In the 50s, 60s and 70s WDSU-TV sometimes had a staff of over 300 people including 45 technicians in the Engineering Department. The Channel 6 engineers were truly pioneers in TV broadcasting. For 10 years WDSU-TV was the only TV facility in New Orleans. The engineers were called upon by all of the TV networks to provide the technical support for programs originating all over the country.
The NBC TV coverage of Alan Shepard in the first sub orbital space flight was made possible by WDSU-TV engineers aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. Channel 6 cameraman, Ed Hermann, spotted the capsule and its parachute with his 25" telephoto lens. Some Naval personnel were heard to exclaim: "Wow, that cameraman locked in on the capsule before acquisition radar found it!" The WDSU-TV crews were also employed for other space flights.
CBS called upon WDSU-TV to provide technical support for the Edward R. Morrow TV program from Little Rock, Arkansas. The program featured an interview with Winthrop Rockerfeller who was at odds with Governor Faubus regarding civil rights legislation. The program was televised from his mountain top home. The road up the mountain was so steep that the heavily loaded TV field unit, a Flexibus, had to back down from its first try to negotiate the mountain road. Assistants to Governor Faubus threatened to stop the bus with forces of the state militia. Rockerfeller sent one of his personal ranch fire engines to escort the TV bus in its second and successful try to reach his home.
In Selma, Alabama, WDSU-TV engineers, working with NBC TV news, were threatened by an angry crowd throwing things at the Flexibus. At least two shots were heard. No one was injured. One person smashed his car into Mike Lala's legally parked WDSU-TV news car. Selma law enforcement officials ticketed Mike for reckless driving. Jim Tolhurst's WDSU-TV news car was set on fire. The blaze destroyed thousands of dollars of TV cameras and communication equipment.
ABC TV used WDSU-TV equipment and engineers in their sports programming. For many years, WDSU-TV provided technicians and camera personnel in Sugar Bowl TV coverage.
The first television program originating outside the continental U. S. was made possible by WDSU-TV engineers. The show, NBC's "Wide, Wide World," was telecast from the island of Bimini in the Caribbean Sea. There was no satellite to relay the TV signal at that time and telephone microwave relay links were just not powerful enough to relay the TV pictures over the approximately 65 miles of water between Bimini and Florida. The WDSU-TV engineering department solved that problem by constructing a 100,000 watt TV transmitter on the island to relay the signal to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
That same transmitter was brought back to New Orleans and was installed in the Hibernia Bank building (after WDSU-TV moved its transmitter to Chalmette) as the first WYES transmitter. The "Wide, Wide World" program was the first to use underwater TV cameras in a network program. Most of the Ch. 6 crew arrived in Bimini by air and were checked in as visiting workers. Engineer John Dickenson and I traveled with tons of TV equipment loaded into a Canadian Corvette. When we arrived at the dock, the Ch. 6 guys already there began to unload the equipment. John and I headed to the hotel to check in and clean up. Nobody mentioned anything about registering with island officials as visiting workers, which resulted in John and I having the great honor of being picked up by island policemen (two big guys you NEVER want to argue with) for being illegal aliens. Fortunately an NBC representative helped us to "beat the rap." ALSO nobody told Engineer Tommy Metz that sharks came in to sleep in the shallow water around the island. He found that out for himself wading in the water one night when he stepped on a shark that took offense at Tom's disturbing him. The shark was not hurt. Neither was Tom.
The engineers at Channel 6 were members of the IBEW (Local 1139). Under the ownership years of Edgar Stern, Jr., WDSU-TV has never experienced union/management problems. Once, when the union contract came up for renewal, I was appointed to the negotiation committee. The committee thought it would be funny (cute!) if we all had holes in our shoes signifying our financial condition, Lester Kabakoff, the legal eagle of WDSU-TV, must have gotten wind of the plan and, at the negotiation meeting, he had big holes in his shoes. Kabby was a man we all respected and admired. So was his friend and business associate, WDSU-TV's owner, Edgar Stern, Jr.
