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Lou Pickney's Online Commentary

Television News

Saturday
May 5, 2012

Later this month the 15 year anniversary of my debut in the television news business will arrive. Following my sophomore year at the University of Evansville, the summer of 1997 was fast approaching. And, after having spent the previous summer working in the customer service department at Southwestern Book Company answering angry complaint calls, I decided to do my best to find a job that would both generate income and also help me gain experience in a field I had hoped to get into: television news.

I tried like crazy to find something, but that was easier said than done. There weren't any available spots in town. Time was running short. The deadline was approaching at a rapid pace and I literally didn't know what I was going to do.

A friend of mine, Brad Shoemaker, had a production assistant job at ABC 25, WEHT-TV. What happened next was a very surprising turn of events: Brad's housing in Evansville for the summer fell through at the last second, and he literally had to go home for the summer. I had a room in the Phi Kappa Tau house already lined up, and literally I was brought in by Brad in a final day switch to take his spot.

It was a bit of a leap of faith by the ABC 25 management to give me a chance. Literally before I had signed any paperwork, I was thrown into the mix, as they had me running tapes for their 5 p.m. newscast. The system might sound antiquated to newbies to the business now, but at that time video was shot on Betacam SP and edited from the "raw" b-roll tape in Machine A onto a broadcast tape in Machine B. The broadcast tape would be put on a rack in the production room and then it was up to the tape operator to make sure the tapes were in order and matching the rundown.

In the control room, there were two Betacam SP tape players. In fast-moving newscasts, and later with things like the great Home Team Friday football and basketball Friday night specialty shows, you had to be quick on the draw. Hit eject on 1, roll tape on 2, grab and discard tape in 1, quickly put in the next tape in 1, etc. Plus many of the general use broadcast tapes were smaller than the wider versions of tapes usually used for reporter packages, and you had to be careful that you inserted the smaller tapes properly or else you could have all kinds of trouble in the midst of a live newscast with the tape not going in and having to be quickly pulled out and tried again.

There was no separate technical director and director like I what I would see later in my career, so the director would bark commands on when to roll the tape and then punch it up himself or herself. "Standby Beta 1, roll Beta 1." It was as hectic and frenetic as you could imagine it would be, though there was a certain rush to having a vital part of the process.

The news director at the time at ABC 25 was Lloyd Winnecke, and he proved to be a good boss. I stayed on through the summer, and they kept me on board into the fall of 1997. Management worked around my school schedule, with me driving across the river to Henderson, KY to arrive by 4:30 to be ready to start the 5 p.m. newscast after the The Rosie O'Donnell Show lead-in from 4-5.

Lloyd eventually left the station to take a job in the banking industry. Now? He's the mayor of Evansville! Imagine my surprise the first time I saw an article that referenced "Mayor Winnecke" -- the same man who gave my break into the TV biz 15 years ago is the head honcho in the city where I went to college. It's interesting how life works sometimes, isn't it? I'm happy for both him in winning the election and in Evansville for having someone who I know is a competent manager running the show.

Ace Purple and Lloyd Winnecke

Ace Purple (2011 redesigned version) and Evansville mayor Lloyd Winnecke

So I'm very happy for Lloyd to be in that position of leadership, and I personally congratulated him on Facebook and also thanked him for giving me my first opportunity to work in the television news business.

I mention all of this because, with me about to leave Nashville, I'm actively looking to get back into the television news business. I have put several feelers out there and hope to find the right opportunity somewhere for a news operation looking for an experienced producer (me) to bring on board. Will it happen? As always, time will tell...


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