It’s Saturday night and it’s time for Monitor to go Nemo for dance band pickups. I was assigned to the Hotel Pennsylvania where Tommy Dorsey was holding court.
Air time,if I remember correctly, was 8:30 PM. Got there at 7:00 set up, checked in with Transmission, MCD (MCD Master Control Desk) etc., set my balance, and waited for the final ‘take-it -away’. While I am waiting I looked up at the band stand and there is Tommy Dorsey re adjusting my Mics. Man! That’s all I needed – A trombone playing-Tech Ops engineer.
I went up after he left and re-set them. Again this happened. He again changes the mike arrangements. Now it’s ‘break-time’ for the band and the Dorsey crew is at the other end of the band stand seated at a table having a drink. I went up to the bandstand and picked up Dorsey’s
trombone, which he had set across the seat of a chair and started to move the slide in and out. One of Dorsey’s men pointed this out and Dorsey set a new world’s record (not 78 rpm or 33 1/3) but a new record for the 50 foot dash up to the bandstand, grabs the trombone from my hands and
begins to swear up a storm.
I finally said to Dorsey, “OK,Tommy, I’ll make a deal with you. You leave my microphones alone, and I won’t touch your trombone. OK, Deal?” The show went on; and the band played on and all was right with the world. We signed off. Monday morning I’m called into Seller’s office (Jerry Seller, Manager of Tech Ops. New York Division.) He greets me with a big laugh. “Hey what in hell did you do Saturday night over at the Penn? The Dorsey band manager called today to say that Dorsey will have no other engineer but you to do his Nemos on Saturday night!” Well, to make a short story long. I was stuck with Dorsey until his engagement at the Hotel Pennsylvania had
concluded. I was King-of-the-Hill for 13 weeks.
On Saturday nights it was Monitor’s practice to take its listeners to various hotels around New York to hear the pop bands like Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Vincent Lopez etc.
One Saturday evening I was assigned to do the nemo at the Hotel Roosevelt where the Guy Lombardo orchestra held court. It was an easy nemo. The biggest mistake an engineer could make would be to show up at the wrong hotel; the Lombardo band was ‘self balancing’.
Set up three mikes – one in front of the saxes which doubled as the announce mike and vocalist,one near the piano and one covering the bass fiddle for bottom. The brass took care of itself.
Once you went on the air you sat back, set the initial levels and Lombardo did the rest. It was that simple. One particular Saturday night the NBC staff announcer assigned to the nemo got the brilliant idea that he would give Monitor a slightly different version of the half hour show. What was this brain storm?
He decided that he would take the announce mike out into the dance floor and talk to the old timers who were doing their waltz. I said to him, “no way Jose!” The mike stays put in front of the saxes. Why? (This was the days before wireless microphones.) Simply because if he took the mike onto the dance floor and some senior tripped over the cable, NBC would be sued until the cows came home for big bucks. Big liability! He didn’t want to listen. So I asked him once again NOT to do this Monitor or no Monitor. It was just too risky. It fell on deaf ears. The fact that I would lose the mike for the saxes and brass were nothing compared to the pending legal liability.
I got on the engineering PL and talked to the MCD and said that there would be no nemo tonight from the Hotel Roosevelt. “Hey, what’s going on?”, they wanted to know. So I explained to them what the scenario would be; and it’s getting close to air time. So Monitor went a different route.
On Monday I get called into the front office to answer – How Come? I explained the situation. They called up to legal ,and the answer came down: “The engineer made the correct response.”
Wheeeeew – off the hook. That was the end of audience participation on dance-band nemos for Monitor!
Here is another one – true. I was there.
Some creative genius on the Monitor program staff, after three beers at Hurley’s, came up with the fantastic dream-idea of sending a host on a Circle Line cruise around Manhattan and the MC would interview tourists and show bizz people put on the boat for the occasion with a ” Weeeeell
Joe! Fancy meeting you here on this cruise! Here he is folks Joe Show Bizz!” Come on! Give me a break! The thing was in the bag two weeks before.