When we were demonstrating our recently arrived TV cameras in the Werlein's Music Store on Canal Street, Edgar Stern, the owner of WDSU-AM-FM-TV, crawled on the floor with me running camera cables and mike cables and intercom cables and light cables and more cables. My dad stopped by to see what was going on and heard me yell: "Hey! Edgar! Hand me that power supply AC cable." Later, Pops asked: "Wasn't that Mr. Stern you were talking to in the store?" I replied" "Yeah, that was Edgar." My father, a gentleman of the "old school" of respect for elders and those of a higher station in life, chastised me with, "No, that was MR. Stern...and don't you ever forget it!" I never forgot it. Although others were at ease addressing him as Edgar, to this day he is still MR. Stern to me.
Even when we went water skiing together with Director Irwin Poche', Jr. in a small speed hull Irwin and I owned, he was still Mr. Stern. Irwin, however, was very comfortable in using the name "Edgar." When Edgar said: "This a nice boat. I wish I had one," Irwin replied, "Edgar, I'll lend you a buck to help you get one." Irwin could get away with that. I couldn't. Not that Mr. Stern would mind. He wouldn't. But I couldn't!
Later Edgar bought an oil company in South America, The company owned a 17 foot speed hull and 65 foot yacht. Edgar kept the speed hull and GAVE the 65 foot yacht to the WDSU-TV engineers to use as a fishing boat. He also bought a ski lodge in Aspen and allowed any of us to use it any time.
When we were erecting the WDSU-TV transmitting antenna atop the dome of the Hibernia Bank building, Edgar Stern climbed to the top of the antenna, took out a handkerchief and began polishing the beacon at the top. At the sound of laughter coming from steeplejacks erecting the antenna structure, Edgar looked down and said; "It's mine, ain't it?"
When WDSU-TV moved into its new and larger studios in 1950, the TV program schedule included several live "kid" shows. Older TV viewers will remember Cap'n Sam played by Sam Paige, Bayou Bill (William "Bill" Biery), and Mrs. Muffin, featuring the wonderful Terry Flettrich. The Nehi Company was one of Ch. 6 "kid" show advertisers (Remember Nehi Grape? I loved it and so did M.A.S.H's Radar). For one of Nehi's promotions, several boxes of Nehi water pistols were delivered to the studio. They were to be given away on the "kid" shows. Several of the older "kids" on the WDSU-TV staff managed to sneak water guns past Alvin Birdlow, keeper of the props at WDSU-TV and guardian of the give-away toys. There ensued a major water gun battle in the studio. As Edgar Stern entered the studio, he received a squirt in the face from...guess who? Who else but the Smilin' Croatian Kid from the lower "nint" ward. I immediately began exploring other employment opportunities in my mind. The station owner disappeared for a while and returned after visiting the S. H. Kress toy department, where he bought a super-duper machine gun water weapon. He re-entered the studio and declared war on all who were still carrying Nehi water guns. I won't say the crew LET Edgar "squirt" them....but none of us tried too hard to avoid it!
When Mel Leavitt and I were partnered in bringing Mardi Gras Parade coverage from the WDSU-TV balcony at 520 Royal Street (the Broulatour Mansion), we put our kids on this choice spot to view the parades. Edgar asked if it would be OK for his kids to watch from there. Of course it was OK! The beautiful part of this Stern snippet is that Edgar never told his kids he owned WDSU-TV! So his kids asked our kids: "Does your daddy work here, TOO ?"
I would be willing to bet that there wasn't another TV station owner like Edgar anywhere in the countryand I'll bet there will NEVER EVER be another TV station owner like MR. Stern.
