The Skybox; Great spot to sit and watch football practice.
In the early days of Rock and Roll there were few people who had a greater influence on the music of the day than Dick Clark.
As host of American Bandstand broadcast nationwide every afternoon starting in 1957 Clark, a 1993 inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, had the ability to make a musician. The show was viewed by five million record buying teens so one solid appearance could turn a song into an overnight hit.
The show originated from a studio on Market Street in West Philadelphia. The location bode well for young South Philadelphia talent like Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker, Fabian.
When I worked in Atlantic City in the early 90’s Bobby Rydell had a place “downtheshore” and our paths would cross once in a while. Below are two clips, the first in 1993 when I sat down with him and Frankie Avalon for a piece on their Bandstand days as well as their days playing another staple for young entertainers, the Steel Pier in Atlantic City.
The second is a promo Bobby did for our 11 p.m. newscast at WMGM-TV.
This month marks the Anniversary of the death of Phillies announcer Harry Kalas. In his honor I wanted to repost this piece from that day.
He was the voice of the Phillies, the voice of NFL Films, the voice of Campbell’s Soup… He was quite simply THE VOICE.
Growing up in Northeast Philadelphia Harry was summer. Take a walk around our block of rowhomes on a hot August night and it was Harry’s voice you heard in the background on the radio as parents sat on their front steps watching their kids play, the women talking, the men listening to the Phillies game, maybe drinking a cold Schmidt’s or Ortlieb’s.
As a kid I wanted to be the next Harry Kalas. We’d play stickball or wiffleball and I’d call the games as we played them, trying my best to do it just like Harry would. Every hit was “a long drive” and every homerun was “outta here.”
When I was in sixth grade at St. Martha’s in Philadelphia I came across a book about how to be a play by play announcer and I thought this is it, that’s what I’m going to do. So I wrote to Harry Kalas for advice, he wrote back, I wrote him with more questions, he wrote me with more answers. Long story short it was a correspondence that would go back and forth for the next 31 years.
In a quick search through old boxes I’ve come across a handful of those letters like the one above when I wrote Harry in High School to say that I had chosen to go to Temple University or this one below, just a quick thank you in response to the congrats I had sent him on his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002.
Some years Harry and I would write to each other only at Christmas time but I always looked forward to his cards. When I got his card this year he wrote in there that he couldn’t believe how big my son was getting and how he’s turning into quite the young man. I thought you know what I’m going to set that aside for my son to have one day. As I looked at it today I’m glad I did.
The above picture was taken when I worked in Buffalo and the Phillies were playing in Toronto and we made arrangements to get together before a game, I wish I had done it more.
In 2007 when the Phillies came to Cleveland my bosses were going to let me take a break from hard news one night to do a profile piece with Harry on his Hall of Fame career. Unfortunately the week the Phillies came there was breaking news, my piece with Harry was the casualty, we never got to do it and today I’m sad about that.
There have been two professionals in this business who didn’t know me from Adam but took an interest in me and remained there with encouragement and support. Harry Kalas was one ( Dave Roberts of WPVI was the other) and I never passed on the opportunity to let Harry know how thankful I was to him for that.
A few years back the phone rings at the house and my wife answers. She hands me the phone and says “it’s for you… it sounds like the voice of God.” She was close, it was Harry. He may have had God’s voice but now God has his. We’re just thankful for the time he shared it with us.
This is the piece I did on Harry’s passing 4/13/2009 WEWS-TV Cleveland:
One of the first things I learned upon moving to Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1994 was if you’re from here it’s okay if you don’t make it back for Thanksgiving or Christmas because you are sure to see everybody a few months later for the city’s true holiday, St. Patrick’s Day.
Well not really St. Patrick’s Day but the Saturday before the 17th, that is the day the city shuts down each year for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
My mother is 100% Irish, so I was raised with a deep appreciation of and respect for that which makes up half of my DNA but it wasn’t until I moved to Scranton that I got a true appreciation for St. Patrick’s Day itself.
Parade day is one big party in Scranton, that no one can deny, it has always been and it is in that you begin to learn the roots and the heritage of this parade.
