"Online since 1999"

Paul Yacich Memories

Legendary WDSU-TV Director and

New Orleans Television Pioneer Shares His Memories


1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9  |  10

Another feature of the early days of television was the dancing stars, the Bob Hamilton Trio. One of the dancers was a very beautiful blonde girl. I was very impressed with her dancing and her beauty and mentioned her to an NBC-TV news producer-director, Fred Rheinstein, with whom I was working. He agreed that she was quite attractive while we watched the dancer,s performance on TV at my house after dinner. Fred later wrote to me and invited me to visit him in lovely downtown Burbank, CA. A few weeks later, I was in Hollywood, in the Pacific Title facilities, finishing a film documentary about Lee Harvey Oswald. I got a chance to run out to Fred's house. He introduced me to his beautiful blonde wife, the dancing star of the Bob Hamilton Trio! He laughed as he told me he had been planning this meeting ever since he and I met.

It is truly a small, small world. One of Fred Rheinestien's associates in Los Angeles was a young man who was formerly in Washington D.C. with PBS. Jeff Sinclair met Fred while working on a TV special. Jeff is one of my good friends and was one of the kids in the TV production class I taught at Loyola University of New Orleans. Later, Jeff was one of the staffers at Channel 49 in New Orleans. He now has my old job of Producer/Director at WDSU-TV. I guess I learned him good, huh?

Another good friend and one of the NBC-TV news reporters who got his start in the news business at WDSU-TV is Ford Rowan. Barely out of his teens when he came to WDSU-TV, Ford was quick to learn the tricks of the trade from the pros in the Channel 6 newsroom.

While he is now a seasoned pro, having been associated with NBC-TV in Washington, D.C., some of the gang at the XDSU-TV (a group of mostly retired WDSU-TV personnel) still remember Ford as a young "cub" who vented his anger by kicking trash baskets in the newsroom. Even as an NBC-TV reporter his youthful exuberance continued to manage to exhibit itself in his reports. In a live feed to the NBC-TV "Today" Show after a bridge collapsed on the James River when it was struck by a vessel near Richmond, Ford started the report: "Fog shrouded the James River as the ship hit the span..." Ford now reports that the producer in NY was not amused. To me, Ford is a prime example of the wonderful people who make up the broadcast community in every city and made being a part of that community in New Orleans so important to this Croatian kid from the lower "nint ward."

When I was associated with KULA in Honolulu, with permission of the U.S. Navy, during the Korean Conflict, I met one of the station's Japanese employees. Harold Sakoda had been with the station for many years and was there before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As a matter of fact, Harold was one of the KULA staffers covering a baseball game at Pearl Harbor when the attack occurred. He told me that he and his group thought it was a U.S. Navy drill but when a bomb set the stadium on fire they figured "This is no drill!" and got the hell out of the stadium to find protective cover.

In 1952, Harold was promoted to program director of KULA. Rita and I and our newborn baby, Deirdre, attended a party given to celebrate Harold's promotion. Finding a baby-sitter among our Navy friends was impossible, so that's why Deirdre was there.

The party room was in a Honolulu Geisha House. There were rows of long, low tables (about six to eight inches high) and NO chairs. Guests, about fifty or so, merely sat on their heels. It was a Japanese custom for the guest of honor to toast his guests one at a time! For each guest so toasted, everyone had to stand up, sip a little saki and shout "Banzai!" I guess I managed to go along with the toasting of about 20 guests but then my legs gave out. Rita, holding our baby, got through about 9 or ten toasts. Nobody seemed to mind that the "Haole" (Hawaiian for people from the U.S. mainland ) guests couldn't keep up with the "Keiki o kaina" (children of the land) guests. I was also surprise when I tried to eat what I thought to Jello but turned out to be jellied raw fish. I think the Japanese and the Cajuns are about equals when it comes to eating anything and everything, and that's one of the reasons Rita enjoyed living in Hawaii for two years.

Because Harold was a good friend, I was not afraid to ask him about his feelings toward Japan and the Pearl Harbor attack. He told me of the torture of being asked: "Who did you want to win the war: the U.S. or Japan?" He said he had to try to make a joke out of the question and any possible answer he might offer because (and this is fact) he had a son in California who was arrested and placed in a concentration camp in the U.S. AND a daughter in Tokyo who was arrested for being an American citizen in Japan !

