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Sunday, April 29, 2018

ABBA Reunion

I'm just really happy to learn that ABBA is going to come out with a couple of new songs. I have enjoyed their music in the past, although in recent years I have become a lot more appreciative of their music. I find myself listening to them more often. Dancing Queen is one of my all-time favorite disco songs. I'm just looking forward to hearing the new songs when they come out.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Tips For Going on a Cruise

Several wonderful points about taking a cruise include:
  • It's an all-inclusive price for your accomodations, gourmet meals, on-board entertainment and activities.
  • You only have to unpack once to travel to various destinations.
  • You have a different "view" outside your window every day.

If you've never cruised before, you may be a bit overwhelmed by the choices. There are cruise lines and ships available to suit many different desires. There are medium-sized to mega-ships that appeal to a broad segment of the population. Some smaller ships create a more intimate experience and/or sail to exotic locations. Some ships create a party-like atmosphere while others offer a more sophisticated experience. River cruising is gaining in popularity; you can sail through Europe or Asia on long, narrow boats that feature cabins just as decked out as full-sized ships. To determine what sort of cruise suits your needs and desires, you can research and book yourself on the internet or you can use the services of a travel agent.
The cruise lines that offer a fun experience for families and couples include Carnival, Disney, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean.
The cruise lines that offer a more sophisticated experience include Azamara, Celebrity, Holland America, Oceania, and Princess.
Luxury cruise lines include Cunard, Crystal, Seaborn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, and Windstar.
Exotic locations include Costa, MSC and Paul Gauquin.
River cruise lines include Uniworld and Viking.
There are cruise lines and paddleboats that sail some of the rivers in the United States, and others that sail the Great Lakes.

What can you do when you're on board? Activities may include: Vegas/Broadway-style shows, live music, discos, piano bars, nightclubs, indoor and outdoor movies, casino gaming, classes, lectures, pools (some are adult-only), waterslides, wave pools, hot tubs, exercise rooms, running tracks, miniature golf, rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks, basketball, bowling lounges, teen centers, and plenty of kids activities. Many ships offer babysitting or supervised childrens' opportunities so that parents can have time to themselves. Extra cost items on board a ship include spa treatments, massages, specialty restaurants, and shops & boutiques.
When you're in port, you can choose to remain on the ship if you desire or you can visit the local area. You can book a shore excursion, which may include sightseeing or any of dozens of activities. You can get off the ship and just walk around the local area, which generally includes shopping, places to eat and some activities.

Costs: The costs you see advertised for a cruise generally are for the cruise only. These are usually per-person based on two people per cabin. If you have a third or fourth person in the same cabin, they are usually at a lower rate. The cost will vary, depending on the length of the cruise, what cruise line it is, where you are going, what time of the year it is, and what your accomodations are (see below). These costs include your accomodations, meals, and entertainment. Alcoholic and soft drinks are extra. You can usually find juices and some other drinks for free. Taxes and port fees will be added at the time you total up your price. Generally you must make a down payment of around $200-$300 per person at the time you book a cruise. Full payment will be required approximately a month before the departure. If you are booking a 'last-minute" cruise, you will be required to pay the full amount at the time of booking. Gratuities and amounts are optional, but most cruise lines highly "recommend" certain amounts, which generally total around $10-$15 per day for each passenger in your group. Many offer the opportunity to include gratutities in your total bill at the time of booking. Shore excursions are extra. You can book ahead on shore excursions or you can book them once you are on the ship.

Trip insurance: I can't stress how important I believe trip insurance is, especially for a cruise or when you are travelling in foreign countries. There is a very high probability you will not need it, but if you do, it can save you from financial ruin. I don't mean just the little things like lost luggage and missed connections, but if you are sick or injured at sea, in international waters or on an excursion, costs can run VERY high. Your medical insurance very likely does not include foreign travel. It's bad enough if your vacation is ruined by illness or injuries, but if you need hospitalization in a foreign country, it can be a disaster for you. You will also need to get home again. Trip insurance can cover such hospitalization, ambulance transportation, airline transportation back home, and even an airlift off the ship if it were to become necessary. Also, medical services on the ship itself are not included in the price of your cruise. Trip insurance can cover it. The cost of trip insurance is very low when you consider the peace of mind you get for it.

Meals: Meals included in your cruise fare include breakfast, lunch and a gourmet dinner in one of the ship's main dining rooms, the cafeteria-style restaurant, plus snack fare including pizza slices and ice cream. Breakfast and lunch are usually open-style, meaning you can go to the designated dining room anytime it's open. There is no assigned seating. The cafeteria-style restaurant is always open-style for all meals. Traditional dining in the evening is at an assigned time at an assigned table, which is usually arranged before you even board the ship. There is usually an early serving, around 6:00 PM, or a late serving, around 800 PM. If you choose traditional dining, you will select an early or late seating at the time you book your cruise. You will have the same wait staff for the entire cruise; they will get to know you and your tastes early on. Some cruise lines now offer open-style dining as an alternative in a separate dining room. One cruise line, Norwegian, has no traditional dining; they advertise their cruises and meals as being totally "free-style." Disney offers tradtional seating and times, but you will rotate among dining rooms on different nights. Your wait staff will move with you. It's true what they say about eating as much as you want; in the dining rooms and in the cafeteria, there is no limit to the amount of food you can eat. I've seen people order several meals at once in the main dining room! Most ships also have a number of specialty restaurants on board. You need to pay for these meals.

Accomodations: The prices you see advertised for a cruise are usually for the lowest-price cabin available. This is usually an interior cabin on a lower deck. From there, everything goes up in price. Generally the higher your cabin is on a ship, the more you will pay for it. Interior rooms cost less. If you want a window, you will pay more. If you want a verandah (balcony) outside your cabin, you will pay more. The typical cabin on a cruise ship is usually quite small, especially compared to an average hotel room. Usually they are fine for two people, but if you have a third or fourth person, it will get a bit crowded. If you want more space, such as a larger-than-usual cabin or a suite, you will pay more. What you choose should be based on what you want to do in your cabin. If you only need it for sleeping and the basics, and plan to spend most of your time elsewhere on the ship, an interior cabin will do just fine. If you'd like to see outside, you can get a cabin with a "view" (meaning a window). If you'd like to relax on your own private balcony, you can get a verandah room. Royal Caribbean's larger ships have another class of cabins with a view of the promenade that runs through the center of the ship. Some cabins come with an "obstructed view." This means you have a window, but something outside the ship may be blocking part of the view, such as a lifeboat hanging above the window. Cabins come with their own private bathroom and shower. All cabins come with TV's, which have some standard channels for news, sports, movies and cable channels. They also have specialty channels for the ship. You will see video crews roaming around the ship for your entire cruise and will often see shots of you and your shipmates on some of these channels. There may be a channel that shows a live camera view outside, and/or a map showing where you're going and where you've been. Information about the ship's speed, time/distance since you left port, time/distance remaining, and weather conditions are often posted.

