My year of employment at WZZM 13 : 1966-1967
Memories and photos from Bob Delaforce
The 11 months I worked for WZZM 13 was a great experience and set the course for my career with radio, police dispatch and cable-access broadcasting. In 1967 when I worked for WZZM 13, the studios were located in the basement of the Pantlind Hotel, in downtown Grand Rapids.
Here are some memories and photos from WZZM 13 during the 1960s. I started at WZZM 13 in October 1966, after working for the Grand Rapids Press for 10 months. During my time with WZZM 13 I grew restless to be on the air as an announcer, so I left the station in Sept. 1967 to work as a newsman with WJEF (1230 AM) on the 10th floor of the Pantlind Hotel. After WJEF, my career involved working as a police dispatcher for Grand Rapids (not far from the broadcasting bit), and also included 25 years of volunteer work with Wyoming's cable-access channel.
Photo descriptions and memories from Bob Delaforce, former WZZM 13 employee from 1966-1967
When I applied for the job in the fall of 1966 I entered the mezzanine of the Pantlind Hotel and was greeted at the Information Desk by receptionist, Beatrice McKnight. 'BeeBee', as she was called, was the friendliest of people and was with WZZM 13 for many years. I remember first meeting her as an elevator operator at the Pantlind before they converted to self-service elevators. Whoever recognized her talent and hired her at WZZM 13 was one smart cookie! In the reception photo, to her right in the white dress shirt and tie, is Byrd Myre, producer of documentaries at WZZM 13. His second in command, Russell Vossen, was Production Manager and my immediate boss.
Bozo Big Top Circus photo:
The Bozo Circus had two "Bozos" in it's lifetime on the station: Bill Merchant served in the role for about a year, then was replaced by long-serving Dick Richards who was the first "Mr. Ringmaster". Dick joined WZZM 13 from WJFM Radio.
The Control Room was a compact unit! The white counter on the left held the audio mixer board, the two monitors on the left and desk below was the director's switching position, the other four monitors were for cameras and film "chain" shading by the video engineer. Often times during the day the audio and video were adjusted by the same one engineer. A separate "projectionist" organized the filmed commercials and slides used for station identification. More on that later.
Election coverage in the summer of 1967 came from the Union Bank data processing center, and a studio set was constructed using the remote cameras assigned to the "Muskegon studio". In the election picture are people are (L to R): News Director Jack Hogan, Ed Tar (morning newsman), and Mrs. McKeon and Bob McKeon (graphic artist for the station).
Film Chain photo:
The color film "chain" is shown here with one of two film projectors and the dual slide carousel in view. The units projected into a pneumatically-controlled mirror system that fed into a color camera in the back. Another black and white system also was to the left of this which was used for news film footage and black and white slides for titles long before computer graphics existed. Mike Ryan was our lead projectionist and worked 2nd shift. Gary DeHaan (who later became Mr. Ringmaster with Dick Richards) and myself (Bob Delaforce) were daytime or swing shift projectionists. Mike Ryan has the record for changing a film reel on the projectors: 21 seconds! This was quite a feat when the projector HAD TO ROLL at 27 seconds for the next color commercial. The spool had to be loaded, threaded past the first sprocket wheel, into the visual "gate", past a sound wheel, around another sprocket, both sprockets closed and onto the take up reel - then clicked to remote operation for the director to start. All this in 21 seconds? He was amazing to watch! (The best I ever got was 23 seconds, and that was luck)
The newsroom was as compact as the control room. In the newsroom photo, Hal Douglas, evening anchor, types his script at one of three work counters, the teletype machines in the foreground. The wood door behind Hal led to the front display window to the left of the ground floor entry. The right display window looked in on the film chain and Control Room. Newsfilm was edited in a back corner of the mechanical room that housed the heating/air conditioning units and fans for the neighboring Knife and Fork restaurant. It wasn't quiet, it wasn't roomy, but it was close to the newsroom and control room.
The photo is looking into the west end of the studio and you can see the first WZZM 13 'outdoor set' - used by David Compton. The camera would hide in the doorway to the sidewalk (out of the weather) and it was not uncommon to see the wind catch this map on wheels and send it down the sidewalk out of view! Our original "weather deck". The elevator behind came from the mezzanine offices and had to be locked open during newscasts to prevent someone from walking behind the rear projection screen on the air. Beyond the elevator was our Scenery Dock where flats for Bozo's Circus, the Shirley Show (Shirley Clark), and the This Morning Show were stored.
In this photo, looking back toward the control room from opposite the elevator shows the major end of the studio space with it's two large pillars --- very much in the way of everything we tried to do! Using wide angle lenses the cameras were able to give the appearance of much larger space than we had. The 'This Morning Show' with Bud Lindeman was where I started in October 1966, as studio crewman/floor director. In the small space you see we set up a band, a homebase desk on a platform, center open studio floor for guests to demonstrate things, and at newstime (:25 and :55) the cameras would swing around behind them to Ed Tar for the morning news. Bozo's Circus was another challenge to the space - Bozo's doorway actually emptied directly to the elevator doors.
The Morning Show:
Some of my favorite recollections working in the studio were with Jim Searls, Bill Roosenberg, and Tom Marshall, producing the morning show. My first week there, we left Grand Rapids at 5:30 a.m. and travelled to Muskegon to do the morning show in a studio on Sherman Boulevard. Bud Lindeman loved to keep the crew awake in the morning by throwing them curves like demonstrating a portable apartment-sized washer and throwing the hoses and accessories off camera, expecting the floor director to catch them before they crashed! I got even one morning by throwing them back at him on-air as he finished the spot! Neither one of us dropped a thing.
WZZM 13 had some great directors: Arlyn Jones, Al Dompke, Stu Ludtke, and Russ Vossen was Production Manager. The engineers were also great teachers and I learned a lot from them: Dale Wolters was Chief Engineer, he and Dave Kolk basically built the station, then Dean Chapman, Roger Ball, Rex Reck, Grant Pierce, and Wally Trizna.
1967 Riots in downtown Grand Rapids:
I returned to work following a few days off in Kalamazoo during the summer of 1967. I had spent my time off wiring a college radio station and I was out of touch with the world. I drove up US131 straight to work, finding the front plate glass window of the control room boarded up. I walked in and asked what had happened, to which I was told Grand Rapids was having street riots and they'd boarded up the place for safety. I had come straight through the worst of it coming to work!
1967 Riots in downtown Grand Rapids:
I returned to work following a few days off in Kalamazoo during the summer of 1967. I had spent my time off wiring a college radio station and I was out of touch with the world. I drove up US131 straight to work, finding the front plate glass window of the control room boarded up. I walked in and asked what had happened, to which I was told Grand Rapids was having street riots and they'd boarded up the place for safety. I had come straight through the worst of it coming to work! They told me I wasn't going home, to get a room in the hotel. That night from the roof of the Pantlind Hotel, I witnessed State Police mobilizing in the lot next to the Civic Auditorium, and in the other direction down Monroe Avenue not a soul in sight. This was contrary to the usual "cruising the gut" that went on most summer nights in downtown Grand Rapids. It was an eerie sight and one I will never forget - just like the great experiences working with WZZM 13 during it's formative years.