Threads of Correspondence: TV3 New Kensington


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Threads: TV3 New Kensington

Letters written by me, updated June 2003
to include the period 1981-1985

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Background:  My third job in the television industry began in the fall of 1980, when I began working for my third local origination cable operation.  This channel was based in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, twenty miles up the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh.  Like both of my earlier jobs, this one was known as TV3.

But there were key differences.  This TV3 could be viewed in 26,000 homes, triple the coverage of my previous employers.

And this TV3 was not operated directly by the cable TV system.  Instead, it was operated by a separate company, Total Communication Systems, which had a number of other interests including two local radio stations and a syndicated TV sports series.  These other properties would offer me opportunities to move into a new phase of my career.

 

Thursday, June 4, 1981

Here in Pennsylvania, it's the slack season for TV3, but I'm also working now on a project called "Actionprint."  One of our company's divisions is Action TV, a proposed regional pay-cable service.  Overnight and between movies, Action TV will feature Actionprint, which will "print" news, sports, and other information on the screen.  We're still in the planning stages.  The idea is to make it as slick-looking as we can, in contrast to the rather blocky appearance when other cable channels attempt the same thing.  Therefore, we'll be using top-of-the-line broadcast-quality equipment.

The Action TV project never quite got off the ground.  We did use our new Video Voyager I mobile unit to produce a trial run, a Pirates baseball game featuring announcers Bob Prince and Ray Scott.  But the concept didn't draw enough interest from area cable companies and was canceled a few weeks before its scheduled August 1981 launch date.  The "Action TV" logo remained on the side of Video Voyager I for a few years after that.

Also in 1981, TV3 produced a weekly studio talk show called Focus 3.  Here are a few low-resolution images that I saved from that year.

Personalities from our AM radio station, including Ron Spinelli (right) . . .

and Cass Lindtveit, conducted most of the interviews.

Rhonda Jacobs, who would later become Mrs. R. Dennis Galloway, contributed other features.

We even got her to do an exercise demonstration.

Once a former Miss America stopped by.  Another week, Cass talked kittens.

Two disk jockeys from the radio station, Dave Justice and Chuck Burtner, lip-synched a song that they'd recorded.

Their backup singers were Karen Barnes, Ron Spinelli, and Gail Selden.  The group was called "AM Drive."

They performed Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon's 1962 song "If You Were a Rock 'n Roll Record."


AUDIO 2:26  A condensed version of their performance.

Meanwhile, I was producing our single-camera telecasts of high school football (here Serra Catholic at Riverview) . . .

and high school basketball.  I made the best use I could of our simple Knox character generator.

And I sometimes went on camera as a commercial spokesman, such as in this spot for the local Holiday Inn.

For the high school football playoffs, I bundled up and taped a spot in the studio.  There were two alternative versions:  "Congratulations on your big win, Valley!" and "Sorry you lost, Valley, but it was a great season!"

 

 

Sunday, December 13, 1981

Let me be the first to alert you to the latest holiday "tradition," which may be headed your way.

At TV3 we're taping a week of Santa Claus shows every Thursday.  It was the end of the fifth show of the day, and Rhonda, the hostess, had run out of ideas for the "craft" segment.  She had some Styrofoam cups left over from the angels and bells that the five-year-olds had made on previous shows.  Other leftovers included green crepe-paper streamers, cotton balls, and black construction paper.

We were all getting a little crazy by this hour, so the craft became:  wrap the inverted cup in green paper; paste on a cotton ball; cut out a V-shaped piece of black paper and paste that on, preferably upside down like a drooping villain's mustache.

Now what's that supposed to be?  (It looked even stranger than it sounds.)  A truncated Christmas tree with a face?

Improvising, Rhonda called it "Orville."

Remembering Dr. Seuss, she added, "the Christmas Grinch."

Remembering Sesame Street, the kids corrected, "Grouch."

So what's an "Orville, the Christmas Grouch?"  Well, Rhonda ad-libbed, you set Orville on your mantel so he can watch over the stockings and make sure nobody steals the candy out of them.

The kids seemed to buy this, just as they accept the idea of flying deer with luminous noses.  Maybe they'll pass the tradition of Orville on to other children.

The Grouch might arrive in Wisconsin soon.  You're been forewarned.

 

Tuesday, May 4, 1982

I'd like to bring you up to date on some locally produced projects and on what I've learned so far about satellite-delivered programs.