Before the Cruise: After booking a cruise, your cruise line will have you fill out various forms and let you know when and how to receive your boarding papers. Much of this can be done on the cruise line's website. Beginning several weeks before the cruise, boarding papers can either be printed out from the website or they will be mailed to you. If you are flying to your cruise port, I recommend that you fly in a day early and spend the night in a hotel. This will ensure that any airline delays will not cause you to miss your cruise departure. Otherwise you will be one very unhappy vacationer. Make sure you have the necessary documents including passports when you arrive for your cruise. The cruise line will let you know what time you can begin boarding. This process takes about 3-5 hours. Most cruise lines take your luggage outside the port and bring it to your cabin, although it may be several hours before your luggage arrives at your cabin. So pack whatever you need for the first few hours in a carry-on bag (swimsuit, sunscreen, etc.) What's nice is that your vacation begins as soon as you step on board the ship. Bands may be playing, pools will be open, the cafeteria will be serving food, and the ship will generally be open for touring. You can visit the spa (you can book treatments at this time), the children's centers, teen center, see the various nightclubs, the theatre, etc. (Once the ship embarks, the children's center is generally closed to adults. Parents must sign their kids in and kids are only released to parents or others authorized to pick them up.) I like to tour the ship as soon as I get settled in my cabin. I take the elevator to the highest deck and explore each deck as I work my way down. With people still boarding, the elevators will be crowded so it's easier to start at the top and work my way down the stairs. Most cruise lines offer a soft drink card; this card will allow you unlimited soft drinks for the duration of the cruise. You can purchase your soft drink card after you board. Also, if you have any issues regarding your dining room time/seating, this would be the time to see the maitre'd and resolve those issues.

After the Cruise: If you are flying home after the cruise, make sure you allow enough time to disembark the ship, go through customs, travel to the airport, check in, go through security and get to your gate on time. Depending on your cruise port city, your cruise line can help determine how much time you need, so plan your flight accordingly. The ship's crew will be anxious to get you off the ship as soon as possible when you arrive back in your home port. The process takes several hours and they need to clean the entire ship for the next group of passengers, which will begin arriving late that morning. Traditionally, you pack most of your luggage by the last night, set it outside your cabin, and then it will be available for you to pick up when you disembark the ship. Many cruise lines are now offering the opportunity to carry your luggage off the ship. It's your choice. Follow the instructions for disembarking. Once you are off the ship, you will need to go through customs. After that, you're on your own.

Safety: As with anything else in life, there are reasonable precautions you should take to ensure your own safety. Keep your valuables locked (cabins usually come with a safe), keep your cabin door locked, use common sense around people you just met, and follow the safety information posted in your cabin or given to you during the muster drill. All cruises must begin with a muster drill. This will usually be started approximately an hour or so before departure. Follow the directions given to you at the time. Use common sense with alcohol; the tragedy of people falling overboard is rare, but the news reports I've seen regarding this seem to imply they are usually alcohol-related incidents. Norovirus outbreaks can and do occur on ships, but do not happen as often as media reports seem to imply. The best way to avoid being infected is to wash your hands frequently. For detailed information on this topic, you can see this link about norovirus oubreaks by the Center for Disease Control. It's comprehensive and has links to inspection reports on individual cruise lines. When you disembark in a port, remember that you are in a foreign country. Make sure you carry ID and passport information and use common sense regarding whoever you come in contact with. Make sure you return to the ship by the designated time; the ship will wait for no one.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

My Autobiography, Chapter 7 - Broadcasting Memories, Part 4: Getting Started in Television

by Paul Pakusch

Near the end of my junior year in college at SUNY Geneseo in the spring of 1982, I was looking for a summer job.  My friend, Brad Smith at Geneseo, was working at WROC Channel 8 at the time and told me about vacation summer relief jobs.  I figured I didn’t have anything to lose by applying, so I sent in a job application and resume.  In the meantime, I was offered a job as s security guard for a security company (I don’t remember which one).  When I got home from accepting my new job, my sister told me there was a phone message from Channel 8.  Chief Engineer John Coon wanted me to come in for a job interview.  I think I went the next day and was hired on the spot.  So I called back the security company and told them I got another job.

My job at Channel 8 was to work in the control room and studio.  It was a temporary job for the summer with full time hours.  My WeMoCo training came in handy here.  I started out on studio camera, then added audio and master control.  My hours were 2:45 to 11:45 PM; I was involved in daily late afternoon production of commercials and interview shows.  Then we got ready for and produced the 6:00 PM newscast.  In the evening we did the 11:00 news.

Master control was a lot like running a radio station except with video.  I found I really enjoyed that, and it remained my favorite control room position through my entire 32-year television career. The times we had to scramble for special reports, breaking news, or other quick program changes were invigorating for me.  I prided myself in quick, smooth changes.

I also learned how to edit video for news.  We were using ¾” U-Matic videocassettes at the time.  I was often assigned to edit some news stories in the evening.

It was just a few short months for me at WROC Channel 8.  As my temporary job was coming to an end in August, I started thinking about continuing my career in television instead of radio.  I recognized that control room TV jobs were a lot more secure than pretty much any job in a radio station. There were no permanent openings at WROC, so a longtime employee and supervisor at WROC, Joe Mazzaferro,  offered to call his friend, Jerry Evans, chief engineer at WHEC Channel 10.  I stood right in the office while he made the phone call to Jerry.  He told Jerry that if any openings came up, he had a guy he could recommend.

My last evening on the job at Channel 8 was a Sunday.  The crew wished me well.  The following Wednesday, I got a phone call from Jerry Evans.  I was interviewed on Thursday and offered a weekend part time job on the spot.  It was perfect!  I could go to school for my senior year at Geneseo during the week and work weekend evenings at Channel 10.  I started the following Saturday, so I didn’t miss a weekend!

You get familiar with certain places and routines.  The weekend I started at Channel 10 I was badly missing being at Channel 8.  But I got over it quickly enough.  I continued working studio camera, master control, audio, and editing news at Channel 10.

In 1982, it was still common for TV stations to sign off during the overnight hours, and channel 10 signed off around 1:30 or 2:00 AM.  While I was working there during my senior year, Jerry told me they were going to start staying on 24 hours a day during the week.  He offered me a full-time job for the overnight hours.  It was tempting, but since I was trying to graduate from college, I turned it down.

Towards the end of my school year and graduation, I was once again offered a full time vacation relief job.  I did that for the summer of 1983 at Channel 10; in August, a full-time position opened up and I was offered the job. My part-time college job turned into my full-time career.  There I would stay for the next 31 years.

