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Man From Mars Productions

George Freeman
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Q: What were Buckley-Jaeger's local plans for WDRC? What did they want you to do with the news department?

A: The plans were to replace CBS with a smarter, hipper writing style, delivery and interviews. And without the network we could spend much more time on the Hartford area, Connecticut and north-central Connecticut news.

Q: Paint a picture of the facilities at 869 Blue Hills Avenue. How did they compare with other stations of the day?

A: In 1959 we were clearly "old hat". We were AM only at that time. The FM had been sold off by Mr. Doolittle. We filed for a new FM frequency after Buckley-Jaeger took over. Buck Forker parked his vintage Lincoln right outside the door on Blue Hills Avenue. Most of the staff parked right out front or at the blacktopped parking lot to the left of the studios/office building (site of the "Black Top Hops"). We were surrounded on three sides by contemporary, low cost housing that had sprung up around our large transmitter site with its two towers. The towers offered a north/south pattern urged on Mr. Doolittle by CBS so as to claim coverage in three major markets: Hartford, New Haven and Springfield. Across the street was Mount Saint Benedict Cemetery. By the early 60's, WTIC had moved to brand new, impressive facilities called Constitution Plaza complete with a large bronze statue of a guy spreading seeds entitled "The Broadcaster".

Q:Mike Stein & Bud Steele were your newsroom compadres and Big D was on the air 5AM-1AM; how did you staff the news operation?

A:Of the three of us, I was at work at 4:30AM M-F, and I don't remember what shifts Mike and Bud worked. After WDRC Mike went to WNEW, New York and moved up to news director. I talked with him over the years when he was writing scripts mouthed by Harry Reasoner or Peter Jennings on the ABC-TV network evening news. Mike retired and I understand he sometimes plays gigs around Manhattan in a jazz group. Bud Steele moved to Washington, DC area and was morning newsman for years on WMAL. He worked weekends at Voice of America.

WDRC News Department in 1960 - George Freeman, Mike Stein and Harold "Bud" Steele  
 

Fun Freeman Factoids:

Worked at WKST in New Castle, PA where pioneering DJ Alan Freed once worked

While at WHOT Youngstown, OH legendary jock Dick Biondi was an usher at his wedding

As early-morning newsman at WNHC New Haven he worked with morning jock Dan Ingram

Bought KGRI A/F in Henderson, TX from the widow of recording star Jim Reeves

 

Q: In October 1959, the second WDRC FM (102.9) signed on, the first having been sold in 1956. During your time as news director did it ever originate programming distinct from the AM?

A: I recall the stations following the letter of the law and ignoring the spirit of the rules designed to encourage more programming diversity. We hired more staff and played exactly the same music in exactly the same sequence for a certain number of hours on both AM and FM. The non-duplicated percentages were set forth by the FCC. The rest of the time we simulcast.

Q: Dick Fay and Bob Bacon were installed as a two-man morning team at WDRC in August 1959 but by December the magic was gone and so were they; did you work with them at all?

A: No. I did work with Bob Bacon when I sold advertising to him for his ad agency client, Friendly Ice Cream stores. Kenny Reeth and Eddie King replaced Bacon and Fay. They were there when I arrived. They had been nightclub standup comics when John Jaeger discovered them and gave them a try at radio. I can still hear little Eddie singing "Capitol Motors, 1214 Main Street…(pause)...in Hartford."

Q: Their stay was also short - January to April 1960. Then came Ron Landry. What was the missing ingredient until he arrived?

A: I'm guessing the missing element was an audience they could hear and respond to. Reeth and King weren't accustomed to the loneliness of a dark broadcast studio at 6am on a weekday morning. They had functioned in a smoky, noisy nightclub until two in the morning on weekends. The hecklers would be an asset to these fellows. Ron was a radio guy. He had listened to Bob and Ray for years. Ron and I were in touch through the years until his death. I visited him and Margo in the late 1970's at their Malibu home. They bought the site from movie actor Steve McQueen. The site was on a cliff above a nudist beach. Ron e-mailed me a picture of their new Pagoda-esque home by a river next to a California state park not long before he died.

Q:Until WDRC went totally independent on August 18, 1960, it carried a fair amount of CBS fare (Arthur Godfrey, Helen Trent, Lowell Thomas and Amos & Andy). When did you decide the station's direction wasn't for you, and why?

A: I started in news doing daily news beats most of the day. I would personally cover City Hall, County Court House, the cop shop, police chief's office, etc. then return to write a 15 minute, all-local newscast for TV and radio. During the time I went from office to office I would come across at least four or five yawning newspapermen. By the time I had written my newscast I had scooped all the print guys by at least 24 hours. I tried to initiate this news beat procedure at WDRC but our on-air chores wouldn't give us the time to drive from the suburbs downtown, cover all the offices and drive back. Being unable to enterprise our own news stories was discouraging for me.

 
  I left WDRC for WNEW-TV 5, New York City. Ron Landry arranged a free room for me with a friend of his located near the station. After a brief stint in the Big Apple I left the news game, returned to Hartford to go into sales at Channel 18 (an institution famous in Hartford broadcast lore for its absolute inability to stick with a format for any length of time). At one time TV-18 was owned and operated by CBS. The studios and offices were rather impressive standing on Asylum near the railroad station. When I arrived on the scene the station had changed hands a couple of times and was America's first attempt at a pay television station. The experiment involved three partners; Licensee RKO General, Zenith (who made the set top boxes) and TECO which I suspect had the proprietary equipment that kept consumers from getting programming without paying for it. Our sales department was transitory between the takeover of the station by the three Pay Partners and startup of the Pay operation. We did not know this when we hired on.  

George Freeman on Charlie Parker:

When we decided to go "top 40" in 1960 I remember visiting Charlie in the next office. The salesmen's was the corner office, his was the next. He had his head between his hands. He was afraid the format change from CBS to independent/top 40 might not work. I assured him it was magic. I had seen and been a part of the revolution in Youngstown, OH then New Haven, CT. Charlie hadn't been anywhere. He was a board operator when I hired on in '59. I don't know who realized Charlie had such great potential. It might have been John Jaeger. He was a gifted seer of talent. He hired several of the great WNEW personalities.

 
  I was hired by general manager, Paul Evans in my first job as an account executive (salesman). We had daggers most of the broadcast week. Daggers in the Arbitron book meant "no measurable audience". Our only audience was live ten pin bowling on Monday nights from the alley below Channel 18's studios and offices just before I came aboard. My sales manager, Frank Bowes, and I plus a continually changing line of would-be account executives found the sale very difficult. We had a continuity writer. I refused to use his services. My writing skills and experience on the street with the clients enabled me to write much more effective, selling copy. If we had two people watching I often got one of them to respond. So I got renewals from the clients I sold. In addition, Paul Evans permitted me to enter the advertising agency business. Now I could make 20% sales commission paid by WHCT-TV, plus 15% ad agency commission. Total 35% commission on anything my clients bought on TV-18. Ron Landry and I did much of the creative for Frank Marrata's Connecticut Dragway and for Gerry Chagnon's "The Broasterant" at Park and Broad Streets in Hartford. I paid Ron a portion of our commissions like he was a partner. Among the radio, TV, and newspaper media I bought was almost always WDRC. When TV-18 shut down their commercial sales effort Mike Boudreau, sales manager at WDRC, phoned and offered me a job.  

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