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.

Anne Slack, 94, TV teaching pioneer of ‘Parlons Français’

From The Boston Globe

Anne Slack, 94, TV teaching pioneer of ‘Parlons Français’

After the “Parlons Français’’ project, Mrs. Slack taught advanced French at Boston University and Harvard University.

By Stephanie M. Peters

A beautiful young woman with a large bouffant and perfectly manicured red nails, Anne Slack introduced French to more than 2 million elementary school children in the late 1950s and early 1960s by encouraging them to “écouter’’ and “répéter.’’

On the other side of television sets in third- and fourth-grade classrooms throughout central New York and greater Boston, students would do as Madame Slack instructed, listening and repeating the vocabulary and verbs she enunciated in an exact Parisian accent.

WGBH-TV Broadcast Schedules (1955-69)

From Peter Wiggins

Tuesday May 10, 1955

  • 5:30 p.m. – Adventures in Art
  • 6:00 – Images
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 7:15 – U.N at Work
  • 7:30 – Trilogy
  • 8:00 – Your Child
  • 9:30 – Sign-Off

Friday November 4, 1955

  • 5:30 p.m. – Come and See
  • 6:00 – Discovery
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:45 – Backgrounds
  • 7:15 – Weather Forecasting
  • 7:30 – People
  • 8:00 – Bach to Mozart
  • 8:45 – Creative Writing
  • 9:30 – Sign-Off

Monday January 30, 1956

  • 5:30 p.m. – Come and See
  • 6:00 – Beginners French Course
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:45 – Backgrounds
  • 7:15 – Trans Atlantic Views
  • 7:30 – Art and Artists
  • 8:00 – Performances
  • 9:30 – Sign-Off

Tuesday May 22, 1956

  • 5:30 p.m. – The Friendly Giant
  • 6:00 – Adventures in Art
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:45 – Backgrounds
  • 7:15 – British Weeklies
  • 7:30 – Heritage of the Land
  • 8:00 – Music of Australia
  • 9:00 – Notes in Music
  • 9:30 – Sign-Off

Wednesday November 7, 1956

  • 5:15 p.m. – Let’s Have a Story
  • 5:30 – The Friendly Giant
  • 6:00 – American Art Today
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:45 – Backgrounds
  • 7:00 – Bulletin Board
  • 7:15 – British Weeklies
  • 7:30 – French Course
  • 8:00 – Science Reporter
  • 9:00 – Notes in Music
  • 9:30 – Shakespeare on TV- Romeo and Juliet – Part I
  • 10:00 – Sign-Off

Thursday January 31, 1957

  • 5:15 p.m. – Friendly Giant
  • 5:30 – Come and See
  • 6:00 – French Course
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:45 – Backgrounds
  • 7:00 – America Looks Abroad
  • 7:15 – British Weeklies
  • 7:30 – Spanish Course
  • 8:00 – Human Rights
  • 8:30 – Frontiers of Health
  • 9:00 – Performances
  • 10:00 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 10:15 – Sign-off

Monday December 2, 1957

  • 5:30 p.m. – Friendly Giant
  • 6:00 – Geophysical
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:50 – Backgrounds
  • 7:05 – Sports, Weather
  • 7:15 – College and You
  • 7:45 – Let’s Learn To Type
  • 8:00 – Human Rights
  • 8:30 – Frontiers of Health
  • 9:00 – Challenge of Communism
  • 9:30 – Basic Mathematics
  • 10:00 – U.N. In Review
  • 10:15 – Mikulos Schwalo
  • 10:45 – News with Louis Lyons
  • 11:05 – Sign-Off

Tuesday February 4, 1958

  • 5:30 p.m. – Friendly Giant
  • 6:00 – Geophysical
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:50 – Backgrounds
  • 7:05 – Sports, Weather
  • 7:15 – College and You
  • 7:45 – Let’s Learn To Type
  • 8:00 – Human Rights
  • 8:30 – Frontiers of Health
  • 9:00 – Challenge of Communism
  • 9:30 – Basic Mathematics
  • 10:00 – U.N. In Review
  • 10:15 – Mikulos Schwalo
  • 10:45 – News – (with Louis Lyons)
  • 11:05 – Sign-Off

Wednesday May 7, 1958

  • 5:30 p.m. – Friendly Giant
  • 6:00 – Geophysical
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:50 – Backgrounds
  • 7:05 – Sports, Weather
  • 7:15 – College and You
  • 7:45 – Let’s Learn To Type
  • 8:00 – Science Reporter
  • 9:00 – Notes in Music
  • 9:30 – Basic Mathematics
  • 10:00 – U.N. In Review
  • 10:15 – Mikulos Schwalo
  • 10:45 – News (with Louis Lyons)
  • 11:05 – Sign-Off

Thursday November 6, 1958

  • 5:30 p.m. – Friendly Giant
  • 6:00 – French Course
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:50 – Backgrounds
  • 7:05 – Sports, Weather
  • 7:15 – College and You
  • 7:45 – Spanish Course
  • 8:00 – Human Rights
  • 8:30 – Frontiers Of Health
  • 9:00 – Performances
  • 10:45 – News (with Louis Lyons)
  • 11:05 – Sign-Off

