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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

they're breakin' up that old gang of mine

I had tenuous ties to the glory days at WDAY-TV, the 60s and early 70s when I was old enough as a broadcast brat to know something special was happening there, and young enough to learn at the knees of the experts without getting handed any tasks.  Warmed my back many an afternoon at the 7-foot racks of tubes in the microwaves, sync generators, and processors in Master Control waiting for Dad to take me home from riding the bus to the library.  Read the wire services tick...tick... tick... tick at a time on the 50 characters per minute Teletypes.  Jumped to the side when there were footsteps of somebody running down the halls or up the stairs so I didn't get trampled.

The days when a ratings disaster was a 71% share, and national lead in news ratings went as high as 87 and 93 percent.  That is almost every damn TV in the viewing area, and at least one screen burning in each of the competitive stations.  WDAY was NBC's highest-rated affiliate station in the early 70s year after year, and the gloom in 30 Rock was like they lost their licenses the day WDAY followed KSTP in jumping to ABC because NBC's geniuses thought they'd make more money cutting the affiliate payments for carrying network shows.

But I was there, splicing junk film, staying out of the way, and learning lots about life from the likes of Howard Graber, John Tilton, Al Kobul, Pete Fenney, Bob Aronson, and the gang.  Including Marvin Bossart, Boyd Christensen, and Dewey Bergquist.  And Dad, of course.

Last I heard, Aronson was retired in Florida.  Couple decades ago, he was Rudy Perpich's Press Secretary, and part of the job entailed calling trusted contacts many weekends asking, "Got any idea where Rudy's at?  State Patrol can't find him anywhere!"  That Governor was pretty much prone to escaping to the back rooms and cabins Up Nort' and chatting with his friends.

The last domino beyond him fell yesterday, as Marv finally succumbed to the effects of Parkinson's disease.  He got 42 years out of the place, on par with some of the greyest hairs in the history of the place.  And he was a big part of the tradition of professionalism, community concern, and "get it right" that made WDAY not just an institution for having the oldest call letters in the Northwest US, but for being trustworthy.  Gentle, fun-loving, a stickler for the right word in the right place with his copy, killed his Royal typewriter four or five times, the type bars flying off the fingers, until Gaffney's ran out of parts.  "Cheap" jokes flew like sparrows in the spring, for he spent as much time as he could with his family and at the lake place.  Among the last feet of film shot was a prank in which a couple kids were persuaded to do chores wearing T-shirts saying something like "Marv is Cheap," and that blue/green mess from bad film was slid into both the 6 and 10 PM newscasts around Marv's back.

Marv went from black and white TV to live satellite trucks.  There were transistors in the chain of geegaws by the time he got to Fargo, breaking up the 1953 walls of tubes, but that's the only earthquake in the technology of the business he missed.  And slid through them all on top, because that's just stuff.  Reporting, writing, consulting, refining, questioning, and then presenting the news is unchanging.

The last of the lions from my era.

Requisat im Pace.

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