Getting to Know You (Again) – Remember When You Arrived at WGBH

Let’s get ready for the reunion! Share some of your own memories ahead of time, starting with your first days or weeks at WGBH.

Throughout the summer, we’ll be asking you to post your stories on the website by asking you some prompts. Here are the first ones:

  • “What brought you to WGBH? Do you remember your first days? Your first weeks?”

Please post your recollections in the comments below.

If you’d like to see what other alumni wrote, make sure you’re signed up to receive the weekly comments update. (If you’re already receiving updates, just go to that form and enter your name and email address. You’ll then receive a link to change the updates you’d like to receive.)

Let the storytelling begin!

(Read all about the reunion here.)

15 thoughts on “Getting to Know You (Again) – Remember When You Arrived at WGBH

  1. In fall ’67 I came “back East” from Wyoming to Harvard, and my freshman roommate Alex Swistel turned out to have a friend who worked nights and weekends at ‘GBH as guard/switchboard operator/PR report maker. This friend must have loved the station because did nine shifts and then flunked out, turning the job over to Alex, who decided not to flunk out and so shared it with me.

    Jack O’Brien of building and grounds was our boss, Rose Buresh was the daytime ruler of the switchboard (who informed us never to page Hartford Gunn and other crucial details). Around the same time I discovered Bernstein’s Mahler recordings and needed money for vast improvements in my stereo etc. I would often turn down the sound on 2 or 44 and turn on GBH-FM.

    So while I never flunked out, I didn’t apply myself fanatically enough to Slavic studies to get help with graduate studies.

    I had been noticed by radio folks so that while Jack got me into the business office weekdays, Bob Carey hired me onto the FM weekend shifts, promising that I could take on Morning Pro Music when this new guy Robert J. Lurtsema gets tired of seven days a week.

    Robert J. gave me my only announcing lesson (read the news like you just came from the scene). Bill Cavness or Bill Busiek advised me that a highway was a “root” not a “rout” and a building roof was similarly “oo” not “ow” sounding. And that started me off in the almost invisible world of GBH Radio. Well, actually, radio is invisible, which remains its great asset. And the creativity and commitment were just as inspiring on that side of the hall at 125 Western Avenue.

    We got to read Watergate transcripts for hours, Wes Horner organized live relay of the Salzburg Festival when satellites were young, radio led GBH into gay pride month observances, Elinor Stout did us a wonderful brief fling of Masterpiece Radio Theatre, Paula Apsell’s The Spider’s Web went out to the growing public radio network, Victor Campos played classical master tapes with no limiter on the transmitter (Busiek and John Moran nervously watching the needles).

    Dozens more things I would mention from the 1970s, not counting the regulars (Robert J, Ron, Bill, Hayes, Eric, Louis) who made up 90% of the experience day after day. [And one PS – the Chicago guy named Rosenstein who was FM program director for a bit and ended up a notable DC lawyer is Mace not Rod – not the one holding the fort at the Justice Department.]

    A magical vortex, and an abundant justification for LBJ and company tacking on “and radio” to the Public Broadcasting Act of 1968.

  2. A random memory from ancient times – pulling up with our 1948 Greyhound, less than sumptuous, way overweight mobile unit at the nuclear reactor building at the Watertown Arsenal and the flummoxed security people when our international crew – Greg MacDonald, Canadian; Jerry Gruen, Israeli: Peter Hoving, the Netherlands; Rolando Lastres, Cuban; Don White, former paratrooper and suspicious for being black and having a copy of Jeune Afrique sticking out his back pocket, assembled for an MIT Science Reporter set up.

    The same thing happened at a Lincoln Labs location – fortunately Russ Morash and staff had done the right thing around security clearances so we eventually passed muster, barely. Hmmm, whatever happened to that reactor? The only mall in America that glows after dark?

    Science Reporter was always, as we said back in the day, a trip! 12-16 hour days, thousands of Coffee Ann doughnuts consumed, arguing with management about turn around time/time and a half when we got called in early the next day. Jack Kane fixing the bent frame of a TK-60 with the jack from the bus and a brick, and Greg MacDonald getting into a loud argument with an MIT Prof. about quicksand. Getting completely lost and winding up on a dwindling dirt road in nether Maine on a trip to a remote tracking radar station. Coming back from somewhere on a blazing hot late summer afternoon and stuck in crawling traffic in front of the MFA when the air brakes gave out completely – the decision, stay in bottom gear, ease ahead and hope that the truck in front of us wouldn’t mind a nudge if we all came to a complete stop. A good plan until some idiot in a convertible cut in front of us and in between and we yelled and waved to get him out of the way or be squashed. He did get the message.