In my next chapter, I will have memorable highlights from 32 years at WHEC Channel 10.

Subsequent entries to my autobiography series will be posted every Saturday morning until further notice.  If you wish to subscribe to notifications of my posts, please enter your e-mail address in the form at the right, under "Follow by e-mail."  If you wish to view previous blog posts of my autobiography, please click on the link under "blog categories" at the top right, "autobiography."

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Big Plane vs Small Plane

By Paul Pakusch

Many times I see people express concern over flying in a small plane, especially if it's a plane that connects them in another city to their destination. Smaller planes are not necessarily any more dangerous than larger planes, which do tend to feel more stable because they take up more mass.

Personally, I enjoy flying smaller planes because I like to fly. Being in a smaller plane makes flying seem more pure. Airlines don't use turboprops very much anymore for short flights, but when they did these planes tended to fly lower and therefore you could see the ground better. I booked those turboprops whenever it was possible.

The only real issue I have with smaller planes is the lack of legroom in the seats. Being 6 foot 5, legroom is a huge issue for me on any kind of a flight. But in those turboprops it was a bigger problem.

So, the next time you find yourself in a smaller plane, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Original song

Here's an original song by my old band, The Mods, from 1982. Listen to Make it Right - The Mods by PaulPakusch #np on #SoundCloud

Saturday, April 21, 2018

How to Watch the Weather Forecast Like A Pilot

by Paul Pakusch

Last weekend, as the ice storm was approaching, Stacey and I considered whether we should go ahead with our plans for a night out or not.  Stacey doesn't particularly enjoy driving, so she often leaves it up to me.  She said, "You're the driver, so you decide if we go out or not."

My main concern was whether roads would have black ice or not.  Actually, the correct term is "clear ice," if you want to talk knowledgeably like an airplane pilot.  The ice that you can't see on roads is actually clear, but it is commonly known as black ice because you see the blackish pavement below the ice, not the ice itself, which is clear so you can't see it.

When a pilot checks the weather forecast for a flight, he or she gets a personalized weather briefing from one of two services contracted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  (Aviation fuel taxes pay for this, in case you wondered)  The briefing includes such things as current and forecast conditions at the departure point, the destination and along the route.  Pilots need to know what sort of weather they can expect to need to deal with along the way.  The briefing includes severe weather alerts and other conditions that pilots need to know about.  These and other factors are considered as a pilot makes a decision about whether to proceed with the flight as planned, or make other alternate plans as needed.

It's important to realize that no weather briefing is cast in stone.  Conditions constantly change and sometimes pilots need to make changes to the route while in flight.  Therefore pilots get timely weather reports while in flight. A pilot must always have an "out."  If the weather deteriorates significantly, he or she must be able to return to the departure point, alter the route, or go to a different destination.

As a private pilot myself, I take the same approach when I'm considering driving in bad weather conditions.  For example, in the case of a winter storm, I check several weather sources for forecasts to see how they compare.  If I feel comfortable making the drive, I proceed, but with an "out." I consider what might make me decide to turn around and come home, and I keep watching weather conditions as I drive.

In the case of last week's ice storm, we kept our plans for the evening as tentative.  It appeared to me that the ice accumulation that was expected was not arriving in our area as early as originally forecast.  Our destination for the night out was in Farmington, NY, and our home is in Brighton.  I considered that most of our route would be on the NYS Thruway, which I know from experience is generally maintained well with salting and snow removal.  So, we set out as planned, I was ready to turn back home at any point, and I kept a sharp eye on the road for clear ice.  I even safely slowed down a few times and braked hard to see if my mini-van would slide or not.  Everything seemed fine so we proceeded.  As it turned out, we had no issues whatsoever with weather and enjoyed a night out!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Autobiography Chapter 6 - Broadcasting Part 3: Radio During My College Years

CHAPTER 6 Broadcasting Memories, Part 3: Radio During My College Years
by Paul Pakusch

While I was a senior in high school, a family friend gave me the birthday gift of several nights spent in his dorm room at SUNY Geneseo.  I was looking for a college to attend and he thought it would be a nice way for me to experience college life.  He also included meal coupons in the package deal so I could eat.

I spent many hours of that time on campus at the college radio stations, WGBC-AM and WGSU-FM, chatting with other Communications students and learning how college radio worked.  WGBC was a carrier current station, meaning it used a building’s electrical system as an antenna. There were small transmitters in each of the dorm buildings, broadcasting at 640 AM.  It could only be picked up on radio receivers within or very close to the building, much like WiFi is today.  WGSU was and still is a licensed FM station that broadcasts to the local community at 89.3.

It was a no brainer for me to choose SUNY Geneseo.  It was affordable, it was close by, and it had the communications program that I wanted.  Since I didn’t have a car yet, it was also conveniently on the Trailways bus route.

My mom, family friend Ruth and sisters gave me the complimentary first ride to campus.  I was to share my dorm room with two other freshman; we were the first to arrive.  After checking into my room, my mom noticed that there were some knobs missing from the dresser that I chose as my own.  She unscrewed a couple of them from one of the other dressers to put on mine, leaving the other two dressers with knobs missing.  We were out of the room when my other two roommates, Vinnie and David, arrived. Apparently Vinnie’s family did the same thing. Later on, when I met them, David told me he had been the last one to arrive.  He said, “Funny thing we noticed.  When I got here, the dresser I got didn’t have any knobs on it.”

After my family left, I wasted no time heading up to the Blake B building, where the two radio stations were located.  WGBC was on the top floor and WGSU was down in the basement.  I met the student managers of the stations.  Neither was offering any DJ slots for new students yet, so I had to wait for auditions before I could start.

If you read my chapter about WGMC, you’ll recall that I had speech impediments due to my hearing loss. I never liked the way I sounded during my high school years.  Starting in college radio, I still had some issues to overcome, but it was at WGBC and WGSU that I honed my radio announcing skills.  I was also able to get speech therapy, which if memory serves correctly, came in 1980.  There were two older girls who did the therapy for me.  They were both seniors in the speech pathology program.  I was one of the cases in their student teaching programs.  They would analyze my speech patterns and come back at the next session with methods to help me overcome my impediments.  They had a teacher who would listen in on the sessions to monitor my progress and evaluate their work with me.  It was an actual course for me as well since I got college credit for it.

It didn’t take long for me to get past the required auditions for DJ slots at the two campus stations, and I kept them for every single semester of my college years.  In addition to shifts that played the standard formats of both stations, I was also offered a rock and roll oldies show on WGSU, which I hosted for a couple years.  I continued doing newscasts as well.

I held director and management positions at both stations.  At WGSU, I was Production Director during my junior year, and at WGBC, I was Station Manager for my senior year.  A number of my campus colleagues moved on to careers in radio and TV.  Quite a few ended up in the Rochester market; others moved on to other parts of the country.

