Steve Porter (former WCBS anchor) 12/26/06
Thank you for the Stanton obit. As you may know, Lou Adler and I, with Joe Dembo in attendance, were invited to address Dr. Stanton, Bill Paley and John Schneider a few weeks before we launched WCBS Newsradio in 1967. We stood before them in their private conference room on the thirty-something floor of Black Rock and explained what we were up to and particularly how it compared to what "Group W" was doing over at WINS.
Paley was openly irked about the fact that Westinghouse had gone first with all-news radio, and how it had lucked out in its early months with a newspaper strike and a subway strike.
In fact, he told us that he had wanted to make WCBS all news three years earlier, before Westinghouse launched WINS, but that he was told by some of his radio people that it was not feasible and that it would fail. "Needless to say, those gentlemen are no longer with CBS," I remember Paley saying. He told us then that he wanted WCBS to be a far superior product and asked me directly how Westinghouse managed to produce all their copy and features. (I was the first anchorman on KYW in Philadelphia two years earlier.)
I told him the secret to Group W's success was the "Westinghouse Typewriter." That, of course, was the Swingline stapler, and I explained (with tongue only partially in my cheek) how we would amass piles of copy, dump it on the editor who in turn would weigh it to make sure it would be enough for the coming hour, and hand it back to us without a mark of blue on it. I described to him how we had to make our own soundbites and load our own "carts" and play them on the air. He sat there in disbelief and at one point seemed utterly disgusted with the whole (somewhat exaggerated) story and said WCBS would have the best news sources, the best equipment and the best in writing staff.
Dr. Stanton, as I recall, chimed in and asked what kind of effort would be involved if we made the decision to write every last word of our on-air product instead of "tacking it up." We told him that it would take a staff of writers, something Westinghouse did not have. And so, that is how the WCBS writing staff gem was born, and why, in the begining, we anchors sat in a huge studio at King Arthur's round table with only a microphone in front of us. To our right, in his own studio, sat a network announcer whose sole duty was to say, "WCBS, New York," on the hour and half hour. Not infrequently he had fallen asleep when the break came, so we would do it for him.
In front of us, in the control room sat the board operator, a director, and a soundman who was called upon infrequently to play anything that ran on a turntable. (When KYW went on the air, as late as 1965, just after NBC had to go back to Cleveland, all soundbites were being cut onto acetate disks with a huge Scully Lathe. Instead of a pile of carts at one's anchor desk, there was record rack containing 10-inch disks with one sound bite per disk. The anchor's choice of soundbites were delivered to the soundman, who in turn ran them on his turntable on the anchor's cue.) After about six months of that, Westinghouse fired all the soundmen, scrapped the Scullys, and put cart recording devices at the anchor's desks.
So, when Dr. Stanton and Paley decided to make WCBS a superior product, what they did in terms of the trend in radio broadcasting, was to take a giant leap backward by putting more cooks into the stew in the hope manpower alone would make a giant difference on the air.
I must say, those first couple of years at WCBS were a newsradio anchor's dream. But, the impossiblity of it all became very clear when Paley called up Dembo and told him he was going to get his dream job...running the Rome bureau of CBS News. Within a few months, it was as if we had sailed off a cliff and ever since newsradio has been in freefall, although I still believe the public has been well served and will be for many generations to come.
Dr. Stanton's most memberable comment to me came some weeks after I began anchoring morning drive with Adler, Jim Harper and Jim Harriot, with Summerall at the sports desk. I had mispronouced "Mamaroneck." I think I said "Ma mah ROH neck." As soon as I went off the air, I was handed the phone. Dr. Stanton said to me, " Steve, you have a great voice and you are going to grow into a great broadcaster, but when you mispronounce a word like that, it's as if a finely crafted Grandfather Clock strikes thirteen...you lose your credibility." Not only have I kept that comment close to me all these years, I have shared it with many others who are learning our trade. He was among the few really, really, good men and our industry is going to miss him.
Again, thanks, and Robbie and I send our best for the New Year. Steve