Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Who Hits WISH-TV Holiday Airwaves

Did you ever see the faces of the children,
They get so excited
Waking up on Christmas morning
Hours before the winter sun's ignited.
They believe in dreams and all they mean
Including heaven's generosity.

As a young reporter in 1970 I asked my favorite cameraman to shoot film of his young kids descending the stairs and arriving at the Christmas tree surrounded by presents on Christmas morning. He grumbled about having to set up lights and work during his day off, but agreed to help. I took my well-worn copy of the four-sided rock opera by The Who into the station and dubbed off the opening lyrics to “Christmas,” which we played over the film footage to start the six o’clock news that night.

Normally I would not have been producing the newscast but on that holiday staffers without kids subbed for those who had families. So I had the freedom to do something a little different. The result was a “cold” opening to the show, no headlines, no logo, no teases…just The Who and the kids. I am sure my news director, watching at home, choked on his egg nog when he saw it. Everyone at the station seemed to enjoy it and catch the spirit, but I suspect most of them did not know the lyrics that followed told the story of a “deaf, dumb, blind kid that sure plays a mean pin ball.”

That brief moment has become a fond memory for a couple of reasons. The two kids have grown up and have kids of their own (who are grown up). The cameraman has recently recovered from some serious health issues. “Tommy” has gone onto a life of its own: a true operatic treatment with the London Symphony, a major motion picture (Tina Turner’s “Acid Queen,” is a gem), a Broadway Play (which we saw), regular rotation on classic rock stations and finally a revival tour with Roger Daltrey.

For me the short clip was a chance to buck the system established by CBS News of forbidding the use of music over news stories. It was a policy no doubt enforced by my former professor Fred Friendly when he was President of CBS News and one that influenced the local affiliates.

It also served as a precedent for a second effort during the 1972 presidential campaign in Indiana. I produced a 30-minute special called “Plant Gate Primary” which opened with Joan Baez singing The Stones' “Salt of The Earth.” With some license we used the opening line as sort of a headline: “Let’s drink to the hard working people…Let’s drink to the salt of the earth.”

As we head into yet another campaign, the vision of Jagger and Richard still shines through.
Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter
His empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows
And a parade of the gray suited grafters
A choice of cancer or polio

It was after watching that bit of film and music that my sister declared: “Frank you just want to do the news using rock and roll.” Guilty.

So Merry Christmas to all and as you ponder whether or not the first music video appeared on WISH TV some four decades ago, lift a drink to the salt of the earth and
Let's think of the humble of birth.