Paul Yacich Memories


Legendary WDSU-TV Director and

New Orleans Television Pioneer Shares His Memories


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Bob

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"Online since 1999"

In an earlier snippet, Gay Batson's advice about vulgar cuss words was: " If you don't use those words in every day conversation, you won't make a mistake and use them on the air." A young woman, who was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to be a member of the WDSU-TV news department as a reporter, could have benefited from that advice. During a series of election night reports from various political headquarters, She and a news cameraman were assigned to the headquarters of one of the major candidates involved in the election. Her cameraman received notification that master control would be "coming to them" (meaning they would be switched on the air) next. He alerted the reporter, who yelled back at the cameraman just as master control "came to them": "Hey! It's not my #@*&%$# turn! Substitute the cuss word of your choice for the symbols and you probably still would not be as vulgar as the lady(?) was! The TV audience was shocked at the vulgarity used by the young reporter. She never got the opportunity to embarrass the Ch. 6 news department again.


WDSU-TV has featured some of the most professional female news reporters that have ever been seen on a TV screen. The newswomen of Channel 6 included the grand lady, Iris Kelso. Iris came to WDSU-TV as an experienced newspaper reporter. She admitted to being somewhat intimidated by the TV cameras at the beginning of her TV reporting days, but it never was apparent in her on-the-air delivery. Her "City in Crisis" series won national acclaim. The studio crew and I referred to her as "Queenie." I don't believe she knew that, but I'm sure Queenie would have like the name given to her in deep respect.


Among the others were Becky Bell, one of the most dedicated newswomen ever to grace the Ch. 6 newsroom and Royal Kennedy, a young black female reporter who was snapped up from WDSU-TV by NBC-TV long before other TV stations even thought about hiring black women reporters. Susan Roesgen and Margaret Orr are recent grand ladies of WDSU-TV.


New Orleans was also lucky to have some dynamite lady newscasters at other TV stations in town (there were others, you know!). One of those who made the city sit up and take notice of her reporting style was WWL-TVs Rosemary James. She came to WWL-TV from the New Orleans States - Item and will be remembered as the first to bring the Jim Garrison JFK conspiracy investigation to the attention of the general public.



During the Garrison/Shaw JFK conspiracy trial in 1968, there was a very large group of radio, TV and newspaper reporters gathered at the courthouse on Tulane Avenue and Broad Street. There was also many TV news cameramen roaming the area. I was working as director with NBC newsman Charles "Chuck" Quinn. We were feeding reports of the events of the trial to NBC news and the Huntley-Brinkley news show. Since TV cameras were not allowed in the courtroom, courtroom sketches made during the trial were brought out to the WDSU-TV mobile TV unit where they were set up for a TV camera to scan them during Quinn's "live" reports. I believe we were the only "live" 2-camera setup at the courthouse location.


Most of the TV reporters were accompanied by cameramen using film cameras. Many of the cameramen were "strapped" by audio cables to an assistant carrying audio equipment. WDSU-TV also had a news-camera team at the courthouse location. The cameraman was Bill Delgado and his audioman was Lou Wachtel. These camera teams were always alert and ready run to grab a photographic record of any newsworthy event.


Anytime there is a huge congregation of newsman and news-cameras there is bound to be a prankster who will try to cause some kind of ruckus among the professionals trying to bring the latest developments in a news story to your TV screen. One such prankster at the Tulane and Broad site, from about a half block away from the courthouse yelled: "There he goes! Get him!" resulting in a scramble by the camera teams to get to his location and to record what might be happening. Cameramen were dragging their assistants in a high speed dash to be first at the site of a possible news event. Bill Delgado, a fairly big man, dragged Lou Wachtel, a man of relatively lighter build, across an automobile hood in his sprint for the news prize. Fortunately, Lou wasn't hurt seriously, just a little "road rash." He didn't, however, volunteer for any more assignments as audioman for a news cameraman.



The Broulatour Mansion, at 520 Royal Street, once housed the administrative offices of WDSU AM-FM-TV. The WDSU-TV Mardi Gras parade coverage, for many years made use of the balcony of the Broulatour as a camera location and an observation platform for Mel Leavitt and his narration of the parade highlights.