  3. In late 1967 I was serving in the Navy on the USS Wasp (CVS-18), homeported in Boston. My hitch was just about up and it was time to look for a job. I was hopeful that two summers I spent taking television production courses at Northwestern University might lead to a position somewhere. I found I had a connection to pull. It was at WNDT (now WNET) in New York, where I interviewed for a position on the Robert MacNeil Report. Talk about underqualified! It took about two minutes for the show’s producer to figure that out, but he said he’d call a friend at WGBH. A week later I had an interview with Jack Caldwell.

    Jack must have liked (underqualified) me and hired me as the Supervisor of Scheduling and Facilities, responsible for assigning engineers and equipment to meet WGBH’s broadcast schedule and support studio productions. My boss was Al Hinderstein. My trainer was Dave Debarger, who had been doing the job on loan from the studio crew and was anxious to return. I shadowed him for a week. After that it was sink or swim and I barely knew the terminology, let alone the people, policies, and procedures. My office partner and friend was Janie Arsham (Morton). She held my hand, and Al Hinderstein held his breath, as I learned the ropes.

    Just a few weeks after I started work I came down with mononucleosis and was out for two weeks with no accrued sick leave, but Jack and Al held the job for me and WGBH continued to pay my salary…of $100 per week…while Dave Debarger begrudgingly returned to the office. I don’t have a lot of specific memories but I recall one difficult exchange with Greg Harney when he realized how little I knew about scheduling and facilities. Fred Barzyk and Michael Ambrosino could also intimidate me, but folks like Peggy MacLeod and Rick Hauser, among many others, helped nurse me along. Somehow I survived.

    Whether it was because I was a quick study or because of my incompetence (I’ll have to ask), after only a few months in the office an opening came up on the studio crew and Al Potter gave me the job. As it has been for so many, working on the crew at WGBH was a dream come true. I especially recall working on the Longwood tennis remotes as Videograph operator, relief switcher to Kathy Smith, and relief Slo-Mo operator to Phil Collyer. Back in the studios I switched more “Elliot Norton Reviews” shows than I can remember and I had one disastrous turn at directing and switching the “Evening News” with Louis Lyons. (I couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.)

    Despite loving what I was doing, I realized that I wasn’t terribly good at it and so I eventually left the crew to become Traffic Manager (with Larry Lecain and Bill Charette among my first hires as “mailboys” and Penny Watson, Howard Lowe and Kate Taylor as assistants along the way.). It was this job that prepared me for my move to PBS a few years later…where I spent the next thirty years.

    Oh my, how much do I owe to Jack Caldwell and WGBH for my start and my career in educational/public broadcasting? A lot! Every chance I get to tell folks that I got my start at WGBH I do so with great pride. 125 Western Avenue and the folks I worked with there will always be in my heart.

  4. My path to work at WGBH

    My introduction to WGBH and some of its people started when I worked at WENH-TV channel 11 at the University of New Hampshire from 1964 to 1968. Twice during the four years that I worked there, WENH rented the old WGBH Greyhound bus mobile unit with its RCA TK-60 black and white television cameras and single Ampex VR-1000 two-inch quadruplex videotape machine to shoot and record a concert held annually at the University. On both occasions, I was assigned as the maintenance man/switcher for the show. The mobile unit pulled into the theater driven by the driver/cameraman Greg Macdonald and the rest of the crew arrived shortly thereafter. The crew consisted of Jack Keane-mobile unit supervisor, Aubrey Stewart-video engineer, Pat Kane-video tape engineer, Don Bullen-audio engineer and Peter Hoving as the second cameraman. (It was a superior crew.)

    Also while working at Channel 11, long before the start of production of the current Antiques Roadshow series, WENH produced a weekly series of programs called Antiquing with George Michaels, an old-time auctioneer/antiques dealer from Rochester NH. One day each week the studio crew would take a truck to some museum or private antique collection and bring the items back to the studio to be appraised. These shows were all in black and white because this was before the time that either WENH or WGBH had color studio cameras, however, WGBH did then have an RCA TK-45 color film camera with two attendant sixteen millimeter sound film projectors. In the winter of 1965, the WENH antiques crew went to the Shelburne Museum in Vermont and shot two one hour specials on dolls and quilts on sixteen-millimeter Kodak Ektachrome color film with magnetic stripe audio. I was assigned as the audio engineer on the shoot and after the film was developed, and since WENH had no color facilities at all, I was assigned the task of delivering the film to WGBH for the film to tape transfers. Aubrey Stewart (a master at his craft as a video engineer) did the video portion and Ray Krausse did the tape recordist portion of the film to tape transfers.

