St. Petersburg - Channel 7
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By Mike Clark  



“You mean I have to pay for something I get now for free?  Who needs another channel?  What…movies?  I see movies every night on the networks.  How much?  $4.95??  See ‘ya later, pal.”


Another cable sale down the drain!


st__pe10.gif (50841 bytes)Cable television was a far-fetched, nutty idea to residents of south St. Petersburg, Florida, when TelePrompTer launched an ambitious franchise there in 1970.  With an emphasis on local origination,  TelePrompTer’s cable Channel 7  produced newscasts, kids shows, and community oriented programs.  Budgets were slim and equipment primitive, but the small staff of Channel 7 wanted to prove a point: Quality, localized cable programming was now possible.  Meanwhile, TelePrompTer’s management had a bigger goal…to become King of Cable.  Operating out of smaller television markets, TelePrompTer hoped to eventually become the nation’s premiere cable provider, but the nascent business faced a myriad of startup challenges.


At the time, the Tampa Bay market was served by three network affiliates (Channels 8, 10, and 13), two PBS stations (Channels 3 and 16), and two UHF independents (Channel 38 and 44).  The idea of bringing viewers a consistently clear television signal along with community programming and movie packages was the selling point for TelePrompter’s efforts in the seaside communities of Gulfport, St. Petersburg Beach,  South Pasadena, and Treasure Island.  However, the four service areas were only a small chunk of the potential cable television audience in greater St. Petersburg.  Part of the agenda behind TelePrompTer’s local origination was to make a favorable impression upon the St. Petersburg city council…which would hopefully result in the granting TPT larger cable coverage areas in the city and Pinellas County. And then…conquer the United States!


Channel Listing

2 LOCAL Local Time, Music, Weather
3 WEDU St. Petersburg-Tampa ETV
4 (44) WTOG St. Petersburg Independent
5 LOCAL Local Stock Market
6 (16) WUSF Tampa ETV
7 LOCAL Local Local CATV Origination
8 WFLA St. Petersburg-Tampa NBC
9 LOCAL Local A.P.  24-Hour News
10 WLCY St. Petersburg-Tampa ABC
11 LOCAL Local Reserved  for Emergency Alert
12 LOCAL Local Reserved for Local School Sys.
13 WTVT St. Petersburg-Tampa CBS



TelePrompTer Gulfcoast CATV Corp.
5124 Gulfport Blvd. Gulfport, Florida

Cable television was a hard sell to residents who were mostly content with their reception and not impressed with the limited local program schedule, which was around 4 hours per day starting at 4 pm.  Then there was the quality and rotation of the movie packages, which was hardly anything at the beginning.  And it cost $4.95 a month! Remember that this was years before ESPN, HBO, Showtime, and all the other major players entered cable programming through the use of satellite distribution. 


In addition to Channel 7, TelePrompTer featured other specialty channels.wpe2A.gif (204538 bytes)  Channel 2 showed the current time and temperature.  This was accomplished by a dedicated camera that panned between a clock and a weather gage.  ChanMessage Wheel 2.jpg (1001911 bytes)nel 5 carried electronic ticker-tape stock market reports, while Channel 9 showed streaming Associated Press headlines.  Channels 11 and 12 were reserved for Emergency alerts and the local school system.  When Channel 7 was not showing local origination, a message wheel (dedicated camera pointing at 3 X 5” cards on a rotating,  ferris-wheel type arrangement) carried programming announcements and some advertising. 


wpe2C.gif (45744 bytes)When I joined the operation in 1971, TelePrompTer’s small studio was located in a strip mall storefront in St. Petersburg beach.  Modest but well equipped, the studio contained two RCA CCTV color cameras, switching equipment, a 16mm film chain, the message wheel, and a portable Sony videotape recorder used for location shots.

My shift started at 11pm and consisted of showing obscure movies from the 1930s (“Sing While You’re Able,” “When Knights Were Bold”) until 4 in the morning.  I was also the announcer.  While local VHF stations would cut to commercials during reel changes, Channel 7 had little advertising and thus a title card was placed on the message wheel for the two minutes it took to change reels.  We often played a looping TelePrompTer jingle that went like this: “You can see…you can see…everything there is to see….on TelePrompTer Cable TV….” (Hear the jingle here)


TelePrompTer’s regional manager was Joe Dibacco, with Jim Bradley handling program manager duties, Ed Jones as production manager, Bill Martin in charge of engineering, Toni Bowman, as secretary/receptionist/weathergirl, and myself in production, working along with an assortment of part-timers (usually from my school, St. Petersburg Junior College). 