I did get involved with the campus TV station, GSTV, but it was more of a footnote compared to campus radio.  I did some news anchoring and studio camera my first couple of years.

My college classes were all about radio and TV.  There were the required core classes, of course, but the ones that excited me were Radio Production, TV Production, Radio & TV Writing, Newspaper Writing, Public Speaking, Fiction Writing, Poetry Writing and similar courses.  Many people graduate from college with a degree that they never use; I’m happy I’ve been able to benefit at times in my life from most of the courses that I took in college.

In my sophomore year, I got a job as a DJ at the Statesmen Bar.  It could have happened sooner, but Leona’s policy was not to hire freshmen.  Tony and Leona Battaglia were the owners of the Statesmen.  I heard that Tony was the first person to get a liquor license in Geneseo after Prohibition ended.  I started going to the Statesmen soon after starting college in the Fall of 1979. Leona told me she believed freshmen should get settled in schoolwork their first year, so I would have to wait a year before becoming employed at the Statesmen.  In the meantime, she waived my admission fee every time I went there.  As soon as my sophomore year started, she hired me as a DJ.

A disco floor had been built in the back room, complete with mirror balls, flashing colored lights, and a DJ booth.  This was where I developed some of the dance moves I have today; some of it was by copying other people I saw dancing and some of it was from improvising my own moves. When I hear certain disco songs today, my mind goes back to the Statesmen and I can vividly picture being on the dance floor.  Among my favorites, still today, are “Heart of Glass,” “Shake Your Body Down to the Ground,” “Born to Be Alive,” “Rapper’s Delight,” “Bad Girls,” “MacArthur Park,” and “Ring My Bell,” which always got Leona on the dance floor with her finger cymbals.

DJ’ing at the Statesmen was pretty easy.  All I had to do was play the regular favorites and include new songs.  It wasn’t all disco; we had new songs from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack, Bruce Springsteen’s “River” album, and some New Wave tracks. We were supposed to push the drink specials from time to time. Every night ended with Donna Summers’ “Last Dance.”  We were to never play it until the night was over.

My DJ job at the Statesmen lasted only for the Fall semester of 1980.  I quit because I had also started a weekend job at WPXY over the summer.  Leona was not happy about my leaving; she had expected me to stay the full year.  I told her my career goal was in radio and that I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to work at a radio station.  She lost her chance with me by not hiring me as a freshman, the year before.  The problem I ran into was that my weekend shifts at WPXY started at 6:00 AM.  I finished at the Statesmen at 1:00 the night before.  It meant getting a few hours of sleep and then getting up early enough to drive from Geneseo to be at my job in Rochester by 6:00.  Leona asked me if I could recommend anyone else; I recommended my friend, Sharon, and she was hired.

My job at WPXY over the summer of 1980 began as a full-time automation operator.  It was part of the AM-FM combo originally at WROC-TV. The company that owned the TV station had sold the radio stations.  By 1980, WROC-AM was an all-talk station with the call letters WPXN.  It was being moved out of the historic building on Humboldt Street and into office space at the Chamber of Commerce building on St. Paul Street in downtown Rochester.  The automation system, similar to the one I had operated at WEZO, was in the TV transmitter building on Pinnacle Hill.

The automation was set up in the future sales manager’s office while the rest of the space was being renovated into offices and radio studios.  As was the case at WEZO, my job was to change the reels of music, keep the commercials up to date in the cart carousels, and make sure the weather forecasts and news broadcasts got recorded and ready for playback.  As the studios were being completed, the automation equipment was moved into its new home, and new radio equipment was installed in the other studios.

When summer ended and I went back to college, I changed my hours to weekend mornings.  WPXN was changing, too.  They started doing away with talk radio and changed the format to a mellow music type of format, which added to my duties.  In addition to overseeing the automation for WPXY, I would now be running the board manually for WPXN.  The music was provided on reels of tape, just like WPXY, but nothing was automated.  We still provided regular news updates live from the news booth and we carried Rochester Red Wing baseball games, which I engineered during my shifts.

By the summer of 1981, I was dating Mary. We came up with an arrangement for me to live at her house in Saugerties, NY, during summer vacation, so I quit my job at WPXN-WPXY.  I had worked there a full year.

I needed to support myself while I was in Saugerties.  I got a job working five overnights a week at the Malden Thruway rest stop as a cleaner and dishwasher.  I also got a job working weekend overnights at WJJB-WHPN in Hyde Park, NY.  This became the job I had where I never met my boss.

I had sent resumes to various radio stations near Saugerties, hoping to continue my radio career for the summer.  A program director, I don’t remember his name, called me one day and, based on my previous automation experience, hired me over the phone to work weekend overnights.  I was to work something like 12:00 midnight to 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning.  Training consisted of my showing up at 11:30 the first night so the previous operator could show me the ropes for a half hour. So, I’d babysit WJJB-FM for the overnight hours.  Then at 6:00, I’d sign on WHPN-AM and run religious programs until the end of my shift.  I never saw anyone except the operators before and after me.  After a few weekends of this, my schedule at the Thruway stop changed and the radio hours became a conflict.  I had to choose the job that was earning more money for me, so I called up the program director and told him I had no choice but to quit.  That was it.  I never met my boss.

After returning to school in the Fall of 1981, I once again obtained employment in radio.  This time, a former colleague from WNYR-WEZO, Nelson Guyette, had become program director of the legendary WSAY in Rochester and he hired me for weekend board shifts.  WSAY was no longer owned by Gordon Brown, who had passed away a couple years earlier.  The new owner was Lou Dickie, and he had changed the format to an adult contemporary station.  The legendary team of Jack Slattery and George Haefner had been hired away from WHAM for the morning program.

My weekend shifts were 12:00 midnight Saturday to 9:00 Sunday morning, 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM Sunday, and 10:00 PM Sunday to 5:30 Monday morning.  Then I’d curl up in a sleeping bag in one of the offices for a couple hours of sleep before going to Geneseo for my classes.  Mary was with me on a lot of those Sunday overnights so we could drive to school together.

While I was employed at WSAY, the format and call letters changed to all-talk WRTK.  In June of 1982, I was hired for a full-time summer position in the control room and studio of WROC Channel 8.  The start of my career in television will be the subject of my next chapter.

Subsequent entries to my autobiography series will be posted every Saturday morning until further notice.  If you wish to subscribe to notifications of my posts, please enter your e-mail address in the form at the right, under "Follow by e-mail."  If you wish to view previous blog posts of my autobiography, please click on the link under "blog categories" at the top right, "autobiography."

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Niagara Falls

I've been blessed to live all my life about a 90-minute drive from one of the great natural wonders of the world, Niagara Falls. It has given me the opportunity to visit on average of about twice a year.