ITALY

A few years ago, Sal Patitucci [host of a weekly Italian-language program on our AM radio station WKPA] produced a WPGH-TV series on which he introduced video tape segments from RAI, the government broadcasting service in Italy.  He approached TV3 over a year ago with the idea of producing a similar show here.

Tim Maloney was hesitant; his main concern was that the show could be just an outlet for Italian-government "propaganda," over which we'd have little control since we don't speak the language.  I was more concerned with the amount of editing time that would be required to put the show together each week.  We eventually told Sal that it would be better to wait until the control room was upgraded for Action TV.

Sal called me on Friday to revive the idea.  At this time of the year, the studio and control room are less busy than they are from September through March, so we could put together a few programs on a pilot basis to see how they'd sell.  Sal suggested a monthly program rather than weekly.  I suggested we could do programs for June, July, and August, then decide whether it would be worth keeping it up during football season.

Incidentally, I think the RAI features would make this a much better program visually than our earlier idea of simulcasting Sal spinning records on "Italian Carousel."

PRIMARY ELECTION

There's not much interest locally in the May 18 primaries, since many candidates are running unopposed.  Of the candidates who do have opposition, none live in the TV3 coverage area.  For example, most of our viewers will be choosing a Congressman from men who live in McKeesport, Monroeville, and West Newton.

However, we're committed to producing an election-returns program:  Joe Falsetti already has $1,230 [of commercials] sold as part of long-term blankets.  (The packages included in Joe's blankets were $780 for twelve :30's, and $150 for two.)  So I'm arranging to pre-tape interviews with several unopposed incumbents, which will fill out the election-returns program and make it more interesting.

SATELLITE-DELIVERED PROGRAMS

It would appear that cherry-picking, in the sense of excerpting parts of various program services and putting them on a single channel like TV3, is not being done much any more.

One reason is that in many cable systems, it's not necessary.  Ron Barckhoff of Dynamic Cable in West Mifflin says he has excess channel capacity, so he can carry everything for the full 24 hours.  Joe Mackus of Service Electric's TV2 in Allentown says that since most of the services have gone to 24-hour operation, they want to be carried full time, and Service Electric with 33 channels can accommodate them.  We, of course, are in a somewhat unusual situation in that we have only one channel.

Another reason is that many of the program services simply don't allow cherry-picking.  It may be that we'll have to look to those satellite services that are on less than 24 hours a day.

 

Through the 1970s, most channels on cable TV systems had consisted of over-the-air TV stations (including a couple from out of town).  There were only a few channels that were exclusive to cable viewers, such as our local origination channel and perhaps a movie service like HBO.

Now satellite technology was making possible a new set of channels known as cable networks, such as USA Network and ESPN.  In the previous memo, I discussed whether we could take portions of these networks and air them on TV3.  But one of them, ESPN, had obtained a full-time cable channel all to itself on our cable system, Channel 7.  And our company now could sell local commercials on Channel 7.

At first, we inserted these spots the same way that we played commercials on TV3, with an engineer operating a videocassette player and throwing a switch.  But in the long run, we knew that this would not be cost-effective.  Automation would be required.

 

Saturday, June 12, 1982

This week, I visited dB CATV Supply in Englishtown, New Jersey, to look at the AD-CUE II and related equipment from Tele-Engineering.  I was pleased with what I saw, and I think we should buy it and the necessary additional equipment so that we can begin inserting a full schedule of local spots into ESPN.

Every commercial and promo to be aired on ESPN will have to be edited onto the cassette that's inserted into the ¾" machine.  If we do the amount of business we hope, that will mean some editing will have to be done every couple of days or so, as new sponsors come on or old ones want to change their copy.

TCS used to have a fairly convenient editing setup in the conference room, which was used among other things to produce TV3 commercials.  But now one of the machines is ailing, and the other is usually assigned to the Video Voyager [remote production truck].  With some difficulty, we've been able to use what we have to edit the comparatively few TV3 and ESPN commercials that have been produced lately.  But for us to produce ESPN spots on the scale that's envisioned, I think it's going to be necessary to have a proper editing center available.

I understand that Tom Huet has proposed a setup based on Sony 5850's, which would be quite efficient.  During the hours that TCS was not using this facility, we could use it for editing local commercials.  I think it, or something like it, is essential.

The Tele-Engineering equipment efficiently cues up, airs, and logs the spots, just as it's designed to.  But nothing's perfect; here are a few minor drawbacks.

The local spot is switched on exactly six seconds after the tone signals are received from ESPN.  But sometimes ESPN doesn't wait quite six seconds before it starts filling the local availability with its own promos.  As a result, sometimes the viewer may see the first second or two of an ESPN promo before the local commercial starts.

