Walter M. Windsor
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Forks in the Road: Chapter 9
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE ?
The plan in Duluth was somewhat similar to mine in Columbus, in that WEBC, the radio station with which I was now affiliated, also operated a “learning process.” But in this case, it was actually on the air. There was a UHF television station called WFTV on Channel 27, which rented quarters in the WEBC building, in exchange for which WEBC had two hours a day in which we operated the TV station. This included selling the time and putting on the programs. I inherited this operation, with a staff of two people. Technical work was performed by WFTV. During this arrangement, I gained experience in directing live television, in news anchoring and other aspects of TV operation. All the while I was working on the exhibits for the pending hearing.
The weather in Duluth was like nothing we had ever faced before. On Thanksgiving Day, soon after our arrival, there was a huge snowfall. We had leased a large house. With the help of a gang of children from the neighborhood, I constructed a really big snowman in our front yard. It was a work of art. Then Mary cooked our Thanksgiving goose. Seems I had told her several times that my Grandma had always cooked goose instead of turkey, so this became a challenge to her culinary talents. What started out as a plump bird ended up a sad-looking shrunken thing that didn’t even provide an ample meal for our small group.
History seems to have a way of repeating itself in my life. On the virtual eve of the hearing, briefcases packed and ready to leave for Washington, I was notified by phone that a deal had been struck in which the opponent would get the Duluth permit, and the WEBC owners would eventually get one for Madison, Wisconsin. There was some major political maneuvering involved in this arrangement. I was offered a secondary job at Des Moines, which I rejected. I received a big check just a few days before Christmas. It was not only our whitest Christmas, it was also the greenest, at least up to that point in our lives.
Shopping in intense cold was a wild experience, but what had looked like a bleak Yule suddenly turned into a bountiful one. The kids received a large assortment of toys and other gifts, including a great Lionel electric train outfit, which became the nucleus of an extensive model railroad that was eventually passed on to my first grandson. During a previous interview visit to Lexington, Kentucky, I had spotted in the window of a furrier what were called “sherbet-dyed” mouton fur jackets. I wanted one of these for Mary, so I got on the phone and had one shipped. It was a great hit, but, whereas I had ordered “cherry sherbet,” a bright red, the one they sent was “lemon-lime,” a pale green. We managed to make the exchange, however, and the red fur coat is still in the family.
Christmas night we were watching a TV weatherman from Minneapolis.
“The low tonight will be 27 below, the high tomorrow will be zero!”
That did it. We decided to get out of Duluth and seek our future in a warmer clime. We had been invited to visit friends in Oskaloosa, Iowa, so we decided to drive down there the next day. When we awoke, there had been such a snowfall that we could not have gotten the garage open, much less driven the car,. We made a plane reservation and a taxicab appointment for the next morning and went back to bed.
We flew to Iowa, had a nice visit, then on to New York. I had always promised Mary we would someday spend New Year’s Eve on Times Square, so we enjoyed that memorable experience, then went on by train to Danville to visit Mary’s family and reexamine our options.
At that time, Hazel and Pat were visiting in Connecticut, so they met us on the train and traveled with us to join all the rest of the large Johnson-Beck family for a reunion on Mary’s mother’s 53rd birthday, January 1, 1954.
While Mary and the children continued their visit, I hit the road again for job interviews. After a few such forays, I found I had a choice. I could manage a fledgling TV station in the unlikely location of Texarkana, Texas-Arkansas at a very modest salary, or I could run a radio station in Missouri for nearly twice as much. Remembering the fate of vaudeville, I chose KCMC-TV in Texarkana.
I went to work there almost immediately. The station, owned by the Texarkana Gazette, had been on the air only a few weeks, managed by the man who ran KCMC radio, who had been relieved of his television duties. I was introduced at a meeting of the employees by J. Q. Mahaffey, editor of the Gazette.
His recital of my history and qualifications was interrupted by one grizzled engineer in the back row who called out:
“Hell, a one-eyed billygoat would be better than what we had!”
From that day on, I loved to refer to myself as the “one-eyed billygoat.”
After I located a home, I flew north to vacate the house there, recover my car, and move our belongings to Texarkana. When I arrived in Duluth in April, the November snowman was still intact in the front yard. He hadn’t lost a flake in five months!