There's much about the Falls that fascinates me. The natural history of how the Falls evolved to what and where they are today, the cultural history of how humans view, react to and have settled around the Falls, and the two strikingly different experiences of visiting the Falls whether on the American side or the Canadian side.

The Niagara River flows from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario and forms a natural border between the U.S. and Canada. Due to erosion, the Falls are actually moving; they have moved from their start near present-day Lewiston along the Niagara Escarpment, seven miles upstream over the past 12,000 years to where they are today at Goat Island. Through those years, the Falls have carved out a gorge, with the Niagara River racing toward Lake Ontario several hundred feet below the surrounding landscape.

Goat Island, seen in the center of the lower half of the picture below, is entirely within New York State. Canada is in the upper half. The island splits the river as the water flows towards the Falls. On the left is the wider portion of the Falls, known as Horseshoe Falls because of its horseshoe shape. The border between the U.S. and Canada bisects this part of the river. On the right side of Goat Island is a much narrower strip of the river leading to the American Falls. Just to the left of the American Falls, creeks within the island lead to a very narrow band of water streaming over Bridal Veil Falls. The bridge at the far right is the Rainbow Bridge.

This is how the Falls look today. Over the course of time, erosion will continue to drive the Falls around both sides of Goat Island, further back towards and around Grand Island, and eventually to the source of the Niagara River at Lake Erie.

Today we are lucky that time and geography have intersected to give us the current wondrous views of Niagara Falls. You get a better panoramic view from Canada, which no doubt has influenced the tremendous growth of its tourist area. For several miles along the Canadian shore of the Niagara River, there is a road and a walkway with unlimited views of the gorge, the Falls, and the river upstream. Look carefully and you will see a barge that has been stuck among the rocks since 1917. There is parking in this area giving access to these sights within walking distance, but during the summer tourist season, you have to get there early to get one of these spots. Otherwise, drive further upstream to a much larger parking area that offers shuttle service back to where you want to be.

Going uphill and into town you will find a vast array of hotels, motels, bars, and restaurants of all varieties plus some of the cheesiest tourist traps you can imagine, including wax museums and haunted houses. I remember when the Skylon and Panasonic Towers were the lone tall structures in Niagara Falls; in recent years, development of modern hotels now dwarfs the Minolta Tower. The Skylon Tower still stands pretty much by itself. Many hotels have been built with all guest rooms facing the Falls. You will pay handsomely for the view; if you want to stay in Canadian Niagara Falls on a budget, choose one of the smaller hotels that doesn't necessarily offer a view. A huge draw are the casinos; there is a casino on both the U.S. and Canadian sides.

Figuring prominently in the landscape is Rainbow Bridge, which connects the two cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York. There are customs and immigration stations at both ends of the bridge, so depending on what time of the day and year you are crossing the bridge, you may end up sitting on it for awhile as you wait your turn for a customs agent. Halfway across the bridge is the international border that bisects the Niagara River. The border point is marked by several flags; carloads of kids can marvel over the moment when half of them are in the U.S. and the other half of them are in Canada.
Niagara Falls, New York has not kept pace with its sister city across the river. Much of it is worn and tired-looking. The bright spots include the area surrounding the casino, which has seen some hotel development in recent years, and Goat Island. For someone who has spent umpteen hours over the years ogling the wide spectacle from the Canadian side, Goat Island represents a quiet, natural retreat in a state park.

To enter Goat Island, you will drive over a stone bridge crossing the river rapids that lead to the American Falls. Once on the island, you will follow a road that winds through the island's forest until you reach a large parking area. Park here if you want to get out and stay awhile. You can visit some of the island's attractions, take a trolley tour, or visit the restaurant that has a view of the rapids and part of the Falls. From here you can get a very up-close and personal view of the edges of the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Here are some photos taken on Goat Island.

If you continue on the road, you will get a tour of the rest of the island. One place to make a short stop that does not charge for parking is Three Sisters Islands. You can only park here for 20 minutes, but it's enough time to walk over to the edge of the rapids that lead to the Horseshoe Falls, as seen in the picture above. All views from Goat Island are awe-inspiring. Most of the island is covered in trees and grass, so it makes a stark contrast to the steel forest on the other side of the river. The island is completely surrounded by the rushing water of the rapids leading to the Falls on both sides of it. I sometimes make the 90-minute drive just to visit Goat Island.

Niagara Falls is spectacular to see from any angle, and it is literally possible to see it from all angles. Besides the views from the river's edge, you can take a helicopter ride over the Falls, a walk through tunnels underground on the Canadian side to get a view from behind the Horseshoe Falls, or a walk down wooden stairs on Goat Island to stand beside the Falls. With all the ice that builds up over the winter, these stairs have to be rebuilt every spring. My favorite view is from the Maid of the Mist boat rides, which you can access from both countries. Boarding from a safe distance away, the boats ride along the river into the center of the horseshoe where a nearly permanent column of mist exists. With water spraying from three sides of the horseshoe-shaped falls, millions of droplets collect in this central location and rise with air currents. The Maid of the Mist boats go right into this spray zone, enabling passengers standing on the decks to experience the power of Niagara Falls. Everyone is issued a disposable poncho. Gone are the days when guests were issued rubber raincoats that left you feeling as if you'd stepped out of a humid junkyard.

The peak tourist season of Niagara Falls is the warm summer months. For a vastly different experience, consider visiting in January or February when it's below freezing. The mist will have drifted over the nearby land, coating the trees, buildings and any sort of structure with ice. Certain areas will be closed off to the public because there's too much ice to walk safely on, but park workers do a marvelous job at keeping certain areas clear of ice so you can safely enjoy the spectacle. If you're really lucky, you'll see huge chunks of ice in the gorge below. You will need to dress warm, but the view is well worth the effort.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Browns