To get this nemo off the ground and onto the boat we had to use an AM Field portable transmitter portable – RCA’s definition of portable was anything with a handle. If they had put a handle on top of the RCA building, it would have been a portable building, a BN2A field amp plus all the other stuff that went with the nemo, and another small transceiver for studio cues,take it -aways, etc. Here we are on the river,receiver on the RCA roof, and a line down to the 5th floor to feed the show. I’m on the boat on the engineering ‘PL’, second transmitter, trying to raise Jimmy Hackett, an AM Field Engineer (‘Pinwheel’, to his friends, a nice guy but in never-never land; Jimmy has since gone to the ‘other side’) on the Roof of the RCA building. The program circuit is deader than Kelsey’s.
I had another back-up to get to Teddy Cruiz in AM transmission. I raised Teddy and asked him:”Where in the hell is Pinwheel, that jerk, no response. I’m trying to raise him and can’t get even static!” Cruiz says to me: “Let me check it out.” Cruiz calls around the corner from Transmission to Teddy Hahn at the MCD, and he sends another engineer up to the top of the RCA building to find out ‘what’s happin’ man! The engineer gets up to the roof. Where’s Hackett? Three guesses and you’re wrong.
Hackett is sitting on a chair leaning against a wall basking in the sun throwing paper airplanes off the roof of the RCA building to see if he can hit the Hudson River. Receivers all turned …..OFF. Needless to say the other engineer filled in. MONITOR ……. must go on! Monday, Hackett is hauled into Jerry Seller’s office (Manager of Radio Tech Ops) and read the ‘riot act’. If Jimmy were ‘radio active’, he would have had 18 half-lives.
No he wasn’t canned—again.
Editor’s note: Bob’s next story isn’t about Monitor, but it’s so interesting, we thought you’d enjoy reading it.
When David Sarnoff speaks, the whole world is supposed to listen, and such was the case when it was ‘payback’ time for RCA. The Corporation had several business debts to honor and a big wing-ding was setup at the Grand Ball Room of the Waldorf on Park Avenue. There would be a couple of hundred CEO’s of large corporations and other big wigs attending this pow wow. David Sarnoff, of course, would be the main speaker.
All the plans were in readiness,the decorations, menu, all the fixins’ for this grand dog and pony show. Naturally, when ‘God’ speaks the NBC radio network broadcasts every cough and sigh. Dreier and Hackett are assigned from the Technical Operations department to make sure the dulcet tones of the ‘Old Man’ are heard ’round the world. So Jimmy and I go to wardrobe and we are fitted-out with a tux.
The dinner is scheduled for 8:30 PM and the speech is to be aired at 10:00 PM. Over we go to the PA room at the hotel (PA – public address room) and pick up our equipment. NBC radio stashed its equipment in the hotel’s PA room for occasions like this so Hackett and I walked over to the hotel to set-up. “No, Jimmy, you can’t put in a voucher for a cab!”
We set up our operating position off to the side of the dais where we had a good line of vision to the lectern. The program staff, Bill McCord, the announcer and Fred Weihe (spelling?), the remote director, Jimmy and I were the ‘staff’. I would ‘ride gain’ and Jimmy would assist. We were all invited to partake of the banquet dinner. Jimmy decided not to eat. The menu consisted of shrimp cocktail, a choice of meat poultry, or fish and an elaborate desert menu plus beverage. Not too shabby.
Unknown to us Jimmy calls Nedicks fast food emporium around the corner on Lexington Ave. and orders his own ‘banquet’. Little did we know what would happen. About a half hour into the scheduled banquet a man dressed in a white apron, white jacket, and white army-style hat marches down the center aisle of the Grand Ball Room with a horizontal tray shoulder high and a white bag in the center of the tray. When the assembled crowd saw this, there was a burst of laughter from the crowd. They thought this was some sort of entertainment joke by RCA.
But alas no, it was for real.The Nedick’s waiter walked over to where Jimmy was standing, Jimmy frantically waving his arms – “Over Here! Over Here!” He paid the Nedick’s delivery man, and he walked back up the center aisle whence he came tray under his arm and departed.
We asked Jimmy, “Jimmy, what the hell do you think you’re doing? You made us the laughing stock. Why?”
Jimmy replied, calmly as if nothing unusual had transpired. “I didn’t like their menu!” And just what did Jimmy order? Why a hamburger and orangeade! Gourmet a-la-Hackett!