Broadcasting history icon reviews Towers in the Sand

Mishkind Barry

For a different perspective on my book, Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting, check out the review by Barry Mishkind published today on his “Broadcasters’ Desktop Resource” website. Barry bills himself as “the Eclectic Engineer,” but those of us who have followed him for decades know he is also an encyclopedia of broadcasting history, much of it archived on his website, Oldradio.com. His work was invaluable in my research and much appreciated.

Click here to receive your own personally inscribed copy of Towers in the Sand. An e-book is also available. Paperback $29.95 plus tax and $5.00 shipping/handling, the e-book is $8.99.

Hurricane Andrew 25 Years Later

Hurr Andrew 25 anniv

Twenty-five years ago radio and television stations throughout the southeast coast of Florida were in wall-to-wall coverage watching and waiting as Hurricane Andrew, which was first projected to hit southern Palm Beach County, shifted and strengthened.

Then, at 3:31 a.m. on Monday, August 24, 1992, people in Miami-Dade and Broward County watched or listened to the simulcast on radio station Y-100 (WHYI-FM) as WTVJ’s Bryan Norcross, Tony Segreto, and Kelly Craig moved from the fancy news set in the studio to their “safe spot,” a bunker-like storeroom. “When you see us move, it’s time for you to move into the safe spot in your home,” they had told their audience. Soon after a lady named Madeline called the station on her still-working landline phone and through tears told Norcross she was under a mattress in the bathroom while her husband and son shouldered the door to keep the wind from breaking through.

The story of Hurricane Andrew is important not just from a historical perspective, but because of the lessons it provides. The people of the state of Florida have not faced a storm the strength of Andrew in twenty-five years, while the population along the vulnerable coast has exploded—over six million people now live in Miami-Dade/Broward/Palm Beach counties alone.

Bryan Norcross’s story in my book, Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting, is titled “What happens after a hurricane has everything to do with what you do before a hurricane.” Preparation is the key—even something so simple as having an old-fashioned, battery powered AM/FM radio so you can hear important safety and recovery information after the power has failed, the Internet is down, and cell phone service is overloaded. You can read an excerpt of Bryan’s story by clicking here.

Bryan recently published a new book on Hurricane Andrew. Dr. Jeff Masters, founder of WeatherUnderground.com, published an illustrated review. Check it out here.

And for an interesting audio reminder of the days during and after Andrew, check out this adaptation of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” by former Y-100 DJ Joe Johnson, now a morning host on WLRN-FM. Here’s the link.

 

Broadcasting and Women’s Rights Trailblazer Passes

 

Lee mug

A Florida broadcasting pioneer passed away a few weeks ago, but not one cut from the usual cloth of engineer, on-air personality, or station owner. She is someone that every woman who has since made a good living selling local broadcast radio or television time is indebted.

Lee Colee Hamilton was likely the first female broadcast salesperson in Florida. Her obituary, penned herself, says it best:

“Lee never campaigned for women’s equal rights. She just took them. As early as grade school when a publisher offered a bicycle for the most magazine sales in Philadelphia, but excluded girls, Lee signed up under her brother’s name and won the citywide contest. It launched a life-long love affair with work and its rewards.”

You can read the full obit here:

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/classifieds/obituaries-announcements/hamilton-lee-colee/mq8Z83dfzjtjo9bszHLs4I/

Her name was Leanore Dippy when she got her first job at Orlando’s WLOF as an “office girl” and copywriter. The story of how she broke into the all-boys-club of street sales is, I believe, among the best in my book. You can read the full story here:

http://www.towersinthesand.com/excerpts/

After becoming the top salesperson at WLOF she married my father, Donn R. Colee Sr., who was general manager of the station at the time. Together they put Orlando’s second television station, WLOF Channel 9 (now WFTV), on the air; then, after being recruited by MetroMedia owner John Kluge, became what Broadcasting magazine said was the only husband-wife management team in the country, evaluating and managing TV stations from Kansas City to Washington, DC. They divorced in 1968 but remained business partners and best friends until her death. She married Harry Hamilton in 1973 and, living in Palm Beach County, began a new career in commercial real estate—another very successful business partnership.