I will be forever grateful to Admiral Radford (CINCPAC) whose staff allowed me to work at Honolulu's KULA while I was in the islands as Naval personnel. KULA program director Harold Sakoda, Chief Engineer Bob Evans, and two KULA engineers, Haru Tao and Danny Kawakami, were wonderful people to know and to work with. (There's that damn preposition ending a sentence again. I hope my English teacher, Miss Taggert, at Nicholls High School in New Orleans, won't be too upset when she checks out this website on her heavenly computer via her ISP HOL...Heaven On Line.) They taught me a new and different way of operating a radio station. In the '50s, before broadcast satellites, all of KULA's programming was tape recorded. The NBC network was recorded from short-wave receivers and replayed at times more acceptable in the islands. Danny Kawakami (who insists the ballad "Danny Boy was written about him and whistled the tune incessantly) did most of the short-wave recording and editing of the recorded tapes.

Even the locally produced programs were pre-recorded. KULA had four recording control rooms going simultaneously. One might be producing a program featuring Hawaiian music, another doing a program of Japanese music (baby Deirdre loved Japanese music and we used the music to soothe her to sleep). Another control room might be working on a show featuring Chinese music while another was doing a show featuring music of the Philippine Islands. There were times when the control rooms were in use producing Samoan music programs and Puerto Rican music shows. We also recorded shows from remote locations such as a Geisha house, or a Luau. The shows were done with the participants singing and dancing in full native absolute delightful remote for any radio station employee to work.

KULA's staff was about 75% people of Asian descent, a couple of Irishmen, and one Croatian from the lower "nint" ward of New Orleans. It was the Japanese staffers who laughed the most when one of the Japanese announcers (and there were four) frivolously read the little KULA identification "KULA, kula, the Popular Station in Honolulu" as "K-U-err-A, kura, the popura station in Honorooroo." FYI, kula means "house of gold."

When the Korean mess was over (for the most part), I was honorably discharged from the Navy and given orders to go home with Rita and Deirdre via a Victory ship to San Francisco and Treasure Island (if I described that place leaving out all the four letter cuss words, I would have nothing to say about it!). We hated to leave our friends in the Navy station at Wahiawa, our house on Sunset Beach, and the gang at KULA but as strong as "Hawaii Calls," WDSU-TV's call was stronger.

The former location of the WDSU-TV studios at 520 Royal Street in the heart of the Vieux Carre, was wonderful in promoting the station. It was convenient for ad-agency reps to get to. It was great for tourists. It was a big pain in the butt for station personnel to find reasonably priced parking spaces. Some of the gang took to parking in illegal parking areas on Toulouse St. and Chartres St. Most of the time the N.O.P.D. paid little or no attention to the parking violations around the station. There were times, however, when everyone was ticketed or had their cars hauled away. We noticed a direct connection to the ticketing and to police stories on the Ch. 6 newscasts. If the newscast treated the guys in blue "kindly," there probably weren't any parking violation tickets. If, however, the news showed the department in a bad light, everyone ran out to move their cars to safer areas to avoid ticketing or hauled off vehicles

For the most part, our relations with the N.O.P.D. were very harmonious. The "Singing Policeman," Jerry Marshall, appeared regularly on "Midday" and "Tonight With Mel." One of the great announcing voices of New Orleans belonged to a fine representative of the N.O.P.D., Sidney Cates. Sidney's voice must have been manufactured by Wurlitzer (the big juke box company so popular in the 30's and 40's). His magnificent voice was heard regularly in commercials produced at WDSU-TV. One day, I found myself working with Sidney while he was on a police assignment . I was working audio in a news camera team covering a bunch of Southern University students protesting mud holes on the schools campus. There were a few troublemakers and loudmouths, but not much violence. There was one youngster who thought it might be fun to aggravate the police who were called to maintain order on the campus. He repeatedly bumped into Sidney, who was in plain clothes at the time. The kid knew Sidney was a cop and continuously harassed Sidney. Finally, Sidney had enough of the kids taunting and said: "Now look here kid, this ain't between Southern and the police any more, it's between you and me!" The kid said: "Yeah! And what the hell are you gonna do about it?" Sidney opened his coat to reveal his police special and said in his most magnificent announcing voice: "Son, I'm gonna blow your friggin, head off!" Well, that's almost what he said ... but you get the idea. That ended the taunting and harassment by all of the kids. I asked Sidney if he was serious and he said: "Of course not, but he didn't know that." I guess there are times when strong language from an officer of the law can be a lot more effective than water hoses and billy clubs. I am still an admirer of policeman/announcer Sidney Cates.

