Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Live at Five

The first time I ever saw the inside of a television studio was almost forty years ago.  It was on the eve of the very first World Cup Gymnastics Meet, held then in the Miami Beach Convention Center.  A much smaller even than the one McDonalds now sponsors, it featured just a few competitors from the world’s elite band of gymnasts. Kathy Rigby and John Crosby represented the United States.  Russia’s entrie were Ludmilla Torescheva and Nikoli Andrianov.
I worked the event with members of the Miami Dade Junior College (MDJC) Gymnastics team and members of the Muriel Grossfeld School of Gymnastics, of which my college coach, Bruce Davis was the local owner and head coach.  Muriel Grossfeld, Bruce’s sister, was at the time the US Women’s Olympic coach.  Her husband, Abe was the Men’s Olympic coach.
I’m telling you this to explain what Bruce, a high school Sophomore named Kurt Thomas, and a couple other MDJC gymnasts and I were doing at the Miami CBS affiliate.  It was a short segment filmed as a promo for the upcoming inaugural World Cup Gymnastics Meet.  I took my camera along and did get some stills, but they’re long since gone.  Hey – it was almost forty years ago, remember?
The studio, even during the relative quiet between live broadcasts was still crawling with activity – and people.  A director, producer, several cameramen, the on air ‘talent’ hosting us, and of course, the guests – that would be us.
Now we fast forward almost forty years.
Reginald Roundtree & Heather Van Nest
I’ve gotten to know former Miami Beach policeman turned news anchor, Reginald ‘Big Daddy’ Roundtree, quite well during the last year.  Just as a sense of setting, I graduated from Carol City, a high school in Northwest Dade County, in 1971.  Reg graduated from Miami Beach High in 1975.  We probably sat across the field from each other at Traz-Powel stadium at MDJC in Opa-Locka, but never met until last year when Reginald asked me if I’d like to cover a story with him.  His side would be for TV while I would do my thing for the Tampa Examiner, an online column for which I usually do book reviews, but occasionally cover other community events.  I jumped at the chance, and we’ve been friends since.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be interviewing ‘Big Daddy Reggie’ for my column.
Last night my wife and I were Reggie’s guests on the News set at WTSP, 10News, the local Tampa-St. Petersburg CBS/Gannett News outlet.  All I can say is wow, things sure have changed!
We arrived at the station on Gandy Blvd around 4:15.  Reggie came down to the front lobby and ushered us into an empty studio and got us settled into our seats at the back to watch the magic begin.
L to R:  Reg, Melodie & Heather
Throughout the evening – we were there through the 5:00, 5:30, and 6:00 airings – we were made both welcome and comfortable by the floor director, Stephanie, Reg himself, his co-anchor Heather Van Nest, Chief Meteorologist Jim Van Fleet, reporters Chase Caine and Melody Michael, and Senior Sports Director Dave Wirth.  I really can’t emphasize enough how much the 10News team made us feel at home.  They were all business when he cameras were rolling, but as warm and welcoming as family during commercial breaks and off-site feeds.  You know that teasing, cut-up banter you see so much between local news teams during a broadcast?  These folks did it even when the cameras weren’t rolling.  We both got the feeling that this was more than a bunch of people thrown together by a television station to do a job.  They actually like each other, and click so well on air, because that’s how they are off-air.  The newest member of the team, Meteorologist Jim Van Fleet said working with this group of people felt like family.

Sports Director Dave Wirth
Jim Van Fleet at the Green Screen
One other thing stood out to us.  Everything, including the three large rolling cameras loaded with prompters and enough electronic gadgetry to make ‘Q’ happy, were run by Adam, a quiet guy in headphones sitting at a sophisticated control panel of buttons, slides, monitors and a joystick, in the back next to the Green Screen.  That’s where you had to pay attention.  The three large mobile cameras moved around the floor seemingly as if they had minds of their own.  Flashing safety lights notwithstanding, if you’re not paying attention, you could get run over!  The level of automation in the studio was just amazing.
And, as I said, the welcome we were given was warm and genuine.  These folk are real people who care about their community.  Reggie’s coverage of the Cleveland area high school shootings was warm and heartfelt.  Heather’s story about a new breast cancer screening was clearly from the heart.  Jim Van Fleet had us quietly chuckling over his on-air quip about the above normal temperatures expected during the upcoming local strawberry festival ‘baking the berries.’
The 10News Team: Jim, Reg, Heather & Dave
Overall from begin to end it was a great time for both my wife and I.  We learned a lot about what happens during a typical broadcast, and made some new friends.  Thanks Reg, Heather, Melodie, Jim, Dave and Stephanie.  It was great!
Hey – check out the new 10News team in the picture below:
L-R: Dave, Reg, Heather & Linda

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