Threads: The Nineties (1 of 2)
Monday, February 5, 1990
Let's see, now. The boys talked you into playing their Nintendo games on Christmas day, so you probably became addicted immediately and found yourself sneaking into the living room in the middle of January nights to try to figure out how to overcome some particularly diabolical electronic challenge. Now, after six weeks, you've mastered most of the games that interest you, and you're beginning to return to a normal life. If so, welcome back!
Personally, I've never gotten very interested in those diversions. In the middle Seventies, I did have a Pong-type game which bounced a black-and-white tennis ball back and forth, but when it wore out I never replaced it.
Maybe I lack interest in video games because I get to play with other really neat gadgets in the TV production trucks where I work. For example, there's the DVE, or Digital Video Effects box. This takes an ordinary TV picture and expands it, squeezes it, moves it around, changes its shape, or makes it "explode." You can get fun-house-mirror effects. Or, speaking of mirrors, there's the two-cigar trick.
Later this week I'll get a chance to use this equipment (for serious purposes, presumably) in the land where much of it is made. I'm leaving in two days for Japan, where I'll be doing the electronic graphics for the HBO telecast of the Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas boxing match. The fight takes place at noon Sunday, February 11, in Tokyo; considering the time difference, that's 10 pm Saturday night Pittsburgh time.
For four nights we'll be staying at a hotel a mile or two to the west of the Imperial Palace. I don't know if there will be much time for sightseeing, but if I see anything interesting I'll let you know.
If there were going to be a 20th reunion of my graduate school class (M.S., Syracuse, 1970), it would be this summer. But the program had only a few dozen students, and we haven't kept in touch. The chairman of the department is still there, and I heard that one of the students worked for several years as a local TV weatherman in Syracuse; but aside from that, I know of the activities of only one other of my classmates.
That one is Edie McClurg. She came to Syracuse from a Kansas City public-radio station (we called it "educational" radio then). Edie was more interested in the administrative side of the broadcast industry. None of us considered her when we needed to recruit classmates as actors or "talent." As far as I know, she never went in front of the camera at Syracuse. (I, on the other hand, played a laboratory scientist in both TV and radio productions.)
But after Syracuse, apparently at the suggestion of her brother, Edie found herself on the comedy stage. Her voice can approximate that of the Wicked Witch of the West, and she has that Missouri background, so sometime in the late Seventies she ended up in a horrible NBC situation-comedy pilot about a family of moronic hillbillies called The Kallikaks. Fortunately the pilot was never made into a series, so Edie was able to continue her career. She appeared on David Letterman's ill-fated daytime show in 1980, played salesman Herb Tarlek's wife on WKRP in Cincinnati, and now is a regular on The Hogan Family as the oddball neighbor Mrs. Poole.
So as far as I know, that's the total impact on national television of the Syracuse University radio-and-TV master's degree graduates, class of 1970. One supporting actress in a sitcom, and one guy who puts the clock on the screen during boxing matches when he isn't putting extra cigars in actors' mouths. Hardly worth having a reunion of that class, I guess.
Wednesday, June 6, 1990
As you may have noticed, I didn't make it to Oberlin for the class reunion. That weekend, I was working on the telecasts of several stock-car races in Charlotte, North Carolina.
If the campus looked better than you remembered it, keep in mind that the college usually schedules cosmetic improvements (such as painting) to be done about the third week in May. The normal, slightly run-down look doesn't return until after the alumni have gone home. And the food service usually doubles its quality for Commencement week leading to a credibility gap between the seniors, who have been complaining for four years about the dining halls, and their visiting parents, who think that the meals are just fine.
I'm sure that I didn't see nearly as much of the country and its people as you must have seen as an AFS student over a quarter-century ago. I was there for less than five days and spent almost the entire time in one section of Tokyo. But here are some observations:
Riding the bus from Narita airport into the city, we first passed the new Tokyo Disneyland on the bay and then crossed the bridges into what I took to be the financial district. As in Manhattan, tall buildings crowded in on fairly narrow, straight streets. But unlike Manhattan, it wasn't necessary to use those streets to get around; elevated expressways curved among the office buildings thirty feet above the streets, and other expressways curved in other directions thirty feet higher yet.