I was in the studio when the Three Stooges visited Ch. 6 in 1963. It was actually the second time I met them. In 1944, they appeared at the Casino De Paree (the old St. Charles Theater...which was on St. Charles....the Hotel Intercontinental is on that site now). I was 17 years old and studying to be a Radio Officer in the Merchant Marine at the Gulf Radio School which also used to be on St. Charles. I skipped classes to go see the guys and was lucky enough to meet them climbing up the broad set of steps that fronted the St. Charles Theater. It was then I noticed that Curly Joe DeRita had a bum leg that made it difficult for him to negotiate the steps. He looked like he was in pain but he still found a moment to tell me "Hello."
The WDSU-TV studio at 520 Royal Street (back entrance at 535 Chartres Street) was actually two studios separated by a huge electrically controlled folding door. The door could be opened to allow the two studios to merge into one. Normally each studio had two cameras allocated to it and each had a separate control room. With the folding door opened all four cameras were available to the main studio control room.
In the 60s, a faulty TV lighting fixture failed and set fire to the cyclorama encircling the "B" studio (on the Toulouse Street side of the studio building). When the blaze reached the studio ceiling it spread even faster as tar wrapped pipes caught fire, dripping hot melted tar on technicians trying to control the fire with fire extinguishers. The day's programming was interrupted to bring TV audiences "hot" live news coverage of the fire. As the fire spread, the cameras were backed away into the "A" studio. Terry Flettrich and various TV newsmen narrated the fire which brought out many N. O. F. D units as any fire in the Vieux Carre' always does. Lou Wachtel, audio operator and I were in the main control room keeping the program on the air as were several technicians in the engineering section immediately adjacent to the burning studio.
When the fire department turned their hoses on the roof of the main control room. It collapsed on Lou and me and we had to end our control of the program which still continued with one camera under control of the engineering section. Smoke was so thick we had to get down on the floor to find our way out of the control room. We got down the flight of stairs leading into studio "A" where Terry and others welcomed us with open arms. Our faces were covered in black soot and Terry commented on our excellent makeup as we appeared on camera.
The studio was rebuilt and again became operational. When a Miss New Orleans beauty contest was held in the WDSU-TV studios, Studio "B" was used as a dressing room since none of the buildings dressing rooms were large enough to handle all of the girls. After the contest, someone discovered that the tally lights (red lights that indicated that the camera was "punched up" on the switcher) had been disabled. This meant that the girls were changing into and out of their bathing suits in front of live cameras feeding monitors in the "B" control room and in the engineering section of the studio. It must have been an extraordinary circumstance that tally lights in both "B" studio cameras burned out at the same time. Surely, no human hands caused the light failure!
While still in the engineering department, Jerry Romig, WDSU-TV Program Director, asked me if I would like to try out as a director (Bob Nelson left WDSU-TV as a director and headed to a station in Arkansas). Several other staffers were also asked to try out. I was assigned to a TV show called "Know Your Schools." Fortunately for me the school board representative, who was producing the program, knew very little about chemistry, and the next episode of the program was to be about chemistry.
I volunteered to write the show, having been exposed to two chemistry courses as an engineering student at Tulane University. The script was approved by the school board officials and we did the show. After all the try-out shows were aired, Irwin Poche', senior director at WDSU-TV, called me and told me that because I had written the show and because the school board officials were so delighted with the show, Romig had decided to appoint me to fill the directorial position. At that time, the AFTRA contract with WDSU-TV covered directors, and called for talent fees to be paid to directors. That meant a few more bucks in the pay envelope. Because of the talent fees, directors at all stations in New Orleans were extremely competitive trying to get assigned by the various ad-agencies to produce their commercials. And Poche' was the leading money maker. I told Irwin, who was very vocal in going to bat for me with Romig: " Thanks, Irwin, for everything you've done for me and I'll try not to compete with you." The senior director replied: "If you don't compete with me, I'll urge Jerry to get someone else for the job!" That's the kind of man my daughter Deirdre's godfather was. Irwin loved television and WDSU-TV. He was still directing when he had his heart attack. I miss him a lot.
