Remembering the Television Pioneers

By Guest Contributor March 24, 2017 09:19

WTVO weatherman Bill Edwards

Remembering the Television Pioneers

By Bill Edwards

I was discharged (honorable) from the U.S. Air Force in 1953. I had been a weather instructor at Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois. I returned to my home in Rockford, Illinois and found employment as a purchasing agent for Geo. D. Roper Corporation, as I had a few years working in hardware stores previously.

One day as I read the local newspaper I saw an ad describing the construction of a television station, the first one in our region, except for Chicago. They were looking for local talent, and as the schedule called for evening broadcasts of news, sports and weather at 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. during the week, I applied for the weather slot and was hired on the spot.

We rehearsed for several months prior to going on the air. We were operating with a single television camera in a small 20- by 30-foot studio.

There was a station artist who designed backdrops for each segment, suspended on a roller so they could be rolled up to the ceiling and lowered for each show. The artist also made a table reflecting the topography of the United States and painted to show the mountains, lakes and plains in the U.S. for my weather show.

I also had a large schematic map of the country under plexiglass mounted on the wall so I could draw the various weather symbols and temperatures on it with a marker pen. I would prepare it prior to the news segments; however, I could sneak down along the studio wall out of camera range and slip behind the news or sports backdrop and add updates — right-up-to-the-moment information of the weather.

Eventually, the station established a singing cowboy after my show. The engineers designed a corral fence for his show which was supported by two kegs filled with cement and stored along the wall I used to go behind the backdrops. Then they decided to attach a bunch of limbs from a hedgerow growing behind the station.

On this night, I was sneaking down that wall in front of the fence, still able to keep out of camera range, and ass I passed the fence, I felt my heel touch one of the kegs. I turned to look at it and saw the whole fence with the bushes attached start to fall.

I watched in horror as it crashed to the studio floor, the heavy part falling short of Teddy Jo, the newscaster, but the branches engulfing him. Teddy Jo was very finicky about his makeup and hairdo while on the air, so here he was sitting in the bushes while on the air with about two minutes to go on the news. As he started to get up from his desk and the bushes, the director went to dark, told him to sit back down and finish the news.

At the station break, the booth announcer was laughing so hard he could not coherently read his script and the cameraman could not hold the camera from shaking as he was bent over laughing. Poor Teddy Jo was not amused.

During the following sports and weather segments, we could not deliver our news without breaking up. Our switchboard lit up as people thought we had been hit by one of the tornados that we reported in the area. The station manager was watching from his home, so he called in and admonished us to behave professionally.

We were a small group in those days, considered ourselves as family, so we all apologized to Teddy Jo!

Bill Edwards, 86, is a Sonora resident and pilot who has walked away from two airplane crashes, earning him the nickname “Crash”.


By Guest Contributor March 24, 2017 09:19
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