Posted by: Amy | 24 January 2014

A USPS TV Series in 26 Days? Impossible!

By Robert A. Green, JN

Below is a reprint of an article that ran in the May 1971 issue of The Ensign chronicling the advent of USPS’s educational TV series, “Boating with USPS.”

“NBC won’t be disappointed, Larry . We can guarantee you 10 outstanding TV shows … Beginning when? … (cough) … February the 11th! … Absolute deadline! … No problem, Larry, we can do it. Today’s only January the 7th (nervous laugh) … Of course it will have to be cleared with National, but I’m sure they’ll approve … They’re very broadminded … You’ll need a complete series outline? … In detail? … Right away … You’ll get it … Don’t worry about a thing, Larry, you’re dealing with the United States Power Squadrons … I’ll call you within the next few days … Goodbye, Larry, and thank you.” This was February the 11th!

V/C Elbert S. Maloney, Director of Education, host Roger Tuttle and Chief Commander George R. Hodell enjoy a relaxed moment before filming of final show begins.

V/C Elbert S. Maloney, Director of Education, host Roger Tuttle and Chief Commander George R. Hodell enjoy a relaxed moment before filming of final show begins.

The pleasant voice on the opposite end of the telephone line belonged to Lawrence C. Johnson, executive producer and community affairs director of WNBC-TV, New York. Only three days earlier, Austin Williams, assistant manager at USPS Headquarters, and I had visited the TV executive at the NBC studios in Rockefeller Plaza. Larry (as we came to know him) had indicated an interest in producing a five-program boating series and because I had recently set up a USPS TV show on New York’s Educational Network and was a member of the Public Relations Committee—I had been “drafted” to follow up the inquiry and prepare a presentation. An elaborate storyboard containing 53 drawings (and requiring half as many hours to create) had been assembled for the meeting with Larry, and two hours after we arrived Austin and I made our exit with the feeling that USPS had made a genuine impression on at least one TV executive producer, and would be very much involved in the boating series—if it materialized.

As the most recent telephone conversation had proved, we had obviously underestimated our involvement—for the five-part series had doubled, and USPS was no being asked to provide the outline and talent for 10 educational shows which would be broadcast in color on all NBC owned stations, and possibly a great many others as well.

What Larry Johnson wanted was 10 brilliant, dramatic, captivating, low-budgeted TV shows of basic boating instruction and, as Austin and I had emphasized, the USPS Piloting Course—or at least a sampling of it—was tailor-made for the medium.

With hundreds of skilled USPS instructors in the New York metropolitan area—along with the wealth of teaching aids, film clips and slides—it was evidently apparent to NBC that USPS could provide the goods. We had also recommended Roger Tuttle as host of the series, since he was a USPS member as well as a veteran NBC announcer—and Larry Johnson had made a notation of this in the presentation which we left with him. Now that we had the go-ahead from NBC, our next step was the selection of a USPS Piloting Course Chairman to act as educational coordinator of the series.

"Just make sure you don't trip over them," advises audio engineer Jerry McGee as he explains individual microphones to C. Kenneth Wall, guest Bill Cullen, and Herbert Talboys

“Just make sure you don’t trip over them,” advises audio engineer Jerry McGee as he explains individual microphones to C. Kenneth Wall, guest Bill Cullen, and Herbert Talboys.

Ken Wall, AP, was not only an outstanding chairman of Piloting, he was also a skilled boatman, an active and dedicated member of the Northern New Jersey Squadron, a successful businessman and an experienced TV “actor”—having made his debut on the USPS show which had been set up on Channel 13 only five months earlier. After a 15-minute telephone conversation, Ken agreed to take on the assignment and despite the fact that his own Piloting Course was about to begin, he immediately plunged into the project.

Adding to our good fortune, Roger Tuttle was selected to act as host for the series, and without hesitation, he immediately joined those of us who were already in up to our necks. Roger’s dual experience as a USPS member and NBC announcer provided the “insurance” we needed, and we were now confident of the image which USPS would project on the series.