On the Luzianne Coffee packaging production line at the Wm. B. Reily Company, there were two young men working side by side who were soon to be of major importance to the television news department at WDSU-TV and to the viewing public. One of them was a handsome kid named Mike Kettenring. He left the coffee line to become a goffer at Ch. 6 news. Mike loved three things in life.his lovely wife, Kacky, television , and his church. Later, he became a reporter. Still later, he was a news anchor man. Then he left WDSU-TV. He became the manager of a TV station. Later, he became the general manager of THREE TV stations.
I had not seen Mike for a few years. Then, while I was putting time in a hospital for spinal surgery, a student form the local Catholic seminary was making rounds in the hospital, visiting and bringing some cheer to the patients. He stopped in to see me and, to my surprise, the seminarian was Mike Kettenring. He told me that, midst all of his TV success, his beloved wife died. There was now no reason for living the life of a TV executive so he decided to become a priest. He was ordained in 2001. He still looks like the kid from the coffee packaging production line I met in the 60s.
The other young man, working next to Mike at the Wm. B. Reilly Company, also became extremely important to WDSU-TV and the world. His name..Lee Harvey Oswald! I don't have to tell you what happened to him. You already know that.
I met Oswald when WDSU-TV newsman Bill Slatter brought him into the studio newsroom after he was arrested while in a scuffle with anti-Castro Cubans. He was passing out "Fair Play For Cuba" pamphlets in front of the Trade Mart building on Camp Street when the fracas began. After his release, Bill invited him into the WDSU-TV studios where he was interviewed (on film) by Bill. In that interview, Oswald was asked if he was a Communist. He claimed he was not and held up his fist while claiming to be a Socialist. Oswald also visited the WDSU radio studio where he appeared on the program "Conversation Carte Blanche" of April 23, 1963, moderated by Bill Slatter, which featured Oswald answering questions from Ed Butler and Carlos Bringier. Butler was affiliated with the Information Council of the Americas (INCA), an anti-Castro propaganda organization. Bringier was Cuban anti-Castro exile.
After Oswald had been interviewed on film in the newsroom, News director, John Corporon, asked Bill: "Who the heck is Lee Harvey Oswald?" Bill explained why Oswald was interviewed. Several months later, after President Kennedy was assassinated, the gang in the Ch. 6 newsroom hung up a big sign in Corporon's office. It read: "Who the heck is Lee Harvey Oswald?" The loudest laughter, upon seeing the sign, came from John Corporon.
What were you doing on the day JFK was killed? That's a question to which almost everyone who heard the assassination news had a definite answer. I remember that day well because I was at Keesler Air Force Base where I was directing program segments for the Ch. 6 Midday program. The Midday hosts and several other Ch. 6 celebrities were at the base, traveling in the "Celebrity 6 Caravan." The "Caravan" was composed of all of the WDSU-TV production mobile units, the main Flexibus mobile TV unit, a van housing videotape machines (employing 2" tape in those days...that's why a van was required to transport the large videotape machines), three or four news cars and several celebrity convertibles.
The "Caravan" traveled to and paraded in various cities and towns in the Channel 6 coverage area (about one a month), where the townspeople lined the streets to get a glimpse ot Terry Flettrich, Wayne Mack, Bob and Jan Carr, Bill Slatter, Alec Gifford, Nash Roberts, Mel Leavitt, Bill Stanley and others appearing on Channel 6. The "Caravan" was often a feature of a town celebration such as the annual Fireman's Day Parade in Thibodeaux, Louisiana.
At Keesler, while we at lunch with the Commandant, a young officer came in and whispered something into the Commandants ear. His look of surprise and his hurried statement: "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, but I must leave. My boss has been shot!" It wasn't immediately apparent to us who "My Boss" meant. The base was already on red alert when we found out JFK had been shot. It was a very sad "Caravan" that returned to New Orleans.