However, our hotel was on the other side of downtown, in a district called Akasaka. We were about half a mile west of the Diet (or parliament), with gardens and parks to the west of us and, next to the hotel, a fragment of the ancient Imperial Palace outer moat (which looked like a small river). Many of the avenues were fairly broad.
So, although Tokyo is a dense city, it didn't seem oppressively crowded. And, compared to some American cities (especially New York), the people in Tokyo are definitely more courteous. I felt more relaxed and at home there than I had in other foreign cities like Seoul and Montreal, where I somehow felt less welcome.
Language was not really a problem. The hotel staff was multilingual, and HBO had hired a couple of interpreters to help us work with the staff at the stadium.
Outside the stadium on Hakusan-dori was an amusement park with movie theaters and, surprisingly, a couple of restaurants specializing in Italian food. We TV types ate lunch there, ordering spaghetti or iced tea by pointing to color photos in the menu. Arabic numerals being the same the world over, we had no trouble with paying the bill.
A parliamentary election campaign was going on, and one night in my hotel room I found that the public broadcasting network NHK was televising political speeches. There were rather formalized, the party leader speaking from an otherwise empty stage to a hall full of respectfully intent supporters. The supporters would sometimes applaud, but the politician would not encourage applause nor even wait for it to die out before continuing with the speech.
One speech was by a middle-aged woman; from the English-language newspapers I later learned that she was Takako Doi, chairwoman of the Japan Socialist Party.
At first I was struck by the remarkable fact that a woman was in such a position of leadership, in a society where a generation ago women were expected to walk behind their husbands on the street. Then I began to appreciate that Doi was a very good speaker, relaxed, expressive, communicating in a straightforward and sincere yet friendly manner. I watched her speech to the end, even though I couldn't understand a word of it. I probably would have voted for her.
In response to your last letter: I hope things are better with your depression-prone family. I can remember only one such crying spell when I was growing up, and fortunately it lasted only a day or so. When my mother asked what was wrong, I answered, "The whole world situation." It was the height of the Cold War, and one miscalculation by world leaders could lead to a nuclear exchange that would destroy us all. For me, that reality had just sunk in. My mother counseled me not to worry too much about things over which I had no control, and I soon learned to cope with the threat as we must cope with any unpleasant fact of life go on living as though the threat isn't really there, as though we and our friends will never have to die. Self-deception often works better than a too-clear view of reality.
You have joined the compact disc revolution rather late, but only a few months later than I. My format of choice had been cassettes, ever since they went stereo in the late Sixties. Not that I bought that many, but an average of one cassette a month for twenty years adds up to a sizable collection. Last winter, though, I finally broke down and bought a CD player. Immediately my 250 cassettes became obsolete and I no longer wanted to listen to their tape hiss, print-trough, and uneven quality. I especially like the feature of the CD format whereby if you don't like the song that's playing, you can advance to the next one instantly by hitting a single button. New technology is great, even after it's been around a few years. (I still sometimes marvel over the capabilities of the telephone.)
January 9, 1991
I finally found out that yes, I will be working for the Pirates Television Network again in 1991. KDKA-TV has been going through cost-cutting and layoffs, so I wasn't sure that they would hire me again this year, but now I have the schedule for 50 baseball games.
Unfortunately, the first of those games (a spring-training telecast from Florida) conflicts with an NBA game that I had scheduled with TNT: Cleveland at Boston on March 29. Could I ask you to assign another font operator to go to Boston? Since KDKA gives me five times as much work as TNT, I feel that I owe them first priority, especially for their first telecast of the season.
Looking ahead to the possibilities for the playoffs, it looks like I'll have baseball every Tuesday, but maybe we'll be able to work something out on other days.
Thursday, June 6, 1991
I too have several Canadian Brass albums. I've always liked the sound of that sort of ensemble, ever since I was walking through Tappan Square one early Sunday evening and heard a group of students playing in the bell tower of Finney Chapel.
