Paul Yacich Memories

Legendary WDSU-TV Director and

New Orleans Television Pioneer Shares His Memories


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"Online since 1999"

From the day WDSU-TV signed on the air (Dec. 18, 1948), to the late 70s, the 16mm newsfilm presented on Channel 6 local newscasts were edited by the newscast director. That was not an easy chore for directors since they were not present when the film was shot. He received a script from the newsroom just minutes before the newscast was to air and had to view the film (on desktop sound and picture readers) while reading the script, select the shots needed to illustrate the script and cutting and splicing the film to build a reel of newsfilm stories with a section of white leader between the stories and then deliver the reel to the station's projection room. Many times, the director of the newscast got into the control room just seconds before the opening theme was started.



Until just recently, locally, the director worked the show with just an audio operator in the control room. He did all of the camera switching himself, timed the show, ran the commercials from whatever source (videotape, film, slides and whatever). Today there are news editing booths wherein a reporter can edit his own story from his cameraman's videotape, news producers to assist the director in timing and on the air editing, technical directors (TDs) to do the camera switching, Production Assistants (PAs) operating character generators (for on screen printing) and the trusty audioman. Back in the good ole' days, if they had given us a broom (never mind the obvious comments!) we could have swept the control room floor while we directed the newscast.

The American Association for State and Local History and Broadcast Music, Inc. awarded WDSU-TV the First Prize for the year 1962 for the television program "The Huey Long Story." I directed the program that was written and narrated by Mel Leavitt. The Channel 6 special program was produced in cooperation with The Louisiana Landmarks Society, Inc.

The project, a three part documentary, took almost two years to develop and received complete cooperation from the family of Louisiana's famous "Kingfish." WDSU-TV was provided with old films and sill pictures by the former governor's family. Huey Long's son, Sen. Russell B. Long (Dem.-LA), appeared in the presentation in an interview with Mel Leavitt. Several former newsmen and local authors were also interviewed in the series.

One of the problems Mel and I encountered, in pre-production of the series, was a plethora of material. We spent many a night, for instance, viewing thousands of feet of film and struggled to keep the series at three one hour segments while including as much of the historic film as possible. The New Orleans States-Item TV critic, Bob Sublette described the series as "the most ambitious documentary ever undertaken by a local station." "The Huey Long Story" series was sponsored by Ward Baking Co. (Tip Top and Lucky Cakes brand names in New Orleans).

Doug Ramsey, a good friend and a great news anchorman, is the kind of person we wish all TV celebs were. He is a delight to meet and to talk to. (I agree with Sir Winston Churchill about ending a sentence with a preposition and "...this is the kind of foolishness up with which I shall not put!") Doug never let the fact that he was extremely popular as the last of the ESSO Reporters on WDSU-TV "go to his head." He was recognized by the management of WDSU-TV as one of the best newsmen to appear on Channel 6.

He was also never at a loss for words as one might gather from the following incident. As Doug was hurrying to get to the news set and struggling to get his coat on over a particularly "stylish" vest, he met the station manager, A. Louis Read, in the hallway to the studio. Read was known as the benevolent tyrant of WDSU-TV. He was a magnificent station manager and broadcaster. He did, however, have a few dislikes that managed to surface now and then. He would not allow, for instance, any of the male personalities to wear facial hair of any sort. This dislike even affected our RADIO station personalities. Read, upon meeting Doug in the hallway, commented: "Doug, I don't like that vest." (meaning "Don't wear that vest on the air") To which Doug replied "Then I'd advise you not to buy one!" Then both went merrily on their way, Doug respecting the fact that Read was a dynamite station manager and Read recognizing the fact that Doug was a tremendously popular news anchor man. That kind of mutual respect between management and talent and between management and all station departments is what made WDSU-TV the great station it once was.

We mentioned earlier a Channel 6 promotional feature called the "Channel 6 Celebrity Caravan," in which the stars of WDSU-TV programs visited communities in the Channel 6 coverage area. Portions of various WDSU-TV shows were produced and videotaped in those communities. Program Director Jerry Romig produced the Caravan shows and I was honored to be selected as the Caravan's director. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I am of Croatian descent. The Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi is home to thousands of American-Croatians. There are probably more Croatians here then in some cities in Croatia. 