The station, on Channel 6, turned out to be a real adventure. It had just achieved connection via the coaxial cable, then the only means of live networking, in time for a January 1 bowl game. There was an affiliation with the CBS network, but programs were also available from NBC and ABC since it was the only station in town. The closest other stations were in Shreveport, Louisiana, 66 air miles to the south. You could not get decent reception of KCMC in Shreveport, nor could you watch Shreveport stations with any clarity in Texarkana.
But Texarkana was not much of a market. Developing local advertisers to use the TV medium was a slow process. Finding national advertising to make the difference between survival and doom was almost hopeless. And network shows did not automatically come to a station in a market of that size. CBS had its “basic stations,” which sponsors were required to buy. Beyond that major market level, the advertiser had to “order” each additional market, each of which had its own individual price. Not many clients chose to buy Texarkana, even though its rate was very small. And, in those days of single sponsorship of programs, if you didn’t get the order for the advertising, you couldn’t carry the program. Building a schedule of good programming consequently became an immediate and most difficult task.
I traveled, as combination general manager/sales manager, to New York, Chicago, and other principal cities where ad agencies were located, to sell Texarkana as a market to network clients and those buying national spot advertising. In most cases, they had never even heard of Texarkana, much less thought of it as a television market. I devised two tricks. One was to tell them that Texarkana was nearer to Chicago than it was to El Paso, Texas. They didn’t believe this, so they got out their maps and measured. Sure enough, I was right. And they were now fully aware of my market.
To make sure they didn’t forget, I sent each one a postcard after my visit. Texarkana consists of two cities, one in each state. State Line Avenue is the main thoroughfare, with the stripe in the middle of the road being the actual state line. The border is transcended by the Post Office, on which the line runs up the front stairs to the entrance. The famous postcard shows a grubby old guy standing on the steps with an even grubbier-looking mule. The caption: “I’m in Texas but my ass is in Arkansas.” The buyers didn’t forget where we were located.
The coaxial cable was far from flawless, and there were numerous interruptions of service when the cable would fail. We finally developed a slide to put on the screen, the message of which read “It Isn’t You, It Isn’t Us, It’s THEM!”
Walter Hussman, to whom I reported, was the son-in-law of the head of the newspaper empire, C.E. Palmer. Mr. Palmer was noted for his frugality. I once went to him to explain why I wanted to paint the exterior of our very shabby building. He asked me how many ads it would sell. I eventually bought some paint and threw a “painting party” at which we did the job ourselves. No comment was ever received, pro or con.
After about six months, there was very little in the way of progress. Hussman and Palmer called a meeting at which they told me of their dissatisfaction and gave me sixty days to “double the sales.” Believe it or not, we did it. A lot of work that I had already done began to pay off, and other minor miracles were made to happen.
The station reached a profitable level, and the Windsors bought a nice home on the Texas side, where the kids started school. The Palmer organization was not famous for generous wages, but we got by and enjoyed a suburban community life with other similar families who grew into close friends and realized a great deal of fun out of life. I became a member of the Optimist Club, which sponsored the Boys’ Club, and this proved a very rewarding activity. Eventually I became president of the local club, staged a TV auction to raise money to establish a camp for boys, and received the “Friend of the Boy” award.
Howard came to work at the station, but the controversies he generated outweighed his talent on camera, so he left for other pursuits. This was the last time we worked together, but we have remained friendly brothers at a distance ever since. One of my old Army friends, Mack McCay, came to work at KCMC and was a big help on the production side.
Another enduring friendship developed when Les Eugene joined our staff in programming. He and his wife and daughters became good friends. It was with Les and his family that the Windsors first experienced a game called Yardley, which we played for years before it came on the market as Yahtzee.
It was during our Texarkana days that we welcomed a visit from John J. Frisch. My mentor and great friend thoroughly charmed Mary and the children and we had a wonderful time together. A few years later, Mary and I hosted a tribute dinner to him in Los Angeles, where a goodly-sized group of his proteges gathered for dinner and taped our remembrances of him. We presented him with the tape and a tape machine. He passed away a few years later, and I have tried in vain to find out what happened to that tape... I would love to hear it again.
Opportunities began coming our way for Mary to enjoy some out-of-town travel with me. One early attempt at using a “sitter” nearly ended in disaster when the sitter allowed Tony to convince her that he was permitted to light candles on the wall of the living room. The candles were wooden, and this caper almost caused a fire. But then we discovered Mary Roberts. This wonderful lady became beloved to all of us, staying with the kids on many occasions for days at a time, not only in Texarkana but subsequently in our next two locations. She would travel most anywhere to stay with the Windsor kids, and they always welcomed her – and her cookies.