I especially enjoy baroque music as played by the Canadian Brass. In particular, many of Bach's keyboard works gain more life when they're performed on something other than the organs or harpsichords for which he wrote them. Synthesizers and brass ensembles can separate the counterpoint more clearly; symphony orchestras can express emotions.
For example, when I play or listen to the F-major Toccata and Fugue, I hear the notes organ pipes sounding or not sounding, on or off without expression. But I imagine much more that should be there: trumpets, tympani, cymbals, strong emphatic accents. One Two! Three! One Two! Three! One Two! Three! One!! The music is somehow greater than the instrument.
This spring, my reading has been mostly history, including the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. These volumes cover the successful part of Grant's career (through the end of the Civil War) and don't touch on his Presidency (which did not go so well, although he remained personally very popular). Buried among a lot of numbing detail about military campaigns, I found some nuggets of interest.
Grant says flatly that American Southerners settled in the part of Mexico called Texas as "a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed for the American Union." If that's true, it's certainly downplayed in modern-day histories of Texas.
In describing a bullfight in Mexico, he explains the seating arrangement in detail. "The audience occupies seats around the ring in which the exhibition is given, each seat but the foremost rising higher than the one in front, so that every one can get a full view of the sport." Apparently stadiums were unknown in the United States of his day. But that's to be expected, since the only spectator sports were horse racing and baseball.
He also describes how the early San Francisco expanded, which had puzzled me when I visited that city. "There had been but one wharf in front of the city in 1852 Long Wharf. In 1853 the town had grown out into the bay beyond what was the end of this wharf when I first saw it. Streets and houses had been built out on piles where the year before the largest vessels visiting the port lay at anchor."
I'm not particularly aggressive in pursuing my career; I prefer to do a good job and take advantage of opportunities as they arise, rather than continually seeking them out and trying to make things happen. So I was glad to read the sentence with which Grant opens his book: "There are but few important events in the affairs of men brought about by their own choice." And later: "This incident gave me even a more favorable opinion of Meade than did his great victory at Gettysburg the July before. It is men who wait to be selected, and not those who seek, from whom we may always expect the most efficient service."
And speaking of careers, while my father and I have each stayed in the same general line of work all our lives, his father did not.
H.F. Thomas tried farming for a while, owned a café, did odd jobs, ran a gas station, owned a laundry, and tried several other ways of making a living. I once lacked some respect for him because of this shifting around.
But now I read that U.S. Grant growing up in the same part of the country a couple of generations before my grandfather, telling some of the same stories of his boyhood that my father tells also had no profession in the period between the Mexican and Civil Wars. He tried farming in 1854, then went into real estate in 1858, failed to get appointed County Engineer, and finally went to work as a clerk in his father's store in 1860. Nine years later he was President.
Another book I've been reading is Nat Brandt's The Town That Started the Civil War. The town in question is Oberlin, Ohio, and the incident was the Wellington Rescue.
On September 13, 1858, Oberlin abolitionists were aroused by the sudden kidnapping of a runaway slave, who had escaped from Kentucky two years before. A large number of students, professors, and townspeople rushed south to Wellington, where the slave-catchers (claiming the authority of the federal Fugitive Slave Act) were holding their captive while awaiting the evening train for Cincinnati.
The throng surrounded the hotel in a scene of confusion comparable to the surrounding of a military recruiter's car over a century later. Oberlin people, acting on high moral principle, were opposing representatives of the federal government.
Finally, after much negotiation, the slave was freed and hustled off to Canada. Some of the abolitionists who freed him were later jailed in Cleveland. The publicity surrounding their trial helped set the stage for the Civil War. A writer claimed that "Oberlin commenst this war. Oberlin wuz the prime cause uv all the trubble."
Besides the parallels with the Vietnam era, other details in this book interested me. For one example, did you know that at the time of its completion in 1845, First Church was the largest building west of the Allegheny Mountains? And that the size of Charles Finney's congregation there was second only to that of Henry Ward Beecher's in Brooklyn?