I was first exposed to the country music group the Browns when I was a very young child. My mother had at least a couple albums by them. I especially remember learning the songs Scarlet Ribbons and The Old Lamplighter. As I got older and became a teenager, my music interests headed in a different direction. Around 1996 I happened to be channel surfing and came across the Nashville Network just as I caught the Browns being introduced on a live TV show. Since I often wear headphones while I'm watching TV due to my hearing loss, I had them on when the Browns started singing The Three Bells. I was suddenly mesmerized by the harmony.
The Browns were a country music crossover into pop music back in 1959 when that song hit it big. Although I was aware of the song, it was not one that I knew well at that point. I sat there absolutely spellbound as I listened to their vocal harmony. I've always believed that sibling harmony is the best because the speech patterns are similar. That is certainly the case for Jim Ed, Maxine, and Bonnie Brown. After listening to them sing it on the Nashville Network, I needed to get myself a copy of it, so I did. Thus begin a few month period when I played the song over and over. After that I purchased more Brown's music so I could learn more of their music.
About 10 years later, I came across something on the Internet advertising a book written by Maxine Brown called "Looking Back to See."  The book's title is named after a song that Maxine wrote. It is mostly an autobiography of Maxine's life up to that point, but it is also a general history of what country music was like in the 1950s and 1960s. I decided I needed to contact Maxine and let her know how I felt about the book. I could not find a way to reach her, so I wrote to Jim Ed and sent it to the Grand Ole Opry. He wrote back to me a short time later and said to send a letter to Maxine addressed to him and he would see that she would get it. I did, she received it, and I heard back from her a few weeks later. I was very impressed that she wrote a four-page letter to me expressing how she really enjoyed reading my letter to her.
A couple years later I happened to come across Maxine's Facebook page and wrote to her again, reminding her who I was and she said she remembered. From that point on a very nice Facebook friendship develped between us. She posted some nice things that I wrote about the Browns on her website. I also became part of a movement to get the Browns into the Country Music Hall of Fame, which many of the Browns fans believed they belong in.
In 2013, while on a trip to Memphis Tennessee, my daughter Kristi and I had an opportunity to visit Maxine. We had lunch together and she talked about some of her experiences, including her friendship with Elvis back in the mid-1950s. Elvis and the Browns used to do some touring together.
Back home, I continued my participation in trying to get the Browns into the Country Music Hall of Fame. It took awhile, but happily, thanks to the help of many of their fans, they finally made it in. And just in time, too, because shortly after the announcement of the Browns going into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Jim Ed passed away from cancer. Maxine and Bonnie were there for the induction, and then sadly Bonnie passed away not too long after that.
I hope to get to Nashville sometime in the near future so I can see their exhibit along with many others in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
These days, I continue to enjoy listening to the Browns' music on a regular basis. I have my own collection at home, and I also hear their songs from time to time on Sirius XM Radio.

Here is Maxine Brown's website:

Saturday, April 14, 2018

My Idea For Health Care

By Paul Pakusch
There has been a lot of talk about making school districts, governments and agencies run more like a business. Do you know what the purpose of a business is? The purpose of a business is to make a profit. This means that for whatever service the business provides, the priority  is to make a profit for the owners. So that means health insurance companies main purpose is to make a profit for the shareholders of the company. To provide Health Care is a service, but that service is secondary to making sure that the shareholders get their money. To me, this is bass ackwards to the way it should be. I think the purpose of health insurance should be to provide health care, not to make money for shareholders. There's just something wrong with a system where money is more important than someone's health.
In the Declaration of Independence, it states that the United States is to provide for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Much has been said about liberty and the freedom for the pursuit of happiness. But I haven't heard much about the "life" portion of that clause. To me, it means that the United States should provide for the opportunity of life through the most advanced technological means in medicine. Why should just rich people be able to obtain this care? It should be available to all citizens of the United States. That's how I interpret that clause.
Therefore, I believe the system where private health insurance companies are providing healthcare based on who can afford it is just wrong.
My idea is to do away with all of the health insurance companies in this country and come up with one nonprofit Foundation whose main purpose is to provide healthcare for all of the citizens of the United States. It would be recognized by Congress, but operate independently of the US government. Every citizen would fund it through a reasonable and fair income tax, such as Medicaid is funded now. Every US citizen would have access to this program. Every US citizen is assigned a social security number, and this same number can be your ID number for healthcare services.
Additional funding could also be done by individuals and companies making donations to this Foundation and getting tax deductions in return. It would be an incentive for companies to invest in US Healthcare.
Doctors and specialists could continue to operate as they are now.  Patients would schedule appointments just as they do now. A system would be set up so that billing would be done to this Foundation. There could be a reasonable fee system set up so that doctors, specialists, and other Healthcare facilities would be paid for their services. If a doctor or specialist wishes to charge more, they would be free to do so provided the patient is willing to pay the difference. But that would be outside of the normal fee structure and the patient would not be reimbursed by the Foundation for the difference. It would be their choice to do that.
I recognize that you need competition to advance research and keep prices in check. That's where the pharmaceutical companies come in. The pharmaceutical companies can keep researching medications to cure illnesses and diseases. Doctors should be able to prescribe the medication that would be the most effective for their patients without any interference from anyone else. The Foundation would pay for prescriptions. There should not be any incentive from pharmaceutical companies for doctors to pick one company over another, just the most effective medication, and competition among the pharmaceuticals  to keep the prices in check.
This is just a brief description of what I'd love to see for health care.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Confessions of a Former Travel Agent

By Paul Pakusch

This was originally written several years ago.

So, you think travel agents get all kinds of perks and free travel? Yeah, some, but it's not as glamorous as you'd think it is. The pay is horrible; I've heard it said that if you're in it for the travel, you're better off getting a good-paying job in another field and then just paying regular price for your travel. After experiencing it, you'd have no argument from me about that comment. On the other hand, if you love giving service to people and are ready to work hard, practically around the clock, then being a travel agent might be for you.

In 2005, I got into it part-time, figuring I could gradually work my way into the travel business and eventually make it my "retirement career." Then I could work as little or as much as I wanted to and enjoy all the perks of the travel business. I do get excited about other people's trips and I'm always interested to hear where people are going and how their experiences were when they get back. I'm the guy who actually enjoys looking at other people's travel pictures!

To get some education, I signed up with a prominent college that is well-known for its on-line work-at-your-own-pace courses. I received textbooks and course material in the mail and took the tests on-line. Much of the material focused on geography and what people could expect in various places of the world. There were videos, too, of many of these places. Then it got into the history of the travel business, an overview of the business today, and then into specifics about how to do things. I thought most of the course was quite informative and helpful. About the only thing I found useless was a section on how to write airline tickets.

Yes, I did say "write" airline tickets. By 2005, everything about airline tickets was on-line and I thought this part of the course was a complete waste of time. But then we got into Sabre and Apollo , the two systems that almost every travel agency uses for issuing tickets. As a student, I had a choice of which one to train for. This part was very good. It made me employable should I decide to work for a travel agency.

But my goal was to work for myself. My next step was to decide how I was going to access my travel suppliers. I learned that the most popular way to do this in 2005 was to work with a host agency. I'd still be working for myself by paying for my own expenses and earning by commission, but I'd have someone to guide me along and give me access to literally thousands of travel suppliers. The relationship I'd have with them was as an independent contractor. I would book travel for customers using their resources and then we would split the commission.

After an exhaustive search, I chose a host that happened to be on the west coast. They were a fine host agency, but if I were to do it again, I'd pick one within driving distance of my home. I found at times that it would have been very helpful to be able to go to their office in person.

