we used to go to the studio after closing hours, crank out the big boom mike into the middle of the studio, and play volleyball. This was fun. The whole thing was fun.

Young ladies came into Tom and my lives. Tom hooked up with a sparkly woman, Peggy. I met Ruth Smith casually at the Zebra lounge. She was from Revere, graduated from Chandlers, and now was a special assistant to some big wig at Bank Boston. After a few dates, we became a number. As a matter of fact I ended up marrying her. As she likes to remind me, we will be married 50 years next March. How time files.

Back to the executives

Three important executives who influenced my life were Mike Ambrosino, Greg Harney, and Bob Larson. Bob was program manager. He had graduated from Harvard and was a practicing Christian Scientist. It was Bob who saw the potential of a TV series for a tall Cambridge woman who had appeared on our weekly book show: her name was Julia Child.

Bob thought I could only be a director since he questioned the kind of education I might have gotten at Marquette. I accepted his opinion then and said, “I will show him that there is more to me than he thinks.” He was my challenge. Years later he accepted me as someone who could become a producer. Bob passed away from stomach cancer, much too young. His religion, which he cherished, did not allow him to see a doctor. His prayers were not answered. Sad.

Michael Ambrosino
Michael Ambrosino, September 1956.

Mike Ambrosino, though an executive, also produced and directed a number of shows. He was in charge of creating the Eastern Educational Television Network. He also created the 21 Inch Classroom, a coordinated program between WGBH and 35 independent school systems to see if TV could be used in the classroom to enrich the teaching experience. We did a lot of 15 minute shows directed to grade school kids.

Mike did a lot of science shows, especially with Gene Gray, a teacher from Newton. It was during one of Gene’s shows that he poured some acid into a plastic cup only to see it dissolve the cup. (This is still in the archives.) Not much you could do because the show was live. Gene did a great job making the disaster into a teaching moment. Ambrosino later went on to create one of the great staples of PBS: NOVA.

Greg Harney. What can I say? He had arrived from CBS at about the same time as our crew. He was one of the best lighting directors at CBS. However, Greg was ambitious and took the job as production manager at WGBH to expand his choices. He took a hefty pay cut and supplemented his WGBH salary by teaching a grad course at BU,Lighting and Production. This was a class that all of the BU scholars took. His style of directing, lighting and program style was gleaned from his days at CBS and it was soon our style, too.

Script Conference, A Time to Dance, 1959. Left to right: Paul Noble, AD; Jac Venza, Producer; Martha Meyers, host; and Greg Harney, Director.

Greg and I always had an “interesting” relationship. Greg liked to call you into his office after one of your shows and critique your performance. A dear fellow director, Ed Scherer, told me how to handle these sessions. Agree and then go do what you normally do. I did this many times. Many.

Finally, one day Harney confronted me in the hallway, and accused me of not really listening to him. He had me caught. What to do? I blurted out that he was probably right. I should really listen to him. He looked relieved. Of course, I just went back to what I was doing anyway.

Greg was pushing me to be the best I could. Many years later, he said that he had tried to hire me as a director when our scholar year ended. But there wasn’t any money. He kept after me, bringing me back three times to WGBH for short stints as a director.

Then one day, when I was back in Milwaukee doing a silly job working for a Polish Newspaper, he offered me a permanent TV directing job. Somehow, he had found me at this little office where I was doing blind calls for a Polish newspaper, Novini Polski. I would call up people who were trying to rent apartments and suggest that they should rent to good Polish people who were clean and reliable payers of rent. All they had to do is place an ad with the Polish newspaper.

Greg’s offer was exactly what I was needed. I walked up to the office manager and quit. It wasn’t even 10:30.

So, for the next 50 years I did at least one show a year for WGBH. Sometimes, I did as many as 100 TV shows in a year. It became my professional and spiritual home. As I often said to the present executives, this is my station.

I haven’t said much about Hartford Gunn. He was the head of the whole thing. He was the brains behind the operation and soon left to create the whole PBS system. Hartford was there, but we didn’t interact with him on a daily basis. He was gracious to us all as he bustled about his business.