The building once was the home of Pierre Broulatour, a wine merchant who moved into the residence in 1870. While most people know the structure by the name Broulatour, it was actually built as the home of Francois Seignouret in 1816. Seignouret came to the Crescent City from Bordeaux, France. He was a furniture maker but also dabbled in wine importing. His furniture designs, called some of the best in the South, featured a letter "S" carved into every piece he produced The same "S" can be seen in worked into some of the building's ironwork.


Tourists and New Orleanians alike admire the charming patio of the Broulatour residence. Most people, however, never get to see one of the most interesting and unique features of the structure. The walls of the second floor enclose a huge pipe organ. The sound produced by the instrument is unforgettable. Every Christmas party at WDSU was made more enjoyable as Pete Laudeman, played the great organ for our listening pleasure. Pete was formerly with the Johnny Renniger band at Lenfant's (Canal Blvd.) Boulevard Room and became the Ch. 6 resident studio musician.


Even the management of WDSU AM-FM-TV didn't know that the Broulatour held another secret. During the Mardi Gras season one year, the ad agency for Ford motors wanted to use the Broulatour courtyard as a setting for a Ford commercial. An automobile was brought into the courtyard through the Porte Cochere. The large centerpiece of the courtyard had to be moved to allow the car to maneuver, In jockeying for a setting that allowed the stairwell at the back, left corner of the courtyard to be seen in the TV picture, one of the cars wheels pierced the masonry floor of the courtyard revealing a hidden wine cellar below. We can only assume that nobody knew about the hidden cellar since the time the residence was vacated by Seignouret when he returned to France. No wine was found and the puncture was re-built.


The Broulatour courtyard is the Vieux Carre's most photographed courtyard and is the subject of many paintings both antique and modern. While WDSU-TV isn't there now, a visit to the Vieux Carre' just isn't complete without a stop at the Broulatour Mansion.



For those who remember the "Tip Top Space Ship", Bob Nelson, a talented radio and TV announcer, actor, and TV director, played the part of Captain Vision (not Captain Video which is from another show). The popular theatre critic and TV celeb, Al Shea, played the impish Deputy Oops. Shea was a regular on the Ch. 6 Midday show and was one of the show's producers. Nelson left Channel 6 and headed for a station in Arkansas. I inherited his position as a director. Bob was a fine announcer, a wonderful comedian, a delightful radio and TV personality and a good friend. All of us at Ch. 6 were deeply saddened when it was reported that Bob Nelson died in an auto crash in Arkansas.



Most of the people at WDSU-TV believed Joe Budde, one of the pro cameramen at Ch. 6, was born with a 16 mm film camera in each hand. While he was pushing the big electronic cameras around in the studio to earn his daily bread, his great love was film. Whenever and wherever the WDSU-TV clan gathered, Joe could be found zipping around with his head glued to his film camera viewfinder. He loved to take on filming assignments from Mel Leavitt and the Special Events department.


One of those Special Events assignments found Joe filming the Carmelite nuns. While Joe may not be the only man ever to enter the home of the Carmelite nuns on Rampart Street (certain repairmen, carpenters, electricians, etc. must have entered the home), Joe was surely the first and probably the only cameraman to be allowed access to inner chambers of the nunnery and allowed to film the daily lives of the resident nuns.


Cameraman Budde also was one of the few cameramen in this country who was allowed to film the Navy's fantastic flight team, the Blue Angels, from the INSIDE of one of the "endmen" aircraft while in flight. Looking through a viewfinder while inside a jet traveling at supersonic speeds, rolling and spinning and flying upside down a few feet above the ground, would tend to aggravate even the strongest man's stomach. Joe admitted it was days after the flight when his stomach stopped spinning.


When you see pictures of WDSU-TV engineers working at the 1000' level of the Ch. 6 antenna tower in Chalmette (the pix were shown on "Midday") and you are looking DOWN at them, guess where the cameraman is. Sure! He's at the 1025' level looking down at them through the camera viewfinder which makes the ground look like it's a mile below you. When you're watching a program featuring mountain climbers, steeplejacks or sky divers, try to imagine where the cameraman (or camerawoman!) is located.


