“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.”
sale down the drain!
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!
||Time, Music, Weather
||Local CATV Origination
||for Emergency Alert
||for Local School Sys.
OUR REGULAR $4.95 INSTALLATION FREE
DURING OUR PRE-CONSTRUCTION OFFER
$4.95 MONTHLY SERVICE CHARGE OFFER
GOOD IN CABLED AREAS ONLY.
TelePrompTer Gulfcoast CATV Corp.
5124 Gulfport Blvd. Gulfport, Florida
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.
Channel 2 showed the current time and temperature.
This was accomplished by a dedicated camera that panned between a
clock and a weather gage. Channel
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.
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.
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
the jingle here)
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).
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.
Mike Clark in the control room.
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 there...it's now a thrift shop.
The two RCA
color cameras were single-vidicon 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
|Outdoor Band Remote
Clark operating camera while TelePrompTer Executives look on
TOTAL 7 NEWS
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.
'TelePrompTer 7' Remote Van date? and Ed Jones Production Manager 1974
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
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
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)
- TOTAL 7 NEWS 1971
||Mike Clark Anchor
- TOTAL 7 NEWS 1971
Off the monitor
"ON THE TOWN"
TOTAL 7 NEWS 1971
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!)
An example of a Sony AV-3400 recorder and AVC-3450
Like Mike Clark used at St. Petersburg TelePrompTer Channel 7.
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 Harriet
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!
"ON THE TOWN"
TOTAL 7 NEWS - 1971
"ON THE TOWN"
TOTAL 7 NEWS - 1972
Our quality of
production was reminiscent of the early days of live 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!
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.
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 crew in remotes away from our
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.)
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.”
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.
Mike Clark With kids in studio
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
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.
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
and LoRay Baun
Baun, Bill Kirchenbauer(standing)
and John Bisney
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.’
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