Paradoxically, the internet is driving many small travel agencies out of business, but it's also making the life of a home-based travel agency a lot easier. A lot of my training with my host agency and with the travel suppliers themselves was by watching and participating in on-line seminars. I could "attend" these meetings by sitting in the comfort of my own home. They would set up a time when many agents would log in on their computers, and then dial in to a conference phone call where the speaker would discuss what we were seeing on our computer screens. The internet is also helping home-based agents because most of the travel suppliers have set up portions of their booking websites for travel agents. Once they have the credentials, agents can log into these sites, book travel for the clients, and then collect the commission.

My host agency had a list of "preferred suppliers." These were generally suppliers with whom they had arrangements to pay out higher commissions. If I used one of those suppliers, I would get a higher percentage on my commission split with the host. If I used a "non-preferred supplier," my split would be less.

The arrangement worked out fine. Initially, I had wanted to be a full-service agent meaning I would sell any kind of travel at all. This included airline tickets around the world, cruises, trains, resorts, all-inclusive vacations, tours, Disney, group trips, etc. I did sell a respectable amount of travel for someone just starting out in the business. I thoroughly enjoyed receiving commission checks!

I also found out that I could bid for business. My host had arrangements with a website where travellers could specify what they were looking for, and then travel agents could respond with an offer. To do this, I would contact the traveller and get details about their wishes, then contact suppliers to put together a package for them. I'd call them back with an offer. But I found that this was extremely time-consuming and I never won any bids.

Group travel is a money-maker for travel agents. It's another process where clients tell you what they want to do for a group trip, which would usually involve more than 10 people. I'd call airlines and make a request .for proposal, contact hotels and any other suppliers that the group trip would involved. Again, this was a time-consuming process and I never succeeded in any of these either.

What I was beginning to learn was that each time I was to work harder to please a potential client, the more I had to drop the price, and ultimately my commission, to remain competitive. So I was working more to earn less. There is another way to earn more money when you've dropped the price, which I shall get to shortly.

After awhile I started to feel like I wanted to change my focus. Instead of being a full-service agent, I felt I should concentrate on selling the type of travel that I had the most interest in: Cruises and Disney. I had gone on my first cruise in 2004 and had fallen head over heels in love with it! I had also been to both Disney World and Disneyland multiple times and felt I knew the parks quite well.

By concentrating on these two areas of travel, I felt I could spend more time learning about them and be of better service to customers who wanted more information. First-time cruisers have no idea where to begin. There are dozens of cruise lines, hundreds of itineraries, and thousands of destinations around the world. They would want to know what cruise line best fits their interests, their family, their lifestyle and their budget. This was something that I knew I could be good at. The same with Disney; I was already very familiar with both U.S. parks and could give a lot of guidance to first-time Disney clients. In both cases, a travel agent would want to give good service so that these first-timers to Disney and cruising would become repeat customers.

At the end of the first year, I did not renew my annual membership with my host agency. Instead, I decided to get my own agency credentials and book directly with the cruise lines and Disney.

To become a Disney expert was easy. Disney offers an on-line course to travel agents to learn more about the parks and booking travel for the parks. I took the course and passed. I received a certificate which I was allowed to display to clients, showing that I was a Disney expert. Yes, there are some limited perks to Disney for travel agents and I was able to use on two occasions. Once I took my daughter to Pop Century Resort and once my wife and I stayed there, both times for half price. We still had to pay the regular admission to enter the parks.

To become a cruise expert was a bit more involved. I had to become familiar with dozens of different cruise lines. I joined an organization of cruise lines and travel professionals called the Cruise Lines International Association, or CLIA for short. Since I no longer had a host agency it was through this organization that I received my travel credentials in the form of a CLIA card. The card is recognized by most travel suppliers and allows agents to set up accounts with them, book travel, and collect commissions. To earn this card, I had to pay an annual fee plus take travel courses that were offered by CLIA. Once again, many of these courses were offered on-line, so it was easy to complete them at home.

CLIA also hosts an annual convention where cruise agents can take courses in person and tour cruise ships. The convention is held in a port city where a number of cruise ships would be in port. They make arrangements with each cruise line so that agents could take tours of ships. That, for me, was the most exciting part of the convention. The idea was that agents could see the ships for themselves and then go back home and tell their clients what the ships were like. The ships I was able to tour were Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas, the Star Princess, Holland America's Westerdam, Costa Mediterranea, and the Queen Mary 2.

The courses at the convention were seminars on various travel locations or ways to improve your selling technique. I enjoyed the ones about the travel locations; I especially enjoyed one about a ship that is both a cruise ship and a cargo ship and stops in multiple ports on the shores of Norway. I'd love to do that some day. The seminars about selling were all about being a salesperson. I think this is where I began to realize that selling travel was not what I enjoyed about being an agent.

To be successful as a travel agent, you really have to be willing to get more money out of people than they are willing to part with, and you have to do it in such a way that they feel like they are benefitting from it. The idea works like this: You sell a cruise for a low price to get the client committed to it. Then you start working on upgrades, excursions, and all the other extras that go with a cruise. That's where they get your money. Upgrades are generally for more expensive cabins, i.e., "Oh, for only $10 a day more, you can upgrade to such-and-such a cabin!" Yeah, that's $10 a day, per person in the cabin. On a 7-day cruise for two people, that's another $140.

What's the point of upgrading an interior cabin? There's no window looking outside, so no matter where your cabin is located, the view is the same: Nothing! So, why pay a higher price for an interior cabin on a higher deck?

Here's the part that really irritated me as an agent: The cruise lines wanted us to sell excursions and on-board services such as massages, but they don't pay any commission for those! For that matter, the cruise lines have latched onto a concept of "non-commissionable" fares. That means that a certain portion of the fare you pay to go on a cruise will not earn any commission for the agent.

That's just a couple of examples of how I feel like the cruise lines are ripping off travel agents. Agents work many long, hard hours to book clients for cruises, yet cruise lines are doing everything they can to take business away from those agents so they don't have to pay the commissions. The cruise lines know they can't eliminate the agents, because agents still book about 90% of cruises.

All those hours worked do not guarantee you're going to get paid for them. I had one young woman contact me because she wanted to surprise her husband with a cruise. They had been on a couple of cruises previously, but those were booked by him. She wanted to book one herself, so she contacted me and I spent several hours working up a nice trip proposal for them. She liked my proposal and then surprised him with it. His response was, "I can find one cheaper than that!" So I lost the deal.

Cruise lines try to get agents to book exclusively with them. They offer higher percentage commissions for the more cruises you book. So, it's possible that when you talk to an agent about a cruise, they may be looking out for their commission more than which cruise line would be the right fit for you. This is an area that I prided myself on. I did not want to be "married" to any particular cruise line. I was willing to take lesser commissions by becoming an expert on ALL the cruise lines. I wanted to hear what clients were looking for and then recommend what I thought would be the best cruise line, based on their budget, their personalities, and what they wanted out of a cruise. I had hoped to build up enough of a client base that the repeat business from them would make up for lower commissions overall.

