Creating A New Beginning

When I first came to Tribune 18 years ago, it was a simpler time. And when I recently took some time to look back, it was a reminder to me that creativity can happen in any environment at any time, you just have to look for it. This is a brief stream of consciousness post about my early days at Tribune. Lots are mentioned and no doubt some have been left out. Sorry for that in advance.

Pearson and Ellis had worked hard to convince me to leave San Francisco and for many reasons, it finally made sense. The Creative Services department at WGN had ordered their first computers (not Macintosh I learned) but the writer/producers were still writing scripts using legal pads and typewriters. One inch tape editing was high end but 2-inch tape was still an essential production element. In fact there were still several people in the building who remembered actually editing on 2-inch. Spots aired from 2-inch carts, which were about the size of bricks and were identified using hand-written labels. But we made some amazing stuff anyway.

We each got the luxury of time to spend being creative, first with words and then with edits in post. By today’s standards, we got a lot of time to develop our creative execution. Generally we were assigned a movie a week, for which we made a whole set of promos sometimes aimed at different audiences. We spent that week screening, logging, writing and preparing for a day-long session in post often all for one movie. Sometimes we took two days and the promo sets were prepared for airing a week ahead of the movie night. Ahhh the luxury of time. Why is it that since then we’ve gotten more technology and somehow less time?

At WGN in the 90’s, screening of movies, shows and sports broadcasts was done on an old 1-inch tape machine, which was hand-threaded. That machine was such a part of daily life that I can’t believe people aren’t using it today. I still remember fondly the way the tape head would continue to spin after the tape flew off the reel. If you were in a hurry you would have to stop it yourself with finger pressure against the spinning metal. There was also a wonderful metallic smell that came out of that machine which I can still remember. It was old and slow, but somehow exciting too.

Nowack and Constantine were the yin and yang of the department creating some of the most creative spots I’d seen. Sometimes wonderfully brilliant and sometimes a bit of odd experimentation. One of the joys of my early days at WGN were the chances I had to re-tag movie promos made by the Craigs. It would allow me to load up the magic sub-master reels and spin through creativity at high speed, stopping to soak up one wacky idea here and another great spot there. The creative risks they took would sometimes make me laugh, and sometimes take my breath away. Word-play never had better champions and these were the guys I tried to impress with my offerings.

At some point, a detailed review of these spots must be done by someone as there are priceless gems hiding on those old one inch reels. I can still remember the smell of the fog used to fill the studio set of the German beer hall for a Hogan’s Heroes generic. (Yes, that was really a Nazi uniform in the green room.)

The design group, Hansen, Sato and Williams were solid veterans who had made the transition from art cards to computers. Some of the equipment used to make art cards still took up a large portion of the department, as a reminder of its previous importance, but by the time I got there it sat unattended. The designers at WGN were creative in both the art card and computer eras. Technology evolved as did the tricks for getting great creative out of it, and it was fun to watch that evolution.

Back then the CS world was more starkly drawn between designers and producers. Even though the merging of the two disciplines eventually resulted from evolving technologies, when I arrived at WGN it was still two worlds of creative specialty. The producer ranks at WGN saw a lot of talent pass through, spinning off successful industry players after giving WGN a dose of their abilities. Brady, Brouder, Deal, Migliano, Fredo, Delcarpio, Wells, Kodet, Barnett, Roth and more… it sounds like a shady law firm but they gave our air a constant stream of great content. Nothin’ shady about that.

Over the years, there were really too many great people to list and too much to write about, but here are a few for a start.

Marinosci brought an organization to a great design group. “That’s right baby!” Dionisio told the world of our exploits in constant PR barrages while being driving crazy by the creative types surrounding her. Stern brought years of experience at a point when we needed her most, and she’s still leading the charge. Punkin’… not pumpkin … it’s Punkin’. Drazin’s team was top notch, with Sandy and Rich and countless engineers who dubbed endless amounts of tagged promos over the years. What would I have done without Hayden and Pappas lightening the mood whenever things got too tense for television? Vorwald brought the WGN sports team into the modern era (without any asterisks!) Steve Ramsey, who sadly isn’t with us any more brought a new energy to the WGN newsroom and even shook me one day to get my attention. It worked. He was a horse-whisperer and on that day a Felty-whisperer. The entire gang of the Bozo Show, which was still in production when I arrived at GN. Often I would wander down to the studio, and stand against the wall where the cameras were anchored to watch those talented performers make kids and parents laugh. Genius! Glenna Yancy, a designer I only worked with for one year but who showed me the potential of design. Skycam 9 is worth noting because it gave me a chance to do air-to-air shooting with Rick Thompson of Richmarc and his merry band of professional chopper pilots. The helicopter reminds me that the WGN Morning News was such an amazing gift to those of us in creative. It gave us a fresh way to have fun with our work on a regular basis. Thanks to those guys for understanding the potential of connecting to an audience in a fresh way. And they’re still doing it! A salute to the gang on 18, all the Johns, and Myrna and Debbie and Josh and Marc… a great team to work with. And the folks who shared “remote operating” with me; Goldstone, Baker and Grisanti. One of my favorite things about recent years was working with Jedlinski and his crazy fun group.  They gave my job fresh energy and I owe them for that.  My various bosses; Pearson, Walker, Vitanovec, Ellis and Vitanovec again. They gave me the room to experiment which made all the difference. In fact, one extra note about Pearson… she gave me room to experiment with the internet, and build our first web site back when it wasn’t even close to being cool. She also didn’t yell too loudly when she caught us flying jets on our new office computers. And a special thanks to Vera for everything she did to help me over the years. I couldn’t have done a lot of it without her. You all race through my mind at warp speed.

18 years looking back and now we rock-on. More creative blogging again tomorrow!

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Filed under design, Innovation, Introspection, Observation, Video

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