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wpe17.gif (105735 bytes)Soon after I joined TelePrompTer, the studio was relocated to another storefront in lower-rent Gulfport.  The new studio was only about 15 feet wide and about 25 feet deep, and that included the space for the control room.  Offices were adjoining and took up the same amount of square footage as the studio.  

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Mike Clark in the control room.


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The photo shows the Gulfport studio. 
The door to the left is usually locked because that's the street entrance to the studio.

The door to the right lead to reception and the offices.

The building is still's now a thrift shop.



wpe3F.gif (70286 bytes)The two RCA color cameras were single-vidiconwpe34.gif (372565 bytes) models that barely produced an acceptable color picture.  The zoom control was a crank attached via cable to the lens, and we never once achieved what you would call a ‘smooth zoom’.  The wide-angle lens wasn’t so wide, forcing you to back the camera up against the control room window to achieve a head-to-toe shot of the talent.  The uneven floor made on-air camera dollies pretty difficult as well.  Lighting was standard Colortran equipment designed for CCTV operations.  Lavaliers and hand microphones were used for audio.  A 1” helical-scan video tape recorder made by Diamond Power was capable of color recording from the studio switcher. 



'TelePrompTer 7' Remote Broadcasts

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Outdoor Band Remote Mike Clark  operating camera while TelePrompTer Executives look on TOTAL 7 NEWS  

A TelePrompTer van was outfitted with a portable Sony black and white camera package and switcher, and used occasionally for local sports and events.  Usually, these pickups were recorded but I do recall a couple of occasions when the unit was live from the Gulfport City Council.

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'TelePrompTer 7' Remote Van date?   and    Ed Jones Production Manager 1974


'TelePrompTer 7' Shuffleboard Remote Broadcast 
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Dave McElroy & Gary French      Gary French - Camera Operator
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   Dave McElroy - Production Supervisor Bill Martin - Engineer   Gary French Camera Operator Bill Martin - Engineer


wpe34.gif (372565 bytes)I’ll never forget the day a new-fangled piece of gear arrived: A Umatic ¾” videotape recorder/player.  It was the first generation of VTR using a cassette, and we were inspired to remove the machine’s cover and marvel at an intricate layout of guides and pinch rollers that pulled the videotape from the shell and wrapped it around the heads.  It was color, too!


TelePrompTer was fortunate to have young, enthusiastic employees trying to do their best with the tools and budgets at hand.  Everyone was expected to know how to run camera, direct, appear on-air, and even build scenery and props.  I became a defacto art director, creating titles for the message wheel.


wpe20.gif (34889 bytes)Perhaps Channel 7’s most ambitious programming accomplishment was a daily, half-hour news/sports/weather program titled “Total 7 News”, airing at 5 and later 5:30 pm.  There was no TelePrompTer news department to speak of, and gathering stories in the sleepy towns of Gulfport, South Pasadena, Treasure Island, and St. Petersburg Beach was a challenge.  At one point, I was named anchor of the Channel 7 news, despite being only 18 years old, having no on-camera experience and no background in journalism.  Weather on Total 7 News was handled by Toni Bowman, who also doubled as receptionist.  Sports was delivered by Tom Wilson, a law student at nearby Stetson University. (Photo Dave Kline -Toni Bowman -Mike Clark)


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Mike Clark Anchor - TOTAL 7 NEWS 1971 Mike Clark  Anchor - TOTAL 7 NEWS 1971
Off the monitor

Mike Clark 
Entrainment Reporter

My news gathering time consisted of a frantic few hours after school until the 5 pm air time.  How I filled my 10 minutes of news content before tossing the ball to sports and weather is a mystery to me.  I remember speeding to the various city halls in search of news and combing local papers for any stories I might be able to co-opt.  Our black and white Sony Port-o-Pak was an invaluable tool, but also very delicate and sidelined for several months on two occasions; once due to the camera’s vidicon tube being burned after it was pointed at the sun, and later, when the recording unit was dropped resulting in damage to the head area.  (neither was my doing, by the way!)  

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An example of a Sony AV-3400 recorder and AVC-3450
Like Mike Clark used at St. Petersburg TelePrompTer  Channel 7.


wpe25.gif (79812 bytes)Fortunately, a more mature anchor, David Kline, was hired to take over the news and I was ‘promoted’ to film and theater critic.  It was during this time that I conducted my first celebrity interviews…Ozzie and Harrietwpe15.gif (77432 bytes) Nelson, who were in town to promote their dinner theater production of “The Marriage-Go-Round,“ and their lovely young co-star, Liv Lindelund.  Ms. Lindelund had recently made history as the first Playboy centerfold to show pubic hair! 



