Saturday, March 20, 2004

Reminiscing: Unusual work assignments of recent memory: 1994 CBS TV Network (Audio)

David Letterman memory:
I was occasionally assigned to his show as A-2 while I was at CBS-TV. Most of my assignments at CBS-TV were A-1.

Dave is apparently a bit eccentric at times.

I was instructed by those who must be obeyed; in no uncertain terms:

Should you ever have a direct contact with Dave do not acknoweldge his presence, do not look him straight in the eye (look away), and most important, DO NOT try to engage him in personal conversation.

Well, my assignment on the Late Show (Stupid People Tricks) as A-2 audio assist, required me to use the elevator in the Ed Sullivan theater to go from stage level up to the 9th floor where a team of Letterman assistants were going to throw all kinds of objects out the 9th floor window onto 53rd St. in Manhattan (Closed to traffic and hundreds of on-lookers on 53rd street by NYPD police barricades between 7th and 8th avenues).

As I waited for the elevator I looked up at the stairway above me. There was Dave, making his way down the stairs..... giving me the evil eye, since I was the only human in view. (I knew, by his look, what he was thinking: Who the hell are you? I've never seen you before. How did you get in here?)

At that point the elevator arrived. I got on and would have saluted Dave as he disappeared into the Makeup Room, but I had my hands full of wireless mikes.

My assignment was to mic the assistants. Most of them were lovely young ladies who willingly lifted their blouses to allow running the wireless mic cord underneath the garment to the xmtr on their rear quarters. (Fortunately, I was not yet a dirty old man and I was somewhat embarrased at the task, but judging from their reaction, they appreciated the personal attention.) There was no telex [ear-piece]. Dave's voice was piped over a speaker where we all could hear him from his desk on stage, 9 floors below (mix-minus for Dave). The tech crew had previously run audio cables from the control room all the way up to the 9th floor via the stairwell. That's a lot of audio cables.

Myself and another A-2 miked the "talent" who were about to throw 10 auto tires on rims, 25 cans of paint, assorted other items and a 500 lb. safe (with the help of our IATSE stage hand brothers) out the open 9th story window (the sash was removed) to the street below, where eveything but the safe either bounced or exploded on the pavement. The paint left a brillant colorful residue. We did it twice. Once for rehearsal and once for tape. (Yes, there were several large cracks in the pavement when the safe hit bottom)

As Walter Cronkite used to say: "That's the way it was."

When folks ask me what I did at CBS-TV I always respond with: When you see Dan Rather's lips move, but you don't hear what he is saying, it was probably my fault. But not necessarily, since there are 50 other people doing things to make the CBS Evening News what it is. Thank God, I was mostly A-2 (Audio Assist) on the CBS Evening News. But there was a time when they had a special bulletin given by Dan and I was A-1- the buck stops there friends. Fortunately it worked OK, although, since there was no A-2, just me, Dan could not hear cue in his ear and finally the floor manager had to verbally tell him/ open mike :You are on Dan, are on Dan (All I could think was......Say something Dan.... dammit!)

As an A-2 on the floor - I miked Dan on the CBS Evening News and made sure his telex was properly in place and working, and following tradition I always helped him on with his jacket after wiring him up, just before the broadcast.

When Ed Bradley or Charles Osgood filled in on the CBS Evening News for Dan, while he was away, it was old home week. I worked with each of them at WCBS Radio in the '60's and they always went out of their way to greet me like an old friend.

BTW, Dan likes Country Music and Western Swing, I presume it's because he's from Texas. He never knew my name, but always went out of his way to greet me whenever we happened to meet outside the CBS Broadcast Center on 57th St. in NYC.

BTW, everyone in the control at Letterman knew I played steel guitar in a country band because the production supervisor, the AD, the TD and the audio guys made a point to make all aware of it when they introduced me to the crew. I was accepted by the crew as a capable audio guy, because I was one of the A1's on the noon, 5, 6 and 11 o'clock Channel 2 news. "The toughest show in the building" (CBS Broadcast Center).

My sincerest thanks to my friends, the CBS-TV audio mavins: Tony Roque, Brian McGovern, Julius McLaughlin, Art Abowitz and Jerry Thrope all of whom broke me in doing the toughest show in the building and to our terrific audio supervisors: Bill Brown, Larry Schneider and Tommy Jimenez.

A little CBS nostalgia on my part. Maybe I'll start documenting my memoirs while I can still remember things. I spent 12 years in CBS TV Show Crews & Sound Effects after having completed 16 years service at WCBS Newsradio 88....but that's another series of memories.


Bob Maickel