While Ken and Roger joined forces in New York, I contemplated the job of selling USPS on the TV project. A telephone call to Rear Commander Emery M. Austin, AP, Chairman of the USPS Public Relations Committee, had cautioned me against Pollyannaism, and as a precaution I tucked a four-leaf clover among the clothing being packed for the Annual Meeting in Florida.

The USPS conclave in Miami Beach couldn’t have been at a more appropriate time—as far as the TV series was concerned. National approval was required for the project and since the series involved both public relations and education (the bedrock upon which USPS is anchored), it was obvious that the approval had to come from many.

Producer-director Roger Shope (with glasses) and C. Kenneth Wall (standing) check screen as Roger Tuttle rehearses Video V

Producer-director Roger Shope (with glasses) and C. Kenneth Wall (standing) check screen as Roger Tuttle rehearses Video V

When the final dust had settled, Vice Commander Elbert S. Maloney, N, the newly elected Director of Education and Rear Commander Emery M. Austin, AP, Public Relations Chairman, officially designated Past Vice Commander Herb Talboys, N, and myself to represent the Education Department and Public Relations Committee for the TV Series, Herb, in turn, designated Ken Wall as his representative and—in the jargon of show biz—the TV series was “on the road” which, if not completely smooth, was at least paved with good intentions.

USPS is a truly remarkable organization and, from the Chief Commander on down, practically all hearts were behind the project—even though we had incredibly little time to prepare it. As a matter of record, during our four-day stay at the Fontainebleau, I personally heard only one person mumble, “A USPS television series in 26 days? Impossible!” And he turned out to be a bell captain.

Ken and Roger Tuttle had been moving ahead at full steam during the Annual Meeting and upon returning, a conference was immediately arranged with them and Roger Shope, the producer-director of the series. All those most directly involved with the show were boatmen and the meeting left no doubts as to the direction in which the series was heading. Captain Bligh couldn’t have steered a better course for USPS and a camaraderie soon developed among those involved which provided the teamwork necessary to meet the deadline.

Although the USPS Piloting Course provided the basic TV outline, lectures in Engine Maintenance, Marine Electronics, Sail and Weather (USPS Elective Courses) were also added in order to further enlighten the viewers. Considering all the subjects were covered, and realizing that more than 20 USPS instructors would be involved—the project literally became a race against time.

Director Roger Shope discusses script with Frank C. Giesbrecht.

Director Roger Shope discusses script with Frank C. Giesbrecht.

The entire series had to be filmed in three weeks beginning 11 February and a schedule was soon set up which necessitated shooting two shows a day—twice a week—with little time for rehearsals and a knowledge that no editing would be involved.

Ken had already mailed material to all Squadron Commanders, Education Officers and Chairmen of Local Boards of Piloting, in the area of WNBC-TV, and the USPS membership soon responded in force. More than 50 volunteers were selected from 13 different Squadrons. Each of the men selected was responsible for choosing the teaching aids and slides would best complement his lecture and, thanks to USPS, a large selection was available. NBC also had an extensive film library and some of this material was also incorporated.

NBC went all out for the series and a beautiful set was provided which included ships’ wheels and USPS officers’ burgees. Elliott A. Reason’s magnificent hand-carved ship’s wheel and the USPS ensign provided the focal point for the background and soon the NBC cameras were busily filming the first of the 10 shows, which included TV personality Bill Cullen, a personal friend of Roger Tuttle’s and a lifelong boating enthusiast.

