Monthly Archives: March 2010

I love those monthly doses of living broadcast history!

Left to right are Jon Book, Tom Brehmer and Don Rhyne at a recent WOC Club meeting.

Left to right are Ed Zack, Ivan Owens, Betty Straight and Ed Jones.

Left to right are Stanley Straight, Wilma Hauser and Dave Coopman.

Shown left to right are Stanley Straight, Wilma Hauser and Dave Coopman.

Ed Jones, left, with blog author Phil Roberts.

Donna Scott was Miss Donna on "Romper Room."

Former WOC radio-TV hostess and continuity director Anita Sundin.

Donna Scott shares a laugh with WOC Club members Ed Zack and Ivan Owens.

"Jonesy" jokes with Tom Brehmer.

Bob Danico.

Something I really look forward to each month is a breakfast meeting with folks who, like myself, used to work at the WOC stations (WOC-AM, FM & TV) and the stations that followed. (Though WOC-AM has kept its original call letters, WOC-FM became KIIK-FM and later KUUL-FM. And, as most viewers know but often forget, WOC-TV became KWQC-TV when the Palmer family sold it in the 1980s.)

Though most of us who attend the montly gatherings could, by most definitions, be considered senior citizens, we’re also a diverse group in that we did a variety of broadcasting jobs.

Some members of our monthly get-togethers – I’ll call it the WOC Club — worked in front of the cameras and/or microphones and you’d likely recognize many of their faces or voices. Others spent their time toiling behind the scenes. You wouldn’t know them, but they were no less valuable to the broadcast product.

I also suspect those of us in the WOC Club left broadcasting for a variety of reasons.

Some of the former employees, like myself, may have been released for economic reasons. Others departed, perhaps, because of the recommendations of some highfalutin consultant, declining ratings or a program cancellation. I suspect, though, most people in our group left on their own due to retirement or because they had found another job — either in or out of broadcasting – that paid more or offered more normal hours.

Despite our diversity, though, all of us who attend the breakfast meetings have one thing in common: We are former WOC broadcasters, or related to one, and we all have some interesting “war stories” to share.

I lost my job as a WOC-AM news reporter and anchor in late April 2009. But it wasn’t until late that summer or fall that I heard of the WOC Club, asked about it and was invited to attend a meeting.

One of its members, and the guy who sends us all e-mails to remind our tired old brains of the monthly breakfast meetings, is my former St. Ambrose radio chum, Dave Coopman, who once worked in radio production and TV audio at WOC.

Coop says the breakfast meetings evolved from retiree luncheons once held at the Bishop’s Buffet that was located at Duck Creek Mall.

“When it closed, and with deaths, the get-togethers kind of went by the wayside as I understand,” Coop says.

But not for long. “I believe Bob Danico started the breakfast get-togethers around 2002 just to keep in contact with some of the ‘old folk’ in the area and to find out what was happening with other former employees.”

When Coop joined the group, it included engineer Carl Day; former news director Jack Thomsen; former TV director Don McGonegle, who attended when he was in town; former TV sports director and, later, TV program director Ed Zack; TV news anchor Don Rhyne, Danico, a former TV director; Ivan Owens, stage manager and set builder extraordinaire; former salesman John Goodall; and Russ Wingo, who worked in the TV film department and attended when not wintering in Arizona.

Later, says Coop, former TV and current WOC radio engineer Jon Book started attending. Rich Birley, the webmaster for, also began showing up to get information and photos for his Website.

“Captain” Ernie Mimms and Anita Sundin, radio-TV hostess and continuity director, began attending. Then word began to spread and Dee Gress, widow of TV commentator Bill Gress; TV maintenance engineer Stan Straight and his wife Betty; Gwen Korn, Miss Gwen from “Romper Room”; Donna Scott, Miss Donna from “Romper Room”; and Doris Roth, widow of engineer Max Roth, began attending.

Other regulars are Ed Jones, former TV director, and Wilma Hauser, wife of former chief engineer Dave Hauser.

“Depending on the weather, the time of year (some of the WOC alums are snow birds), vacations and health, the number of attendees varies from time to time,” Coop says.

But he notes that attendance has been improving lately. “As people hear about the gatherings, we get new arrivals. Curtis Shivers, former film processor, recently began coming, and others, like Tom Brehmer, who worked in radio production, attend occasionally.”

Some former WOC employees who were not at the March meeting of the WOC Club but who sometimes attend include McGonegle; Danico; John Hageman, former chief engineer; Kent Morton, former TV news anchor; and Steve Trainor, former TV reporter.

Coop says, “occasional guests drop by, too. We had Ken Wagner Jr., son of Ken Wagner (Captain Ken of the “Cartoon Showboat”) come to one of the meetings, and we’ve also visited by phone with Max Lindberg, former WOC-TV newsman.

I don’t say a whole lot at the WOC Club meetings. That’s because I’d rather hear all the stories, often humorous, being shared by the others. They’re a monthly dose of living broadcast history. And for me it doesn’t get any better than that.

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.


Posted by on March 23, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Forbidden WGN words, phrases: Something “went terribly wrong”

In his monologue in 1972, comedian George Carlin first listed “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” They were English-language words that, at that time, were considered inappropriate for public broadcast on radio and TV in the United States.