Hartford Gunn

Years later, Hartford and I had an interesting confrontation. In those days, I wore white shirts and ties. Hartford grabbed me by the tie and pushed me up against the wall.

Why? My fellow producer/director Dave Sloss and I had written an internal memo criticizing David Ives for not being adventurous, as we wanted him to be.

The musician’s union had complained about our local folk music show because we didn’t pay anything. David felt we were in danger of being blackballed by the union and we should cancel the show. He said we always get in trouble when we do entertainment. Our memo took Ives to task for this position, in rather brutal language.

Hartford wanted to make a point to me while holding me by tie and up against the wall, that he too wanted the station to venture into entertainment. He warned me that we had to be careful. Go slow. I agreed with him. The folk music show continued. It was my most intimate moment with Hartford.

Special moments

Left to right: Fred Barzyk, Barbara Goble, Libby Alford, Al Reese, Don Hallock, and Ruth (now) Barzyk with her back to the camera.

Fact: Our personal history is not made up by remembering specific days, but by remembering the special moments. There were three special moments during this period.

Birthday party

First, was my birthday party. I turned 22 in October and the gang gathered at our apartment in Rat Alley. Beer flowed, laugher filled the small apartment, there was even food that somebody brought.

And then, Hallock and Vento paraded into the packed place carrying a birthday cake. The crowd sang Happy Birthday. Then they plugged the cake into a wall socket and the whole thing exploded. BOOM! The room filled with smoke. At first, everyone cringed but then, realizing it was a joke, broke into loud laughter. In she came.

Mrs. Gautraux.
In her bathrobe.
She yelled and screamed.
The place cleared out fast.

What a birthday!

Halloween

Second was Halloween. It had been decided by our crew that Educational Television was dead. It would go nowhere. ETV is dead. It was even chalked on the side of the building in Rat Alley. (I think that was me who did it.)

Anyway, it was decided that WGBH scholars, along with the staff, would join in a Halloween parade that was planned for Boston. Don Hallock, God Bless him, built a wooden coffin. They dressed Nohling up as a cadaver and placed him in the coffin and drove around the city in a convertible. A banner declared that ETV was dead. Probably no one in the crowds ever knew what it meant.

The driver of the convertible had a little too much to drink and I guess it was a pretty harrowing drive. The WGBH crowd ended up at some apartment on the seedy side of Beacon Hill. The next day, Don Hallock and I carried the coffin across town to my apartment. And there the coffin stood, propped up against our wall, open and empty. It stayed that way until I moved out months later.

Picnic in Rat Alley

And finally, the last week in the apartment, we had a picnic in the alley. Everyone brought whatever booze they had and we poured into one of our old pots. We called it a wassel bowl. English phrase I guess. As I sat there thinking about the last days in Boston, I looked over to our open apartment door. A rat quietly walked out of the apartment and into a garbage can next to the building. It was the end. The end of my scholar days. The end of a great year.

Henry Morgenthau

Wait! Not yet. I haven’t talked about Henry Morgenthau III.

Mrs. Roosevelt and her staff. Henry Morgenthau, Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Noble, and Diana Tead Michaelis, fall 1959.

Henry was a producer at WGBH. He was rumored to be wealthy. I know that he had a man, someone to drive him around, cook his meals. I guess you would call him a butler. But Henry was one of us. He laughed and played just like the rest of us.

But one important fact: Henry knew Eleanor Roosevelt. He convinced her to be part of one of WGBH early important shows, “http://wgbhalumni.org/2007/01/01/prospects-of-mankind-1959%e2%80%9361/Prospect of Mankind.[/intlink]” (This program is also in the archives.) Everyone was on that show; John F. Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, you name it. And it was all because of Henry.

Henry’s father was Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury, signer of all the nations currency. And here he was, one of our producers. Henry was great. Fun and creative. He and I ended up doing a whole ton of shows together, none more important than “Negro and the American Promise.” (Also is in the archives.)