    In 1968, when I decided that it was time to make a job change and WGBH was looking for a maintenance engineer to fill the maintenance portion of the position recently vacated by Jack Keane who had been the mobile unit and transmitter supervisor and had gone to work at the Connecticut Public Television Network, I was fortunate, maybe in part because of my prior dealings with WGBH, to have been hired as a maintenance engineer by then Chief Engineer Fran Abramowitz.

    Just as an aside for those who can remember way back then, the members of the engineering department were as follows. Tom Keller was the director of engineering, Fran Abramowitz was chief engineer and John Folsom was the special projects engineer. The maintenance department consisted of John LaBounty as maintenance supervisor and Bill Johnson, Hans Scharl, Harvey Hudson, and myself as maintenance engineers. The video engineers were Aubrey Stewart, Bill Fairweather, Karl Lorencic and Steve Rogers. The audio engineers were Wil Morton, Harvey Morris, Vern Coleman, and Andy Ferguson. The videotape engineers were Ray Krausse, Pat Kane, John MacKnight, and Walt Cummings. The FM radio engineers were John Moran and Nat Johnson. The transmitter engineering crew consisted of Alden Doughty and John Ackles.

    I continued to work at WGBH as a maintenance engineer and engineer-in-charge of the WGBH mobile units for just short of the next forty years.

    Gordon Mehlman

    • What a fun read, Gordon. I’m not sure we actually crossed paths at WGBH or if I’d left before you arrived and didn’t make your acquaintance until I was at PBS. Whatever, all your recollections of the folks in the Engineering Department at WGBH in your early years brought back great memories for me as well. That was a wonderful group of folks.

  5. Film production in its many facets had been my passion since my early teens. In the late 1970s, I’d become a freelancer in Boston. I could light and but really didn’t know it yet. I worked as a grip. I was the shittiest grip you could imagine. Being completely ADD, I’d put down a hammer or a crescent wrench and it would take me a half hour to find it. My wife used to say, “If I ever get in your car and it’s neat, I’ll know you’re having an affair.”

    Luckily, in 1980, I went to a lighting workshop run by Vilmos Zsigmond up in Rockport, Maine. My lighting work was praised by Vilmos which suddenly validated me back in Boston. I met Chas there and he started using me as his grip/gaffer on productions in ‘GBH’s studio A. Sadly, I reverted to some of that ADD stuff and fears of being found out on that score. I was intimidated by Chas and, therefore my condition worsened. Chas did have compassion for me and continued to hire me.

    Eventually, I began being hired by Russ Morash for THIS OLD HOUSE and VICTORY GARDEN, where I felt a lot more capable.

    I went from there to being Matt Lauer’s lighting director at WNAC down near Government Center and Quincy Market. Matt brought me to NY with him where I became Head Lighting Director at WWOR, winning one Emmy out of three nominations.

    Through it all, WGBH has been a centerpiece of my career and fond memories. Living out in LA now, I have a novel set on Nantucket with seventeen 5-star reviews on Amazon. I’ve gone there a few times but my schedule has always kept me from dropping into WGBH.

    Now my wife’s health has pretty well been keeping me on the west coast but I’d love to come back there and see you all someday.

    All the best!

    Jack Comeau

  6. I got a call from a friend alerting me to a WGBH-TV Help Wanted ad in the Boston Globe that read, Wanted – Mail Board. It was a typo that was meant to read Wanted – Mail Boy. This was 1970 when help wanted ads were listed under Men and Women sections. My friend, Tom had applied but was rejected because he drove a Volkswagen Bug that did not have a trunk big enough to hold sacks of mail one would retrieve daily from the Allston post office. I drove a 1964 Chevrolet Impala four door sedan with a trunk big enough for a hot tub, this was a good omen.

    Two years earlier I had interview with Al Potter for a studio position without success. Here was another chance to get in the door through the mailroom. There was a tradition of promoting from within and this was my best shot at getting to the studio crew.