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Mike Clark 
Entertainment Reporter
TOTAL 7 NEWS  - 1971
Mike Clark 
Entertainment Reporter
TOTAL 7 NEWS  - 1972



Our quality of production was reminiscent of the early days of livewpe46.gif (129388 bytes) television.  Bare-bones sets, flat lighting, limited camera movement, and plenty of on-air goofs to the embarrassment of all.  One day, the opening theme to Total 7 News was playing as floor manager Ed Jones raised him arm in preparation to give me a cue.  The theme ended and Ed rapidly brought his arm down and threw me the cue…and every bone in his appendage loudly cracked….and so did I for the following five minutes!


Perhaps TelePrompTer should have relied more on ‘public access’ type programming, with the public supplying content, but this was apparently not considered in those early days.


wpe20.gif (188048 bytes)A full-time staff producing local programming for a small, barely-watched channel was something of a financial commitment for TelePrompTer Corporation.  I recall regional managers visiting often to see what we were doing and even involving our facilities and crewwpe38.gif (162445 bytes) in remotes away from our coverage area.  TelePrompTer had another franchise in Brandon (about 20 minutes east of Tampa) but it was a much smaller operation. (Photos: Mike Clark with TelePrompTer Execs. on a remote.)


Other regularly scheduled Channel 7 programs consisted of alliterative titles such as  “Meet Your Merchant,” a weekly profile of a local business, “Woman to Woman,” hosted by Toni Bowman and spotlighting topics of interest to the female viewer, “Bogie Byline,” about the activities of local Boca Ciega High School, and my own “Cable Cartoonies.”

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“Cable Cartoonies” started off with me hosting old Paul Terry cartoons from the 1920s.  Originally produced as silents, the Terry cartoons came with music tracks but no dialogue for ‘Farmer Al Falfa’ and his various barnyard characters. 

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Mike Clark With kids in studio


Watch Cable Cartoonies
Demo Reel

Broadband ONLY!

This is recently recovered B/W 1/2 inch video footage. It was originally shot on a Sony AV-3400.

add intro photo of mike from a frame from film
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wpe4B.gif (544757 bytes)I quickly tired of this format and decided to begin producing original comedy sketches…kind of like a stone-age ‘Saturday Night Live.’  My sketches were the standard stuff…wacky doctors…silly policemen…slacker airline pilots…takeoffs of game shows and commercials. 


wpe18.gif (27398 bytes)The best sketches involved a spaceman I created called “Captain Spacey.”   Portrayed by production assistant Terry Drymon, Capt. Spacey was like an out-of-this-world Inspector Clouseau, bumbling through adventures where he fought the usual assortment of aliens and robots with only his wits, some studio equipment standing in for the controls of his spaceship, and a water-pistol ray gun.

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wpe29.gif (34434 bytes)My fellow performers were from St. Petersburg Junior College and the St. Petersburg Little Theater.  My college pal Bill Kirchenbauer often starred in the comedy segments, including one memorable ‘blind date’ sketch that combined studio and field locations, and turned out rather well.  Kirchenbauer later become a well-known standup comic and eventually joined the cast of “Growing Pains” as Coach Lubbock.  Kirchenbauer’s ‘Coach’ character was spun-off into his own series, “Just The Ten Of Us.”



"DRAGGED NET"  - TelePrompTer Channel 7 Produced by Mike Clark

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Bill Kirchenbauer, John Bisney 
and LoRay Baun
LoRay Baun, Bill Kirchenbauer(standing) 
and John Bisney


Another frequent player was John Bisney, who later became a CNN radio correspondent and is currently working out of Washington, D.C.


My time at TelePrompTer came to an end in 1972 when I left St. Petersburg to attend the University of South Florida in Tampa and join the production staff of WTVT, Channel 13.  In 1977, I moved to Los Angeles and after a few years of free lance production and editorial work, I joined Columbia Pictures Television (later Sony Pictures Television).  Since 1984, I have been Executive Director of Videotape Operations for Sony Pictures Television’s syndication department.  I’m not sure how long TelePrompTer stayed in operation in St. Petersburg after I left in 1972, but  apparently the sun did not shine on their efforts to impress the city council and gain more market share.  They never became ‘King of Cable.’


Looking back, I’m very impressed that TelePrompTer made such a commitment to local origination in St. Petersburg.  Our programming was somewhat ambitious for its time and certainly catered to the local audience.  Later, when cable matured with the use of satellites for distribution and the creation of HBO, et al,  the market was ready and now cable television is ubiquitous in the Tampa Bay Area.