When my great-grandparents came to the United States from Ireland in the the 1800’s it was a time of great Irish discrimination. In Philadelphia they found the “NINA” signs we’ve read about, No Irish Need Apply.
They were able to find work and make a home in Philadelphia but so many others who couldn’t headed north to the closest thing to guaranteed work an Irish immigrant could find, the mines.
Scranton is a town built on coal, railroads and steel but it is the mines that weave underneath this city that once served as the workplace for the city’s growing Irish immigrant population.
They worked hard these miners and embraced both their new land and their Irish heritage and it was that combination in 1862 that gave way to Scranton’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Every year before the parade I make it a point to watch The Molly Maguires the 1970 Sean Connery film shot not far from Scranton. I watch it not so much for the story itself but for the reminder of what daily life was like for those miners and the conditions that they endured.
It is then, when I look at the parade through their eyes that I get a true appreciation of how great it must of felt for these men who spent so much of their life underground to come out on a sunny day in mid-March and celebrate!
Here’s a beautiful story done by a former colleague of mine Mike Stevens of WNEP in 1995 on those coal mining roots on the day they demolished one of the regions many coal breakers.
When it was all said and done we got around 14″ from Saturday November 18 to Sunday the 19th.
Keep in mind the previous winter was one of the least snowiest in Buffalo history so this late November storm provided me with the opportunity to grab my camera and see what kind of Courier & Ives type pictures I might be able to capture of the Buffalo landmarks in our neighborhood.
My wife and I worked the morning show at WKBW-TV so our shift ended at 12:30 p.m., lucky for us because the roads were already becoming impassable. Road crews were out but the snow was just coming down too fast. We got to our home on Lafayette Avenue about three miles away and I was luckily able to slide my car into a spot across the street.
From our second floor apartment we watched in amazement as the snow continued to fall so fast that day turned to night and the street lights were all on by mid-afternoon. At one point I made an attempt to shovel but found inches behind me as soon as I made a pass.
Because this much snow wasn’t forecast the feeling among most was it wouldn’t last.
As a result the Buffalo schools didn’t let out early but businesses soon did so that around 2:30 p.m. the already difficult to manage roads were filling quickly with cars and school buses. The plows couldn’t get to the quickly mounting snow and within no time there was a total shutdown.
Long story short, where your car was at 4 p.m. Monday was likely where it was to be found at 4 a.m. Tuesday. Around 5 p.m. the thunder snow started with flashes of lightning that reflected off the falling snow. It was unlike anything I’ve seen before or since.
Around 6:30 p.m. the winds shifted and the lake effect snow finally stopped but not before dumping 25″ in about 7 hours. The headaches though only were just beginning, the town and all of its roads were shut down. We lived off Gates Circle by Millard Fillmore Hospital and I remember walking down where I found cars and buses as far as the eye can see.
An ABC World News Tonight story that would air the next day would feature the hospital which ended up taking in seven busloads of school kids as did every fire station, government building, fast food restaurant and just about anyplace able to provide shelter.
Since I get up at 2 in the morning I decided I better go to bed. I woke around midnight to peek out the window to see if the roads were now clear but the cars stuck in the street were still there. That’s when it dawned on me the only way I was going to make it to work was to walk the three miles and I better get started.
I put on my ski gear, threw a change of clothes in a backpack and took off on foot down Delaware Avenue which was bumper to bumper cars, most abandoned, some still occupied with sleeping drivers still others showing Buffalo spirit with impromptu tailgates fueled by whatever alcohol that could be found within walking distance.
I made to the station and time to change and take the set most of the crew working the show were the same people who worked the night before. They couldn’t get home and the morning people couldn’t get in.
After a long day at work it dawned on me I didn’t have a car, so I’d have to get home the way I got in, on foot. So I changed back into my ski gear and off I went. As I walked back up Delaware Avenue the tow trucks were slowly making their way to the cars removing them one by one.
When I got home I knew my first task would be to dig out my car but as I rounded the corner I saw the street was clean but my car wasn’t there. I thought to myself ‘crap they towed it.’ As I got closer I could see what looked like my rearview mirror sticking out of a snow bank, the car was there just totally plowed under.
