Monday, July 21, 2014


I was saddened by James Garner's death last week, although anyone who lives a life as successful and long as he did left "on quite a rush;" which is a card shark's term meaning running extremely lucky and winning a large proportion of hands.

Bret Maverick, the adroitly articulate card shark on Maverick is the way I remember him.  That show premiered on TV in September of 1957 nine months before I went to work for my first commercial TV station, WSOC-TV.  As I recall, it was the most popular non CBS show to ever compete with the Tiffany network up to that time.

By the summer of 1958, it had really begun to get high ratings and those of us at Charlotte's channel 9 were ecstatic to know that we finally might beat WBTV, the big boy on the block, in at least ONE time slot.

We were well aware that we were number two in town, not only the second TV station to go on the air (Channel 3 had been broadcasting since 1949. It was the 13th TV station in the entire USA at the time.) we also were affiliated with the number two (and 3) NETWORKS, NBC and ABC. There is a truism in TV that if you owned a CBS Television station in the 1950's and 60' was impossible not to become rich.

The building that now houses WSOC-TV was in the process of being built in the summer of 1958, so we broadcast our shows from the small transmitter building located in the Newell-Hickory Grove neighborhood, just outside Charlotte's northeastern city limits. Our one studio was less than the size of the average living room. All of our live shows came out of there, including Jimmy Kilgo's Saturday dance parties. In addition, all of our electronic equipment was also stuffed into that small building

So we were struggling. However, our management was eagerly looking forward to the next rating book to come out showing how strong the Maverick time period was.  That would mean a lot of money for the station. Plus, psychologically, it would have been a big boost for us. Almost everyone who worked at the station were pros with the possible exception of members of the "floor crew," and these were "trainees," many of whom worked their way into full time positions.
However, as in any business, there were some "clunkers."

James Garner
It was one of those who, on the first day of the rating period, accidentally spilled his soft drink into the main "switcher" and knocked the station off the air...for a week.
What a week to be off the air! So much for our first small victory over channel 3.

I'm not saying that had it not happened, Channel 9 would have overcome Channel 3's nine year "head start" and its CBS affiliation advantage but it sure would have felt good.

However, to quote Maverick himself,

''As my old pappy used to say,  Never cry over spilt milk. It could've been whiskey."


*Actually, WSOC-TV was Charlotte's third television station, after WBTV (channel 3) and WAYS-TV (channel 36, which operated from 1954 to 1955); it was Charlotte's second station on the VHF band.