My Dad was very impressed that I knew a Morgenthau. My Dad was a lifelong Democrat. He was very pleased that I was in good company, especially the son of the man who signed all the nations money.

Money

My Dad always said “follow the money and you’ll find the truth.” All I know is we never had enough of it in those days.

Tom and I had each derived ways of making ends meet. Some of them were not very pretty. Fortunately, Greg Harney and Henry Morgenthau were bringing in big budgeted shows that were shot on weekends. That meant the crew was paid overtime. Tom became one of the regular paid crew members. That money really helped him

Guinea pigs

However, in some kind of desperation, Tom signed up to be a medical guinea pig. He went to the Mass. General Hospital and was injected with a blood thinner. Then they took out some blood and tested to see how thin it really was. I guess it was pretty thin because of what happened next.

Tom walked home. The Doctor told him not to get hit by a car or he might bleed to death. Ha, ha, I guess this is Doctor humor. Tom told me all about it as he combed his hair in our little bathroom.

In some kind of desperation, Tom signed up to be a medical guinea pig. Tom’s payment … 15 bucks

All of a sudden, the bandage came off and he started squirting blood all over the place. I mean pumping, squirting blood. He held his arm over the tub to catch the blood. I went crazy. I handed him a towel, got the name of the Doctor, raced upstairs to the pay phone in the hallway, dialed MGH and asked for the Tom’s Doctor. As I waited, I wondered if I should have called 911.

The operator came back on and said there was no such Doctor at the hospital. Egads! I rushed downstairs to see if Tom could make it to the street where I could call an ambulance. Fortunately, he had applied enough pressure to the wound that the blood had started to coagulate. Whew! Disaster avoided. Tom’s payment for all this … 15 bucks.

Sundays

Jerry Adler

My money problems were solved in other ways. Bill Heitz had told me to try and get the Sunday master control job.

The local CBS station would not carry the networks Sunday morning shows, so WGBH, as a service to its audience, worked out a deal with CBS for Ch. 2 to air the programs from 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The station needed an engineer, a booth announcer and a master control operator.

I got the job. My pay was $10 for each Sunday worked. That took care of the rent.

My buddies during these Sunday stints were (usually) engineer Bobby Hall, booth announcer Bob Jones, and Jerry Adler who was right next door to master control running WGBH-FM from a small control room. We were a quiet group, sometimes fighting off hangovers, planning what we would do with the rest of Sunday.

There were talk shows, and then there was Camera Three. Camera Three had been a cultural godsend to me when living at home in Milwaukee. It did segments on the fine arts, the theater, dance, photography. It was up to speed with the NYC art scene and exposed me to ideas and concepts that were beyond my wildest dreams. It helped determine my style and approach to TV.

An aside: Camera Three and Nam June Paik

Many years later I was asked to be a guest producer for Camera Three. And to show what a small world it really is, one of the executive producers was a former BU Scholar from Bill Heitz’ group. I choose video artist Nam June Paik as the star of my Camera Three.

Nam June Paik

That meant bringing into the CBS union studio all his broken down TV’s, Charlotte Mormon, who would play her cello while wearing Paiks’ Video Bra, an upright piano which Paik would destroy, and lots of his small non-broadcast electronic gear.

It probably was the first time that this kind of electronic equipment had been brought into a studio of CBS. I think every engineer in CBS found some reason to walk through the studio on their way to wherever. And every last one of them had to stop and gaze at what Paik had created.

The show was called “The Strange Music of Nam June Paik.”

CBS never asked me back to do another show. As a matter of fact, this turned out to be their last season, Camera Three was no more.

Still, it was wonderful to see the cycle completed. From an avid viewer as a college kid to a full-fledged TV producer creating something for a show that meant so much to me. Special.

Accidental solution

And then, my money problems were solved.

Late in that first summer, I walked across Mass Ave. heading from WGBH to MIT’s indoor pool. We were going to do some kind of remote. As I crossed the street, I was hit by a car. Not really hit, more like bumped.

