Studio A...

"Camelot to Sand Lot"

By Roger Lee Miller

A month later, Trigg assigned me to WINGDING. Based on HULLABALOO and SHINDIG, network programs featuring rock music and disco girls dancing in cages, WINGDING featured three musical groups including Chad and Jeremy from Great Britain. Trigg chose Bob Hale, a WLS disc jockey, to MC the program. This was Hale's first TV appearance, and my first big project at WMAQ-TV. We had great expectations. The lights of New York and glamour of Hollywood were just around the corner. This was going to be "our ticket out of here" - it nearly was. The program was a disaster. The show was shot in color. We had to make one videotape edit using the primitive microscope method of physically cutting, splicing and joining the scenes with adhesive tape.

Actually, Studio A was quite busy in the late ‘60s and '70s. The engineering department provided three crews (Actually four if you count the weekends). Two crews covered the morning and evening news in E. The third crew floated between studios A, A-1, D and studio E, as needed.

Joseph Gallichio and the NBC Orchestra taped ARTIST'S SHOWCASE, a weekly program hosted by Louis Sudler. These were presented on a sustaining (no commercials) basis. The musician's contract required more money for commercial shows. These fees were greater than the monies a local TV program could generate. The show opened with the orchestra framed through the harp. Alberto Salvi plucked the strings and the camera dollied back to reveal the entire group. The harp introduced Rachmaninoff's "Concerto Number Two in C Minor." What a thrill to be enveloped by this music! I could tell that I was a witness to the final vestiges of an era.

Musician's union czar James C. Petrillo's nephews Joe and Bobbie worked for the station. Both started as turntable operators. Joe became a TV director and directed Floyd Kalber's 10:00 News. Bobbie became a recording engineer at WMAQ radio. When it was sold to Westinghouse, he transferred to television.

Stagehand Eddie Collins recalls setting up an ice rink, for an ice show, at the south end in 1963. A blown circuit breaker stopped the refrigeration and the ice melted. Fortunately, they were able to get it up and frozen by show time.

Local talk shows found their homes in Studio A. They included THE JACK EIGEN SHOW, Irv Kupcinet's KUP'S CORNER, and Quiz shows IT'S ACADEMIC, with Ed Grennan and EVERYTHING'S RELATIVE, a program hosted by St. Paul's Jim Hutton and syndicated to the NBC owned and operated stations.

The News department used A for election night coverage. One end of the studio housed the large boards that listed the races and candidates. The vote count was displayed by electric/mechanical numbers that were operated by the stagehands. All of this has now been replaced by electronic graphics.

This large studio was used also for specials such as THE NEW PERFORMERS. Mandy Patinkin appeared in the 1968 production. Patinkin's vocal partner, Britta Ebert, became a producer of children's programs and teleplays at Channel Five. Today, Britta and her husband Mike Fayette own and operate Post Effects, one of Chicago's most advanced and successful production-editing houses.

Public Affairs' programs were also staged in Studio A. Often two programs were set up - one at each end.

"Miss Frances" Horwich started DING DONG SCHOOL in Chicago. The show later moved to New York where Frances worked in a studio next door to the PERRY COMO SHOW. She told me that Como's relaxed persona was betrayed by Perry's insistence that he always had his Priest nearby. Another story involved commercials on her show. "Miss Frances" contract gave her control of sponsors and commercial content. The network asked her to broadcast a commercial for B-B-Guns. Frances refused to do a commercial on guns. No less than Bobby Sarnoff, son of NBC's founder and president, told "Miss Frances" that she had to allow these commercials, or the show would be canceled. Frances didn't and Sarnoff did. The time slot was filled with a program that was more conducive to adult commercials - the TODAY SHOW.

In 1970, Frances came to Harry Trigg with a problem. She was two quarters short of being vested in AFTRA's (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists') pension plan. Trigg agreed to "help her out." He contracted "Miss Frances" to host a number of local specials. Harry assigned me to produce and direct these programs.

Studio A served as home base. One program was titled SEEING THE WORLD FROM THREE FEET HIGH. I placed a camera on a crane dolly and started with a high shot shooting down at "Miss Frances" sitting at a desk. Slowly, as Frances described a child's perspective, the camera boomed down to the height of three feet.

Using a single camera Video Tape Mobile Unit called a VTMU (VIT-MOO). The camera was again set at three feet. We followed two children playing at home, on a trip to the zoo and helping Mom shop in a supermarket.

My favorite "Miss Frances" story goes back to her first appearance on DING DONG SCHOOL. The crew didn't know she could read lips. As the show started, she saw lighting director Gene Breese, just behind the camera, utter, "If this show doesn’t lay an egg, nothing will." In 1973, I hosted a farewell party for Frances and Harvey Horwich. They moved to Arizona.

(In March 1998, I visited friends, John and Mae Wasylik, at their Scottsdale, Arizona condominium. In the lobby, I saw the name F. Horwich" on the building’s directory. Could it possibly be? John checked it out, and indeed, it was our "Miss Frances."

Frances and I had an extended telephone conversation. She had just celebrated her 90th birthday. Frances’ mind is still razor sharp and she corrected several errors in my report. Unfortunately "Miss Frances" suffers from severe arthritis.)

In the early 70's, Bill Heitz and Bob Smith put together a show called SORTING IT OUT. This was among the first, if not the first, magazine-type show. Bob auditioned a number of co-hosts before settling on Shelly Long. The features were shot on film by Charlie Boyle and edited by John Martin. The set was made of a number of ramps and futuristic monitors set on pedestals. Bob and Shelly walked from one area to another to transition between film features. After Heitz left the station, I directed the studio portion. I have a tape of Bob and Shelly interviewing the "behind the camera" workers including this author.