As soon as the machinery receives another tone from ESPN, it cuts off the local spot — even if it hasn't finished yet — and returns to the regular ESPN program.  Therefore, we'll have to keep our local spots a little short to make sure the end doesn't get cut off.  A "30-second" spot should really be about 28.

Once the machinery is activated, it fills every local availability with a taped spot.  It can't be programmed to ignore some avails but fill others.  So we'll have to schedule something for every availability:  TV3 promos, public service announcements, bonus spots, whatever.  Since ESPN gives about 60 availabilities per day while the AD-CUE II memory allows 100 events to be programmed, we'll have to re-program the AD-CUE II every day and a half, or about five times a week.

Because of the way that spots are recued [every time, the cassette rewinds all the way to the beginning to reset its frame counter, then fast-forwards until the correct frame is reached], spots that are recorded near the end of the cassette require a longer access time.  If we aren't careful about scheduling those spots at certain times of the day where local avails might be very close to each other, we might occasionally miss a spot because the VCR wasn't ready yet.

To program the Ad-Log, one had to plug an ordinary telephone into the modular connector (on the left) and use the phone's keypad to enter numbers.  I often carried my desktop telephone from home to the cable system's head end building for this purpose.  A built-in thermal printer (on the right) used a roll of adding-machine paper to keep a record of when spots, identified by code numbers, actually aired.

 

Tuesday, June 22, 1982
To Sam Buffone, Westmoreland Cable

I understand from you that the Comcast purchasing agent has determined that the DB CATV Supply prices for MSO's are the best prices available for the Tele-Engineering equipment.  Therefore, please make out a Comcast purchase order for the following:

One

PVS-CI-S2 Commercial Insert Shelf

$458

One

PVS-VAR-2AB-SAT Switch Module

$911

One

AD-LOG Cue-Tone Receiver

$1,870

One

AD-CUE II Programming Console

$1,440

One

AD-PRO Cue-Tone Generator

$203

Also, Jim Moore has given me the model numbers for the Jerrold equipment which will be needed to transmit the commercials from our studio and receive them at the head end.  We decided to specify channel 5 instead of channel 7, since the actual channel makes no difference relative to the cable system, and since the loss on a low-band channel like 5 will be less than on a high-band channel like 7.  Please make out a purchase order for the following:

One

C4M-5 Channel 5 Modulator

$1,252

One

CHPD-5-W/O Channel 5 Processor

$1,050

 

During the majority of the hours of the day, TV3 was not presenting actual programming; instead, the viewers saw our automated "message channel" service.  We posted news stories and other features there, and of course there were advertisements as well — another source of revenue.  But sometimes the machinery didn't behave, and I had to try to figure out what was wrong.

 

Wednesday, June 15, 1983

I kept an eye on the message channel from 11:00 am until 12:30 pm Wednesday.  The sports quiz acted up only once in seven times.

The last time we had this problem was on April 13, and as I recall it fixed itself before we could figure out how to cure it.  Apparently it's a very intermittent problem, which makes it difficult to solve.  But I do have two theories.

THEORY 1.  When the computer is transferring text from the stored pages to the screen, sometimes when it encounters a question mark it freezes up.

TEMPORARY SOLUTION.  Reword the sports quiz so you don't have to use a question mark.  Instead of "Who was the National League batting champion in 1981?" you can say "Name the 1981 National League batting champion."

THEORY 2.  When the computer is transferring text from stored Page 3 to the screen, at a certain point on Page 3 it freezes up.

TEMPORARY SOLUTION.  Store your quiz question on Page 39 instead of Page 3.  Make the necessary changes on the log sheet so people know what's going on.

My best guess so far is the question-mark theory.  If the problem continues, try avoiding question marks and see how that works.

 

The message channel consisted of all words, no pictures.  It was possible, however, to construct crude icons out of "graphics blocks."  I designed a little android (after Leo Christopherson) to be our message channel mascot:  staring straight ahead, reacting, signaling a touchdown, boxing.  With flashing characters in the right places, I could make his eyes blink.  But I never got around to actually putting "Andy" on the screen.

 

Saturday, August 27, 1983

I begin what may be a rambling memo at 3:30 Saturday morning.

Who's supposed to work TV3 in the evenings next week?  I've typed the name of the scheduled engineer on the evening pages of the logs for August 29 through September 1.  This is the schedule as Brent gave it to me.

