WTF You Can’t Type? (from the upcoming book “The Slow Death of American Radio”)

My early days in radio were full of discovery, both good and bad.

WBLS

On the first day of my internship, I went to 310 Lenox Avenue in Harlem, eager to get started.

My bubble burst when I walked up to the receptionist, and asked to see Mr. David Lampel. She called to the newsroom, and then asked me, “Who are you, and what is it you want”?

I froze, and explained I’d been there a couple of days before, and had been told to come back. She called to the back recording studios a second time, then, in a stern voice said, “You work here! You don’t have to stop by me,  go straight to the back!”

My function, aside from shadowing people while they worked, was to steal traffic reports from another radio station. I scribbled out the delays and the mass transit stoppages on a piece of paper, then handed them to the newsperson, who read them on the air.

I didn’t know at the time, but I was stealing from the great Fred Feldman, who later founded Shadow Traffic, and invented the phrase “rubbernecking delays.” He is also the first New York radio helicopter reporter. Several years later I had lunch with Fred, and told him of my thievery. We both had a good laugh.

Shadow traffic

If I had a mentor  in those early days, it came courtesy of Steve Reed. Steve was one of the newscasters on WLIB, and he was the absolute best at what he did.

One afternoon, he looked me over and said, “Hey kid. Want to write a story for me?” This was one of the most exciting things anyone had ever said to me.

I took some Associated Press (AP) news copy, a notepad, and got to work.

As an English major at NYU, I was a decent writer, so in about 20 minutes I had what I thought was a pretty good news rewrite.

I handed it to Steve, who began laughing hysterically. I couldn’t figure out what was so funny.  He said, “You don’t know how to type?” I was dumbfounded and said simply, no. “What the hell you mean you can’t type? You’d better learn if you want to write news.”

It had never dawned on me that I couldn’t just hand write a news story on a notepad. They didn’t teach that at NYU. Talk about embarrassing!

Steve, when he stopped laughing, sat me down in front of a typewriter (long before the invention of computers), and said, “Now type this out. Don’t worry about capital and small letters,  just type it in all caps.”

typewriter

 

I began pecking, and well over a half hour later, I had the same story on a yellow piece of copy paper. Steve looked it over, looked at me and said, “Not bad.”

During the next scheduled newscast, Steve read my story exactly as I’d typed it. I was in heaven!

For many years, I only typed in all caps, no mater what it was I was trying to write.

And so began my baby steps to becoming a newsman. Steve Reed (now Steven) eventually left WLIB and went to WCBS, one of the ‘all news’ stations in New York City. From there he went on to become the  spokesman for Bronx DA Robert Johnson.

da.Robert Johnson

Steven is getting ready to retire soon after many jobs well done.

Fred Feldman died of a heart attack in 1996. It was these two men, along with David Lampel, who let me get my feet wet. Later that year, 1973, I’d be sent on my first story to cover as a reporter. That’s another experience for next post.

Mark Riley.JesseJackson.WLIB
Mark Riley and Jesse Jackson

In these days of internships, teenagers, college grads and…dare I say…arrogance….learning to type was an experience that helped shape my skills as a journalist and a reporter. What if you don’t have mentors? Leaders? Trainers? Coaches? I am really glad they invented computers but I do know how to type just in case there’s a need for plan B.

Who was your mentor? Post a comment and let’s have some conversations….

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Haven’t Been Around, But I’ve Been to Port Authority

To all the readers of this blog: My most profound apologies for not posting for a while.

There are times when life intrudes, and this has been one. However, after settling into a new job and taking care of some important family business, it’s time to get back to the keyboard.

My new job involves using public transportation from the Garden State of New Jersey, and though this may appear to be a trivial place to start a new blog post, I feel compelled.

Anyone who uses the giant dowager this is the Port Authority Bus Terminal knows it has seen better days. In fact, much better days. Lately, however, Port Authority’s shortcomings have come into sharp focus, at least for me.

One night last week, I reached the mezzanine area to catch my bus to be presented with a scene of utter chaos.

Port Authority
Long lines to get onto a bus

 

Due to inclement weather, busses were running behind schedule. Yet that was only half the reason for what was going on.

Lines, four, five, six of them, were snaking throughout the floor. the worst part was that only a few people knew for sure which line led to their specific  bus.

Alas, there was no one from the terminal to assist them. All we heard was a drone-like announcement, something like “ATTENTION ATTENTION. Due to the inclement weather there are delays both inbound and outbound”. You can imagine how tired that sounded after a half hour on a line that didn’t move much.

To be clear, this isn’t the typical scene at Port Authority. Most days and nights it functions as intended, that is, a way station for people looking to go someplace.

However, for me this leads to another pet peeve.

During the snows of the past few days, commuters have been treated to the sight of numerous garbage cans, buckets, and those yellow warning boards spread throughout the terminal. The reason? The ceiling is leaking, leaking in multiple places. Look up, and you see sagging, aging tiles and ceiling fixtures that look like they’re o their last legs.

The upshot is this. Not only is the terminal old, but it hasn’t been well maintained. Now step back a bit and consider this. The same people responsible for those leaky ceilings are the ones who gifted Jersey residents with Bridgegate, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

You know, the authority that’s become a repository for all manner of political hackery, courtesy of the governors of both states. You’d think that with all the money they take in (and put in their pockets in the form of inflated salaries), they’d find a new bucks to fix the ceilings at the bus terminal. Now, there have been plans announced to “renovate” the Port Authority, plans that, if memory serves, go back several years. Don’t hold your breath.

Port authority bus terminal

What’s even more maddening is the recent announcement that this same Port Authority is planning to spend some $27.6 billion dollars over the next decade to “upgrade transportation infrastructure  in the metropolitan area”. Nice. Nowhere in the glossy release about fixing the area’s airports, bridges, tunnels, and the like is there much attention paid to the bus terminal. Maybe one day in the next 10 years they’ll fix those leaky ceilings.

Here’s hoping.

As a true blue new Yorker, I know these issues bear the same for the Long Island Railroad, Metro North, Path….post a comment about your commute experience. As always….I’m curious!

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