On a Caravan visit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a large pet food canning plant, Mavar, Inc., was the subject of a feature to be run in the Ch. 6 Midday show. Jerry introduced me to Mr. Mavar, who told us his family came from the Dalmatia area of Croatia. I'm sorry, but I can't recall the gentleman's first name. I think his last name was originally Mavaric (pronounce Mavar-ich). Upon hearing my name, Yacich (originally Jasic) he asked: "You're a Croatian aren't you? I responded with: "Like you, I am an American of Croatian descent as are a large number of people in the Buras-Empire area of South Louisiana. He then asked: "And they let you be a director?"

On another occasion, while filming a tourism documentary for the State of Mississippi, I was working with an ad-agency rep from Jackson, Mississippi. We were visiting and filming the wonderful restaurants of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The ad-man was rather surprised to learn that practically all of the coast restaurants were owned an operated by American-Croatians. After visiting several of the restaurants and interviewing the owners, he spotted a restaurant bearing the sign "French House." He said that we had to film that one. We entered the restaurant and he asked a waiter if we could meet the owner. We were introduced to a gracious lady named Mary Mahoney. The ad-man said: "Well, I've met so many American-Croatian restaurant owners it is a pleasure to meet a lovely Irish lady with such a lilting Irish name who owns a French restaurant. With an impish smile, Mary said: "My maiden name is Cvitanovich.and I'm an American-Croatian. Her brother, Drago, owns the well-known restaurant in the New Orleans area (Metairie) that bears his name.

While not a part of broadcasting lore, it is interesting to note that an American-Croatian of the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast was once called a "Tako" by other nationalities. The term was not originally a derisive one. Many of the immigrants from Croatia spoke little English. Their reply to questions like "How are you? was "Tako, tako!" which could be translated as "So, so!". So the name "Tako came to mean Croatian. Soon the term became derisive like similar terms for Sicilians, Jews, Spanish and Latinos, Irish, and Africans. American-Croatians may call each other "Tako," but most are not too delighted to hear the term used by others. Happily, use of the word "Tako" has almost disappeared. In a similar vein, Croatians did not like to be called Yugoslavians since the Allies of WWI forced Croatia into a federation with Serbia after the war. Since the recent breakup of the federation, Croatia is an independent nation again and Croatians are Croatians again.

Producing and directing political commercials can make producing and directing "regular TV commercials" with "regular TV talent" seem like a piece of cake. The first and major difference between the two commercials is the fact that politicians and would-be politicians, office holders and would-be office holders usually tend to bring an entourage of supporters with them to a recording session or film production area or set. Their following may consist of other politicians (both "ins" and "outs"), spouses and other relatives, and other "well-wishers." The length of a studio of field "shoot" (a TV business jargon not to popular with politicians) is directly proportional to the number of individuals in the entourage, except in the case of lawyers in the group. In that case the production time is proportional to the square of the number of lawyers in the group.

In general, professional, seasoned politicians want to be told by pros of the TV business, including their political ad-agency rep, what and how to do what is required to do to make the spot. The entourage usually wastes time by asking the politician questions that begin with, "Shouldn't you?," or "Do you want?," or "Do you think?," or other such patronizing questions. That just angers the politico who is paying for TV pros to help him.

As an example, I walked into a meeting of New Orleans Mayor Dutch Morial and some of his usual entourage. They were discussing whether His Honor should look directly at the TV camera or off to the side when making an appearance in a TV spot. It seems the discussion had been under way for some time before I arrived. Dutch was aggravated, to say the least. He asked sharply: "What do you say, Yacich?" I answered: "I say look at the camera. That's where the people are. You don't see Huntley or Brinkley looking away from the people, do you? And that was that. Dutch ended the discussion with a simple: "Done!"

Now, a TV director can get away with that kind of direct answer only if the supporter and well-wisher is NOT the politico's wife! That case requires a little more schmoozing to make her think that your way is her way and the best way. I must admit that, while I have been able to convince the ladies that I was about to do what is best for the politico in most cases, I did meet one great lady who didn't succumb to any amount of schmoozing. She's the great lady of Louisiana's Jefferson Parish, Mrs. Lawrence Chehardy. We met in battleand and she won. Quietly, for sure, but she won! And she was right!