Ah, but enough of this history. Back to current events. I'm off to California next week for the first West Coast trip of the season for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
October 23, 1991
New and revised team logos are as follows on your KBL system disk.
Pp (font id's 10 and 20): to correspond to the current artwork, I brought the top of the triangle down 14 lines and the right side in 50 pixels, fixed the penguin's beak, and gave him white gloves (instead of gold) and solid black tape on his stick.
Ss and Nn (font id 10 only): both the Sharks and the [North] Stars use subpalette 700 502 000 063 705 003 777.
November 6, 1991
Notes on Chyron disks for WPXI Christmas Parade and Carol Sing
On "MGM 1991" are two graphics and an animation. WPXI91G is for the parade, except that color 4 should be 004 (a darker green). WPXI91W is for the carol sing. WPXI91PA animates the parade graphic by making the star slowly brighten and dim.
On "WPXI 1991 HBC System" are Helvetica Bold Condensed fonts. Autoload 0 is 05/25/00/30/--/10.
On "WPXI Holiday Message" I've loaded the following sample messages:
I've also loaded the following autodisplays:
Sunday, December 15, 1991
The following item was in the newspapers last July.
So what's the problem here? Simple. People don't pay enough attention to the words in the ancient writings. The Old Testament for the American legend of Santa Claus is, of course, the 1822 poem by Clement Moore, "A Visit from St. Nicholas." (The New Testament consists of the 20th-century songs "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" and "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.") If you but open your eyes to the words of the scripture, you will realize that Santa Claus is only a few inches high! [For proof, see my article Santa Is an Elf.]
Yes, Bonnie and Nicole, the elfin Santa can make it down the chimney, for he is nothing like the big old scary men who pretend to be Santa in the shopping malls. He's not the boss of the elves at the North Pole; he's the chief elf! This truth is read to us every year, yet we hear it not.
On other matters, I was one of the recipients of a mass mailing from harpist Georganne Cassat, who was a Conservatory freshman at Oberlin the year that we were seniors. It seems that she's made a recording (of Marcel Tournier's "Images"), and now she's trying to sell it. So she made up a mailing list. She didn't buy the list from the college. Rather, she used what the college's fund-raisers had sent her as an alumna: a list of donors. She reasoned that these donors (1) are inclined to do favors for Oberlin people and (2) have a little extra money lying around, so she looked up their addresses in a college directory. I'm probably going to order one of her CD's. Even if I don't find Tournier interesting, I can always use it as background harp music.
I'm generally impressed when people are able to combine lists in order to zero in on a few prospects with a particular combination of interests. A few years ago, I received a mailing because I was both an Oberlin alumnus and a person who had ordered a book on architecture. This mailing offered The Oberlin Book of Bandstands, detailing various entries in a 1985 competition to design a bandstand for Tappan Square. The winning designer turned out to be Julian Smith '69, and his Asian "festival cart" design now stands on the northeast quadrant of the square. I said yes to that mailing, too.
Well, enough for this mailing. It's almost time for Christmas. I'm having mine a week early this year; because of my schedule, which includes hockey telecasts in Pittsburgh on the 21st and the 26th, I've scheduled my trip to Ohio to visit my father for this week, so our Christmas will be on December 18.
July 15, 1992
There are two message disks, one to be copied into Drive A and the other into Drive B. The basic concept: Most information on individual players is recorded in the form of "files" on Drive B. Everything else is on Drive A.
Files are full-screen panels consisting of ten rows, the last of which is an end-of-message mark. (I use these instead of record marks on almost all messages to make them easier to update, because I don't have to re-enter the address before recording them again.) A typical file:
1 > 37
Obviously, we don't air a file the same way that it's recorded. Rows 2 and 3, called "note x," are the most-likely-to-be-used note.