How will Brent air the commercials in the [live satellite-delivered] boxing special late Monday night?  I put in his mailbox the videocassette that he will need, with explanatory notes.  Supposedly, he's made arrangements to meet Jim Moore at the head end.  Jim will supply the equipment; all Brent needs is the cassette and the notes.

How about earlier Monday evening?  Mike Weaver is scheduled to play four taped programs.  The first two are the Job Seminar (tapes 1 and 2) and the Dust Bowl (program 1).  Make sure to leave these where he can find them.  [The Dust Bowl was a series on preseason football practice at local high schools; the title came from the fact that Pennsylvania gets little rain in August.]

The third program is the one from Joyce Tamburo.  I still haven't heard from her, and I found no message from her.  As the log says, if the tape doesn't show up we can sign off for half an hour.

The fourth program is the Penn State one-hour preseason show.  I can't find it anywhere in the office; it's possible that we don't yet have a cassette of it.  I've left a message for Carol and will ask Tami later today.  Perhaps on Monday you should ask Carol if there's a copy of this show available.

What am I doing here this late?  I don't know.  Had to get some of this work caught up.  Think I'll go home to breakfast.  See you.

 

Sunday, September 11, 1983

On Wednesday, September 7, I was off when a call came in.  Freda Goldberg took the message, which says, "Was screaming at me because our commercials are too loud on Channel 7.  Wants to go to FCC, ESPN in N.Y., etc.  Awakens him when he's sleeping."

The tapes that contain the ESPN commercials are being recorded properly, and the machine that plays them back has no adjustments on it for audio output level.

The next day, I happened to be at the head end programming the commercials, so when the automation played one of them, I listened.  It did sound louder than the ESPN program had been, but the meter on Westmoreland Cable's modulator indicated that the audio on the commercials was actually weaker than it should be.  (The meters on these Jerrold modulators normally indicate 10 kilohertz deviation, but this one was only showing about 8 kilohertz.)  But this modulator only affects the commercials; the ESPN programs come in a different way, and I'm not familiar with what adjustments Jim Moore may have at the place were they're combined into Channel 7.  So I turned down the audio to something like 4 kilohertz, at which point it sounded to me roughly equal to the ESPN level.  I wish we had a better metering system than our ears.

I haven't heard any ESPN spots since Thursday (I've been out of town until today), but I hope this will satisfy the screaming subscriber.

 

The log directs the engineer to play, at 8:00 pm, the HS Basketball Open.  The edit master for this element, if it's needed, happens to be on cassette 006 at index counter 038.  However, all the elements have been dubbed onto cassette 500, a "commercial reel," for the engineer's convenience.  On cassette 500, the Open starts at index counter 022.  Then the engineer should play the beginning of the Fox Chapel at Highlands remote recording, which starts on cassette 632.  He should cue up the first commercial break (Westmoreland Insurance and Daily's harvest fresh) on cassette 500, index counter 060, and play it when the remote recording throws to a break.  And so on.

Here's the standard program log that we used for a high school basketball telecast.  In blue, I've typed in some simulated details.

 


Click here for photos taken during that first week of January 1984.

 

Thursday, January 5, 1984

Here's what hopefully will happen on Friday, January 6.  The times are approximate, of course.

7:00  Automatic equipment replaces the message channel on TV3 with the Meadows Racing Network.

7:15  In the TV3 control room, Mike Weaver throws the two black switches from "B" (message channel) to "A" (programs).

7:40  The horses are warming up for the second race.  Mike calls the head end to make sure that Rick Panteleo is there and ready.

7:45  The second race begins.  Mike cues up 209.138 on one of the machines in the control room.  (It's possible that the only machine in the control room will be #1, as #2 will be at the Hampton head end and #3 could be about anywhere by then.)  The countdown is labeled "Tonight Promo #1 for 12/26/83," but Mike ignores that because he knows the Knox wasn't available to make a proper countdown on Thursday night when Tom put this tape together.

7:48  The second race is over.  Roger Huston talks about the winner, then says "We'll be back after these messages from our local affiliates."  Mike rolls the tape and watches the countdown.  When it goes to black, he cues Rick over the telephone.  Rick throws his switch from position M to position C.

7:49  When the Nick Chevrolet spot is over, Rick throws his switch back to position M.  Mike stops his cassette machine.

7:50  Each hangs up his telephone.

10:15  Bob Rowe and Rick Rhodes arrive back at the TV3 studio with the equipment which they've been using at the Shaler at Highlands boys basketball game.  They set up the camera and the Knox for George Guido's scoreboard show.