Being the city of good neighbors a few of mine came out to help and within no time we were able to get it cleared off.
The state of emergency was lifted Wednesday morning which was the day before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year but also one of the busiest days for grocery shopping.
What I found at the supermarket was unlike anything I have seen before or after. The parking lot was packed and there was not a cart to be had at the local Wegmans between people needing to restock after being holed up for three days and people needing to get what they needed for Thanksgiving.
Rules of etiquette didn’t apply, this was survival of the fittest.
13 months later Buffalo would get hammered with 7-feet of snow in five days but for that we were prepared and the city handled it without a problem that’s why this one storm will, in my mind, be the worst.
This is the ABCNews piece on the storm.
McKinley was taken to the nearby home of John Milburn who was head of the Exposition board. The house sat on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo and was literally just around the corner from where I was living at the time 100 years later. (It’s now a parking lot for Canisius High School where the late Tim Russert went to school.)
McKinley would lie mortally wounded in the home for the next eight days as his cabinet assembled around him. He appeared to be recovering before taking a turn for the worse. He died September 14th of 1901.
I had started a nine day series of stories on September 6, 2001 which were to run through the 14th. The pieces focused on what was happening in Buffalo 100-years ago today.
My goal was to try to capture the feel of what it must have been like in Buffalo back then, the panic, the shock, the concern having a President shot and later die in your town.
But as hard as I tried to understand what the city was going through the reality was I just really couldn’t, afterall I wasn’t there.
That changed on Day 6 of the series, September 11th, 2001.
I was anchoring the morning show at WKBW-TV and learned over the ABC squawk box that there was a fire in the World Trade Center and that they were working to put up a live signal. I looked up to see that it wasn’t up yet and at that time no network had broken in. Seconds later the shot was up on our closed circuit feed from ABC and it was clear this wasn’t just a fire but an explosion of some sort. Seconds after that one by one the networks broke into programming and we all know the rest.
After a long day at work my wife and I returned home that night where we remained glued to the coverage from New York. Around 7:30 I broke away to take our dog out for a walk and as I strolled down the street I was actually able to follow the network coverage on this warm summer night through the open windows of my neighbors who like all of us were glued to their TVs.
As I walked along eavesdropping on the neighborhood televisions it dawned on me the streets were still, there was no traffic, no one else out walking, by this time most folks were home spending the night with loved ones.
When I got to the corner of Delaware & Lafayette I looked down to where the Milburn house once stood. It was at that very moment that it dawned on me, 100-years ago to the very hour a President of the United States lay dying there and it was only then I realized that this, what we all were feeling the night of 9/11, was what it was like to have been alive in this city 100-years ago that night.
Mention “The Perfect Storm” to most folks and they’ll think of the George Clooney film about a group of fisherman lost at sea aboard the “Andrea Gail” during the Halloween Storm of 1991. I know the storm as the one that claimed my first car, a 1982 Monte Carlo.
The enormous Nor’easter which was actually a combination of different systems was far out to sea but it was so powerful that it pushed tides to a high not seen in some parts of Jersey since the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944. Before it was over it would claim about a half mile of Ocean City’s boardwalk while flooding out much of the barrier island.
The storm started to affect Ocean City on October 30, 1991 when under beautiful sunshine the massive system churned up the surf and prevented the high tides from adequately subsiding at low tide. As a result each successive high tide got higher and the island began to flood.
My parents who were staying with me at the time headed home that afternoon to Philadelphia just as the floodwater started to rise. I was anchoring the 11 p.m. news that night and decided not to go home to Ocean City that night but to head up to Philadelphia as well.
At midnight though I suffered a blowout on the exit ramp from the Garden State Parkway to the A.C. Expressway. There are no lights on the ramp and in the pitch dark I hastilly changed the tire.
Because it was so dark I couldn’t tell though if I did it right. To play it safe I returned to the flooded Ocean City and made the mistake of coming in the 9th Street Causeway. The flooding was much deeper than I anticipated. I jumped a curb and made it through but the damage was done. Salt water is extremely corrosive, the rusting process starts as soon as the water hits air, within a month my beloved Monte was dead.
The so-called Halloween Storm was the first of three “100-Year Storms” that we would see in Ocean City over the next 18-months.