    I had three interviews, first with the head of personnel followed by Traffic Manager/Mail Room Supervisor Ralph Schuetz and finally with the President of the station, Bob Larsen. Mind you, we’re talking about a job in the mailroom. Larsen asked me several questions about my family background that would be inappropriate by todays standards, but at the time whatever he wanted to know was ok by me. I just tried to give him answers that put me in a good light, as someone from a trustworthy family with a strong work ethic and a burning desire to be part of the GBH staff. He impressed on me the seriousness of the position in that I would be tasked with delivering irreplaceable videotapes to the Post Office for shipping to stations around the country. (Remember the giant destruction proof blue plastic canisters housing two inch tapes?) Tapes of programs like Julia Child’s French Chef. I assured him that I was up to the task and apparently was convincing enough to get the job, $90 a week.

    I will never forget pulling the Impala up to 125 Western Ave on my first day in May of 1970. I sat for a moment, took a deep breath as my eyes actually welled up, the unimaginable was about to happen, it was the first day in a career that spanned forty three wonderful years.

    The guy I replaced in the mailroom was making the transition to the studio crew. His name was Larry LeCain. Six months later I did the same. Ten years later Larry and I started our own production company, which we ran for twenty-seven years.

    • I’m sure you have no idea who I am. I was a super minor blip at WGBH. But in the spring of 1972 I was graduating from high school and volunteering for the auction. Because the auction warehouse took up half of studio A, and I was stocking things in that warehouse, I got to know the folks on the studio crew – who very generously and wonderfully invited me into their lives.

      When the auction came around, crew members, knowing my interests, generously let me take their spots on camera and floor managing (especially late night). Every one of you took time to mentor and support me. And I was a 17yo nobody. As a result, that summer I ended up being on-call as a studio technician, and the following summer worked full time on the crew ($117.00 a week). You, Bill Charette, were one of those folks who helped me live a dream during those two summers. As did Larry LeCain. And Skip Wareham. And Frank Lane. And Greg McDonald. And Kathy Smith. And Connie White. And John Sullivan. And Chas Norton. And…

      I’ve gone on and I have done a lot of different things with my life since then. But when people ask me what the best job I ever had was, I never hesitate to tell them that it was those two summers I spent at WGBH with you amazing and generous people. It’s a special time in my life.

      I know you surely have no recollection of me. But I remember all of you. Thank you. You were incredible.

    • Bill, what a hoot! I had no memory of what you had to go through to land a job in the mail room! I’m not surprised to hear of your first round interview in HR but the story about your interview with Bob Larsen is priceless. I’m glad he liked you! I always did. And yes, I prided myself in hiring some totally overqualified folks who I was well aware wouldn’t last long in the mail room. You and Larry and Basil and Kate Taylor and Howard Lowe and Penny Watson and a minister who graduated from Harvard, as I recall (and maybe others) He might have been the only one not to move on at the station.

      Now, having read your thoughts and Gordon Mehlman’s, et al, I’ve got to get busy on my own. Still not sure whether we’re making the trip to Boston in October but the reunions have always been fun and an excuse to make it up to New England. We’ll see.

  7. I was never WGBH staff, just “talent” as writer/host of Museum Open House, 1963-7, but I remember great times and great people, like Fred Barzyk, Mike Ambrosino, Dan Beach, Deedee Morss Decker, Bill Cosel. Deo Volente, I hope to see them in October!

  8. My first day on the job at Fred Barzyk, Henry Morgenthau, and Olivia Tappan’s pioneering 1973 portable video magazine show, WHERE TO GET OFF IN BOSTON, I reported way early to the new annex of WGBH, 125 Western Avenue. The building was completely uninhabited… not a sound. I climbed a creaky circular staircase to discover in the empty office the writer of the new show. That’s when and where I met my husband of thirty-five years, Tony Kahn.

    The conversation that followed was a lulu – but I’ll save that story for the reunion.

  9. Like the other members of the Scholars ’58 crew, I learned about WGBH from a Boston University poster on a bulletin board at my university (Cornell). Vic Washkevich drove me up in his convertible; the only songs on the car radio that week of June 10, 1957, were “Old Cape Cod” (Patti Page) and “Diana” (Paul Anka). Firsts for me that week: seeing Ted Williams hit a home run at Fenway; attending a Pops concert at the Hatch Shell; eating Whale Steak (with grape jelly) at the Blue Ship Tea Room; seeing Walden Pond; learning that Harvard is pronounced without an “r”.

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