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Blogs by Robert A. Mills

FIRE!
12/10/2011 6:29:01 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

The other night we were watching Brian Williams and the NBC Nightly News when a fire alarm went off at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Williams was visibly annoyed and chagrinned, saying at the time there was no emergency, no fire and nothing to be concerned about. Other than the shrill whine of the siren, we should ignore the frustrating sound and just pay attention to the newscast, dammit, he’d just spent hours preparing! Knock off the worried expression!

Frankly, we expected to see Williams and his entire crew cooked to medium rare right before our eyes, but alas, it was not to be. Just a false alarm of sorts.

I was reminded of an incident at WVET-TV, circa 1956. We had a show called VIEWPOINT following our own nightly news, hosted by our news director, the venerable David Roberts (who would eventually work for Edward R. Murrow,), and a local newspaper publisher named Curt Gerling. I was the ‘announcer-on-duty,’ but my only role, aside from ‘floor managing,’ was to read the short intro, then get lost, until it was time for the closing, an equally short, off-camera blurb. This show occurred once a week, Monday evenings, at 6:30. I got a ‘talent fee’ of $7.50 for reading the open and close. Today, Michael Douglas gets $1,222.83 X 5 for doing the NBC opening each week. Not fair.

Anyway, from the ‘announce booth’ twenty yards away, I did the live station break at 6:29:30 and dutifully read the show’s intro: “It’s time now for VIEWPOINT, an unbiased look at this week’s most salient news stories, with David Roberts and his co-host, Curt Gerling. Now, here is David Roberts!”

As I was the ‘announcer-on-duty,’ I casually walked down the hallway and moseyed into the main studio to ‘floor manage’ the show from my place alongside the monstrous RCA video camera that focused one of its four turret lenses on Roberts and Gerling at their desk inside the faux ‘newsroom.’ My job now was to relay via hand signals the elapsed time, time remainingt, which of our two cameras the principals were to address, when the commercials were on and over — plus any other pertinent data the director chose to share.

It was a rather large studio (the only one we had on the 7th floor of a downtown bank building,) and it was home to all six or seven shows we daily broadcast. VIEWPOINT’s set occupied roughly ten square feet of space in one distant corner.

The ‘control room’ was an elongated area up four steps and secured behind a ‘vacuum door;’ there was a wide glass window that gave the director (ironically called a “producer’) a virtual bird’s eye view of the entire studio. He also oversaw a bank of five 19” b&w monitors and assorted engrossed technicians.

One such ‘techie’ was a kid named Charlie Planert.

About three-quarters into the show, Charlie, a 6’6” behemoth, suddenly stood up, grabbed his monitor, and hurled it through the window in front of him, where it shattered into a million shards of glass, tubes, and wires on the studio floor. Ger-rash and thud-crunch-crash!

“The control room’s on fire!” someone shouted through the gaping hole. “Run for your lives!” an audio man screamed. “It’s everyone for himself!” shouted the director/producer.

David Roberts glanced at Curt Gerling and said, “What the f---’s going on?” I whipped off my headset, threw it to the cameraman, and bolted out of the studio.

Later, after having read the show’s closing while safely cowering in the ‘announce-booth,’ I waited until the studio debris was cleared away before speaking to Charlie Planert.

“Was the control room really on fire?” I asked.

“I dunno. The monitor began to smoke.”

“So you threw it through the window?”

“Yeah.”

“Good thinking.”

“Yeah. I wasn’t gonna be trapped in there.”

After the late news and weather I spoke to David Roberts over drinks at the Eggleston, a nearby watering hole. “Did you really say ‘f---’ on the air?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Might have.”

“What do you think will happen to Charlie?”

“Probably give him a medal. Maybe fix him up with a job down at NBC.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Nuthin ever happens over there.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Wanna nuther drink, Amory?” (He always called me ‘Amory,’ after Amory Blaine in Fitzgerald’s THIS SIDE OF PARADISE.)

“No, I’m going home. Thanks anyway, Jake.” (I always called him ‘Jake,’ after Jake Barnes in Hemingway’s THE SUN ALSO RISES.)

Mysteriously, neither of us resembled Tyrone Power or Gary Cooper, although Charlie Planert always thought of himself as John Wayne.



Copywrite©2011 by Robert A. Mills, all rights reserved


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