Lee was one of a kind and will be missed by all who knew her.

More critical acclaim for Towers in the Sand: “. . . a delightful and very readable book.”

Gold Robert author reviewer
History professor and author Robert L. Gold, book reviewer for the St. Augustine Record, calls Towers in the Sand “an important and welcome history of Florida Broadcasting . . . recounted with a storyteller’s touch.”
The review, published in The Record May 5, goes on to say: “From the beginning of the book, I was drawn to both the flow of events and the many characters who brought Florida broadcasting into being,” adding, “such are human-interest stories that emerge in the book from seemingly every part of the peninsula as well as the panhandle.”
Please click here to read the full review and a Q&A with the author.
Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting is available in paperback and e-book editions. Click here to purchase a copy.

How enterprising journalists at a Florida television station derailed the confirmation of a US Supreme Court nominee, and what the President did in retaliation

Carswell Judge G Harold

President Richard Nixon’s 1970 nomination of Florida Circuit Court Judge G. Harrold Carswell of Tallahassee to the US Supreme Court appeared to be in the bag. In announcing the nomination, presidential spokesman Ron Zeigler said “Carswell’s personal and judicial background . . . were investigated (and) the judge received a complete clearance.”

That blanket statement wasn’t enough for the journalists of Jacksonville’s WJXT Channel 4. Investigative reporter Ed Rodder went to Carswell’s hometown of Irwinton, Georgia, scoured public records and newspaper articles, discovering a speech Carswell made when running for the Georgia state legislature in 1948, containing the following three paragraphs:

“I am Southern by ancestry, birth, training, inclination, belief, and practice. And I believe that segregation of the races is proper and the only practical and correct way of life in our states. I have always so believed and I shall always so act.

“I shall be the last to submit to any attempt on the part of anyone to break down and to weaken this firmly established policy of our people.

“I yield to no man, as a fellow candidate or as a fellow citizen, in the firm vigorous belief in the principles of white supremacy and I shall always be so governed.”

Rodder’s report on the newly found speech was picked up by Walter Cronkite’s CBS Evening News January 21, 1970, setting off a firestorm of controversy and Carswell’s denial of racial prejudice. After months of investigations and hearings, the US Senate rejected Carswell’s nomination “by a surprising 51–45 vote that touched off pandemonium in the staid and ornate old chamber,” reported the Associated Press. “Wild clapping, cheers and a few scattered boos from the galleries greeted Vice President Spiro T. Agnew’s solemn announcement of the tally that marked President Nixon’s second straight defeat on a nomination of a Southern judge to the high court.”

Two years later the Nixon presidency was embroiled in the Watergate scandal, uncovered and advanced by reporters from the Washington Post, which also happened to own the station that derailed the president’s Supreme Court nomination, WJXT Channel 4, as well as Miami’s WPLG Channel 10.

On October 27, 1972, Chuck Colson, Nixon’s self-described “hatchet man,” sent a memo to another White House staffer: “Please check for me when any of the Washington Post television station licenses are up for renewal.” Then, between December 29, 1972, and January 2, 1973, three separate license challenges were filed against WJXT, and one against WPLG. Some of the challengers had direct ties to the president.

“Of all the threats to the company during Watergate . . . the most effective were the challenges to the licenses to our two Florida television stations,” wrote Katharine Graham, publisher of the Post, in her autobiography, Personal History.

Florida attorney Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte was lead counsel in the Washington Post Company’s successful defense of its stations’ licenses. Later, while president of Florida State University, he wrote a heartfelt piece for the Poynter Institute about Graham and her fight to keep her company’s television stations. The article is reprinted in my book, Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting, and is especially relevant in today’s atmosphere of media bashing.

For the record, Bob Schellenberg was the general manager who led WJXT through the license challenge; Jim Lynagh was GM of WPLG.