To determine addresses on Drive B, we use three-digit "player numbers" between 010 and 248. Addresses are simply ten times the player number. The rules for assigning player numbers:
1. The opponents get "1" followed by their uniform number, that is, 100 to 199.
2. Most Steelers get "0" followed by their uniform number, that is, 010 to 099.
3. But Steelers with single-digit uniforms get 200 to 209.
4. If two players have identical uniforms, assign one of them an unused player number, or a number between 210 and 248. Do the same for the head coaches.
So Bubby Brister, uniform number 6, has player number 206, and his file is at address 2060 on Drive B.
The only other messages recorded on Drive B are a set of autodisplays from 0 to 39, which are similar to the autodisplays at the same addresses on Drive A. Here are the details.
DOWN AND YARDS: 1 clears the screen to "1st and 10." 2, 3, and 4 require you to type in the yards to go. Then you can use 0, 5, or 6 to add the yard line if desired. On a goal-to-go situation, use 31 through 34 instead.
REDUCE AND EXPAND: If a file is on the screen, 7 will push it down to a lower third consisting of the name and note x, and will select Drive A. If a lower third is on the screen, 35 will pull it back up to the file configuration and will select Drive B.
PLAYER-NUMBER AUTODISPLAYS. Autodisplays 8 through 29 will do the following: erase the screen, access Drive B, invite you (by showing ???0) to enter the player number on the address keypad, add the final 0, and read that address. In most cases, they then will manipulate the file in some way.
For example, autodisplay 9 is called "Get note x." To use it, press [Aux 9], [READ], [Aux 2-0-6]. In a second or so, you'll see Brister's stats as a lower third, and you'll be back in Drive A where you belong. The cursor is on row 2. If what you really want is note y, press [DELET ROW] three times. For note z, press [DELET ROW] an additional three times.
Autodisplays 21 through 29 create shells in the note-x position. For example, suppose Louis Lipps makes a 19-yard catch and you want to enter his receiving stats for this game. Press [Aux 2-3], [READ], [Aux 0-8-3]. His file is on the screen, and you're in Drive B with the address counter still reading 0830; but rows 2 and 3 of the file have been replaced by a shell for pass-catching stats. Type "1" and "19." Then press [HOME], [RECORD], and the revised file is recorded at address 0830. Finally, if you want to use these stats immediately, press [Aux 7], [READ] to reduce them to a lower third.
July 17, 1992
The disk package includes two orange system disks, two "A" message disks (green and brown), and two "B" message disks (green and brown). I have one of each of these three kinds of disk myself.
If you get time at Morgantown, you can load rosters and some hero notes onto one of the "B" floppies (let's say the green one). Then at Pittsburgh on August 8, copy to green "A" to hard drive A and the green "B" to hard drive B.
After the game, there should be enough time for you to make four disk copies. Copy hard drive A to both "A" floppies, and hard drive B to both "B" floppies.
Keep one set (let's say the green "A" and "B") for yourself, along with one of the system disks. If you have time in the next three weeks, you can replace the Eagles with the Giants on the green floppies.
Give the other system disk and the two brown message disks to your font coordinator, Ted Beam. He will give them to me in New Orleans on August 17. After that game, I'll copy my hard drives back to the brown floppies and give the disks back to Ted, so that you will have them on August 29.
Why would you need the browns on August 29? We might have created some new promos in New Orleans or made other revisions. But you will not want to use one of our revisions: according to current plans, for August 17 only we will replace the Steelers 92 logo on the lower third scoreboard with the NFL logo, because our feed will be going not only to Steelers stations but also to Saints stations.
On site, the usual procedure is that Ted Beam will go over the flip chart with you, entering officials and starting lineups (always subject to 11th-hour changes). I like to confirm with the flip chart every player on the roster, including height and weight and such. The "Xth year" stat usually gives us problems. The theory is that a player who in college terms would be entering his junior year is entering his "3rd year" for our purposes, but sometimes on the charts he's listed as having "2 years NFL experience." The problem arises when they merely give you a number "2" or "3" and you have to figure out which way they mean it.
One final item: if the autodisplays relating to files (7-30) don't work well for you, you've got plenty of space on drive A (700-2090) to build individual heroes and stats as lower thirds.
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