Joe Budde filmed a group of us as we installed special de-tuning wires on the tower to make it "invisible" to the four WTIX radio towers in Chalmette. The erection of the Ch. 6 tower on a site almost in line with the four "TIX" towers caused a distortion of the directional transmitting pattern of the radio station. While on the tower, we could see helicopters flying below us. At one time, it was raining below us. Joe's film showed us, below him, strapping ourselves to the big girders that make up the tower to wait out the rain so we could safely negotiate the ladder to the ground. There's no elevator in the tower...we had to climb up 1000' and then down 1000' on five successive days. I thought my legs were going to fall off after the fifth day. The tower is still there in Chalmette, just off Paris Road. My legs are still where they belong.


You can see the line of WTIX towers in Chalmette as well as antenna tower structures for Channels 8, 12, 32 and others. Paris road runs through a great big antenna tower farm. Must be the soggy soil that makes 'em grow so well there.



During the sesquicentennial celebration of the Battle of New Orleans, Mel Leavitt and I collaborated in writing and producing a TV special about the battle entitled "The Battle That Missed The War." I was in the hospital recovering from spinal surgery (a shattered disc as a result of an automobile rear end collision) when Mel called to ask if I would work with him. I wrote the introduction to the program and dubbed it with the above title while still in the hospital.


We put the show together and won several awards from historical organizations and a great review from Variety magazine (really a showbiz newspaper). One of the features of the program was a 2 minute battle scene Bill Delgado and I shot and edited using ONE painting, the Le Mer painting of the battle which was on display in the Cabildo. Another feature was the re-enactment of the British march across the Chalmette field, urged on by the sound of the pipers playing, toward the American line of Kentuckians, Tennesseeans, men of color and Lafitte's privateers, all under the command of Andy Jackson. The British soldiers were a unit called the "Black Watch." They were descendants of the original "Black Watch" who fought at Chalmette. The delighted me when they agreed to stage the march on Jackson's line for my cameras.


After we shot their re-enactment, a few of the British soldiers commented: Our ancestors had to be completely out of their minds to march into the face of the firepower assembled on the Rodriguez Canal (where the Americans were "dug in")! That, however, was the battle style of Europe. It wasn't a style the old Indian fighter Jackson would use.


To end the program, the British gentlemen again succeeded in delighting us when a British bugler climbed the steps of the Chalmette Monument, faced the National Cemetery, and sounded the American "Taps." It was like being in church! Ever since then, visiting the battlefield seems like a visit to a church to me. For those who might be interested, a transcript of the program was made into a booklet and is available in the New Orleans Public Library and in many school libraries.



John Churchill Chase, a darlin' man and a wonderful historian, told us in an interview about his opinions about the importance of the Battle of New Orleans, that Jackson, seeing the British General Sir Edward Packenham astride a white horse among the advancing troops, said to one of his riflemen: " See that fellow on that white horse? Snuff out his candle!" I asked Chase: "Now, John, how do you know Jackson said that?" He replied: "I don't, but it makes a good story, doesn't it?"


When I became a director at WDSU-TV, I "inherited" from the original director, John Domec, the task of directing the camera movements in recording Chase's TV innovation, the editorial cartoon. My wife and I would often drive John home after we recorded his daily cartoon. No matter which route we took to take him home, he knew the history of many of the buildings and residences along the route...and, to our pleasure, entertained us with his descriptions and stories.


All of Chase's original TV editorial cartoons (artwork) are stored in the library of Congress. All of them except one that he signed and presented to me. He wrote a note on the cartoon that read: "To my good friend Paul Yacich, who brought it to life." It's a gift I will always cherish along with my autographed copy of his book "Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children." Being a kind of history buff, working with John Churchill Chase was a wonderful and unforgettable experience.




The programs and commercials you see on your TV set at home are provided to WDSU-TV in several different ways. The shows that make up the network schedule are probably the majority of programs in a station's daily schedule. Some programs and commercials were delivered on film. Some are videotape recordings. Some are live studio presentations.


The master control room is the site of a humungous switcher to which the signals from all of the various program sources are fed and selected for airing by a human operator, whose everyday business life is controlled by "the old clock on the wall." Once the program is switched on the air, the operator attends to a myriad of details involved in the presentation of that show and preparation for the airing of the next program. Sources for the presentation of commercials in the show currently airing must also be determined. He also makes entries in a program log (program type, time on, time off and other such details) required by the FCC.