This is just one of many stories of solid journalism and community service in my book, Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting. Please click here to buy the book

 

75 years ago this month – War came to Florida shores

U123 GulfAmerica copy
(U-123 oil painting by Jackson Walker)

February 16, 2017 – A full-page-and-a-half article published in today’s Palm Beach Post by staff writer and historian Eliot Kleinberg tells the fascinating story of German submarine warfare within sight of Florida shores. Twenty-four ships were sunk between February-May 1942, the majority in the 150-mile stretch of coastline from Cape Canaveral to Boca Raton.

A great storyteller, Kleinberg’s opening paragraph sets the scene: “If you were living on Jupiter Island 75 years ago, on Feb. 21, 1942, you might have been partying at the local drinking hole, relaxing in your living room, or asleep in bed. All of a sudden, you would have felt the ground beneath you vibrate.” The story continues with coastal blackouts, famous local landmarks like The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach being converted into a hospital, local residents with German names being rounded up, beachcombers finding bodies amid seaweed and shells, pervasive paranoia.

It’s a great article, well illustrated, and well worth the read. Here’s a link: “The war offshore”

Eliot’s article references a book titled Operation Drumbeat by my godfather, University of Florida Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus Michael Gannon. Mike was the inspiration for my book on the history of Florida broadcasting and its effect on the social history of the state. One of Mike’s stories about warfare off the coast is in my book, including a first-person account by the captain of German U-123 who was monitoring St. Augustine radio station WFOY. The submarine was so close to the beach that “houses, trees, the dunes of the beautiful beach, the slender light house beyond it, everything could be seen without binoculars.” The boat continued northward where it encountered and sunk a tanker off Jacksonville Beach.

Commercial radio stations caused particular security concerns—not just because their signals could be used for direction finding, but out of caution for coded messages that could be conveyed to the enemy even by well-meaning broadcasters.

Within weeks of the submarine warfare off the coast, the US War Service Office of Censorship issued its Code of Wartime Practices for American Broadcasters. Many of the provisions were obvious, if very restrictive, when seen through the lens of today’s liberal media rules. Other prohibitions were somewhat surprising. “ALL weather data, either forecasts, summaries, recapitulations, or any details of weather conditions.” Included were restrictions on weather conditions surrounding special events. Permitted were terms such as “Game called because of weather,” “wet ground,” “muddy field”; prohibited was anything related to conditions over a large area, like “clear,” “rain,” “windy,” etc.

Entertainment programs were also restricted—the goal being to prevent coded messages to the enemy. “No telephoned or telegraphed requests” for songs. No “service announcements,” such as lost pets, meetings and the like. No man-on-the-street interviews.

The rules were voluntary, but enthusiastically adopted by broadcasters seeking to support their country in time of war.

You can read more about these topics and many more examples of how Florida broadcasters influenced the social history of our state in Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting, available now in paperback and e-book editions by clicking here.

How a young woman with a contralto voice and Rhode Island moxie became one of the most popular radio personalities in South Florida

Kevin Kitchens Jennifer Ross(This is an excerpt from Chapter 25 of Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting. It picks up where Russ Morley, program director of WRMF-FM in West Palm Beach in the 1980-1990s, was describing Jennifer Ross’s unusual path to radio stardom.)

“If you said ‘Kevin Kitchens’ in Palm Beach and Broward counties in the late-1980s and ’90s, people would probably respond with, ‘and Jennifer Ross.’ That was not part of the carefully honed plan. Morley sensed something special when Elena LaFazia showed up at his office for a job interview in the early ’80s. ‘She had moxie,’ a contralto voice from years of smoking, and Rhode Island street smarts. But first the name had to change. For no specific reason, ‘Jennifer Ross’ was chosen. Her first job was as the field reporter for a public service segment called ’60 Seconds,’ a knock-off of the famous CBS television news magazine. Ross would come up with a Question of the Day and go out into the community to record comments from the public, editing them into a one-minute package that aired several times a day. ‘What do you think about the killings in Libya, that sort of thing,’ said Morley. ‘Well, I think it’s awful what they’re doing in Libya.’ That evolved over time to co-anchoring the morning news on WRMF, a three-minute segment. ‘She started hanging around the studio after the newscast. She had such a perky personality—she didn’t seem to fear anyone or anything.’ Kitchens and Ross hit it off, but not in the typical morning team mutual admiration society. ‘Theirs was a love-hate, brother-sister relationship whose genuineness kept them No. 1 in the morning drive slot,’ wrote [The Palm Beach Post‘s Tim] O’Meilia, who referred to them as a ‘Tracy-Hepburn match.’
“(Interestingly, in the ten years Ross was teamed with Kitchens, she never received star billing or compensation. It was always the Kevin Kitchens Show. ‘You know how it is,’ said Morley. ‘Sometimes you have to leave to change the way you are viewed. [At WRMF] she was viewed as the newsgirl who comments outside the newscast.’ It wasn’t until Ross and Kitchens moved to WEAT-FM in 1995 that she got co-billing and became the second-highest paid radio talent in the market. Kitchens was number one.)”