The problem was that, in those days, cars had hood ornaments. This was a Pontiac, which carried a shiny Indian-face ornament. This sharp little piece of metal pierced my left side, causing a rather deep wound.

Moscone took charge. Somehow, I was in a car racing to Boston City Hospital. They took me to the emergency room. The King kept telling them it was not a knife wound. I don’t know if they ever really believed him. Anyway, they washed out my wound, stitched it up, bandaged it and told me not to lift anything heavy for six weeks. I went home and rested and healed rather quickly.

Bob Moscone took me to see a lawyer … I went to his office and with great fanfare, he presented me the insurance company’s settlement. A check for $600.

But Bob Moscone, being the King, went a step further. He took me to see a lawyer. The lawyer’s office was situated in a back room of a walkup in a seedy part of Boston. The lawyer listened, got the name of the person who hit me, and said he would get back in touch. I didn’t hear from him for over 4 months.

Then I got a message from Moscone. The lawyer wanted to see me right away. I went to his office and with great fanfare, he presented me the insurance company’s settlement. A check for $600.

This money changed my lifestyle. Since I’d dreamed of making the professional theater my career choice, I spent a lot of the money going to plays, Wednesday matinees, in Boston’s theater district. Yes, in those days, there were still plays up and running in one theater or another. It seemed like there was a new one every couple of weeks.

I became a regular in the balcony section. I shared the spot with a group of ladies who were also weekly attendees. We became great friends. They started bringing me sandwiches. They were great. I saw Carol Burnett, Tom Bosley, Tommy Tune, so many great stars. It was heaven.

I decided to celebrate my new wealth by taking Ruth out on a real date. We went to a little French restaurant, which existed on Mass. Ave. (and is no longer there). We had Duck a l’Orange and a glass of wine.

Then we took a bus to Harvard Square and went to see a New Wave French film at the Brattle Theater. The Brattle, whose theater history I knew and appreciated, was not built in the faux-Oriental style that I was used to in Milwaukee. No, the Brattle was a basic box theater with little international flags on the wall, tight hard seats, and a back screen projection system.

It was clear the audience was young, college kids, most likely, intellectuals. Probably Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Brandeis, BU.

As Ruth and I settled into our seats, it was clear the audience was young, college kids, most likely, intellectuals. Probably Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Brandeis, BU. We were early and so sat back to wait for the beginning of the film.

And that’s when it happened. Like a flash of bright white light, the truth bopped me on the head. This was the Eureka moment!

Somewhere in the theater, somebody had turned on some music to keep the customers entertained until the movie began. It was a scratchy, LP record. The audio was slowly turned up until you could finally hear it. It was a harpsichord. Oh no, it was a Scarlatti Sonata.

And right then, at that very exact moment, I knew I was a hopeless stranger in a wildly exotic land. It was as if I had been plunged into some distant planet, a planet filled with flying things, a planet so different from where I had come from that it left me speechless. Clueless. Sitting, watching, not believing — right there in the Brattle Theater!

The recorded music grew more intense, filling the cavernous room with harpsichord music. The young couple in front of us moved closer together. Tighter and tighter.

She looked up at him, lovingly.

“They are playing our song.”

“I know, I know.”

And then they kissed.

About Fred Barzyk

From IMDB: Fred Barzyk is a longtime producer/director at WGBH, the public television station in Boston, Massachusetts. His credits include: Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss (1988), The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski (1983), The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters (1982), The Lathe of Heaven (1980), and Between Time and Timbuktu (1972).

Remembering the original WGBH

Art Singer is president of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Fifty years ago this past September, as I began an intensive one-year Masters of Communication Arts program at Boston University, I also was approved for a volunteer internship assignment at Channel 2. And for most of the academic year, on several late afternoons a week, I would take the twenty minute walk from BU across the Charles to the station’s studios on the MIT campus for a night’s work.

Who knew at the time it was to be the very best part of my graduate year and would direct a good part of my career?

84 Massachusetts Avenue

To enter the building that housed the WGBH studios was from the beginning a thrilling experience. The feeling was one of being part of grand experiment (this educational television) and also due in large measure to the fact that most of the programs I was assigned to as “crew” were produced and aired live.