In airing a show provided on 16mm film (an "I Love Lucy" episode, I believe), the master switcher operator was so busy with the many details of his position, didn't notice that after the very recognizable theme music ended, the rest of the program was in the Spanish language. After the show was on the air a few minutes, the control room received one telephone call thanking WDSU-TV for running a program for the thousands of Spanish speaking viewers of the New Orleans area. It was only then that the control room personnel realized the station had received the wrong copy of the program. The program was halted, a booth announcer apology offered, and a stand-by program run (every station has a number of these "back-up" programs for just such an emergency) in place of the Spanish language "I Love Lucy" show. Then all hell broke loose for the station's telephone system. There were hundreds of calls, most of them quite un-friendly, "reaming" the station because the Spanish language program was stopped. There were more calls than had ever been received about any program! And so it goes in the world of TV. Some days nothing can be right.



Another telephone onslaught occurred when the good doctor, Momus Alexander Morgus, was to stand trial for one of his experiments that went awry. The audience at home was to be the jury. Special phone numbers, authorized by the telephone company, were to be called. One number was for callers who believed Morgus should be convicted. A second number was to be called by those who felt the good doctor should not be convicted. The telephone company reported that by the end of the program, there were so many phone calls being placed at one time that the entire phone system was experiencing overload problems.


This same episode of "Morgus Presents" was aired in New York City on WPIX-TV, where the fifty syndicated programs, produced circa 1985, ran twice each. The telephone company there said the program caused monumental overload problems with their system. Several other major cities were struck by the Morgusian telephone virus. Good old Momus was told by phone company officials to: "Please, don't do it again." Of course, they don't know the Master like I do! People in their right mind never tell Momus Alexander Morgus: "Don't!"


Several of the "Morgus Presents" programs featured "machines" invented by Dr. Morgus and built by Phil Broadbridge. Many of the machines required someone hidden inside to make them do what they were supposed to do. Because of her small size, my daughter #2, Karen, was elected to spend the recording session inside the "machine", sometimes in the most uncomfortable positions imaginable.


When special make-up and costuming were required for creatures such as a werewolf, daughter #3, Kristi, was called upon. My wife, Rita, and daughter #1, Deirdre, handled the business end (scheduling talent, acquiring props, refilling my aspirin bottle, etc.) of the show's recording session. All 4 of them plus Technical Director Dave Landry, Asst. Director Reggie Hendry, Production Assistant Derek Toten, and about 20 others in the production crew were required to keep the Magnificent One from going into orbit. Asked if they would do it again they all replied: "In a New York second!"


"Morgus Presents" has been off the air for a few years but, on Mardi Gras Day, you can still see many Morgus "clones" and even a few Chopsley "clones!"



The first program I directed as a full time WDSU-TV director was game show called "The Game." What an unusual title for a game show! The TV program was based on the popular living room game of those times called "Charades." Now, wouldn't that have been a neato name for the show? Sure...but the powers in control of the show (agency, sponsor and, perhaps the most powerful, the sponsor's WIFE) considered it too common.


The program was hosted by Rex Moad, then a staff announcer at WDSU-TV. I "inherited" the show from Irwin Poche', Jr. (Senior Director at Ch. 6) who said he wanted me to have it to gain some experience handling studio audience shows and to make a couple of bucks in talent fees. Actually, Irwin, who was my closest friend and my daughter's Godfather), really wanted to get rid of the show and he knew that I knew that. It took a lot of time in pre-airing preparation. I, however, liked the idea of working with a studio audience and directing a show that was not news oriented.


While doing the first show, the cameramen, George Cuccia, Ed Hermann and Larry Kramer did something for me ..something I will never forget. During a portion of the show, George and Ed froze their cameras on two of the "not so good looking" (I don't like calling people "ugly" but these faces would START a dead 8-day clock) members of the audience leaving me just one camera, Larry's, to do the rest of the show. Because Larry Kramer was such a professional, we were able to finish the program. I must mention here that being a director who came from the engineering department is like a military officer who was promoted from the enlisted ranks and is still assigned to the outfit in which he was one of the enlisted personnel. He (or she) is referred to as a "mustang." I was a "mustang" director. When the show was over, the guys came to me and said (this is the gist of there comment): "That's what you get if you don't respect the fact that the gang you used to work with are professionals and deserve to be treated as such". So much for the gist. What they actually said is: "That's what you get if you're a sonofabitch!" Remember, I said this was something they did FOR me, not TO me. and I WILL never forget it."



