Studio E and Floyd Kalber

"Camelot to Sand Lot"

By Roger Lee Miller

Studio E was the home for news. I recall walking for the first time into E. Floyd Kalber was reading the news and I couldn't believe my ears. Here was a David Brinkley clone! They both read with the same unusual pattern. Speaking in bursts, David and Floyd hit the nouns with staccato emphasis, ending a thought by hitting the last word, while bringing the pitch down. Comparing the two is like listening to a single interpretation of music.

Ron Hunter and many male and female anchors, who have followed, are more interested in their appearance than news content. I never heard Kalber complain about lights or camera shots. But, if a story missed a critical element, Floyd could bring down his wrath on the unfortunate writer or producer.

In 1974, director Ed Spray left WMAQ-TV to become program director at WBBM-TV. We were having a farewell drink when Ed mentioned that he put Kalber and me in the same category. We were both perfectionists. I considered being compared with Floyd a supreme compliment. However, I now hold my head in shame as I am forced to accept mis-framed camera work, poorly lit sets, distorted audio, writers who have no sense of history nor composition, and on camera talent who have difficulty reading the Teleprompter. From top gun, we went to bottom line when General Electric purchased NBC in 1986. Bottom line means you must produce a television program with under maintained equipment, inadequate staffing, and restrictive preparation time.

News production in the mid ‘60s was a simple affair: Floyd Kalber sat at a drawing board, Len O'Connor sat behind a desk on a riser. Flats, painted blue and yellow and highlighted with the NBC logo, served as the background. Floyd also read the sports. He didn't see the necessity of another person just to read scores. Harry Volkman used Plexiglas maps that turned on a drum to show the national and regional areas. Using a marking pen, he drew in the fronts and temperatures. Oh, we had some high tech graphics. Harry placed symbols that appeared to shimmer and move, of the sun, clouds and lighting bolts on the weather map. The process called techlamation used a rotating Polaroid filter in front of a light to generate this effect. The camera would pan dials that registered temperature, wind, humidity and barometric pressure. The art department prepared panels, with cutout block words and numbers that displayed the forecast.

Although WMAQ-TV had the distinction of being the first full color station in 1956, the news film and photos, "ripped" off a wire machine, were in black and white.

In 1968, WMAQ-TV celebrated 20 years on the air. An anniversary booklet printed this story: "In July 1967 VARIETY reported that 'the years' biggest TV hit in Chicago' was the NBC NEWS: NIGHT REPORT, with Floyd Kalber and news analyst Len O'Connor. VARIETY noted that in Nielsen ratings, the 10:00 P.M. news on Thursday was number one in all programs, network and local. The second highest rated program was NBC's DEAN MARTIN SHOW. The following five programs, in order of their ratings, were the Tuesday, Wednesday, Monday, Friday and Sunday editions of NBC News: NIGHT REPORT."

One could argue that viewers watched news, in the late '60s and early '70s, because the stories had a direct impact on their lives. Abroad it was the Vietnam War with its nightly body count. At home marchers and demonstrators championed and rioted for causes - civil rights, the women's movement and end the war.

Today's top stories include a princess who has an affair with her pheasant keeper. (Excuse me for homogenizing two stories.)

In addition to the news and weather, a number of live commercials with personalities such as Carmelita Pope, were aired within the news block.

Studio E was indeed a busy place. The day started at 5:30 a.m. with Everett ("It's a Beautiful Day in Chicago") Mitchell's TOWN AND FARM. Bob Hale followed with TODAY IN CHICAGO and network cutins for the TODAY SHOW. After an early lunch at 8:30, the crew came back to tape public service shows and promotional announcements. Studio E was home to CITY DESK, Chicago's longest running television program. The tour ended with Jorie Lueloff’s NBC NEWS NOON REPORT.

The afternoon crew rolled in the old black and white cameras to air a five minute network news program, at 3:25, with Floyd Kalber. That network show was the only time we used the monochrome cameras. Apparently the net could not transmit color for that program. The hour long NBC NEWS: CHICAGO REPORT at 5:00 p.m. featured Chick McCuen and later John Palmer. After the news we taped Len O'Connor's 10 o’clock commentary. A half hour newscast at midnight ended the day.

Next: Studio D...

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