As I recall, we’d begin with the children’s show, underwritten by Hood’s, at 5:30 pm and then jump to the inimitable Louis Lyons and the News at 6:00pm. A distinguished journalist for the Christian Science Monitor, Louis would unabashedly read from his notes with an occasional look up over his spectacles to remind himself and the viewer that was on camera.

At 7 p.m., one night a week, legendary theater critic Elliot Norton held forth for a half hour and his guests would be the elite of Broadway whose shows were trying out in town before opening in New York City. There in the guest chairs would be the likes of Rogers and Hammerstein or Julie Styne, or the directors, producers, and stars of the shows.

And scattered elsewhere on my assignments were tapings of other shows. These ranged from Brandeis President Abe Sachar’s “The Course of Our Times “series to Madame Anne Slack and her “Parlons Francais” French language instruction show (Madame Slack would say “Bonjour mon ami” then wait for the viewer to repeat the phrase while she mouthed the words in support). The same late afternoon or evening Eleanor Roosevelt and other luminaries might be taping shows as well.

Studio A, 84 Massachusetts Avenue

The studios were constantly in use. And with so much of it being live, everything was or seemed to be in continuous motion. The likes of Dave Davis and Greg Harney seemed to be everywhere. The man himself, Hartford Gunn would make an occasional appearance in the halls or on the set . And the atmosphere bubbled over with energy and knowledge, talent and creativity.

This was educational television and we were there at the infancy of what many of us sensed could be a new direction for broadcast television. I may have been learning broadcast history and production theory at BU, but here I was learning what actually was necessary to create a TV program, And to boot, I was getting a bonus education –in current events, theater, language, cooking, and journalism.

And music. My most favorite assignment was being on the crew for the live telecasts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. At the time, the BSO performed with some regularity at Sanders Theater in Cambridge. And on a number of Tuesday evenings, we were there to capture and broadcast the event. I don’t believe that GBH had permanent cameras and mikes in the hall. I believe everything had to be trucked over and set up anew each time.

The producer responsible for these major productions was Jordan Whitelaw. And I can vividly recall attending, along with the director, the camera operators, the audio guys, the switcher, and others the rehearsals in Jordan’s office.

After personnel assignments were confirmed for each of us in the room (most often mine was as a lowly cameraman assistant), we would do a mock production of the evening’s program, each attendee having been given a “shot sheet” to note which shots were assigned to which camera.

Next to Jordan’s desk was either a phonograph or a tuner-turntable-and speaker arrangement. And ready for play was an LP recording by the BSO in most cases performing the very work(s) on the Sanders program that week. We’d all settle down, pencils and paper in hand and Jordan would begin:

“Camera One ready with wide shot of the orchestra. Take Camera One. Ready for opening credits. Roll credits. Camera Two ready to follow Munch as he enters stage right. Ready Two, take Two. Follow him to the podium. Camera Three on First Violin. Ready Camera Three, Take three.”

This continued through the playing of the entire piece. To me it seemed brilliant, but now I suspect that he was mimicking the pre production approach used by the NBC Symphony or the New York Philharmonic on network TV. Yet it could be that he was breaking new ground. Who knows?

Truth is we were all breaking new ground. That ‘GBH experience made a convert of me and I remained hooked for more than 35 years in what became the public broadcasting business.

Yet through all those years, no coverage of an event, development of a series, no dramatically successful nights of on air pitching, gave me more insight and purpose and pleasure than my intern days at this offbeat, eclectic, determined operation known as WGBH-TV Boston.

My interview with Andrew Raeburn at Tanglewood

Tanglewood concerts were always an important part of music programming at WGBH.

In the summer of 1970, as Erich Leinsdorf was about to retire as Music Director of the Boston Symphony, he would conduct his final concert at Tanglewood. WGBH General Manager Hartford Gunn commissioned me to travel to Tanglewood, and record a variety of reminiscences about Leinsdorf for a commemorative album, to be presented by WGBH as a farewell gesture to Mr. Leinsdorf.

