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It appears WMGT did have one viewer. TVH writes in Alice's comments that he used to watch - and remembers the gerbil races. We had a kind of track set up with three clear plastic chambers, each containing a gerbil. We'd open a door and the gerbils would run down to the other end of the track. During the afternoon cartoon shows (Transformers, etc.) we'd call a kid on the phone, have him pick a gerbil, and if that gerbil won the race, the kid won a prize. It was a very popular promotion.

Especially in the local bars. The show aired just as happy hour was beginning, and the patrons loved to bet on the races.


UPDATE - You can now see the Big Gerbil, star of the gerbil races in his own TV show, "The Gerbil Zone." It involves beer and live ammunition.

To watch, click here .

(Requires a player which can handle mpg video such as Windows Media Player)


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Morris Memories/Miseries
Tuesday, June 04, 2002   By: Br'er Juan

Folks who've done time in the TV news business always have funny war stories to tell. Lots of folks think the ones told about Fun41-TV in Macon, Georgia are among the funniest.

Alice in TVLand reports a story about KARK-TV in Little Rock. It seems the station threw out 15 years of news film footage from the 1960s and '70s. Alice laments the loss of historical (or at least interesting) material and says:

A note to the building managers: It's called e-bay. Look into it before you send it to the city dump.

KARK-TV. Owned by Morris Networks. I know them well as a former Morris employee. A couple of years ago, I was swapping Morris stories with a former KARK reporter. He says when the station was considering the purchase of computers a few years ago, the general manager tried to get a better deal from the salesman. The GM held up a mouse and asked, "How much cheaper can I get them if we don't get these things?"

I could top that easily. The Morris Network station in Macon, Georgia began life in the late 1960s (under other ownership) as WCWB. Employees said the call letters stood for We Can't, We're Broke. The station had one studio camera - one - until the early 1980s. You folks in TV, think about it. A one camera newscast.

Even after the call letters were changed to WMGT, the station's owners were never willing to spend money to keep equipment in repair and up to specs. As a result, color was frequently a big problem. So were tape machines. Such a problem that at one point in the early 80s, they taped their newscasts. As the news played on air from the tape, the anchor sat on set, following along, ready to jump in and take over live if the tape went down. One night I stood in the control room watching - the taped anchor on the screen was wearing a bright green blazer - live on the set, the blazer was blue.

Part of the tape machine trouble came from drive belts - as in the management wouldn't let the chief engineer buy any spares. And of course there were no spare machines. So, if a belt broke, the engineers would drive down the highway to a truck stop and buy a condom. They'd tie the condom into a loop and make an emergency belt.

One day, the station operations manager walked into the production department and wanted to know from what direction the sun came up.

A couple of years later said operations manager was fired. On his way out of town he stopped at the gas station used by the TV station, had them wash and wax his car, fill it with gas, and install a new set of tires. All on the station account.

WMGT had a terrible time keeping the transmitter on the air. I never heard an explanation why, but if the image being broadcast had too much red, it would knock the transmitter off the air. Now those of you with real jobs don't know this, but local commercials are usually made at one TV station, which then copies them for the client and sends the copies to the other stations in town. WMGT, of course, got very little local commercial production. The station that did most of the production work found out about the red problem and began to intentionally put in graphics with lots of red. WMGT was off the air a lot before someone began to check the tapes and change the graphics.

One day when the transmitter was off the air, the general manager got on the station intercom and began yelling at the master control operator. He wanted to know why the trouble slide wasn't up.

One Saturday I was in the production control room working on something (probably a resume tape). I was separated from master control by only a doorway. I heard a noise, looked down, and saw a reel of 1" video tape unrolling itself across the floor. "Oh, my God," yells the master control operator as she runs following the escaping tape, her face as red as her hair. "This is the show that's fucking on the air." Yes, indeed. The supply reel had hopped off the 1" machine. We chased it down, wound the tape back on the reel by hand, estimated how much time we'd been in black, fast forwarded and prayed for the best.

Of course no one watched much. Understand, WMGT was an NBC station and in every other market in the country, NBC ruled. One Thursday we were five minutes from beginning the 6PM newscast when the master control operator said, "I think we have a problem. Something seems to be wrong with the transmitter." When WMGT was built, transmitters were put inside the station itself, so it took only seconds to run around a corner and take a look. One of the hoses that helped cool the transmitter had broken - it was squirting water everywhere - everywhere inside a transmitter that operated on thousands of volts of electricity. We shut down the transmitter and returned to the newsroom. After the initial flurry of calls from station managers, the phones were silent. No one called to ask where the local news was, no one called about Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, no one called about whatever foolishness we usually aired between 7 and 8PM. At 8:01 the phones exploded. "Where the hell is Cosby," the more polite callers asked. Thursday nights at 8 Cosby ruled, even in Middle Georgia.

In the 80s, lots of porno channels still used unscrambled C-band satellite transmission (I'll bet you see where this is going). The button on the WMGT switcher for the C-band receiver was right next to the button for the KU-band receiver used by NBC network. Late at night, the master control operators would dial up a porno channel on C-band and watch it on a monitor,  while network was routed on-air from the KU-band receiver. Until one night during the 1988 World Series. Yes, the one in which Kirk Gibson of the Dodgers hit THE home run. You know what happened - coming out of a local break, the master control operator hit the wrong button and put porno on the air - for several minutes. She was fired. Yes, she.


WMGT is like the Naked City - there are many tales to tell  - maybe I can stomach a few more later.


Tales and Humor  

(c)1968- today j.e. simmons or michael warren