That old-time TV: New book celebrates 60 years of local stars By Dave Walker - 08/16/2008 The Times-Picayune
A treasure of tele-memories for born-and-raised locals, "New Orleans Television" is packaged as a picture book, but its captions and chapter introductions neatly distill the city's TV history.
Page 10: "When WDSU signed on the air in 1948, its antenna was placed atop the tallest building in town, the Hibernia Bank building on Carondelet Street, which also housed the station's control room, studios, and offices."
Page 18: "WDSU served as the launching pad for the career of actor and comedian Dick Van Dyke, who came to Channel 6 from Atlanta in 1955. His stint in New Orleans as a staff announcer and host of his own daily show lasted only a matter of months before he took a job in New York with CBS."
Page 53: "Before he hosted a popular teenage dance show, Channel 4 staff announcer John Pela starred as Captain Mercury on a short-lived but well-remembered children's show of the same name."
Page 88: "First paired as anchors in 1975, Angela Hill and Garland Robinette, the city's longest running television anchor team, helped propel WWL's 'Eyewitness News' into a ratings juggernaut in the 1970s and 1980s. Because of their enormous popularity, the couple's marriage in 1978 caught the city by storm."
And so on.
Dozens more familiar names and faces fill the book, which contains more than 100 black-and-white photos assembled by Dominic Massa, a news executive producer and special projects director at WWL-Channel 4 who has also made two local-TV documentaries -- "New Orleans TV: The Golden Age" and "Stay Tuned: New Orleans' Classic TV Commercials" -- for WYES-Channel 12.
"New Orleans Television" (Arcadia Publishing, $19.99) will make its local debut at a release event today from 1 to 3 p.m. at Garden District Book Shop, 2727 Prytania St. in New Orleans.
At the event, Massa will be joined by Bob and Jan Carr, Al Shea and "Miss Linda" Mintz -- all featured prominently in the book.
Arcadia had already done similar books about the TV histories of Birmingham, Ala., and Cincinnati, so a similar project about New Orleans "was sort of a natural," Massa said. "We have such a history (and) I think it's even better suited here because people here still remember and look back on that sort of thing. We love looking at ourselves and our history.
"A lot of the legwork I had already done for WYES. All the stills that we'd scanned and people's collections I had raided, it was there. (Arcadia) said, 'We like it.' "
Safe to say, local viewers will, too.
Chapters in the book detail the early days of local television (including WDSU-Channel 6's pioneering heyday), kid shows (including shots of WYES-Channel 12 "Steppin' Out" stalwart Shea as Deputy Oops), news-sports-weather figures (Alec Gifford and Jim Kincaid delivering headlines behind sponsor logos for Esso and Phillips 66, respectively) and snapshots of madcap Mardi Gras coverage.
Massa said preview readers have been most surprised by the Van Dyke pictures.
"I don't think a lot of people know that history," Massa said. "It's brief here. It's not like he was here 20 years."
Asked for personal favorite shots, Massa said his own background in news makes that history most interesting, but he added that the pages devoted to Mardi Gras coverage won't be found in TV histories of any other place.
"That's only in New Orleans," he said. "Other markets had kids shows and Quiz Bowl shows, and, of course, news-sports-weather, but Mardi Gras is certainly unique."
Massa, who oversees WWL's Mardi Gras coverage, said the olden-days technology depicted in the book -- the roof of a converted bus, outfitted with a refrigerator-sized camera, once served as WDSU's remote-broadcast studio -- has been vastly improved upon, but that doesn't make the task any less challenging.
"It's gargantuan to try to undertake," Massa said. "It's kind of freewheeling. Whatever happens, happens, so you're not trying to overproduce.
"Of course, back then it was so much harder for them. You look at the shot of the buses with the cameras on top, and I don't even know how they did it, to be honest.
"It didn't really matter because it was so new. It was new, so it was no-holds-barred."