From the grounds keeper at Tanglewood to the Concert Master of the BSO, many were willing to share their thoughts about Erich Leinsdorf for this project. One of the most pleasant and informative participants was Andrew Raeburn, former program editor for the BSO, and a friend of Mr. Leinsdorf.

This week, I had the pleasure of a correspondence with Andrew who happily agreed to have this interview posted, and was kind enough to provide a photo of himself, with the maestro. The entire interview lasts five minutes.

Update

Sadly, Andrew Raeburn passed away at the age of 77, only a few weeks after this interview was posted.

WGBH Timeline (1946-1978)

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

1836

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

1946

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

1951

April

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

October 6

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

1955

May 2

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

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

October

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

1957

February

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

May

Hartford Gunn becomes WGBH station manager.

June

First “Boston Pops” telecast (from Kresge).

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

1958

March

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

Summer

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

September

Elliot Norton Reviews begins lengthy run.

November

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

1959

June

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

October

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

A Peabody Award goes to WGBH’s Decisions series.

1960

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

1961

October 14

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

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

1962

February

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

May

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

August

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

October 14

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

1963

August

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

October

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

1964

March

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

April

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

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

August 29

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

November

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

Late Fall

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

1965

April

Julia Child receives Peabody Award.

May 1

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

October

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

1966

Spring

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

May 31

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

June 17 – 18

Channel 2 transmitter is moved to Needham.

1967

March

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

June

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

September

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

October

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

November

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

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

1968

April 5

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

July

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

September

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

1969

April

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

October

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

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

November

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

1970

February

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

July

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

October

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

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

1971

January

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

April

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

October

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

November

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

1972

January

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

October

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

1973

January

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

April

Death of Robert Larsen.

May

ZOOM and The Advocates are awarded Emmys.

June

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

November

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

December

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

1974

January

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

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

March

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

May

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

October

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

November

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

1975

January

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

February

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

March

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

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

1976

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

April

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

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

November

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

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

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

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

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

1977

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1978

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fundraising and payola (1960)


From Paul Noble

[We made] a fund-raising spot, done with a Cambridge taxi, in December 1960, in the days before auctions and pledge weeks. It was taped in front of 84 Massachusetts Avenue, facing MIT.

I know the…spot part of a campaign we did after the first group with celebs a year earlier.

My favorite was shot in the studio with Cardinal Cushing. He couldn’t get the call letters right, and we did retake after retake. At one point, he said in exasperation, "…ah, can’t I just give you some money?"

Who knows more about this scene? Who were the actors, the techs, the director? Paul guesses perhaps they were Peter Winn, and/or Bill Cavness, and/or Bill Cosell. Were they any or all of these?

From Don Hallock

Allegations surfaced that Jack Barry (as I recall) and several other media notables may have been taking under the table. In the McCarthyesque atmosphere of the era, someone (the FCC?) decided that a thorough housecleaning and accounting of bribery in the broadcasting business was long overdue.

Literally everyone, industry wide, had to fill out forms declaring any and all, material and/or financial, "unofficial" payments they had received during the year from sponsors, record producers, anyone who might be attempting to buy influence. Payola was to be excised. In the media world that would, of course, be tantamount to trying to scourge the leaves from the trees. But on we went.

Well, we at WGBH, high-rollers of the broadcasting industry, were under the same extreme scrutiny as everyone else was. There were forms circulated to all from Hartford Gunn in the corner office on down to Peter Prodan in the scene shop, and we had to complete them and hand them in, revealing the riches we staffers were rolling in, garnered from all those movers and shakers in the society who desired favor with the fourth most powerful Educational Television in the country. There was lots listed on those pieces of paper, you can be sure.

In fact, at the outset of Makebelieve Clubhouse, someone offered me (as the program’s producer) a stuffed baby elephant — not me personally, you understand, but the show! Either I never pursued it, or the potential donor never came through. I can’t remember which. But I never reported the incident. I regret to this day not having acquired the elephant calf. Just think what Martha Stewart could do with something like that. And, God, it’s the kind of thing you can’t even find at Sharper Image any more.