The WRMF story includes a fictitious woman known as “The Mercedes Lady,” a musical format so tight that they even engineered out a guitar riff in “Easy Like Sunday Morning,” and a list of dos and don’ts that often infuriated the sales staff. Read all about it starting on page 458. Click here to buy the book.

“Can’t you just shoot the touchdowns?”

orange-bowl-500-wide
In the days before videotape, television news and sports reporters and photographers relied on 16mm, no sound, black and white film cameras to bring the action to viewers at home. Once a reel of film was exposed, it was finished, couldn’t be reused.
Managing use of film wasn’t too difficult for most stories, but when it came to covering live sporting events it became a challenge.
kinnaird-copy
That was the dilemma facing WPTV Channel 5’s flamboyant sports director, Buck Kinnaird, especially when the Miami Dolphins started playing in the Orange Bowl in 1966. The film used by the West Palm Beach station’s news and sports departments was charged to the engineering department, managed at the time by a cost conscious chief engineer named Lew Evenden.
They budgeted 800 feet of film for a football game, but when they started covering Dolphins games from the press box, Kinnaird said they were using 1,000 feet or more. One Monday Evenden called Kinnaird into his office and told him they were using too much film. “Well,” Kinnaird said, “you know, it’s football. And Lew said—this is the honest-to-God truth—he said, ‘Well, can’t you just shoot the touchdowns?’”
With a straight face Kinnaird replied, “Lew, I’ll tell you what. I’m going down to the Dolphins’ practice Tuesday and I’ll ask Don Shula to let us know when the team is about to score a touchdown. And Lew said, ‘I’d really appreciate that. We’re spending too much money on film.’”

This is one of many great stories Buck told me a few years before his death in 2008. The stories are in chapter 20 of Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting, along with others from Florida sports figures including Bernie Rosen (WTVJ Miami), Jim Gallagher (WPEC West Palm Beach), and Dick Stratton (WJXT Jacksonville).
Click here to buy your copy of the paperback or e-book.

From “Wonderful Days And Evenings” to “Why Stay Up North”: Call Letters and their Slogans

Since the early days of broadcasting, stations have been known by slogans associated with their call letters.

Bryan Norcross is known across the nation for his work as an award-winning meteorologist (Hurricane Andrew and many more, on Florida stations, national networks NBC and CBS, The Weather Channel), but what you may not know is that he got his start in broadcasting as a rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey in Melbourne and Tallahassee. You can learn more about his career in my book.

Bryan is also a broadcasting history buff, and that led to a conversation one day about call letters and their slogans. “A misnomer is that very early stations’ call letters meant anything,” Bryan explained. “When they first went to 4-letter call signs as the number of stations increased in 1922, the format east of the Mississippi started with W_A_. So WDAE and WQAM were simply in sequence – as were WCAN and WDAL. Sometime in the mid-1920s apparently call letters could be requested. This made WIOD possible.”

Bryan has done a lot more research into this, but the bottom line is most stations’ call letters were simply assigned. That didn’t stop promotionally oriented managers from crafting their own meaning to the call letters. Sometimes they asked listeners and viewers to come up with their own suggestions.

