Thursday, June 17, 2010

My First TV Station, CJLH/CJOC TV, Lethbridge, AB

CJLH-TV (CJOC-TV)  TV 7, Lethbridge, Alberta

Shortly after my arrival at CJOC, Lethbridge, in May of 1967, I was offered an additional job at the local TV station, CJLH-TV, at that time jointly owned by the Lethbridge Herald Newspaper and CJOC’s  parent company, Selkirk Holdings.
The job was booth announcer, reading tags, promos, bumpers etc onto an Ampex 351.
I’d record the day’s run shortly after nine each morning from a booth just off the main control room, using an EV 666.
Recording would be done in the main control room as they had only the one tape machine!
Later, an audio studio was built in the basement with a small McCurdy board, reel to reel and cart machines, where the newsroom, photo shop and studio, art department and lunch room were located along with a couple of dressing rooms.
The sub basement contained storage and a huge Trane air conditioning system.
Air conditioning was blown into all the equipment racks (tubes) and in the winter, the heat from those racks would warm the entire building!
There was a large main studio with white cyclorama all around and a prop storage area off to the side.
We had one studio camera, an old RCA fitted with a zoom lens.
The studio had those huge old Kleig Scoop lights and when one of them blew, it sounded like a gunshot.
We had some other lights, not many though and the studio and art people made a lot of use of handmade filters to throw patterns on the cyclorama or backdrops.
We had an EV boom mike and a lot of RCA lavalieres.
The microphone on the newsdesk was an RCA BK5B.
The control room consisted of home made video and audio boards, a couple of RCA 16mm projectors, a balop machine (you pasted photos onto four by four glass slides) and later a huge Ampex 2” black and white videotape machine purchased from the CBC delay centre in Calgary.
It took 10 seconds to lock up!
If the studio camera crapped out, you did the news over a slide.
The news set was a curved desk in front of a back drop with what looked like a large screen TV.
It was in reality made of cardboard with a rear projection screen with a Kodak Carousel 35mm Slide projector behind, activated by a foot switch to change the slides.
Later, a second projector with dissolve unit was added, still activated by the foot switch, made out of a 100’ 16mm film can with an Ampex momentary switch mounted in it.
I moved into the TV news area, starting with anchoring the 11:20 pm local package and eventually moved into the 6pm slot when then news director Gordon Colledge went to teach at the local community college.
We did the two shows a day seven days a week.
The newsroom was small, with two work stations which comprised of manual typewriters, a radio, and a teletype.
We’d get copies of the local stories from the CJOC  radio newsroom and put the whole thing together with the CBC video news feed and our local film to produce the two daily newscasts.
The news film allotment was 100’ per day!
For the uninitiated, that’s 2 and a half minutes running time if you used every millimeter of the film.
We had 16mm Bolex wind up cameras with zoom lenses, I think about 3 of them.
For sound on film, we had two Auricon’s.
One took the 100 foot reels with magnetic stripe.
The other would take the 400 foot reels.
These things weighed a ton along with the transistorized amps and home made battery belts.
We used the Auricon version of the EV 630 to capture sound with these.
We used to put the 100’ model on a porta brace with a lav mic so I could shoot and ask the interviewee questions from behind the camera.
Our chief photographer was Howie Stevenson, a giant of a man who was a genius at making something out of nothing.
We had our own 16mm film processing unit, an old chain drive thing with open tanks and editing facilities.
To make maximum use of your film allotment daily, you learned to edit in the camera, planning your shots and shooting in order if possible to minimize editing time.
I also learned to shoot, process and edit both silent and sound 16mm as well as to shoot, process and mount 35mm slides.
I also learned to operate master control and that huge beast of a VCR, push camera and do studio lighting and audio.
Around 1970, we received a prototype Sony backpack Black and White VCR/Camera combo to try out.
It too had a huge battery belt and weighed a ton and it left a lot to be desired.
It went back to Sony pretty quickly.
We had a lot of fun back in those days.
If we had to appear on camera, we’d dress top half, ie:  shirt, tie and awful coloured magenta station jacket (remember this is B&W so the audience never saw how terrible it looked) with shorts and running shoes below.
There were no prompters, you learned to read with your eyes one line ahead of your mouth so you could make eye contact with the camera.
We made huge cue cards to hold under the lens of the camera for commercials though.
Bill Matheson was our weather man, he shows up again later in my Edmonton days.
Bill was a riot, the consummate entertainer and forerunner of today’s personality weathercasters.
He also did the talk show on CJOC.
In the latter part of my time at the TV station, we moved in a CTV affiliate for one of the first twin stick operations.
We recorded the CTV local cast on that old VCR and I did mine live.
We used the same copy, just a different newscaster and slightly different set.
If the network feed ever failed and it happened a lot, you’d see an old episode of
“The Donna Reid Show.”
Sure hope those folks collected royalties!
Colour never did arrive when I was there.
I left the station in 1970 after a dispute with CJOC News Director Bill Skelton who was the head of the TV news department as well.
He was the President of the local Cancer Society Chapter and ordered me to use my entire film allotment that day for the Daffodil Parade.
I said there were other things to cover but was fired by Skelton, Bob Johnston, the TV Manager and Bob Lang, the radio program manager.
Manager of TV and Radio, John McColl was on vacation when this happened and tried to re-hire me when he came back.
It was too late.
I’d already agreed to move to Calgary to do morning news at CKXL.

One of the best Radio and TV General Managers in the business, the late Mr. John McColl with his wife.
John also managed CFAC Radio and TV in Calgary before his untimely death in a skiing accident.

Our beloved Bill Matheson, radio newsman, talk show host and TV Weathercaster Extrodinaire.
Bill and I also worked together at CJCA in Edmonton.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting history! I lived in Lethbridge from 1963-1970. Without cablevision (as it was called in the '60's), we got 2 channels, CJOC and CFCN. I remember the weatherman very well, and I wanted to become one. I recall he drew all the weather (clouds, sun, rain, snow, etc.) on a large piece of glass. I was trying to find CJOC TV via Google, but all I got for results were for CJOC radio. What happened to CJOC TV? As far as I remember, CJOC was still broadcasting in 1977 when I visited Lethbridge. I also have slides that were taken by my grandfather of the studio when he went on the Bill Matheson talk show in the late '50's or early '60's. Thanks again for such an informative article!