The whole witch-hunt lasted only a year or, at the most, two. Then everything went back to business-as-usual in an industry for which, without "influence," there is nothing.

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….

    40 years with ‘GBH

    This entry is part 2 of 11 in the series The Michael Ambrosino Collection
    September 1956. The obligatory photo made of new employees in those days. It was run by the Westhampton Beach Chronicle, circulation 3000. My mother loved it.

    My first visit to WGBH was in the fall of 1955, just after TV had gone on the air at 84 Mass Ave. in Cambridge. I was at work developing a TV master plan for the University of Connecticut at the time, and wanted a tour of one of the few (12) “educational” stations on the air.

    Several drives up and down Mass Ave. from the river to Harvard Square showed nothing remotely resembling a TV station. Finally locating an oddly shaped small brick building, with a row of stores and a soda fountain on the street, I entered a small doorway between two round pillars.

    A dark green flight of stairs led up to one of the smallest reception rooms ever seen, mostly taken up by the huge telephone switchboard. Behind it sat, at lunch time, one of the WGBH secretaries affording the regular operator a lunch break. On this day, it turned out to be a beautiful and familiar face, a former classmate from Syracuse University, Bernice Goldberg. Many of you will remember her in later life as “Bunny” Chesler, the gifted author and one of the spark plugs of the ZOOM staff.

    While waiting for my tour, three identically clad men, all in charcoal gray suits, white button-down shirts and black knit ties left for lunch. “Gracious,” I thought. “They’ve all brought their Harvard uniforms with them!” I suspect that was my first view of Hartford Gunn, Larry Creshkoff, and Ted Sherburne. In such a way are first memories born.

    In the Spring of ‘56, I gave a short talk at Harvard, describing the Ford Foundation school TV project I was then directing in Schenectady, New York. Hartford heard it and a few weeks later asked me to start in-school TV for Massachusetts. Arriving at WGBH the same week as Dave Davis, Bill Cavness, and Lillian Akel, my first job was to redesign the small office to make room for all the new bodies. I “accidentally” moved Lillian Akel’s desk next to mine.

    My second task was to design a TV production facility to fit into the yet unexcavated basement of the University of New Hampshire. This was Hartford Gunn at his best, part visionary, part schemer, but all action. Give the President of UNH the plan, ask him to excavate the space so that when money is raised for such a facility, there will be someplace to put it! Working with Hartford was an experience to remember.

    The 21’ Classroom went on the air in 1958 with series in French, Music, Literature, Social Studies, and Science. Gene Nichols, Jean Brady, and I produced and directed and I remember John Henning as my floor manager. (I called him Mr. Henning in those days)

    "The 21" Classroom: Hartford Gunn; the author; Bill Kiernan, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education; Gene Gray, everybody's favorite science teacher on TV; and Norman Harris, Science Director, Boston Museum of Science.

    I left in 1960 to help Hartford create the Eastern Educational Network. It’s hard to think of a time when so few stations were on the air, but Hartford knew that if the educational communities did not activate their licenses they would get swallowed up by the commercial interests. He also knew that many stations would ensure our success as we grew and shared our resources.

    I helped groups plan facilities and budget for them. I testified before Legislatures. WGBH offered free programs. All these steps were necessary to insure new stations in New England and the East. The EEN began with an off-air interconnection between WGBH and WUNH, became a useful adjunct to NET, and soon, under Don Quayle’s effective guidance, became the nations first interconnected public television network.

    I returned to WGBH in 1964 as Assistant and then Associate Program Manager to Bob Larsen and then Michael Rice. In 1969-70 I also produced and appeared in an 18-program local documentary series immodestly titled Michael Ambrosino’s Show with Freddie Barzyk, Dave Atwood, and Peter Downey as my directors. More and more I realized that making programs was where I wished to be and told Michael to fill my job for I was taking my 40th year off! If I came back to WGBH it would be to do something else.

