SPI-tv Media Group regularly features local professionals in a blog series
called proTALK, asking our peer group to share not only tips and thoughts
on the business, but personal anecdotes about their own life experiences
and how it relates to what they do. Our hope is to inspire and give unique
insight to a new generation of professionals based on our experiences.
This is proTALK.
proTALK: You are currently enjoying a wonderful career at the Illinois
Center for Broadcasting experiencing first hand the work and enthusiasm of the future generation of broadcasters. We will get to that in a minute.Tell me about how you got started.
I developed a passion for broadcasting while attending St. Patrick H.S. in Chicago. In my freshmen year, St. Pat’s received from WGN-TV, two cameras, an audio board and a TV switcher along with a number of lighting instruments. WGN was going to trash the old equipment when somebody wondered if possibly a school might want the equipment. All of the equipment was old but it worked just fine. So, I became a member of the TV Club (extra curricular) and wound up spending a good time in the little studio that had a balcony that looked onto the gymnasium. We broadcast educational classes as well as basketball games and wrestling matches. I knew then I was hooked. When I went to the University of Illinois, I got a part-time job working in the TV studio on campus. Upon graduation, I looked and looked for a job but no one was hiring. I finally got a job, after a 9 month search, with WSBC-AM and its sister FM station as an audio board operator. Both stations broadcast programming in foreign languages. Both stations brokered the time, so if you could afford $65.00 per hour (which at that time was a good deal of money), you could broadcast over the 1240 AM or 93.1 FM frequency. Later on the 93.1 FM frequency was converted to a Classic Rock station known by all in Chicago as WXRT. From that first job, I wound up working for a small station in Woodstock, IL (WSTK-FM) and realized that I was not inclined to be a DJ but had a penchant for managing a station, which I did as the GM of 105.5 FM. The fancy title didn’t pay a lot but I learned enough to take that experience and cash it in when I moved from WSTK to a job at WGN. From there I worked for a number of TV stations in Rockford, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Chicago prior to becoming the Regional Executive Director for Public Affairs for the Ohio/Illinois Centers for Broadcasting.
proTALK: You’ve worked your way up through the ranks working with many many people and many, many personalities. What is your favorite aspect of the business? What is the secret to professional longevity?
The secret to longevity is the ability to adapt to new challenges. I have three different union cards: NABET (National Association of Broadcast Employees & Technicians), IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and the DGA (Directors Guild of America). I garnered these different cards due to my ability to work in the trenches as a board operator, audio tech, camera operator, as well as a director of news and entertainment programming. I also have over 16 years of experience on the management side, so, each time I took on a new challenge, I learned everything in the business from the most basic (how to read a log) to complex and difficult positions that oversaw large budgets and at one point a staff of 21 individuals. Don’t be afraid to try something new. You might be surprised at how that opportunity will help you develop skills you didn’t even think you had and thus make you a valued employee or entrepreneur if you create your own business opportunity as I did at one point in my career as the head of my own production company.
proTALK: You have authored a book for children from your days at the Infant Welfare Society. Tell me about that and why only one? I’m sure you have other tales to tell zipping around in your head.
I use to tell my children a bed time story about a character called, “Woolly Wurm.” “Woolly” was a caterpillar who fell in love with a butterfly and longed to be able to fly….little did he know that one day he too would be a butterfly. The theme of the book is simple….when you help others (as Woolly did), you invariably help yourself. One day, while working for Angel Harvey (Exec. Producer of the Paul Harvey Show – heard for years on WGN and over 200 radio stations in America) I shared with her the story. She told me to quit looking for a publisher and do the job myself. I had just finished an assignment for Ms. Harvey as the executive producer for the audio recording and production of a CD for Paul Aurandt Harvey, her son’s classical music compositions (a task that I initially wondered if I could do). So, with funding from Angel Harvey, I secured a graphic artist for the design/layout, a printer and a distributor for the 15,000 copies that were sold at various children’s museums and museum and zoo gift shops. All of the money from the first printing went to the Infant Welfare Society. I wasn’t interested necessarily in making money for myself, I just wanted to get the book published and make a difference. I learned a great deal about print production and to my surprise, years later, my daughter, Renee, a teacher for the Chicago Public Schools, asked me if I would sign copies of the books for two of her students who approached her and asked if she was related to a Bill Natale. Jesse White, Secretary of State of Illinois, purchased 500 copies for placement in the Illinois Library system. I do have other stories and have just recently finished writing a 210 page book about a story that takes place in Chicago, immediately following the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King and the race riots that ravaged a number of our cities.
proTALK: What is the one thing that you wish young up and coming pros take away from their learning experience? What do you tell them?
Be willing to learn new things by continually reading about new technology and enrolling in on-going educational classes or projects that one can learn from video tutorials. Don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never done before. Be on time for any opportunity that comes your way and keep your commitments….your bond is your word and it is extremely important in the business world.
proTALK: What do you do to unwind? Favorite leisure activity?
I love spending time with my family, especially my oldest daughter who is just so damn smart and fun to be with; I spend a good deal of time with my son who is also in the business and he’s an outstanding audio and video tech; I love to cook; I love to read novels and well-written articles; I love to bowl; I love to play cards with my friends and siblings; I love taking my dog for a walk in the morning and evening and there is no question that I love the theater, fine cinema and outstanding TV productions that are worth taking time to watch.
proTALK: You have a son that seems to be taking up the media mantle…how does that make you feel? What kinds of learning experiences is he having that may remind you of your experiences?
My son is terrific at audio production. He has worked with me on a number of productions as well as some independent film work that he’s done without my participation. He’s also got a passion for photography and is a very good cinematographer who knows his way around computer technology (he’s built computers from scratch) that is essential in today’s media world. I’m happy that my son has these marketable skills and I hope he is able to do more film work, which is his dream.
proTALK: Getting back to the Illinois Center for Broadcasting, what is your favorite part of that gig?
The favorite part for me at ICB is having a chance to make a difference in the lives of aspiring broadcasters. Internships are very important and ofter lead to full-time employment, so, I’m always pleased when I’m able to open a door for a deserving student. Our students are great and have such a penchant to learn that working with and for them is a delight.
proTALK: Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It was a pleasure to participate in proTALK and I wish the program great success.