I met the great lady of "Midday", Terry Flettrich, in 1947 when I began my association with WDSU. At that time, the station was owned by the Stephens Broadcasting Co. (the same Stephens of Stephens Chevrolet). Terry was featured on a fashion program sponsored by the D. H. Holmes department store. Terry was born in Hong Kong of Russian parents. Terry spoke Russian and when I was studying the Russian language via a WYES-TV television course, Terry would correct my terrible pronunciation of the words and phrases I learned. She was married to the fine New Orleans artist Leonard Flettrich. She sometimes brought her two little girls, Patty and Loann ( I'm not sure of that spelling. It was pronounced Loh Ann.) with her to the WDSU studios in the Monteleone Hotel. I was their baby sitter while Terry was on the air.
Terry hosted many of the demonstration programs produced in the Werlien's For Music store and in the D. H. Holmes department store prior to the new WDSU-TV signing on the air. After the station signed on officially on December 18, 1948, Terry began her "Kiddie" show as Mrs. Muffin. Many prominent businessmen and women today remember their appearance as children on Terry's program. Terry lost her son, Reny, an up and coming young musician, who died very young of melanoma, the same cancer that took her one-time co-host of Midday, Wayne Mack.
When WDSU-TV was sold, the new owners decided, to the disappointment of the majority of viewers, that the station would no longer run Midday, a program so popular that bank presidents and other members of major business concerns in New Orleans and other cities and towns in the WDSU-TV coverage area, would go home to watch the program. New Orleans lost Midday, the first program of its kind in America, forever.
The city also lost Terry. Her husband had passed away and she moved to Maine. She became Terry Rohe. Her new husband was a symphony orchestra musician. She became a reporter covering "Golden Ager" events for ABC's "Good Morning America." Terry sometimes is a guest speaker in hospitals across the country talking to those who are in need entertainment from a kind and generous "one-of-a-kind " great lady. I videotaped one of her appearances in New Orleans. She told her listeners that at one time her doctor had prescribed suppositories for her. Another specialist fitted her for a hearing aid. One morning she awoke and found a suppository in her ear. She told them: "I hate to think what I did with my hearing aid!" With that the great lady followed Milton Berle's advice to always leave 'em laughing!
The company that allowed this TV treasure to leave New Orleans also decided it didn't require the services of Wayne Mack, Nash Roberts, Mel Leavitt and Program Director, Jerry Romig. If he wanted to, Romig could tell the mayor to leave his office because WDSU-TV needed to produce a commercial in the office and the mayor would leave! There weren't many other, if any, Program Directors in the country who had that kind of relationship with the power structure of their city. The station, now under the management of its fourth owner, has, in my humble opinion, never recovered from those mistakes and it seems it never will.
Edith Stern, Edgar Stern, Jr.'s mother, was the great lady of Longview Gardens. The great house and gardens today are a memorial for Mrs. Stern. She was the daughter of Julius Rosenwald, the man who made Sears a nationwide store chain instead of a mail order catalog. He also set up New York's Rosenwald Milk Fund. Edith's husband, Edgar Stern, Sr., became Chairman of the Board of Sears and was the largest single Sears stockholder. One day, for some reason I don't recall, I found myself at the New Orleans Lakefront Airport with Edith Stern. We went to a hanger in which were two private jet aircraft. The one belonging to Edgar Stern, Sr. had a name on its nose: "RAU." The other jet, belonging to Edgar Stern, Jr., bore the name "RAU II." My curiosity got the best of me and I asked Mrs. Stern to please explain what looked like rather cryptic names to me. Smiling at my curiosity, she said: "RAU stands for RIGHT AS USUAL and RAU II stands for RIGHT AS USUAL, TOO."