Here is a partial list of call letters and slogans I came across during my twelve years of work on Towers in the Sand. Remember, stations changed call letters often, so the cities are my best guesses. I thought this might be fun. I’m going to put the list on the book’s Facebook page, @towersinthesand. I hope you will add to it.

Station City of License Slogan
WAUC (Wachula) WACHula
WBFS (Miami) Broadcasting from Florida’s South
WBIL (Leesburg) We’re Big In Leesburg
WBUS (Miami Beach) Magic BUS
WCKR (Miami) Cox-Knight Radio (newspaper companies)
WCMQ (Miami) CMQ (call sign for popular Havana station)
WCOA (Pensacola) Wonderful City of Advantages
WCVU (Naples) CVU = Sea View
WDAE (Tampa) Wonderful Days And Evenings (during The Great Depression changed by announcers to We Don’t Always Eat)
WDBO (Orlando) Originally Daytona Beach Orlando, but later Way Down By Orlando
WDLP (Panama City) John Perry’s wife Dorthea Lindstrom Perry. AKA by the locals, “We Drink Liquor Publicly”
WDSR (Lake City) Deep South Radio
WDVH (Gainesville) Partners Toby Dowdy, Buster Vaughn, Tom Hanssen
WFBO (Flagler Beach) Flagler’s Blizzard of Oldies
WFFG (Marathon) World’s Finest Fishing Grounds
WFHH (Tampa) Fort Harrison Hotel
WFLA (Tampa) West FLoridA
WFLX (West Palm Beach) FLX = flicks (as in movies)
WFOY (St. Augustine) Wonderful Fountain Of Youth
WFTM (Fort Myers) FT. Myers
WFTV (Orlando) Wonderful Florida TeleVision
WGBS (Miami) George B. Storer (Storer Broadcasting)
WGGG (Gainesville) Watch Greater Gainesville Grow (also, from the boys who worked at the station, “Where Good Girls Grow”)
WGTO (Cypress Gardens) Gulf To Ocean, later Good Times Oldies
WHLG (Stuart) Harvey L Glascock
WIOD (Miami) Wonderful Isle Of Dreams
WIPC (Lake Wales) Imperial Polk County
WIZD (Fort Pierce) WIZard
WJAX (Jacksonville) JAX = Jacksonville
WJBS (DeLand) Stetson University founder John B. Stetson
WJXR (Maclenny) JaXonville Radio
WKAT (Miami) Frank L. KATzentine
WKKO (Cocoa Beach) KKO = Cocoa
WKMG (Orlando) Katharine M. Graham
WKTK (Crystal River) Koast To Koast
WLBE (Eustis) LeesBurg Eustis
WLBF (Leesburg) LeesBurg Florida
WLIZ (Lake Worth) eLIZabeth Taylor
WLOD (Pompano Beach) Wonderful Land of Dreams
WLOF (Orlando) We Love Orlando Florida, later Wonderful Land Of Fun
WLVS (Lake Worth) LVS = Elvis – named by station owner Sam Phillips who first recorded Elvis
WMEG (Melbourne) Melbourne-Eau Gallie
WMUM (West Palm Beach) Mother Radio
WNTM (Orlando) Naomi T. Murrell (pres of Central Fla Broadcasting)
WNTO (Orlando) News-Talk Orlando
WNWS (Miami) NeWS
WOCN (Miami) OCN = ocean
WPBF (West Palm Beach) West Palm Beach Florida
WPBR (Palm Beach) Palm Beach Radio
WPBT (Miami) We’re Public Broadcast Television
WPEC (West Palm Beach) Photo Electronics Corporation
WPIO (Titusville) We Pass It On
WPLG (Miami) Phillip L. Graham
WPOM (Riviera Beach) POM = Palm (as in Palm Beach)
WPTV (West Palm Beach) West Palm TeleVision
WQAM (Miami) World’s Quickest Ascending Metropolis
WQBA (Miami) QBA = Cuba
WQOP (Jacksonville) Queen of Peace (licensee name)
WRBD (Pompano Beach) Rockin’ Big Daddy
WRBQ (Tampa) Ralph Beavers (chief engineer)
WRKT (Cocoa Beach) RKT = rocket (Cape Canaveral)
WRMF (West Palm Beach) Richard M. Fairbanks (owner)
WRUF (Gainesville) Radio University of Florida
WSBB (New Smyrna) World’s Safest Bathing Beach
WSEC (Miami) Second Educational Channel
WSFR (Sanford) Sanford Florida Radio
WSHE (Fort Lauderdale) SHEs only rock ‘n’ roll
WSLC (Clermont) W-South Lake County
WSRF (Fort Lauderdale) SuRF
WSRQ (Sarasota) SRQ = airline code for Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport
WSUN (Tampa) Why Stay Up North?
WTHS (Miami) Technical High School
WTIR (Winter Garden) Traveller Information Radiotime, later Traffic and Information Radio
WTLN (Orlando) Named for owner’s family Tom, Linda, Nancy Moffit
WTLV (Jacksonville) TeLeVision
WTMC (Ocala) Welcome To Marion County, later The Music Connection
WTRL (Bradenton) TRaiL Broadcasting (near the Tamiami Trail)
WTRR (Sanford) First owner, James Rivers son, Tolliver R. Rivers
WTSP (St. Petersburg) Welcome To Saint Petersburg
WTVT (Tampa) Walter Tison Virginia Tison (founder and wife)
WVCG (Coral Gables) Winning Voice of Coral Gables
WVGT (Bithlo) Voice of the Golden Triangle
WVOJ (Jacksonville) Voice of Jacksonville, Wonderful Voice Of Jesus
WVUM (Coral Gables) Voice of the University of Miami
WWOS (West Palm Beach) Wonderful World Of Stereo
WWPF (Palatka) Welcome to Palatka Florida
WWSB (Sarasota) Wide Water touches Sarasota and Bradenton
WXLT (Sarasota) XL Television (40 in Roman numerals)
WYNF (Tampa) You Now Found (and) Ninety Five
WZST (Leesburg) Zest Radio, The Cleanest Spot On The Dial