The big studio was also used for large commercial sets. An entire supermarket bakery department was set up for a Burney Bros. commercial. Former Bears' football coach Abe Gibron and starlet Melody Rogers hawked the goodness of Ford automobiles, from the window doors of a LAUGH IN-type set.

In 1974, I produced and directed THE NEW ARTHUR MURRAY DANCE SHOW. I brought in Bob Hale as host and actress Sandy Denis as guest star. This was going to be "another ticket out of here." The only journey went to the executive producer who owned a Loop Arthur Murray dance franchise. Apparently he got into some trouble with the government and as rumor had it, received a trip "up the river."

News moved into studio A in 1977. The entire studio was transformed in a gigantic STARSHIP set. An anchor desk with a rear screen for newsmakers' photos was set at the south end of the studio. Near the center, a discussion pit area was defined by two counters with TV monitors and phony buttons and dials. The stars of this galaxy included Maury Povich, newspaper columnist Ron Powers, Tim Weigel, a young Jerry Taft and Ron Hunter.

Hunter was an insecure individual trying to show his best side on television. Many performers claim that if they are shot at a certain angle, the audience will see the "right" side of their face. Ron's "right" side was his right side, and he would literally turn his entire body when the director switched to a new camera angle. I felt sorry for Hunter. One day he confided that he had a very craggy, rough complexion. Ron asked if I could help him with special lighting or camera angles. I pulled out a trick from my commercial experience. I asked the video engineer to pull out the electronic contours, or enhancers, in the camera. This resulted in a soft or less defined picture. Hunter was happy, but video engineers, such as John Wayne, were very unhappy with my suggestion. They looked at good video as being the sharpest, brightest picture possible.

A similar effect in the film business was called the "Doris Day shot." The story came from Hollywood: a glass plate smeared with Vaseline was put in front of the camera to blur the picture and eliminate "expression lines." One early morning, Lillian Gish appeared on TODAY IN CHICAGO to promote her book "D.W. Griffith and I." As director of the show I walked into the studio and, perhaps in a somewhat condescending manner, asked if we could do anything special in the way of lighting or camera angles. Miss Gish, perhaps in her 80's, looked up at me and said, "Honey, I have no bad side!"

A January 1996, Associated Press story from Mandeville, LA, reports that Ron Hunter was arrested [on December 28, 1995] for allegedly stealing food from his next door neighbor's home. The article related that Hunter, living on food stamps, needed the food to feed his two children.

Robert Feder, in a Chicago Sun Times column dated January 17, 1996, reported that Hunter's former colleagues at Channel 5 have set up a fund for Ron and his children. Perhaps there are a few bright moments in what once was called Camelot.

However, a March 8, 1996-story in the Chicago Tribune, "An Anchor Hits Bottom," chronicles Hunter's demise and the suicide of his wife. A sidebar, "Hunter's Old Colleagues Remember Him, Uh, Well," quotes an unnamed veteran news reporter as saying, "Hunter was a jerk, perhaps the most arrogant and vain TV personality Chicago's ever known." I still feel sorry for him. (Ron Hunter was acquitted May 9, 1996 of trespassing and stealing $3.98 worth of food.)

One day to shoot a news promotional announcement, we gathered all the on-camera anchors and reporters in the anchor area. News director Shelly Hoffman took me aside and asked me to place Tim Weigel on the outside of the group, and then cut him out of the picture. Shell told me that he was going to fire Weigel the following day.

Studio A was the home of News (for the most part), between 1977 and 1987 when news production returned to E for the last time. I qualify the above statement because the News moved back and forth, on several occasions, between A and E when new sets were constructed.

(For those of us who have been watching the game from the dugout for many years, it has always been amusing to witness the arrival of a new general manager, or news director, and the building of a new News set. A new set was a guaranteed remedy to sagging ratings. Predictably, the ratings usually declined with the new set.)

Next: Studio E and Floyd Kalber...

Introduction and main index to this site
WMAQ radio history | "Amos 'n' Andy" | "Fibber McGee and Mollie" | "The Breakfast Club"
Dick Kay | Television at the Merchandise Mart | 1970 television facilities tour | Channel 5 turns 20
The "Chicago School" of television | "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" | Dave Garroway | Mary Hartline
"Lights Out" | Sound effects | 1930 studio tour | WLS | "Empire Builders" | Barry Bernson
Floyd Kalber | The Queen of Love and Beauty | "Today's Children" | Staff announcers | Carol Marin
Ron Magers | Studs Terkel l "Chicago Tonight" | Channel 5 News scrapbooks |Roger Miller recalls
Zoo Parade | Clifton and Frayne Utley | Val Press | Len O'Connor | Johnny Erp | Bill Ray | Daddy-O
Experimental Television: 1930-1933 | Bob Deservi | Kermit Slobb | Ding Dong School | Quiz Kids
Bob Lemon | The Korshak Chronicles | KYW: The Chicago Years | WENR | O.B. Hanson | Renzo
Jack Eigen | Ed Grennan | The World's Best Cup of Coffee | Glenn Webster | Mr. Piano | Hawkins Falls
Chicago Television for Kids |
Radio Hall of Fame |The NBC News Night Report: 23 February, 1967
Audio and video downloads
About the Curator

Comments or suggestions? click here to send them to Rich Samuels

Created by Rich Samuels (e-mail to