The head of our company, Mr. Palmer, was not normally given to passing compliments, but after the station got over the hump, he gave me a huge pat on the back and indicated that I could one of these days, as editor Mahaffey had done, become a stockholder by earning an equity in the company. Palmer was a hard-working man with the most cluttered office I have ever seen, the window of which looked right out onto the sidewalk of the main drag. He worked Sunday mornings, and the church-going folks passing by could see him at his desk and go “tsk tsk” because he was there instead of joining them in the pews. One Sunday morning, they looked in and saw him slumped on his desk, dead in the saddle. He was in his nineties, had worked hard all his life, and left a prosperous group of small-town monopoly advertising media to his daughter and son-in-law. When I later told Hussman that Palmer had said I would get an equity opportunity, he told me to forget it.
There was an ongoing controversy over the accounting methods. First of all , I was never shown financial reports. Because I had a pay basis providing for a share of profit, I would get a summary of the alleged results each month. I found it difficult to understand these reports, since they seldom showed any income whereas my calculations indicated we were “in the black.” Turns out that Mrs. Hussman, who kept the books, was picking up all sorts of family expenses as KCMC-TV costs, leaving the station - on paper - barely breaking even. I raised an issue on this and made the mistake of using the word “entitled” with reference to my bonus plan. Hussman’s reply was that I was not “entitled” to anything.
He operated from a philosophy of creating and maintaining fear in his managing people. I was required to send him a carbon copy of every piece of correspondence I wrote. Most of the time there was no advance warning of his visit; you knew he was there when you heard the ominous clicking of his tapped shoes as he came down the hall. It was enough to make you quake in your boots. There was almost nothing in the line of expenditures that I could do without his advance permission. So when overtures were made to me by the owners of another station, I was receptive. All too receptive.
These people owned a brand new station, KNAC, on Channel 5, up the road apiece in Fort Smith, Arkansas. They met me at a network meeting and recruited me strongly. Finally they invited me to bring my wife for a weekend in their city, putting us up at the Sands Motel. They romanced us vigorously and laid out a plan whereby I would acquire equity in the station. I agreed to join them, and the resultant celebration at the motel resulted, nine months later, in the arrival of our fourth child, who was almost named “Sandy.” Mary wanted her to have the name Martha Ann because of her grandmother, Martha Ann Beck, and one of her closest friends, Martha Ann Wineman.
Two memorable but painful events took place in Fort Smith. I turned 40 years of age, and a surprise party actually took me completely by surprise. And I acquired the mumps, which was a most unpleasant interlude.
We bought a nice home in Fort Smith and enjoyed visits from Mary’s family and other friends. One day Fred Johnson, who had been enjoying the spacious back yard, came in the house carrying a rabbit by its ears.
I asked how in the world a man in his mid-seventies had managed to catch a rabbit.
“I guess I just out-run him!” was the classic reply.
Mack McCay also joined me in Fort Smith, but our move there was a disaster almost from the word go. The two principal owners were at odds with one another, and one of them was indicted for tax evasion. Fort Smith had enjoyed a successful UHF station on Channel 20 for some time before the VHF came on the air, and it was one of the few markets that at that time had a profitable UHF property. It was owned by publishing tycoon Don Reynolds, who was an old college buddy of Hussman. But the reorganization of Channel 5, along with its innate technical superiority, resulted in some immediate improvement in audience and sales that took a pretty big bite out of Channel 20’s prosperity. Reynolds, his attorneys, and my employers devised a plot for him to take over Channel 5 and do away with Channel 20. Applying to the FCC for authorization would have taken a long time, and approval was questionable. So he bought 49% of KNAC, which could be done without FCC approval. Then he promptly shut down Channel 20, notifying the FCC that he was surrendering his license because it was illegal for him to own 49% of KNAC and still own and operate the other station. In due course, he effected the purchase of the other 51%.
Literally overnight on a Saturday, I worked all night to revise the Channel 5 schedule so as to include all the better programs, and all the advertising, from both stations. When the town awoke Sunday morning, it had only one TV station, with a powerhouse schedule and beaucoup business. Reynolds visited with me and complimented what I had accomplished, asking me to stay on and manage Channel 5 for him. He told me he saw no reason why I could not make “just as much money as in Texarkana.” I told him I didn’t leave Texarkana to earn “just as much,” but that’s all he offered.