How a young Richard Lobo ‘ambushed’ Fidel Castro and helped Miami’s WCKT Channel 7 earn a Peabody

lobo-castro-c1960
Florida native Dick Lobo’s interest in broadcasting began as a child in Tampa, the grandson of Cuban immigrants who came to the United States to work in Ybor City’s cigar factories.
As he explained in Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting, “I was an only child without siblings to play with after dinner, and we didn’t have a great deal of money, so my entertainment was our radio. I fell in love with the medium–it transported me away from some of the hard times we were experiencing. I could escape.”
While in high school he got is first bicycle “and permission to ride it downtown . . . I used to hang around radio stations–WDAE was one of them, WFLA was another. There were some nice people there who saw I was interested.” As broadcasters generally did, they encouraged Lobo, asking him to help by putting away ETs (electrical transcriptions, the predecessor to records) and pulling wire copy from news services. “I’d roll up long rolls . . . and take them home. Sometimes in the privacy of my room, using a hairbrush as a microphone, I would read wire copy as if I were an announcer reading a newscast. I really loved doing that. Not only did I love the medium, I loved the news part of it.”
Lobo’s interest in news continued at University of Miami where, through its strong relationships with the fledgling television industry, he had opportunities to train at several local stations. “My professor was Ralph Renick. He was iconic in Florida.” That relationship led to a part-time job as a reporter/photographer for WTVJ Channel 4.
After graduation and a stint in the army, Lobo returned to Miami and joined WCKT Channel 7 as a photographer. While there he was sent to Cuba, right after the revolution, where the bold young journalist, fluent in Spanish, got an exclusive interview with the new Cuban president, Fidel Castro. “I ambushed him coming out of a meeting outside Havana. It aired on the Today show and Huntley-Brinkley.” The interview and the rest of WCKT’s coverage earned the station a Peabody Award.
That was just the beginning of Lobo’s broadcasting career, which included his leadership over a sea change in local television that would reshape the network-affiliate relationship and change much of the business of broadcasting forever.
Read more about Dick Lobo’s broadcasting career and many others in Towers in the Sand: The History of Florida Broadcasting, available now at by clicking here.