The boardwalk was rebuilt but as you can see by the pictures above it was moved out a few feet from the bulkhead so until the beach was rebuilt the waves hitting the bulkhead at high tide could go straight up and not hit the boards.
Through beach replenishment the once 15-foot drop from the boardwalk to the sand below was eliminated, dunes eventually took shape and what was once the place to go to watch a storm in Ocean City became a distant memory.
Here’s a story I did in September of 1992 when Tropical Storm Danielle threatened the coast.
These are all images from the December 1992 storm, the third of the 100-year storms we saw in 14-months.
Around the Fourth of July each year I usually think of my time working at the Jersey Shore and the man who loved to make Independence Day a spectacular, Merv Griffin.
Merv’s Birthday was July 6th so he always made an extended celebration of the holiday.
I got to know Merv while working in Atlantic City. The legendary talk show host and creator of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy was the owner of Resorts Hotel & Casino at the time. One the first things I was told when I started at WMGM-TV was Merv watches.
I first saw the advantage of that two months into the job when Merv appeared before the Casino Control Commission in August of 1990 to get approval for a debt restructuring plan tied to the casino’s financial troubles. The room was filled with reporters from Philly and New York and as the hearing broke they stayed back as I asked him if he’d talk, he said sure.
Within seconds of his first answer the other microphones came flying in. As he finished his answer he said to me you’re probably going to ask me next about… (some complicated thing over my head related to the bankruptcy). Truth be told I wasn’t but acted like I was and he preceded to give me a couple of great soundbites. He knew I was green but rather than exploit it he helped me and I never forgot that.
Merv Griffin’s ties to Atlantic City ran deep beginning back with his days playing the Steel Pier as a singer with the Freddy Martin Band. He was always looking to recreate a little of that magic at Resorts starting with his Coconut Ballroom 4th of July shows.
Each year he and Jack Sheldon would headline a week of shows with additional guests like Rosemary Clooney. This wasn’t a show where you watched but participated, dancing at the foot of the stage. I had the chance to take in a number of these shows in the early 90’s and they were experiences I’ll never forget.
The success of that led Merv to lament that there was no real successor to Guy Lombardo’s New Year’s Eve shows. What he was seeing on TV each New Year’s Eve were specials geared more for the Top 40 crowd who in his mind were probably out at the clubs anyway. So he decided to begin putting on his own nationally televised New Year’s Eve show from Resorts.
He struck a partnership with the other casinos to borrow their headliners for an hour to have them perform and in turn he gave his competing casinos and the city itself national exposure.
Merv sold his share of Resorts in the late 90’s and focused his attention at home in Los Angeles where he owned the Beverly Hilton. This was Atlantic City’s loss, the world’s loss came in August of 2007 when Merv Griffin died at the age of 82.
Below is the raw tape of one of the interviews I did with Merv prior to one of his 4th of July shows – it was always a favorite of mine because Jack Sheldon pops in for a cameo in the middle of it.
Growing up in Philadelphia the Fourth of July is and has always been one of my favorite holidays. What our Founding Fathers achieved 235 years ago is nothing short of miraculous.
That’s why one of my favorite stories of all time was one we shot in only about a half hour as my photographer and I were literally passing through Philadelphia on our way back to Buffalo from another story we were on.
It was July 3rd, 2001 and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see what people in the shadow of Independence Hall, on the eve of Independence Day, actually knew about their founding fathers. It aired the next day, July 4th, on WKBW-TV (ABC) in Buffalo, NY. and here it is…
I’m happy another Father’s Day comes with my Dad still around to celebrate it with this year.
In honor of Father’s Day I wanted to post the one song that says thank you Dad better than most, Eddie Fisher’s “Oh My Papa.”
The 1953 single reached #1 on the charts. This particular version of it was from when I worked in Atlantic City and Eddie was performing at Trump Plaza in March of 1992.
The South Philadelphia born Fisher sold millions of records in his career and was married to Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor and Connie Stevens.
He is the father of actresses Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Joely Fisher (sitcom Ellen.) This marks the first Father’s Day since his passing in September, 2010.
Happy Father’s Day!