A sales brochure from TelePrompTer - early 1970s


wpe22.gif (90968 bytes)What is TelePrompTer Cable TV?

TelePrompTer Cable TV, sometimes called CATV (or Community Antenna TV), is a system for bringing in additional TV channels and expanding program selection.

In most communities the average home television set delivers 1 to 3 channels. Cable TV, however, can utilize every channel on the dial.

CATV eliminates "snow," ghosts, flutter, and brings in rich, vibrant color. programs for color TV set owners and sharp clear programs for black and white TV set owners. Cable TV also eliminates the need to worry about costly antenna damage from hurricanes, high winds, salt spray, etc..

How does it work?

TelePrompTer Cable TV builds a giant antenna to receive TV stations beyond the reach of ordinary receivers and rooftop antennas. This tower, hundreds of feet high, brings in programs from as many stations as possible under regulation of the Federal Communications Commission. The antenna is connected to subscriber homes by a network of coaxial cables, with electronic amplifiers at strategic points along the way to assure continuing quality reception.

How is the installation accomplished? 

By means of a simple attachment to the terminals on the back of your TV set.

Will Cable TV bring in FM stereo music?

Yes.. FM music will be receive j as background sound for its local origination programs at no additional charge. In addition, if you have an FM stereo receiver, more FM stations may be received off the cable. 

Will my TV need new controls?

No. The operation of your TV set remains exactly the same as before. The only difference is that you will be able to get many new channels, and that you'll have far fewer adjustments to make when you tune them in.

Can I get color on Cable TV? 

Yes, and better than you thought possible. If you have a color TV set, Cable TV will bring you color programs from the major networks with all the richness and fidelity that color TV provides in the nation's top reception areas.

Does Cable TV use more electricity than regular TV?

No. Cable TV does not require any more power than your present television set.

Does Cable' TV make use of my present antenna?

No. Once you have Cable TV, you are hooked into a much more powerful community TV antenna hundreds of feet high. You will no longer need your present antenna. 

Why should I pay for Cable TV when I can get TV for nothing?

You shouldn't, if you are perfectly satisfied with your present television reception and the number of channels of entertainment it brings you. But if you want to improve the quality of the picture that your set is now giving you and double or triple the number of channels you can get, you will find Cable TV well worth its nominal cost. In addition, Cable TV will also provide an around-the-clock local public service weather channel, educational channels when available, and fine FM music - so much more than the limited choice offered to ·non-subscribers.

What's the advantage of getting two channels on the same network?

More programs. Most network affiliated stations carry different locally originated movies, programs and sporting events. 

My home is quite a distance from the community antenna tower. Won't that affect my reception?

Not at all. TelePrompTer Cable TV is engineered to give every subscriber top quality reception, .with adequate electronic amplifiers all along the system to assure that your TV signal is strong and clear, no matter how far you live from our tower.

Is Cable TV the same as "Pay TV"? 

No, it has no relationship at all to so called "Pay TV." In Pay TV special programs not carried by the television networks are sent to subscribers, who must pay a fee for each program they watch. Cable TV subscribers, on the other hand, receive the TV programs broadcast over the national networks and local TV stations. What you pay for in Cable TV is the service of a giant antenna and electronic complex that brings you many. more television programs and much better pictures than you could possibly get with a rooftop antenna.

Does TelePrompTer Cable TV add anything to the community's economy?

Very definitely. As a tax-paying enterprise, TelePrompTer Cable TV means direct new revenue for the community. We pay a franchise fee to the City. This, of course, contributes to the stability of the local area. TelePrompTer Cable TV also buys supplies locally, aiding business in the community. And indirectly, by converting your community into a top TV reception area. TelePrompTer Cable TV makes it an even more desirable place to live and raise children, thus acting as a positive force in the maintenance and improvement of local real estate values and giving the area added appeal for the attraction of potential new industry. 

Can I have more than one TV in my house hooked into Cable TV?

Yes. All the TV sets formerly connected with your home antenna can be hooked up to the community antenna via Cable TV. There is an additional service charge for extra sets, just as the telephone company charges extra for extension phones.

Will I have to buy special equipment for Cable TV?

No. TelePrompTer Cable TV supplies all the equipment needed to hook your set into the system.

Will the cable affect my present reception if I do not subscribe?

No. The signal that is received at the tower is sent into the subscribers home by coaxial cable and in no way will it affect the quality of reception you have been receiving on your present antenna.

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