The building maintenance department of WDSU-AM-FM-TV was headed by Oscar Otis. If you didn't know Oscar, you might think him a rather gruff character. I think he liked to present that appearance to maintain control over his staff. Actually, he was a down-to-earth, guy when you got to know him and got past that gruff facade. He came to WDSU from Longview Gardens where he was the Stern's gardener for many years. He was also a guardian for the young Edgar Stern, Jr. In the studio, he talked to the station's owner like no one else dared. One day, while Edgar Stern was touring the facilities with a group of NBC TV executives including the President of the network, Oscar Otis "accosted" Edgar saying something like: "Look Edgar, when are you gonna get the Sewerage and Water Board to do something about the clogged storm drain in front of the studio garage?" Stern probably said: "Not now, Oscar, I'm busy with these NBC people." Oscar was heard to say (in front of the NBC group): "Don't shush me, Edgar, remember, I use to spank your butt when you were a kid in school..and I can still do it!" Then he turned away and left the still muttering and fuming, leaving Edgar Stern to explain to the NBC group about the man who dared talk to the owner of WDSU-AM-FM-TV in such a manner.
When NBC planned to run a TV special bearing the name "Birth Control - How," the members of the program and production departments were asked to attend a special meeting called to determine whether Ch. 6 would carry the program. A copy of the show was sent to WDSU-TV and was viewed at that meeting. The group decided it was not in the best interest of the Ch. 6 viewers to carry the program. This was NOT censorship. It was the responsibility of the TV broadcast facility to determine what material should or should not be televised by that facility. Even though the station was part of the NBC network, it was not required to carry every and all NBC programs. The fact that Edgar Stern was Jewish and the top management level officers were Roman Catholic led to the calling of the special station meeting wherein male and female members of all religious groups and those of no religion were free to deliver their opinion. The fact that New Orleans was predominately Roman Catholic and the fact that the program was to be aired in prime time when it could be seen by viewers of all ages was considered reason enough, by the majority of the staff members, not to carry a program of that topic at that time. As the meeting ended, one female staffer was heard commenting: "I just hope they make the pill retroactive!"
Any facility engaged in the dissemination of news sooner or later angers someone or some group that disagrees with a news story content or editorial comment. Under the Stern ownership of WDSU-TV there was no such thing as managed news. The nationally respected news Channel 6 news department was free to report the news as it happened. The station did have an editorial policy which was aired as an editorial feature twice every day, delivered by Jerry Romig and sometimes Mel Leavitt. There was also the nationally recognized Editorial Cartoon by John Chase broadcast twice daily. Bomb threats have been received by many stations as a result of a news story that didn't sit well with certain people or groups. Entire buildings have been evacuated because of a bomb threat to a TV station. The entire population of the World Trade Center at the river end of Canal Street had to be evacuated because of a threat to WGNO-TV.
At WDSU-TV, all persons not directly involved in the program being currently aired were told to leave when police officials reported a telephoned threat to Channel 6. While I was directing the presentation of one of Mel Leavitt's Byline programs, police search teams were crawling under the control consoles looking for explosives. The station manager, A. Louis Read, came to the studio and told everyone to leave except those directly involved in the Byline presentation. Alvin Birdlow, aka "The Bird", was sweeping in the control room when the manager came in. Read said: "Alvin, there's a bomb threat. Don't you think you should leave the building?" The Bird said: "No, Mr. Read. That's show business!" No explosives were found that time and several other times when we were threatened. None of the cameramen, audiomen, floor directors, or engineers ever complained about remaining at their posts during the bomb searches. They all agreed with the Bird. That's show business!
One of the Channel 6 newsman of the 70s, learned the hard way that asking questions on a live news feed can be somewhat embarrassing, if not downright dangerous! While talking to a Jefferson Parish sewerage official, The reporter looked into the treatment facilities in Jefferson Parish and innocently asked: "What is all that brown stuff down there?" The official, seemed to forget he was on live TV and answered: "That's sh..." The reporter looked quite startled and tried to interrupt as the official finished the word "shhhludge!"
In WDSU-TV's early days, directors from even earlier TV stations were anxious to come to work in New Orleans. A few were hired. None stayed here very long. Soon all of Channel 6's directors, while the station was still owned by Edgar Stern, Jr., were home grown. I guess, like the home grown tomato variety, these home grown directors could be called "Creole Directors." Their names were Irwin Poche', Jr.( former cameraman), Ken Muller ( a Tulane football player and former cameraman), John Domec (who came to WDSU-TV as an audio operator), Terry Gerstner (a former Operations Director with the station) and Paul Yacich (a lucky Croatian kid from the lower "nint" ward who happened to be in the right place at the right time!).
