WCFM, the radio station I worked for during college, had gone bankrupt while I was away in the service. The station's chief engineer bought the place and turned it into a recording studio. He was looking for a helper and offered me the job. Among our regular clients was the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company which had just started a small Washington News Bureau. Westinghouse was a pioneer in the broadcasting business. Among its stations was KDKA Pittsburgh, considered to be the first commercial radio station in the country. And there were six other stations. The Bureau chief, Rod MacLeish prepared a handful of timeless news features and recorded them in our studio. We then made tape copies and sent the dubs Air Mail Special Delivery to all seven stations. This was a weekly project.
On October 4, 1957 an event occurred that would have an enormous impact on the world ... and on my career. The Soviet Union put a space satellite into orbit. They named it Sputnik.
Russia and the United States were in a "space race" to show which country would be the leader in space technology. Sputnik, which orbited the earth every 90 minutes sending out an audio signal, clearly showed the Russians had the edge. Sputnik had an alarming military implication. The intercontinental ballistic missile that launched it could also send a nuclear bomb to a target in the United States far faster than a conventional bomber aircraft.
Westinghouse decided to do a live one-hour radio news special about the space race ... why the USSR was ahead and why we weren't. The company hired us to provide the engineering support for the show. In addition to Rod MacLeish, they flew in Jim Snyder, the news director at KDKA, Pittsburgh to help report, write and announce a show called "Sputnik ... Red Star in the Sky". We worked almost around the clock to put that show together. I was the tape editor and studio engineer. The program was a great success.
Three years later, in December 1960, Westinghouse decided to expand their Washington News Bureau under the direction of the very same Jim Snyder I had met on the Sputnik show. I was working for Mutual Broadcasting System by then. One day, I got a call from Snyder with an offer I could not refuse. Jim wanted me to build the control room for his growing operation and become the Bureau's chief (and only) engineer. On December 1, 1960, I took the job.
By then, I was married to your Grandma Geneva and Mike had been born. The Westinghouse Company paid well and enjoyed the highest reputation in the broadcasting industry at that time. The young family had financial security and I settled into a job that brought a lot of satisfaction.
You live in an age when television news programming is dominant. I hate to tell you, but for the most part, TV news has turned into an information-based sideshow. Radio news isn't far behind. But forty years ago, we approached the job of reporting news in a very serious fashion. The legendary Edward R. Murrow and his World War II team of European correspondents set a very high standard ... and in the 1960's, it was one still fresh in the memories of men and women in the industry.
Although I wasn't a reporter, my job with the news bureau put me on the scene of many important stories of that era ... the early U.S. manned space flights, the inauguration and assassination of President John Kennedy, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington and King's funeral in Atlanta, presidential nominating conventions and election night coverage in 1964 and 1968, the "Cuban missile crisis" of 1962 and Bobby Kennedy's funeral in 1968.
Our little bureau kept growing into a much larger operation ... one to rival some of the major radio networks. Westinghouse Broadcasting renamed itself "Group W". Group W News was a wellrespected name in Washington and beyond. We added bureaus in Paris, London, Rome, Tel Aviv, Germany, Viet Nam, and in a couple cities in the United States. My own responsibility expanded as well. I got the big title of Group W News Operations Manager. I designed the facilities in the London Bureau and supervised their construction. In time, our Washington Bureau added new studios and control rooms which I also designed.
It sounds like I am blowing my own horn here. I don't mean it that way. But through the '60's, big things were happening and I was proud to be a part of them. As a kid in the war years, I would listen to the men of CBS and NBC radio and dream that someday I would do what they did for a living. Well, I never was an Ed Murrow, Howard K. Smith, or Bob Trout but the work we did was every bit as professional as what they did. It was a joy to go to work each day.
Sad to say, some days did not bring joyous news. As an example, one day in November ... just six days before Thanksgiving, 1963.