I debuted on TV in 1976, back when stay-at-home moms were still called homemakers. There were enough of them then that locally produced homemaker shows aired in the morning on stations across the country. A woman named Betty somethingorother hosted South Bend’s homemaker show, The Betty Somethingorother Show, live each weekday on WSBT-TV. It was on right after Captain Kangaroo, and the cloying strains of its theme music made my brother and I lunge at the TV to change the channel. We found The Dorothy Frisk Show considerably less exciting than staring at the wall and seriously less pleasant than eating Mom’s liver and onions. Betty shared cooking tips, interviewed local notables, and invited musical guests in to entertain the women at home. My elementary school’s choir was asked to sing Christmas carols on her show one day that December, and another fellow and I were chosen to sing Good King Wenceslaus as a duet. I remember two things about the day. First, the news set was in the same studio. It seemed vast on TV, but in real life it was incredibly small. I wondered how the anchors kept from getting in each others’ way! Second, the lights were bright as my partner and I sang, but beyond the lights the studio was dark. We wore simple costumes and mine included a brown cap that slid off my head just after we started singing. I kept my cool on the outside, but inside I was almost panicking. But then I felt the cap brush my left hand on the way down. I grasped it, gently placed it back on my head, and kept singing as if this were part of the act. I watched my partner’s eyes grow wide when he saw it, but he kept singing, too. Even the choir director remarked about it in amazement afterward. My mom, who was along on the trip, was just proud of her son. I don’t know anyone who actually saw me on TV that day!
When I was General Manager of WMHD, my college’s radio station, a reporter at WTHI-TV in Terre Haute wanted to do a story about us. She said that it was her last week at the station, that she liked listening to us, and that she wanted to profile us before she lost her chance. She and her photographer came out one afternoon and spent most of their time shooting gripping scenes around the station, such as of records spinning on turntables and disk jockeys positioning the microphone. Then she interviewed me. I thought it was odd that she crouched on the floor, had me sit on the desk, and had the photographer shoot while he stood, but hey, she was the TV professional. I looked down at the reporter as we talked about the station’s eclectic music, from bluegrass to Christian rock to death metal, all selected by the station’s disc jockeys. I had been fairly serious during the interview but at the end I tried to lighten the mood by saying, jokingly, that we liked to “inflict our music on Terre Haute.” Everybody in the room thought it was funny.
When the interview aired, the bad camera angle made it look like my eyes were closed. I also learned a very valuable lesson that day: Don’t say anything in front of a TV camera that you wouldn’t want taken out of context. The way they edited the interview made it sound like I was saying that we enjoyed making our station hard to listen to! When the story ended, anchors Gary Jackson and Marla Keller were both laughing about that line, and Gary wouldn’t let go of it, making several cracks as the closing theme ran and they faded to black. There used to be a huge billboard on the edge of campus with Gary and Marla on it, confidently smiling down on US 40. Whenever I drove under it, I thought about climbing up there and painting their eyes closed!
A few years later I was back at my alma mater for an event, and WTWO was there doing a story on it. I was talking with some people when I noticed their photographer point his lens at us. I hammed it up a little bit with a big smile and animated gestures as I spoke, wondering what it would take to get the very cute reporter to come over and talk with me. Five seconds of me hamming it up made it to air as part of the story. I didn’t get to talk to the reporter, though.
After I moved to Indianapolis, I worked for a computer-book publisher. Windows 95 was about to be released, and since our large catalog of Windows 95 books made a great local angle on that story, WISH-TV sent a reporter to cover the launch. I sat at a computer demonstrating Windows 95 to him and answering his questions for a good 20 minutes as the camera rolled. When he put together his story, he rewrote many of my words and said them himself. The only footage he used was four seconds of my right hand moving a mouse around on a mouse pad. I wish we had thought to use a mouse pad with a large company logo on it!
Have you had fleeting seconds of television fame? Tell me about them!