Soon after WDSU-TV began its operation in New Orleans, the remote crew was called upon to televise a series of surgical procedures from the operating rooms of Charity Hospital in New Orleans. These operations were not aired for the general public. The pictures from the operating rooms were fed via microwave link to the Roosevelt Hotel (now the Fairmont Hotel to most people, but its still the Roosevelt to me) where a large group of surgeons, attending a medical conference in New Orleans, congregated to view the procedures.
Two TV cameras (quite large and boxy in those days), one in each of two operating rooms, were set up on metal scaffolds constructed to hold the cameras with the lenses (four on a turret) pointing straight down. The cameras were wrapped in sheets to render them as sterile as possible. There were some dangers in this set-up. There was a danger to patient and operating room personnel. Some rather high voltages are used in the camera circuitry. Any arcing in the high voltage circuitry could produce rather disastrous results in a closed area in which oxygen is being used. Then there was the danger to the camera. Mounting the camera lens down could allow any material that may be free in the base end of the image orthicon (the picture pick-up tube of the monochrome cameras of the 50s) to fall onto the photo cathode or target structures in the front of the tube and possibly ruining a $1200 tube. There was also the danger to the cameraman. He had to be on the scaffold over the patient and looking into his viewfinder to assure proper focus and framing.
Even the toughest man can get sick to his stomach watching the first operation he has ever seen. He could pass out and fall off the scaffold. He could up-chuck, which also wouldn't help the medical procedures.
The surgeon operating was Dr. Alton Ochsner, for whom the hospital in Jefferson Parish is named. He operated continuously for almost 8 hours, moving from one operating room to the other, back and forth, as other medics prepared patients for him. The patients were receiving the surgical procedures at no cost to them for allowing TV cameras to view the operations.
Our crew made one serious mistake. They got friendly with one of the patients, a 17 year old girl who had lung cancer. When she was under the surgeons knife, two guys in the remote van passed out. When Dr. Ochsner took her lung out of her body and showed it to the camera and the viewing surgeons, and the blood sucking machine started sucking blood out of her body cavities, I had to look away from the camera control monitors. I'll have to admit that my stomach isn't the strongest in the world.
In the following operation, a procedure to remove some kind of intestinal blockage, Dr. Ochsner seemed to have his whole arm inside the patient. The camera picture was slightly "soft" (out of focus) so I called the cameraman, Irwin Poche', Jr., but there was no answer on the intercom. I sent Watson Tebo up to the operating room to see what was wrong. When he got into the room he found the camera and the headset...but no Irwin! He had to get out and go to the bathroom sick as the proverbial dog. Tebo took over as cameraman in that room.
Somehow, we all survived the operations. During tear-down of the cameras, Lowell Otto (a technician who became my wife's brother-in-law and later became Assistant Chief Engineer of WDSU-TV) was lowering one of the 2000 foot camera cables to the ground from the 20th floor operating rooms. Near the ground, the free end of the cable entered a grilled opening to the hospital morgue. Lowell never forgot the harrowing experience of untangling the cable from a table on which reposed a lifeless body.
Over the years, all of us seemed to get a little better at handling the emotional strain of televising medical procedures. My daughter, Deirdre, operated a camera during a spinal surgery procedure. Since there were x-rays in use throughout the procedure, she had to wear a large lead lined jacket probably designed for the average male O. R. personnel. She was about 4' 11" tall and was "lost" in the jacket but she did the job and did it well. Since I was watching the procedure on a monitor, I knew what to expect when I later had to undergo that same spinal surgical procedure.
I wasn't at all worried. If you believe that, there's this bridge over the Industrial Canal I'd like to sell to you!
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