J.Q. Mahaffey called me from the Gazette. He wanted me to know that my successor as manager of KCMC-TV had fouled up, and my old job was open. He arranged a meeting for me with Hussman. My return was quickly negotiated, with a considerable improvement in the financial arrangements.
We were lucky to quickly sell the house we had bought in Fort Smith and acquired a nice new one on Meadow Lane in Texarkana.
Mack McCay was terminated by KNAC not long after I left to return to Texarkana. On a trip with his wife, son, and daughter to his family’s home in Crossett, Arkansas, there was a terrible auto accident which killed Mack, Inez, and Bobby, leaving only Janet to survive after the loss of an eye. I was named to administer his estate, a sorrowful duty at best, and I set up a fund for Janet’s benefit. I have lost track of her in recent years. But Mack would have rejoined me in Texarkana if the speeding driver who caused this tragic accident had only slowed down.
During our days on Meadow Lane, Santa Claus brought back memories of 1948 when he brought the kids Hansel von Himpelschausenheimer II. He eventually was happily relocated with friends that lived out in the country where he could romp to his heart’s content. We had other pets as the years went by, but we seemed to have bad luck with most or all of them.
Not long after my return, Hussman, who was based in Camden, Arkansas, came to town to meet with me. He said that he had brought me back without telling me everything I should have known. CBS had canceled the affiliation contract. The network felt that its Shreveport affiliate, KSLA, had improved its facilities sufficiently to be entitled to Texarkana as part of its market. So Hussman indicated that a possibility we had discussed over the years would now be attempted. We would try to move Channel 6 to Shreveport.
There was a textbook example of how this could be maneuvered at the FCC. A station in Rome, Georgia had successfully transferred itself to nearby Chattanooga, Tennessee, against all odds that such a move would ever be sanctioned by the Commission. I laid out a similar plan, and Hussman took it from there. It soon became his plan, and, with good attorneys and engineers in Washington, the deed was basically accomplished. We were permitted to have "auxiliary studios" in Shreveport, so long as we continued to identify the station with Texarkana and originate a quota of material from the “main studio” there. We were authorized to erect a new transmitting tower at Vivian, Louisiana, midway between the two cities. The height of 1,552 feet above ground gave us desirable coverage of both cities and the surrounding area. Don’t believe the song that says “down in Lou’siana ‘bout a mile from Texarkana;” the distance from the “main studio” to the “auxiliary” was more than seventy miles, and I drove it hundreds of times in the ensuing months. Our new tower was one of the tallest in the world, and was the main feature of our promotional campaign.
It was an appetizing chore for me to build the plant in Shreveport. I visited several good installations in various cities, and greatly admired one in San Antonio. That plan was adapted to our use and built on North Market Street in Shreveport for an unbelievably low cost. Strangely, Hussman gave me virtual carte blanche on the layout, the furnishings, and most of the equipment. He did, however, personally accomplish two great things. Through a friend in high places, he was able to lure the NBC affiliation away from KTBS, and to acquire the first videotape machine in the market. Both gave us a great headstart when we opened the new operation on September 3, 1961. Bob Sarnoff, head of NBC, was there for the kickoff, along with several of the NBC stars. Channel 3 changed from NBC to ABC, which, at that time, was quite a comedown.
When we began organizing the move, Hussman employed the services of the prestigious management consulting firm Booz, Allen & Hamilton. They studied the entire situation and went through an extensive testing program of all our staff personnel. This program resulted in only two of us, chief engineer Ed Covington and I, being declared suitable for our same jobs in the larger market. Others were retained at Texarkana or shifted to lesser jobs in Shreveport, and I put together an almost completely new staff. Two of my new key people were Jim Dugan, from Omaha, as Sales Manager, and Jim Lynagh, from Nashville, as Program Director. Lynagh (LYE-na) was a very young fellow; in fact, he had started in the business even younger than I had. The story had it that he used to sell time on a Nashville radio station over the phone. After telling the buyer that he would send “the boy” to pick up the copy, Jim would hop on his bicycle and go get it.
Among the friends we had made in Texarkana, we were closest to our neighbors, the Morand family. Pardy was a technician for a company that made large scales for industrial and agricultural use. He and his wife Lois had three children, corresponding in age to Billy, Tony, and Wendy. Lois and Mary became close friends, and the two families were together much of the time enjoying such things as cookouts and board games. Mary and I had always enjoyed such games, and over the years there were many marathon sessions of Monopoly, Password, Concentration, Carroms, and cards. When it was just Mary and me, the game was Chinese Checkers. I was never able to beat her at that game.