11:30  Automatic equipment switches from the Meadows Racing Network to the TV3 studio, where Mike plays the scoreboard open from 502.095 and cues George to begin talking.

 

Friday, March 16, 1984

I'm writing this letter from the cable-TV facility known as the "head end," where I'm engineering the combination of two programs into one on TV3.

Four nights a week, we carry live harness racing from a track near Washington, Pa., known as The Meadows.  (This program is carried also by several other cable systems around the state, and is watched by hundreds of people across the country who use their backyard receiving dishes to pick it up from the Westar V satellite.)

But tonight, we also want to carry audio-only coverage (it's too expensive to send a camera) of two high-school basketball playoff games.

So tonight, our viewers are seeing the horse races on TV3, but they're hearing the basketball games.  Among my duties is to run an explanatory message across the screen every ten minutes or so.

 

Wednesday, October 17, 1984

To Thursday-night TV3 engineers:

I understand that Westmoreland Cable's new head end in Tarentum has started operation.  About 80 subscribers are presently being fed by Tarentum, while the remaining 27,000 or so are still being fed from the old head end at East Deer.

The two "A-B" switches in the TV3 control room determine what is sent over the "return line" to both head ends, to be aired on Channel 3.  "A" feeds the control-room switcher, while "B" replaces it with the message channel.

At East Deer during Meadows racing, this feed on the return line is ignored, and the satellite feed is put on Channel 3 instead.  Only when we run local commercials do we put the return line on the air.  So until now, it hasn't mattered what's on that return line while the satellite is on Channel 3.

However, that return line feeds Tarentum's Channel 3 all the time.  There is not as yet any arrangement for switching The Meadows onto Channel 3 at the new Tarentum head end.  The attached contingency plan explains one low-cost, low-quality way in which The Meadows could be put on the Tarentum system.  But until then:

On Thursday nights, leave the A-B switches in "B" until a few seconds before you're going to roll a local Meadows spot.  After the spot is over and the East Deer engineer has switched back to The Meadows, return the switches to "B."  In this way, Tarentum TV3 viewers will see the message channel most of the evening, interrupted by a few commercials.  This is better than the blank screen most of the evening that they would see if you left the switches in "A" throughout the program.

 

Monday, December 17, 1984

I've now moved almost completely out of TV3 and into TCS, as a Chyron operator.  I've worked something like 140 remotes in the past year.

It's because I'm out of town so much that I've been eased out of my duties at TV3.  The still-single Ellie Maher is still the Bingo lady (how can anyone call those numbers every day for four years?)  She's taking care of logs and scheduling.  Bob Tatrn, as operations manager, is doing some of what I used to do.  He and Joe Falsetti now share the same office at WKPA-AM that you, Tim Maloney, and I shared when we first started in 1980.

TV3 really hasn't changed much.  Nelson's latest idea is to follow Bingo with a live call-in show featuring a fortune-teller.  Seems he got the idea when a "reader-advisor" correctly predicted that someone's baby would be a girl.  There's now a help-wanted ad on the message channel, trying to recruit a psychic who will work cheap.  So far, no response.

 

Tuesday, January 29, 1985

To TV3 tape editors:

As of February 1, ESPN will be sending its "roll your local commercial" cue tone six seconds before the local break actually begins, instead of the present five seconds.  I intend to make the necessary adjustment to the automation at the East Deer head end shortly after midnight on Thursday night, January 31.

But there's something you need to do, as well.  From now on, the tape needs to be cued up to a point six seconds before the desired commercial instead of five.  So the frame numbers for each commercial, which you list on the rundown sheet with each tape, will have to be reduced by about 30 frames (one second).

We've been arranging things so that the frame numbers end in a double digit, such as 1622 or 24177.  To keep that pattern, the number you want to subtract will be either 34 or 33, so that the new frame numbers look like 1588 or 24144.

 

Monday, December 9, 1985

Chapter 11 bankruptcy hasn't changed our boss Nelson Goldberg.  He finally acquired WTAE-TV's little production Winnebago and christened it Video Voyager 4 (as was first proposed in 1981, I believe).  It's mainly used for harness racing coverage at The Meadows, but it is scheduled for three TV3 basketball games at Burrell High School!  Nelson made those plans, and now it's up to the rest of the people in the office to implement them.  They're currently trying to get the signal uplinked from Burrell to the Westmoreland Cable head end, a 44,000-mile trip via satellite to go four miles.

 

TBT

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