Friday February 13, 1959

  • 5:30 p.m. – Friendly Giant
  • 6:00 – French Course
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:50 – Backgrounds
  • 7:05 – Sports, Weather
  • 7:15 – College and You
  • 7:45 – Spanish Course
  • 8:00 – Human Rights
  • 8:30 – Basic Mathematics
  • 9:00 – Performances
  • 10:00 – U.N. In Action
  • 10:30 – Backgrounds
  • 10:45 – News (with Louis Lyons)
  • 11:00 – Sign-Off

Friday May 1, 1959

  • 9:30 a.m. – Sign-on/21-inch Classroom
  • 4:45 p.m. – Number of Things
  • 5:00 – Ruth Ann’s Camp
  • 6:00 – Nuclear Physics
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:45 – Backgrounds
  • 7:00 – Weather for You
  • 7:15 – Jazz with Father O’Connor
  • 7:45 – Groundwork in Graphics
  • 8:00 – Max Lerner
  • 8:30 – Ralph Burche
  • 9:00 – Last Continent
  • 9:30 – Masters of American Fiction
  • 10:00 – Exceptional Child
  • 10:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 10:45 – Sign-off

Monday November 16, 1959

  • 9:15 a.m. – Sign-on/21-inch Classroom
  • 3:30 p.m. – Parlons Francais
  • 4:00 – Art and Artists
  • 4:30 – History (with Herb Hake)
  • 5:00 – Ruth Ann’s Camp
  • 6:00 – Magic Doorways
  • 6:15 – Capitol Hill Report
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:45 – Backgrounds
  • 7:00 – Heritage
  • 7:30 – Young Worlds
  • 8:00 – European Imperalism
  • 8:30 – Invitation to Art
  • 9:00 – Max Loring’s Seminar
  • 9:30 – I’ve Been Reading
  • 10:00 – News
  • 10:15 – Sign-off

Tuesday February 23, 1960

  • 9:15 a.m. – Sign-on/21-inch Classroom
  • 5:00 p.m. – Clipper Ship
  • 6:00 – What’s New
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:45 – Theater Review
  • 7:00 – Accent on Music
  • 7:30 – French Through TV
  • 8:00 – Creative Sculpture
  • 8:30 – Ordeal by Fire
  • 9:00 – Sonata Recital
  • 9:30 – Yesterday’s Worlds
  • 10:00 – News
  • 10:15 – Sign-off

Wednesday May 4, 1960

  • 9:15 a.m. – Sign-on/21-inch Classroom
  • 6:00 p.m. – Danny Dee
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:45 – Backgrounds
  • 7:00 – The Right To Sit
  • 7:30 – Camera Series
  • 8:00 – Reading Out Loud
  • 8:30 – Sounding Board
  • 9:00 – Science Reporter
  • 9:30 – Hats in the Ring
  • 10:00 – News
  • 10:15 – Sign-off

Thursday November 3, 1960

  • 9:15 a.m. – Sign-on/Parlons Francois
  • 10:15 – 21-inch Classrom
  • 11:00 – Parlons Français
  • 11:45 – 21-inch Classroom
  • 5:15 p.m. – Sing Hi, Sing Lo
  • 5:30 – Make Believe Classroom
  • 6:00 – Americans at Work
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:45 – New England News (with Robert Bar)
  • 7:00 – Ask The Candidate
  • 7:30 – David Copperfield
  • 8:00 – Lab 30
  • 8:30 – Ragtime Era
  • 9:00 – Open End
  • 10:30 – News
  • 10:45 – Sign-off

Friday February 3, 1961

  • 9:15 a.m. – Sign-on/Parlons Francois
  • 5:30 p.m. – Danny Dee
  • 6:00 – From Haydn to Hi-Fi
  • 6:30 – News (with Louis M. Lyons)
  • 6:45 – Backgrounds
  • 7:00 – Away of Thinking
  • 7:30 – Jazz with Father O’Connor
  • 8:00 – Red Myth
  • 8:30 – Max Lerner
  • 9:00 – Metropolis (with Governor John Volpe)
  • 9:30 – Image Series
  • 10:00 – 150 Anniversary Convocation of Mass-General Hospital
  • 10:30 – News
  • 10:45 – Backgrounds
  • 11:00 – Sign-off

Monday December 1, 1969

WGBH-TV 2

  • 10:00 a.m. – Sign-on/Sesame Street
  • 11:00 – Educational Progr ming
  • 12:00 p.m. – Mister Rogers Neighborhood
  • 12:30 – What’s New?
  • 1:00 – Educational Progr ming
  • 3:00 – Chronological Behavior
  • 3:30 – Maggie and the Beautiful Machine
  • 6:30 – University of the Air
  • 7:00 – Louis Lyons – News
  • 7:30 – The Reporters
  • 8:00 – On Being Black
  • 9:00 – N.E.T Journal
  • 10:00 – Newsfront
  • 10:30 – All The Presidents Men
  • 11:00 – Forsythe Saga
  • 11:30 – Sign-Off

WGBX-TV 44

  • 4:00 – Sesame Street
  • 5:00 – Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
  • 5:30 – What’s New
  • 6:00 – Maggie and the Beautiful Machine