Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Long Suffering News Announcer

This is an homage to that voice you heard or the face you saw daily reading the news or presenting the weather. They were constant and for the most part, unflappable. Even toned, they told you what happened that day and what the weather was going to be like for the rest of the week. They were a fixture of your day and they were persecuted mercilessly by their “friends” in the radio control room or the television studio.

There must be a special place in heaven for Mike Rast, the venerable voice of the news on WCOS AM and FM. Twice an hour Mike would pull the latest news off the AP teletype and the current weather from the USWS teletype, sort them in the order he wanted to read them, calmly walk over to the FM control room and sit at the big RCA 44-BX microphone facing the AM control room through the 4 x 8 glass window that rattled constantly from the booming Top 40 Rock and Roll music blaring from the on air speakers. He would sit there peacefully, composing himself for what he knew would be the onslaught of friendly abuse that was coming his way. Precisely at 5 minutes to the hour or 30 minutes after the hour, the song would end and the news sounder would play. Then it was game on!

The worst of all worlds for the news guy was having two or more DJs on the other side of the glass with nothing to do. The game was “Who can break up the news guy first” and we all thought we were masters of it. It would start by making faces, but that never worked, Mike was completely immune, that was a total waste of time. OK – time to take it to the next level; sucking on a lemon. That usually got us an upturned corner of the mouth as if to say “is that all you got!”

OK – that was it! We’re coming in there and it is gonna be brutal. Snatching the news copy out of Mike’s hands and handing it back to him upside down came next. At first, that would get him slightly flustered because he would miss a word or two as he rearranged the copy, but still he was smooth. Blowing bubbles, rubber snakes and other fake material came next. Now we were cooking with gas. We got a chuckle. In all honesty, we did far worse but I can’t tell you what in a family oriented story.

Probably the piece de resistance was the old standby, setting the news copy on fire. Every newsman I know was an expert on fire control in the news booth. I even saw Mackie Quave calmly read the news from copy that was both on fire and turned upside down. Mackie was the morning DJ over at WQXL and had been on air reading news at both WIS-TV and WOLO-TV by that time. He could do it all. But he and Mike always sounded sure and confident on the air.

You would think that television would be more calm and controlled. Mostly that was true but not always. I remember way back in the day a local weather guy was streaked off camera by the floor director of his crew. This was back when all the floor and control room crews were male and late at night when the station was clear of all but the operational crews. He did not break a smile and he got even, he went two minutes past his end que and everyone had to scramble to tighten up the rest of the newscast.

On rare occasions, I would help cover major events as part of the news crew. My usual role was to be out in a news car, reporting over the two way radio about road conditions in a snow storm. My experiences in the studio reading news was limited to the times I worked when a news announcer was not assigned to a shift. Somehow, I would occasionally find a way to break myself up. There is nothing funnier than to be alone, reading the news on the air and breaking up laughing. Even something only mildly amusing becomes funnier than the best comedic line tossed out on Saturday Night Live.

So, I was working the “All Night Satellite” back in the winter of 1966. I had just starting my first full time job at WCOS AM. I was the only one on the air in the entire city. It was 1:55 AM and rainy outside. I had just pulled the news copy off the AP teletype but had not had time to read it before it was time for the news. It was the third story in the copy that became my undoing. It read “An usual winter storm dumped two feet of heavy snot across the Texas panhandle.” The auto-corrector in my head worked to perfection and I said “An usual winter storm dumped two feet of heavy snow across the Texas panhandle.” But my eyes jumped back to the offending word in the copy and I became unglued, barely switching off the microphone before laughing with tears coming down my cheeks. I had it together enough to play the commercial that came with the news cast, but I was unable to read the weather coherently before playing the end of news/station ID sounder and start the first record of the next hour of the show. Ten or twenty people called during that record to find out if I was ok. By the time the record ended I was able to regain control and continue with the show.

Now you may think that wasn’t so funny and you would be correct. But have that happen when you are the only one in the station and it is up to you to be in control, that silly typo becomes hilarious. So to all my news and weather colleagues, this tale is for you. Oh MY!

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