Live TV News – In The Beginning, There Was Food

   You can’t watch much tv today without bumping into a food show.  It happened to me early this morning.  I was channel surfing when I landed on Gordon Tokumatsu doing a “foodie” show on one of KNBC’s channels here in Los Angeles.  There was Gordon, on location in the back of some restaurant, talking to some chef as she prepared something or another.  Sound familiar?  Nothing unusual about it.  Lots of folks are doing it.  Now.

Rick Wagonheim and I, may have done it first.

I got in on the whole ENG “live-shot” thing pretty early on, back in 1975.   The late Bill Vance, was the news director at WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio.  He saw what was coming and wanted to go for it.  Gene D’Angelo, the father of actress Beverly D’Angelo, was the general manager, and he agreed.  And so, WBNS was one of the first tv stations in the country to go live from the field via microwave trucks and ENG cameras.   One of the first live-shots I did, was to cover an extension class on wine tasting at Ohio State University.  Going live with food (or in this case, drink) had entered the tv news picture in Columbus.

As I recall, only the five CBS O&O’s and a few other stations had taken the leap, turning in their beloved CP-16 film cameras for the big, bulky Ikegami ENG cameras with giant battery packs and video tape recorders that were the size of a small suitcase.  It gave us the ability to go live from almost anywhere at any time, but the rest of it was a photographer’s worst nightmare.  The amount of gear they had to haul around was beyond belief.  Absolutely horrible.  And that makes what Rick Wagonheim did back  at KDKA in Pittsburgh, all the more amazing.

That’s where we were in 1976.  KDKA-TV.  “Group W” (Westinghouse Broadcasting) in Pittsburgh.  At the time the Steelers and the Pirates were both red hot.  So was KDKA.  They were at the top of the leader board.  They brought me in because, thanks to Bill Vance, I was one of only a relative handful of experienced ENG live-shot reporters in the country.    Eventually, our arch-rival WTAE-TV brought in Mike Schneider from Buffalo.  Mike and I went head to head five nights a week prowling the streets in our live trucks.  We were young and so was the technology, meaning, we were making most of it up as we went along.  I have no doubt that some of what we did had never been done before, and that brings me to the whole food thing.

I came up with the idea of going live from a local restaurant during the 11PM newscast on Friday nights.   Photographer Rick Wagonhiem, agreed to go along with it, and so there we were, doing live shots from nightspots like “The Crepe Place,” “The Nut House” (where I took a pie in the face), and a brand new restaurant somewhere on the north side owned by several of the Steelers.  I recall doing a live interview with running back Franco Harris, one of the proud owners.

We’d start out in the dining room.  Rick, with the big Ikegami camera on his shoulder, following along doing a cinema verite thing as I did a “walk and talk” taking viewers through the dining room and then back into the kitchen where the chef would be in the process of preparing a signature dish.   I’d briefly talk to a patron or two out in the dining room and then wrap it up by interviewing the chef, who would give a brief description of the food he was preparing.  It was all live, and we got through it in about two minutes and thirty seconds.

By today’s standards this might not sound like much, but remember, this was 1976, or 77 at the latest, and I’m not sure anybody had ever before done anything like it on tv news.   Rick Wagonheim and I, may have been the first.   If you know of anybody else, I’d love to hear about it.

 photo: KDKA TV
A publicity shoot for KDKA, circa 1976.  Cameraman “Ace” Baily, is holding a camera mounted on a body pod.  That box strapped to his back is the power supply for the camera.   The 3/4 inch video tape recorder was a third piece of equipment field crews were forced to deal with. 

6 thoughts on “Live TV News – In The Beginning, There Was Food”

  1. Bill Vance was my News Director from 1973-’75 at WJAR-TV in Providence, R.I. I was 28 when I started as a news reporter and weekend sportscaster. I interviewed Red Sox sluggers Jim Rice and Freddie Lynn when they played for Pawtucket. Dave Layman was the anchor, John Ghiorse the weatherman, and Chris Clark the sports director.

    I just stumbled across news of this death. I will always remember him as a great leader who helped give me the confidence I needed as a young newsperson.

    It stunned and saddened me to read of his passing.

    Ron Winders

  2. Dear Ron,

    Thank you for the nice words about my father. He is missed and it is lovely to hear such good things after all this time.

    Best regards,

  3. You are most welcome, Suellen. You’re right, it has been a long time. I think the degree to which we are remembered is probably proportionate to the contribution we make. For many of us, your dad’s contribution was considerable.

  4. Thanks for the memories, Ron. I too, as a reporter at WSB-TV Atlanta did many live ENG stories, from breaking to features in the mid to late ’70’s. It was a staple of our coverage. After a while, it became no big deal, and was shocked when I moved to L.A., and found many stations still shooting news with 16mm film cameras.

  5. Nice piece Ron. And yeah, KDKA was a powerhouse back in the day! I remember those days very well.

    Another great ND was Dave Emory the guy that brought you and I together back in 1979! We had a great run my brother.

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