C. Kenneth Wall of Northern New Jersey Squadron discusses compass during preview of first of 10 shows.

C. Kenneth Wall of Northern New Jersey Squadron discusses compass during preview of first of 10 shows.

From the very first show to the last, each and every man did a truly outstanding job and the series is a credit to the United States Power Squadrons. In order, the subjects covered and USPS members involved were as follows: (1) USPS history and preview of series (Herb Talboys, New York Squadron, and Ken Wall, Northern New Jersey Squadron), (2) Seamanship and small boat handling (Dean Fuller and Tom Curtis, New York Squadron), (3) Safety afloat (Edward Schmidt, Northern New Jersey Squadron, and John Burns, Palisades Squadron), (4) Equipment Government Regulations, Rules of the road (Harry Busch, Watchung Squadron, and Franklin Giesbrecht, Staten Island Squadron), (5) Aids to navigation, charts and chart symbols (Bill Simons, Stamford Squadron, and Hank Fitzsimmons, Neptune Squadron), (6) Compass and basic piloting (Tom Swander and Ray Finley, Lackawanna Squadron), (7) River piloting and Intracoastal Waterway (John McNamara, Bronx Squadron, and Wallace Gould, Bayside Squadron), Marine Electronics (Ed Slobodzinski, Stamford Squadron, and Milton Sapan, Tappan Zee Squadron), (8) Sail (Roy Maas, Northern New Jersey Squadron, and Jerry Wetzstein, Sewanhaka Squadron), Engine Maintenance (Wallace Barraclaugh, Delaware River Squadron, and Bernard Van Eerden, Staten Island Squadron), (9) Weather (Bill McKee, Bayside Squadron), (10) Review (Ken Wall, Northern New Jersey Squadron), Introduction of national officers (Chief Commander George R. Hodell, N, Houston Squadron, and Elbert S. Maloney, N, Director of Education, Marathon Squadron).

Commander Edward Samuels of the United States Coast Guard and his assistant were also invited to take part in the series and they did an excellent job on the ninth show, which also included a lecture on weather.

Edward Schmidt of Norther New Jersey and John Burns of Palisades discuss safety afloat with Tuttle.

Edward Schmidt of Norther New Jersey and John Burns of Palisades discuss safety afloat with Tuttle.

The broadcasting schedule for the series was programed for 6:30 to 7 a.m. and was set up as follows: New York (WNBC-TV) March 1-5, 8-12; Los Angeles (KNBC) March 29-April 2, April 5-9; Chicago (WMAQ-TV) April 26-30, May 3-7; Washington, D.C. (WRC-TV) May 24-28, May 31-June 4; Cleveland (WKYC-TV) June 21-25, June 28-July 2. The series was rebroadcast on New York’s WNBC-TV from 3:30 to 4 p.m. beginning Sunday, April 4—for 10 consecutive Sunday afternoons.

A great amount of PR effort has already gone into the series and press kits, with photos, have or will be delivered (depending on the broadcasting schedule) to all national boating magazines and daily newspapers in the areas covered by the five NBC owned stations. In addition press kits have or will be mailed to all Squadron Commanders, Education Officers and Public Relations Officers in the same areas.

NBC makeup man Ray Voege applies final touch to show host Roger Tuttle

NBC makeup man Ray Voege applies final touch to show host Roger Tuttle

The series was not intended to cover all the material included in the USPS basic boating course. This would have been impossible in 10 one-half-hour shows. The primary purpose of the project was to encourage the viewers to take the USPS Piloting Course and each show concluded with our national Operator 800 numbers.

Much more could be written about the series and tremendous job accomplished by Ken Wall, Roger Tuttle, Austin Williams and all the others who were involved—including our Chief Commander and Director Education. Much thanks must also be given to WNBC-TV for providing USPS with the opportunity to reach millions of men, women and children across this nation. At the present moment there is a possibility that WNBC-TV will make the video tape of this series available to all TV stations in the country and that would provide countless millions of additional viewers.

In looking back at the entire project and the amount of time and effort that it involved, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was impossible to produce a USPS television series in 26 days. The impossible takes USPS a little longer and fortunately, we had a few extra days—which made all the difference.

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