Not many people were aware of the fact that the Times Picayune had a completely equipped and operating TV studio in the old Howard-Tilton Library building at Lee Circle in New Orleans. There was even an auditorium with a stage and 700 seats for audience participation programs. The building also housed WTPS-FM. There was, however, a slight problem. The Picayune did not have an FCC license to broadcast TV programs. They had filed an application for a new television broadcast facility license but were caught in an FCC "freeze" on new licenses.


At that time WDSU-TV was the only TV station in New Orleans and remained the only TV station in the city for 10 years. WSMB had received a construction permit for a new TV station but never acted on it and the permit expired. The "freeze" was established so new field intensity measurements could be made that would determine the spacing (in miles) between stations on the same channel and stations on adjacent channels.


When the "freeze" was lifted The Picayune found themselves in a contest to win a construction permit and license for a TV station operating on Channel 4. They were in competition with WNOE and WWL . Loyola University was the winner and built the new station on Channel 4. The station bought and rebuilt the Zetz 7-Up bottling plant on Rampart Street as a TV studio.



Ed Prendergast was PD and one of the announcers at WTPS-FM. One of my friends from my teenage years, Morris Dudoussat ("The Dude" to me and his other friends) was a control operator at the station. Rumor has it (not without some element of fact) that the newspaper owners planned to use WTPS-FM to try to eliminate radio as a competitor for the areas advertising dollars. They were reportedly charging advertisers as low as twenty five cents per spot in an effort to draw advertisers from the other radio stations in the city and forcing them off the air for lack of revenue.


Apparently the plan didn't work and then TV came to the city. Was their application filed with a similar idea in mind, to drive other TV stations off the air? Even if they didn't plan any such shenanigans, I'm glad WWL got the nod because of their local ownership (Loyola University) at that time.



The power of a newspaper and TV station combination is awesome. At one time the FCC recognized that newspaper ownership of a TV station was not in the best interest of the general public and forced all stations owned by newspapers to be sold. All stations except one, WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge, owned by Doug Manship, who also owns the Morning Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge. Manship was able to maintain ownership of both the newspaper and his TV station in defiance of the FCC rules. The Manship family still controls both the station and the newspaper now with FCC blessing.


The FCC now has, in my humble opinion, has committed more serious sins than allowing the dual ownership. The fact that one person or company can own more that one radio station or television station in a city is depriving that city of a voice. Large corporations can now own five or six or more stations in one city. The founders of the broadcasting industry believed every city and town should have its own voice. Now, most cities have no local voice of their own. Nearly all of the radio broadcasting facilities in New Orleans are owned and operated by out-of-town corporations. The only TV stations now locally owned are the two public TV stations. It is a fact that out-of-town owners can influence the election of local political office holders. Even persons who are not citizens of the United States are now able to force their opinion on you through ownership of YOUR airwaves.


I can only hope that the young people of this country will break the hold of the large broadcasting concerns and elect representatives who will return local ownership to broadcasting.


The preceding commentary is not necessarily the views of the owner of this website. It is, however the strong opinion of this American-Croatian kid from the "nint" ward.



Because color in everyday life is such a subjective thing, TV engineers make use of an electronic device called a "vectorscope." The instrument allows them to be assured that the color information being transmitted is a faithful reproduction of the original material. For testing purposes they use an electronically generated set of color bars. You probably have seen the color bar presentation as a preamble to some videotape presentations in the vhs format for home use.


One of the meanest things you can do to a group of TV engineers in a control room is to ask, while looking at their monitors: "Why is the picture so green?" Immediately, in their minds, a perfectly normal color TV picture assumes a greenish tint. When you leave they will probably have to use the electronic instruments to assure themselves that the picture is color correct.