In 1959, Lois came to work at the station, first in traffic and then as my secretary. The Morands moved to Shreveport, and she continued in that job after the station moved. They rented a house next door to the station, which the company had bought.
We leased a huge house on Cross Lake in Shreveport, a beautiful piece of lakefront property with its own dock and the thing that impressed the kids the most, a private drive leading up to the house. Our landlady was a constant pain in the neck; we came to refer to her as “the wicked witch of the west.” After a year’s lease, we still were not ready to buy in Shreveport, so we rented another home, nice but not as imposing as the one with the private drive.
The area of which Shreveport is the hub has long been known as the Ark-La-Tex, since the juncture of the three states lies there. As a matter of fact, the Oklahoma state line is not far away, so it is actually a four-state situation. There was a decision to change the call letters of the station from KCMC-TV to something more descriptive of the wider area. I suggested KLAT, combining the three states; Hussman went me one better with KTAL, pronounced Kay-Tall, thereby also promoting our tall tower.
Almost everyone in the industry believed in the axiom that the station which leads in news will be the leader in overall audience, sales, and profits. Hussman had an obsession with taking over the lead in news in Shreveport. Although the station did well as a whole, our journalistic efforts did not seriously dent the established local news audiences of KTBS and KSLA. Our competitors cleverly promoted the fact that Channel 6 was “the Texarkana station.” NBC’s primary news show was the Huntley-Brinkley Report, which most of the Louisiana audience thought was profoundly liberal, and therefore undesirable. Our local news, which necessarily had to include a quota of stories about Texarkana and its environs, combined with the NBC program to entice very little following among the folks on the Louisiana side of the line.
I found myself working much harder, if that was possible, than ever before, in a new and larger arena, and operating a station that was doing very well (everywhere but in news), but earning less than it had netted in Texarkana. Funds were being poured into news that resulted in the station showing less profit than before the move. I approached Hussman with the thought that my compensation basis should be changed to reflect what I had accomplished and the job I was doing. I had risen, in Texarkana, to the magnificent earnings level of about $18,500 gross a year, but the Shreveport situation had reduced this considerably. I told Hussman I was only “taking home” about $10,000 a year and that this was insufficient. His reply:
“Any man that can’t live on ten thousand a year has no business working for me.”
I took him at his word, and began looking for a new opportunity. There was a classified ad in good old Broadcasting that sought an executive to run a group of stations in the Southwest, with which the right man could earn $50,000 a year. I went home and wrote a letter of application, spelling out my qualifications, including what had been accomplished in Shreveport. A day or two later, I encountered Dugan and Lynagh in the hallway, laughing at something. When I asked what the joke was, they told me about the ad in Broadcasting. I very lightly said, “Oh, yeah, I answered that ad already.” They thought I was kidding. A few days later, I received a phone call from Dallas, and an appointment was made for an interview. Soon I was facing a decision - whether or not to move to Lubbock, Texas to manage the West Texas Network group of three TV stations (Lubbock, Abilene, and Big Spring) plus AM and FM radio stations in Lubbock. I decided to take the plunge.
I met with Hussman at the office of his newspaper in Hot Springs, and I told him of my decision. He said that things had improved considerably since we had last discussed the matter, and he was prepared to discuss a nice increase in my compensation. I asked him if it could be two and a half times what I was then making. When he indicated that was out of the question, I finalized my resignation.
He asked me for a recommendation on who should be my replacement, Dugan or Lynagh. If I had realized then that his general inclination was to go opposite to my suggestion, I would have suggested Dugan, and perhaps Lynagh would have gotten the job. But I named Lynagh, who was extremely capable, so Hussman gave the job to Dugan. It wasn’t the first or last time that I saw a superior sales executive wrongly promoted to become a general management failure. Lynagh went on to manage major market stations and eventually become president of a large group broadcasting company. Dugan went back to his old job as sales manager in Omaha.
We had been renting our house in Shreveport, but a lucky contact with Dub Rogers, the former principal owner of the Lubbock stations, resulted in my being able to buy his home there. The big move west took place in May 1963.
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Walter M. Windsor
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© Copyright 1997-2007, Walter M. Windsor -- Copyright 2008, Bill Windsor