Bob Nelson was one of the most entertaining WDSU-TV staffers ever to appear before the Ch 6 cameras. Bob started with the Royal Street group as a radio personality. His show was hilarious. He was hilarious. He made fun of everybody. No one was sheltered from his good-natured joshing ... not the mayor, not the governor, not the president and not the top executives of NBC. When the NBC top-level brass visited WDSU AM-FM-TV, they passed through the radio studio while Nelson was on the air. He told his listeners: "My God! The studio here on Royal Street has been invaded by extra-terrestrials, and these creatures are so ugly they make Orson Welles' Martian invaders seem as pretty as Goldie Hawn. And, oh! my God! They're from a place called NBC ... Never Been Convicted!" He also had the studio "rolled" or "tee-peed" for the visit of the NBC officials. For those who have never experienced having their house "rolled" or "tee-peed," that means decorated with rolls and rolls of toilet paper.

Nelson was also given a 15-minute slot on Ch. 6 to do with as he chose. It was a delightful quarter hour of refreshing comedy with a local twist. The close of the show displayed the credits as most shows do, but with every "Nelson's Nothing" show a new name was added to the credits. Finally, Nelson did a show that was 15 minutes of nothing but credits. Featured in the list of "credits" were items like: "Lighting by Flo Rescent," "Ko drinks by Lem Onade," "Transportation provided by Mort Tician," "Insects trained by Millie Pede," and "Directed by Will Bedone." Bob also portrayed Captain Vision on the Channel 6 "Tip Top Space Ship," accompanied by Deputy OOPs, played by Al Shea.

The talented Bob Nelson was eventually promoted to producer/director at Channel 6. He became the first and maybe the only triple-threat Ch. 6 staffer ... Radio personality/DJ, TV announcer/talent and TV Producer/Director. When Bob left WDSU to find work closer to his hometown, we all felt the loss on a fine talent. Before leaving the station, Bob told me I should try to get a promotion to Producer/Director to replace him. Eventually, I did get the promotion but no one could replace Bob Nelson. When it was reported that Bob was killed in an auto accident in Arkansas, we again all felt the loss of a wonderful friend.

A. Louis Read succeeded Bob Swezey as WDSU-TV General Manager. Read was formerly with WABB in Mobile, Alabama and later WWL and at one time was Advertising Sales Manager of the New Orleans based Wembley Tie Company. Read joined WDSU-TV as Commercial Manager. He was noted as probably the most experienced Commercial Manager in the southern radio community. Read followed the Swezey theory in doing the bidding of NBC-TV to make the net rely on WDSU-TV as a network flagship, but added: "We're gonna make a buck doing it!" Many, at the station referred to Read as a "benevolent tyrant", which simply meant that Read was one "helluva" good station manager. Close friends called him "Looey" but even ad-men, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of their client's money with the station reverently called him "MR. Read."

One particular Read quirk was his dislike of facial hair on on-air personnel. That included RADIO on-air personnel! He was, however, respected by all WDSU-TV employees and the rest of the broadcast community nationwide. 

At WDSU-TV in the 60s, the directors were represented by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The contract between AFTRA and WDSU-TV specified certain fees to be paid to the performing artists for making commercials and residual fees for the airing of the commercials. These fees were also payable to the directors of the commercials. Also, as the director of a WDSU-TV program, the director received a talent fee for ANY commercial run in his program. Those AFTRA contract specifications made the position of producer/director at WDSU-TV one of the most sought after jobs in the broadcasting industry. 

An agency rep (not a likeable chap but we will still keep him nameless) called A. Louis Read, General Manager of WDSU-TV, and told him that they were ready to spend $300,000 for one of their clients. They also told him that they would make all of the commercials for the client's product using WDSU-TV production facilities. There was just one hitch. They wanted me assigned as director of the commercials but they did not want to pay the AFTRA union required talent fees. Read called me into his office and asked if I would consider making the spots without talent fees. I replied that by doing so I would be in violation of the AFTRA union contract. I would, however, do whatever the management of WDSU-TV wanted me to do because WDSU-TV bought my house and my two cars for me. WDSU-TV allowed me to send my three kids to private schools. I added that, while I was a union member, I owed my lifestyle to WDSU-TV. Without further comment Read picked up the phone, called the agency rep and told him that he was not going to bow down to that kind of petty "blackmail" and that he would not pressure me to do the spots in violation of the AFTRA union contractand that the agency could take their $300,000 and shove it where the sun doesn't shine. FYI, the agency relented. I did the spots and got the appropriate talent fees. The station got the $300,000 in air time. Is it any wonder that Read was referred to by most WDSU-TV staffers as "the benevolent tyrant?"

< Back

This ended the memories sent to me by Paul Yacich in 2002.

We hope you have enjoyed this priceless compilation

of the New Orleans TV memories contributed by

Paul Yacich.