Carlin’s comedy routine came to mind recently when Tribune Co. CEO Randy Michaels issued a list of 119 forbidden words and phrases that news anchors and reporters at the company’s news-talk station, WGN (720 a.m.), Chicago, must not say on the air. Michaels’ list was passed along to news people by news director Charlie Meyerson.

The list in the internal memorandum, leaked to WBEZ media columnist Robert Feder, includes words Michaels dislikes plus some redundancies and jargon.

According to Feder, the Meyerson/Michaels memo says, “The real goal here is to avoid using words that make you sound like you’re reading, instead of talking — that shatter the image you’re speaking knowledgeably to one person. By not using ‘newsspeak,’ you enhance your reputation as a communicator.”

The memo also suggests that WGN employees report any on-air infractions by their co-workers, complete with date and time, to management.

Delivering the news in a conversational way as opposed to sounding like a college professor lecturing a class is a good thing, but the 119 banned words and phrases seem a bit much.

Forbidden words are really nothing new in news broadcasting and even public relations. When I was a subcontractor for NASCAR’s PR department, handling media relations and publicity for its Midwest-based All-Star Series, a Late Model stock car touring series, there were two or three words I was told not to use in news releases because they had a negative connotation or gave a wrong impression.

One of them was “earned” with regard to prize money awarded to competitors in races. NASCAR didn’t want drivers to get the mistaken notion that they had “earned” a check just because they had competed in a race. The sanctioning body wanted drivers to realize they were contestants, and prize money was “awarded” based on their performance in a race. I think that makes sense.

Unfortunately for NASCAR, though, there was no written list of banned words provided to me when I took the publicity post. So I learned not to use the various inappropriate words in news releases the hard way — after I already had used them.

In radio news broadcasting, I learned there were some words the news director wanted me to avoid and some others I should make sure I used.

For example, I was told to avoid overusing the over-used word “officials” in news stories.

Why report that “fire officials are looking for the cause of the fire” when you can say “fire investigators are looking for the cause of the fire”?

“Alleged” or at least something similar, however, is a word that should be used when someone is charged with a crime but has not been convicted.

It’s inappropriate to report “John Hancock robbed the bank.” But it’s quite appropriate to say “John Hancock is alleged to have robbed the bank.” Or, to change things up, a newscaster can report “John Hancock is accused of robbing the bank.”

That brings us back to Mr. Michaels’ list. There may, indeed, be good reason for avoiding some of the 119 words or phrases on it.

But the list is so lengthy it’s unreasonable to think that any news reporter or anchor could make it through a day, working on deadline, without being in violation at least once or twice.

Here, finally, is that much-discussed list of taboo words and phrases at WGN, as penned by the CEO:

* “Flee” meaning “run away”
* “Good” or “bad” news
* “Laud” meaning “praise”
* “Seek” meaning “look for”
* “Some” meaning “about”
* “Two to one margin” . . . “Two to one” is a ratio, not a margin. A margin is measured in points. It’s not a ratio.
* “Yesterday” in a lead sentence
* “Youth” meaning “child”
* 5 a.m. in the morning
* After the break
* After these commercial messages
* Aftermath
* All of you
* Allegations
* Alleged
* Area residents
* As expected
* At risk
* At this point in time
* Authorities
* Auto accident
* Bare naked
* Behind bars
* Behind closed doors
* Behind the podium (you mean lecturn) [sic]
* Best kept secret
* Campaign trail
* Clash with police
* Close proximity
* Complete surprise
* Completely destroyed, completely abolished, completely finished or any other completely redundant use
* Death toll
* Definitely possible
* Diva
* Down in (location)
* Down there
* Dubbaya when you mean double you
* Everybody (when referring to the audience)
* Eye Rack or Eye Ran
* False pretenses
* Famed
* Fatal death
* Fled on foot
* Folks
* Giving 110%
* Going forward
* Gunman, especially lone gunman
* Guys
* Hunnert when you mean hundred
* Icon
* In a surprise move
* In harm’s way
* In other news
* In the wake of (unless it’s a boating story)
* Incarcerated
* Informed sources say . . .
* Killing spree
* Legendary
* Lend a helping hand
* Literally
* Lucky to be alive
* Manhunt
* Marred
* Medical hospital
* Mother of all (anything)
* Motorist
* Mute point. (It’s moot point, but don’t say that either)
* Near miss
* No brainer
* Officials
* Our top story tonight
* Out in (location)
* Out there
* Over in
* Pedestrian
* Perfect storm
* Perished
* Perpetrator
* Plagued
* Really
* Reeling
* Reportedly
* Seek
* Senseless murder
* Shots rang out
* Shower activity
* Sketchy details
* Some (meaning about)
* Some of you
* Sources say . . .
* Speaking out
* Stay tuned
* The fact of the matter
* Those of you
* Thus
* Time for a break
* To be fair
* Torrential rain
* Touch base
* Under fire
* Under siege
* Underwent surgery
* Undisclosed
* Undocumented alien
* Unrest
* Untimely death
* Up in (location)
* Up there
* Utilize (you mean use)
* Vehicle
* We’ll be right back
* Welcome back
* Welcome back everybody
* We’ll be back
* Went terribly wrong
* We’re back
* White stuff
* World class
* You folks

Excuse me Mr. Michaels, but if you think this is a manageable list, something went terribly wrong with your thinking.

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece is being submitted to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa, as an “Everyday People” column.


Posted by on March 16, 2010 in Uncategorized


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