When setting up for a program to be sent, via Telco circuits, to a network control room in New York, a graphic artist and set designer set a bowl of fruit on a table for the cameras to scan as a test signal. He had, however, as a prank, spray painted two bananas blue and put them in the bowl. The picture transmitted up the line to the net caused havoc among technicians at the various Telco relay points, who tried in vain, to adjust their equipment to render the bananas yellow. There were some very unfriendly telephone calls burning up the long distance lines for a while..until the bananas were replaced with nature's unpainted variety. To this day, many engineers involved in the transmission of color images refer to color problems as "blue bananas."


There are some tricks that we learned about working with color tv equipment and color TV programs:


When an agency rep or a sponsor is in the control room to view their commercial, it is common practice to turn off all color monitors except one because rarely do all monitors look alike. This avoids the perennial question: "Which color monitor is showing the right colors?"


If you are to appear on a television program, do not wear anything bright red in color. Don't wear white or black. These give TV cameras a big pain in the photo-sensitive areas.


Don't wear anything with narrow closely spaced stripes, vertical stripes cause a moiré' pattern on the screen due to an interaction or "beat" between the stripes and the TV scanning lines. Horizontal, closely spaced, thin stripes cause a problem because the scanning system is interlaced and may skip over one of your horizontal stripes and cause a flicker in the camera picture. Broad horizontal stripes don't cause the camera any problems. They just make you look fat! TV cameras seem to add a few pounds on you even without the broad horizontal stripes.


The best colors when dressing for color are pale shades of blue, red, and yellow. Light reflection from green near your face can make you look ill.


If you're an engineer and you are unsure about a color picture, have one of the ladies of your organization look at it. Women are much more sensitive to color and color combinations. Very few are "color challenged." While many men are color blind, the average man just doesn't care a helluva lot about color. My color perception is not too acute. It would better be described as rotten! If a color is not basic red, blue, green or yellow, it doesn't register with me. Chartreuse, puce, mauve and aquamarine aren't colors. They're pigments of someone's imagination. I'm not color blind. I'm just color stupid! Even with that limitation, I've managed to direct some fairly good color TV programs.




In March of 1956, the Senate internal security sub-committee, headed by Senator James O. Eastland, D-Mississippi, at its hearings in New Orleans, subpoenaed one of the WDSU-TV directors. Herman Liveright, formerly a director at ABC-TV, was hired as a director by Ch. 6 in 1953. He was the son of Horace B. Liveright, a prominent New York publisher and one of the founders of the Modern Library. At ABC-TV, Herman Liveright gave Eva Marie Saint her first opportunity to perform in front of a TV camera.


The Eastland committee wanted to know whether Liveright was now or had ever been a Communist Party member and did he ever hold party meetings at his home. They also asked him if the Communist Party had directed him to move to New Orleans. Liveright refused to answer, claiming that the First Amendment protected him from inquiries into his beliefs and activities. He said he had no desire to be a martyr but he opposed the committee probing into his private affairs. He denied, however, that he had engaged in activities that are unlawful. He also said it was ridiculous for anyone to suggest that he had ever been a Communist.


Edgar Stern, Jr., owner of WDSU-TV, insisting that Ch. 6 would never knowingly hire a member of the Communist Party or employ anyone who refused to answer questions from a congressional committee, announced the termination of Liveright's employment at the station. Liveright's wife worked on a TV show for Tulane University. The program, "Tulane Closeup," ran on Channel 6. Tulane fired her. In 1957, Liveright was convicted of contempt of Congress and given a three-month jail sentence. The conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court.


I was a member of the team that covered the Eastland committee hearings for WDSU-TV news. I remember commenting to a co-worker, Mike Kirk: " I sure hope Herman is innocent!" Mike replied: "I hope he is guilty!" "Why?", I asked. Mike replied: "Because I'd hate to see an innocent man go through what Herman's been through!"


The Liverights left Louisiana and, in later years, lived in Lenox, MA, where they established the Berkshire Forum, an educational center.


Liveright died on Jan. 19, 2001. In the last 10 years of his life, he and his wife devoted their time to people they deemed to be "political" prisoners.


Despite his claim not to have ever been a member of the Communist Party, The Boston Globe said, in an obituary, that Liveright and his wife were married in 1936, and in that year, joined the Communist Party.



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