    That 40th year was spent at the BBC as CPB’s “American Fellow Abroad” working on a nightly BBC1 news and current affairs program, 24 Hours. The whole family enjoyed our year in London. I strongly recommend taking time for everyone. Time is our most precious commodity and we seem to squander it or leave it to others to manage.

    I did return to WGBH in 1971, and developed and was the Executive Producer for the first three seasons of NOVA.

    Leaving again in 1976, I developed and executive produced two seasons of Odyssey, which was meant to be a continuing series like NOVA, but this time about human beings as seen in the past (archaeology) and present (anthropology). Nixon cut the PTV funding 40%. The stations bought 40% fewer series in the SPC choosing NOVA rather than Odyssey. So went my first experience as a freelance production company.

    A side venture caught me up about this time as well. In the late 60’s, The Unitarian Church asked me to help a new black production company that had just started and assist with their efforts as I could. That began a 30 year professional and personal relationship with Henry Hampton and his company, Blackside. I went on to help Henry turn his dream Eyes on the Prize into a reality for PBS and was the Consulting Executive Producer for series I and II. (Henry and I also flew together for 20 years and owned a plane together for 10.)

    Lillian and MJA in front of Sierra 162, the Beechcraft owned by Michael and Henry Hampton.

    In the mid 80s, Phil Morrison of MIT, the first NOVA consultant, came to me with his idea for a series on the nature of scientific evidence. The next years were spent developing and Executive Producing, The Ring of Truth, broadcast in 1987. It was a great chance to bring together many of the NOVA and Odyssey staff again. Working with Terry Rockefeller, Ann Peck, Sam Low, Marian White, Boyd Estus, Eric Handley, etc., has always made filmmaking in Boston such a rich experience.

    As a natural arc of my life, I ended my career in the early 90s as writer/producer/on-camera correspondent for a 90-minute Frontline called “Journey to the Occupied Lands,” an investigation of the issues of land and justice in the 27th year of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It was good to be intimately involved in production again after years of supervising.

    All this time was spent in a marriage to the woman some of you knew as Lillian Akel. One of the worlds great romances, our life together ended sadly after an 8-year battle with cancer in 1995. Lillian was a reporter, a radio producer, a teacher, and spent her last and most happy years as an attorney with a clientele that included many of the independent film producers of Boston. Evelyn Sarson, Judy Chalfen, Peggy Charren and Lillian were the founders of Action for Children’s Television.

    I am now pleasantly retired having discovered the joys of reading American History (1740-1820), helping to build a post and beam barn in Vermont, blue water sailing and white water rafting.

    “BFB” Big F’ing Barn, designed by Bob Slattery and built by Bob, several paid Vermonters and several volunteers. I spent 55 days over the summer and fall of ’98 to work through bereavement and bang home the joy of creating something that big and complex. What is it for? Well, Marian White of the news staff and NOVA now raises prize Churro sheep in Vermont and they need a home.

    Another way to deal with grief is white water rafting and kayaking. It is very hard to think of anything else except survival in good company miles from the nearest phone in the Idaho wilderness.

    Daughter Julie, after life in TV in Boston and LA, is a happy mommy for a while in Los Angeles. Michael, after years of college and cooking, designed, built and runs the art and animation computer labs for the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. Jonathan, who has been restoring and building organs here and on the coast, is living in Philadelphia, but can be found on the road most months voicing organs and writing about them. We will all get together with the grandkiddies for a sailing trip in the BVI to celebrate my 70th this summer.

    I’m looking forward to the reunion and introducing you to my new love and best friend Lynn Cooper. Lynn is a clinical Psychologist who has heard about some of you and not heard all your stories about the “goode olde days.” She is a good listener and we hope to have a grand time.

    We’ve moved five blocks away from the busy Centre Street home in Newton the family had lived in for 37 years. The new house is on a cliff side overlooking a 70 acre back yard called the Newton Commonwealth Golf Course. Our companions are ducks, geese, one swan, many song birds, a red fox and just last Saturday, a wild turkey.