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