I've worked with many of the "King Makers" in the political arena, including Raymond Strother, Gus Weill, Jim Carvin, Deno Seder, Jim Carville, Mike Martinson, and Jim Leslie. I've seen candidates that would make you wonder how they ever got into a political race much less got elected. One candidate was so!...ugly...that the agency hired an actor to deliver speeches meant for the candidate. We learned that in the actual voting, a large number of votes counted for the not to pretty candidate were actually cast for the actor who had delivered a videotaped speech from a large popular theater in one of Louisiana's bigger cities. Another candidate refused to kiss his wife in a scene shot for one of his commercials. Another, told to hold a dinner conversation with his family in a scene from his commercial, talked to his 16 and 17 year old children like they were 3 year old toddlers. Still another could not pronounce "nuclear" and spouted out "nucular" each time we tried to cut his spot.

Among the best in TV, in my humble opinion,were JFK (with whom I did not work), Hubert Humphrey and Louisiana's rascal governor, Edwin Edwards (I worked with both). Edwards could read a script once, decide if it was good enough, edit it instantaneously, and deliver it as a 30 second spot in 27.5 seconds, then immediately do another take delivering the copy in French in 27.5 seconds. In close-up TV political spots, he was a master. He was so good-looking that women adored him and men wanted to be like him. When we traveled with him, Edwards could wake up early in the morning, run his hands through his hair and he was gorgeous while the rest of the travelers, including this Croatian kid from the lower nint' ward, looked like gorillas. I am not able to judge his political activities, only his TV appearances which were, for a politico, just terrific.

When a new program director came to WDSU-TV with a new ownership, I was asked to visit him to discuss my political commercials. I was an independent producer at that time. He told me that my practice of putting the political disclaimer (the line on the screen that reads "Paid for by whoever") in the middle of the spot was not proper. According to FCC regulations it was to be at the beginning or at the end of the spot. He said that he came from a very "political state" and that he had never seen the disclaimer displayed in such a fashion. I told him that he had never been in a "political state" until he came to New Orleans. I also said that, in a 30 second spot, the first 15 seconds of the spot is the beginning and the last 15 seconds is the end of the spot. I put the disclaimer in the beginning of the end of the spot. He didn't disagree with my logic and neither did the FCC, even though I admittedly did it so that it would let me end my spot with the candidate's name, rather than a "Paid for by" announcement. Also, I just didn't like opening my spots with that announcement. The disclaimer is required by the FCC to keep someone working for one candidate from producing a spot pretending to talk for a another candidate and deceiving the public by actually making that candidate look bad. The disclaimer identifies the person or persons paying for the broadcasting of the spot. Louisiana's Gillis Long was one of the main proponents of a disclaimer law or regulation.

The early days of television (circa 1952) featured a musical program starring Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, his orchestra and chorus. In the chorus, one young lady was particularly outstanding. She was known to the audience only as "Doris." Maybe it was because of the styling of her coal black hair. What ever it was it was enough to cause me to point her out to my wife, who also was impressed by her striking appearance in the crowd of the chorus. Now, the reason I mention her is because she is a part of the following story.

In 1950, while serving in the Navy in Honolulu, I was permitted by the Navy to accept civilian employment at radio station KULA in Honolulu. At the station, I was privileged to be part of a program that featured interviews with visiting celebrities. One of the programs featured the fabulous Andrews Sisters. I sincerely enjoyed meeting the singing ladies who were simply delightful in the interview. 

Twelve years later, the Andrews Sisters were to appear on a telethon sponsored by the Lion's Club in New Orleans. One of the chief honchos of that organization was my next door neighbor, Dr, Charles (Chuck) Berlin, of the LSU Medical School. As well as being one of the most prominent scientists engaged in hearing and ear research, Chuck was a popular jazz pianist.

The Andrews Sisters visited him at his home on Pratt Drive. Chuck called me and invited me to meet some friends, without telling me who they were! When I entered his house, I was elated to see the Andrews Sisters, who remembered the interview in Honolulu 12 years earlier.

Patty and Maxine told us about having to find someone to fill Laverene's shoes. She passed away a few years earlier. Then they introduced me to someone I thought I knew for a long time. It was Doris, of the Fred Waring Pennsylvanians. The great ladies came over to my house to meet my wife and kids. What a thrill! The Andrews Sisters in my living room! My assignments at Channel 6 did not permit me to attend the telethon and their performance but I will always remember the wonderful Andrews Sisters.

