It was late fall in 1963. I found myself to be the only body employed in the newsroom of CHCA-TV in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. The pay was poor, obviously, and the conditions worse.
The station offices and “studio” were located on the outskirts of town, if I remember correctly, in a Quonset-hut building that had served previously as a barn. The place smelled. We were poor, dirt poor.
We did have a Broadcast News teletype machine that noisily printed out hourly newscasts for the region’s radio stations. I used to select the supper-hour “cast” from these sometimes hours-old reports. Re-writes . . . forget it. Local breaking news . . . forget it.
We had no news camera or crew to cover local events. I do not recall ever having genuine news-film footage. There was a single TV studio. There was no teleprompter. We had one black-and-white, second-hand GE studio camera whose “orbiter” did not work. There was no zoom lens on the thing. There was also no director, as such.
In those days, television cameras and sets had a nasty habit of getting a “burn in” of an image if the image did not move or change often enough. A camera orbiter that worked would move the image slightly every so-often to prevent burn-in. This was not noticeable to viewers at home.
There was, apparently, no budget to fix the thing. So to prevent burn-in the CHCA-TV camera operator had to “truck” (move his camera) in and out as long as I was on-air and on-camera. He’d back out slowly about eight feet and then immediately move in slowly to a close up where the camera was about three feet from my nose.
Occasionally, as a joke and an attempt to break you up, the camera guy would truck the rather large camera within a foot or less of your face. The first time it happened, I laughed so much I could not finish. We went to commercial early and the sports and weather guys filled in the time.
It gave me the willies. I never knew where it was when I looked up from the news copy. But I could hear its noisy wheels moving over the less-than-even floor . . . back and forth . . . back and forth.
We had no intercom and the guy in Master Control had no way of talking to me while I read the text. The untrained cameraman shouted messages to me from Master Control when I was off the air.
I also did a full shift of pre-recording station breaks, promos and local commercials in the very small audio “studio” – if you could call it a studio – upstairs adjacent to the Master Control room.
Another thing that made my skin ache was the flies.
All the studio lights were either on or off. Often we had to keep the barn doors open to control heat buildup and the eventual vile manure smell in the so-called studio. But it meant that, around the supper news-hour, every fly within five miles of the place would sniff the air and head for this possible meal.
Just for fun, try reading a news item to your home camera while a fly crawls up your nose and another circles your head and then lands in your ear. Hey, it’s fun.
The resolution of the camera was so bad that the viewers could not see the little bastards all around me. So I was advised to stop batting them away. It looked odd at home.
By the way, I forgot to mention we had nothing like makeup or wardrobe, either. No helicopter, of course. The News Department did not even have a car or truck.
Occasionally there’d be urgent out-of-town news with a few rings of the teletype bell to signal a news “bulletin.” Five rings signaled a “flash” of big news.
Then one day it happened. I remember it today – more than 40 years later – as if it happened yesterday. It was November 22.
The bell ringing did not stop. The ring count went past five and then ten.
“What the hell . . .,” I asked rhetorically as I turned from my makeshift desk to the teletype behind me. Then I read something like:
Within a few seconds there was another FLASH item with the bell rings: