Yesterday, I celebrated a milestone: I have worked in the TV business for a quarter-century.
Wow. Does that make me feel old.
As I look back at my 25 years in television, I think back to the first time I walked into a television studio. I must have been about three or four years old. The studio was a media center at the local school district where my dad worked at the time. I saw big cameras, big lights and big microphones — remember the mics that looked like cigars and hung around the neck on a rope before the “clip-on” lavaliere variety began appearing?
Something clicked in the back of my head. It was as if something deep within me understood that this is where I was supposed to be, even if I wasn’t clear on exactly what I was supposed to do there.
For a while, I dreamed of being the next Bob Barker. When ol’ Barker retired, I told myself, I’d step in. (Of course, I never imagined The Price is Right would still be on the air when I would have been old enough to succeed him, so it seemed a relatively safe dream.)
By the time I started my first job in television, part-time during my junior year of college, The Price is Right was still going strong and so was Barker.
That first job had two components.
The first part of my day involved meeting with the news director, getting a list of stories being covered that day and the list of on-air graphics that would need to be prepared, then meeting with the production department to get those graphics built.
The graphics I mean were the little boxes that sit atop the anchor’s shoulder as they read the story or the introduction to a reporter’s recorded story.
Different stations call them different things. My current station calls it an “OTS” for “over the shoulder.” That first station I worked for called it a “DLS,” a mysterious name that no one who used the term regularly could actually explain. One anchor suggested it must mean, “da little screen.” I finally found a director who’d been there for a while who recalled it was named after an old piece of equipment that had died and been replaced with something else; “DLS,” he said, meant “digital library storage,” which wasn’t nearly as amusing as “da little screen.”
The second part of my day involved rolling the video tapes during the live broadcast. Back then, when an anchor pitched to a reporter’s pre-edited story, which we call a “package,” there was someone in a closet-sized room sitting before a monitor, a copy of the anchor scripts, and two (later three) gargantuan VCRs. When it was time to cut to a package, I had to press “play” on that particular machine a moment earlier so the director could make that switch.
It involved checking the scripts, finding the point at which the video was supposed to begin, then counting back 13 syllables — seriously, don’t ask me why it was 13, but that’s what worked — then loading the tape, cuing it up to the last frame of the “2” in the countdown that preceded the package, and leaving it in pause.
It was about my third day on the job that I completely blew the sportscast. I had one wrong tape in the order and never really recovered for those five minutes. The sports anchor, who was incredibly gracious afterwards, basically had to adlib his way through whichever tape came up next. It looked a lot cleaner on the air than it felt, but that’s almost always the way it works in live television.
From behind the camera to in front of it…and back
Just as I was graduating from college, something remarkable happened: a full-time reporter position opened up. I was lucky. I got the job and was an on-air reporter for about a year and change. I knew I didn’t want to be a reporter, but it was a full-time job and I knew I knew how to do it. I did it until there was an opportunity to move back behind the camera, to help manage the assignment desk in the growing news operation at that time.
From there, I moved to production and ran graphics and even began directing newscasts on a fill-in basis. For a period of about a year, 320 days straight, as I recall, I did live graphics — picture the banners with text along the bottom of the screen during a newscast — during the week and directed the weekend newscast. (Back then, there was only one.)
I learned a lot and liked what I was doing (obviously).
But then I realized something was missing. I didn’t know what it was until it occurred to me that we had a regular health feature on our newscast that was always prepared in advance and was never promoted. I thought to myself, “I bet I could edit promos for that segment that could run outside the newscast.” So I tried a few. I showed them to the news director and got some positive feedback.
There was no marketing department back then. I became the sole marketing producer, reporting to the new program director. For eight years, my sole job was creating promos — commercials for the news team, specific news stories we were working on and programming as well.
Barker, incidentally, was still hosting The Price is Right, and I managed to get myself included in the crew of trip to that studio for a behind-the-scenes story we did on both his show and The Young and the Restless. That was an incredible trip!
Marketing seemed like a good fit, the best fit I’d experienced so far. Eventually, I moved to Richmond then moved to Charleston. I completed 20 years doing marketing.
Something new…but not so new
But I realized I was ready for something different, and I found that managing content on the station’s website. By then, I’d been blogging for 10 years, so managing content wasn’t exactly something alien to me. My bosses knew I’d had experience “helping out” with our website over the years when it was necessary.
So two years ago, after 20 in marketing, I moved to the digital side of things. I began learning new things and still am. Looking back, I think it has always been about learning new things for me.
After 25 years, I still get the occasional tap on the shoulder from the boss who’s reminding me I’ve already worked a full day and it’s time to go home.
I guess when you enjoy what you do, you don’t watch the clock for quitting time. You just go and keep going.
I hope you enjoy what you do as much.