About two months later, I was directing the TV coverage of a political rally in Mississippi. While discussing some of the show's particulars with several of the VIP's, the Andrews Sisters, who were appearing on the show, came up to me and said: "Hi, Paul, are we going to work together again? Believe me, the Andrews Sisters treating me like an old friend impressed the hell out of everyone in hearing distance of us. I, naturally, acted like working with such big stars was "old hat" with me and enjoyed the admiration and attention paid to me by my Mississippi friends.

The first television sportscaster in New Orleans and in Louisiana was Byron Dowty. Byron was formerly the Program Manager of radio station KALB in Alexandria. He came to WDSU-TV already acclaimed one of the top-ranking sportscasters in the South. The first televised Sugar Bowl Grid Classic featured the play-by-play descriptions of WDSU-TV's first Director of Sports and Special events, Byron Dowty. When Byron left that position, the only person considered qualified to replace him was a young man from the Mutual radio network...a remarkably talented young man who soon became New Orleans' "Mr Television" as well as "Mr. Mardi Gras," my friend and special projects partner for many years....Mel Leavitt.

One of the best NBC-TV news reporters I had the pleasure of working with was Charles "Chuck" Quinn. We worked together during the Garrison Clay Shaw JFK conspiracy trial feeding reports to the NBC-TV Huntley-Brinkley news program. Chuck also spent some time in Asia during the Korean Conflict. One of my favorite broadcast/news stories is one Chuck told me. He described how he and every NBC-TV reporter in assigned to Asia would make a special trip to an island resort in Thailand to file a story (either serious or frivolous) just so they could end the report with the standard NBC-TV reporters signature. The signature from Paris, for instance, was: " Chuck Quinn, NBC News, Paris," or from Tokyo was: "Chuck Quinn, NBC News, Tokyo." The name of the island in Thailand was Phuket. See if you could end a story with the standard NBC news reporter's signature and not find yourself ROTFLOL (rolling on the floor laughing out loud!).


Retired weathercaster/meteorologist Nash Roberts is remembered by most New Orleanians as the REAL weatherman of New Orleans TV. Nash began his TV weather forecasting programs shortly after WDSU-TV signed on the air. Nash Roberts wasn't just a TV announcer turned weather forcaster. Weather was his business! Nash provided many large corporations with expert weather information. Ships loaded with bananas in South America didn't leave port unless Nash said weather conditions would allow a safe voyage to New Orleans. Large oil companies kept their crews on offshore rigs during Gulf storms until Nash said to take them off. He provided forecasts for areas as far away as the Gulf of Tonkin. His TV forecasts were factual and complete and were presented in a simple "felt pen on map" display that everybody could understand ... no fancy electronic graphics, no glitz and no bull! The average New Orleanian hardly ever asked: "What's happening with the weather?" Instead, they asked: "What does Nash say?" When it came to hurricane threats, Nash was the final word. Recently, two storms made landfall on the Louisiana coast, giving rise to the story that went something like this:

Lili (a hurricane of the 2002 hurricane season): "Wait up! Where are you going Isadore?" (Isadore was a Tropical Storm of that season).

Isadore: "I'm going to New Orleans, haven't you heard?"

Lili: "Heard what?"

Isadore: "Nash has retired ... really retired ... and they can't get him and his felt pen to go on the air! We've been waiting years for this. Now we can go to New Orleans and have a blast and Nash and his darnn felt pen won't be there to stop us. So come on, sweet Lili, see you in the Crescent City."

Nash has a wonderful sense of humor and could take being the target of a joke with a hearty laugh. Once, when he predicted snow in New Orleans there was no snow except for the case of Ivory Snow Flakes the engineers at WDSU-TV dumped on him from above his weather set on the following day's weather program. One thing, however, did upset himmore than just a little. That was when a certain newscaster tried to analyze and predict hurricane movements on a newscast that immediately preceded his weather program.

The XDSU gang is always delighted by the appearance of the REAL weatherman at the annual get-together at the Larry Kramer Ranch near Folsom, LA. Nash also has a large cattle ranch near Folsom.

I might add one thing that none of us ever told Nash about. I was talking with Judy Mosgrove, the WDSU-TV receptionist and telephone operator, one evening when she got a call from a woman complaining about Nash Roberts using vulgar language on the air. Judy couldn't believe what she was hearing. It turned out that the woman was complaining that Nash was talking about "fog in patches.." and she misunderstood the phrase.

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