And, by the way, airlines stopped paying commissions on airline tickets years ago. Airline tickets were once the bread and butter of travel agents.

I was a home-based travel agent on and off for about six years. I recognized that I really didn't like feeling responsible when trips didn't go as people hoped. Airline cancellations, reservation mix-ups, personal property being lost are all things that my clients experienced. Although none of these were my fault, I couldn't help but get the feeling that they somehow held me responsible for some of it. I felt stressed every time I knew one of my clients was on a trip and either looked forward to hearing their stories when they came home or dreaded the stories.

The travel business isn't what it used to be, either. When I was at the convention touring the ships, we often had to wait in line a long time before boarding. While waiting in one of those lines, I listened to a bunch of long-time agents complain about how the business was going downhill. A lot of points they made stuck with me.

So I finally decided to leave and move onto other pursuits. Nowadays, travel for me is just for fun. Especially cruising. I keep an eye on the bottom line. I know that when I book a cruise, I don't need to buy a lot of extras. The dinners are included with the price, so there is no need to buy a dinner in one of the ship's specialty restaurants. I often walk around a port without paying for any excursions. I don't need a $170 massage; I get my massages from local community college students for $20!

What about using the services of a travel agent? If you want someone to make recommendations, coordinate all your reservations, and give you advice for your trip, then go for it. But please don't be cheap with them. Travel agents work very hard for very little pay. On the other hand, the internet has made booking all kinds of travel extremely easy. You can easily book cruises, airline flights, cars, vacation packages, Disney, bus tours, etc. yourself.

One other point I'd like to make is about trip insurance. If you're going overseas or on a cruise, I highly recommend it. Yes, it's generally just a money-maker for the insurance company and the agent who sold it, but it is REALLY handy if you get sick or have other unforeseen circumstances happen to you. Just to be airlifted off a ship by helicopter, for example, could cost you $10,000 if you don't have trip insurance. Most health insurance plans don't cover you if you get sick overseas; trip insurance does. And if you're sick and miss your flight home, trip insurance will cover that, too.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Autobiography Chapter 5 - Broadcasting Memories, Part 2: High School Job at the #1 Radio Station in Town

by Paul Pakusch

I turned 16 in December of 1976 and was ready to look for my first paying job.  You needed a work permit if you were under 18, so I quickly got one at my high school office.  Getting the first job wasn’t quite so quick.  I don’t remember what I did between December of 1976 and the summer of 1977; did I apply for jobs?  I don’t recall.  What I do remember is that when school was out for the summer, I began in earnest to find a job at a radio station.

I literally hit the pavement.  My mother, at the time, worked for Visiting Nurse Service which was headquartered in downtown Rochester.  On several occasions that summer, I would ride to work with her.  Then I would walk to each radio station’s office to apply for a job.

WNYR and WEZO was an AM/FM combo of radio stations, a popular arrangement in the 1970’s.  There were federal rules against ownership of multiple stations in one market, which is the case today.  WNYR was at 680 AM for daytime broadcasts only, and was a country music format.  WEZO was at 101.3 FM and featured “beautiful music,” a very popular format in the late 1970’s.  In fact, it was the number one station in ratings at the time.  The stations and their offices were located upstairs in a small building on East Main Street in Rochester, across the street from the old Armory.

The first time I walked into WNYR/WEZO, I met Jerry Warner.  He was the voice of WEZO, giving his smooth delivery of station ID’s, times, and morning announcements.  WEZO was a fully automated station.  The equipment racks included 4 reel-to-reel tape decks, 2 carousel cart machines for commercials, two large cart machines that alternated between the even minutes and odd minutes of every single minute of the day, and a few more cart machines from which newscasts were played.

Had there been a job opening on my first visit, Jerry would’ve been the one to hire me.  He invited me to stay and chat a bit.  I remember asking him, “What would my main job be?”  His answer, “To stay awake!”  The position was automation operator; you had to change the reels of tape and the carts in the carousels, based on what was scheduled in the program log.  That, and of course, stay awake while beautiful music threatened to lull you to sleep.

The computer system was extremely rudimentary.  All it did was put the various tape machines in a sequence.  Each of the songs on the reels of tape had a very low-pitch audio tone at the end of them; the tone was below the hearing level of the average human ear.  When the computer heard this tone, it would trigger the next tape deck in sequence to start, whether it was another music tape, a commercial, or one of the carts with Jerry’s ID or time on it.  I can still hear him say in a smooth tone, “The WEZO time is 7:24.”

I think I made about two more rounds of radio stations that summer.  I never got a job then, but on my last visit to WEZO/WNYR, Jerry introduced me to a new chief engineer, John H.  John was taking over the  hiring of automation operators.  Not long after school started in September, I happened to be at WGMC when John called me, offering me a job working weekend evenings.  Wow!  I’d get paid to work in radio!  Of course I accepted!

My job consisted of running the automation for WEZO, and transferring commercials from reels of tape to carts for both stations.  I got to know the DJ’s who were on WNYR and we'd talk about the business.

Not long after I started working there, John told me he needed an operator for the overnights. I was still in high school, so it was not an option for me.  I mentioned it to my friend, Burt, who applied and got the job.  He often arrived early enough so that we could chat for a bit before my shift ended.  We still have a good laugh every time we remember seeing sidewalk snowplows, one night, on the streets below.  It was like bumper cars out there; the plows kept knocking into tree planters and mailboxes!

While we were both employed there, the station was building new offices and studios a couple miles away on East Avenue, in the block of the 111 East Avenue Hotel.  I think it was in January of 1978 that we made the move.  What stands out to me is that I remember another building under construction one block away.  Little did I know that in another few years, I would end up spending over three decades in that building, WHEC Channel 10.

My time at WEZO/WNYR was short.  In February, 1978, I ended up being fired from a job for the first time in my life.  They claimed I had made a mistake in carting a commercial, but I’ve always suspected that there was more to the story than what they told me.  There seemed to be a house-cleaning going on at the time, and it left my friend Burt out of a job, too.

That ended my paid broadcasting jobs while in high school.  More successes came later on in college.  For the record, I spent most of the rest of high school working at two different nursing homes. 

This gives me an opportunity to brag about the shortest job interview I ever had.  My mother had worked as a Registered Nurse at Lake Shore Nursing Home, on Beach Avenue in Rochester.  By the time I stopped there in September, 1978 to apply for a job, she had already moved onto Visiting Nurse Service.  So, I walked in the front door and asked for an application.  After filling it out, I gave it back to the receptionist.  She told me to have a seat. 

A few moments later, the administrator came out and looked at the application.  He said, “Are you Dorothy Pakusch’s son?”

 I said, “Yes.” 

He said, “Can you start today?”

Bang, hired!

I started the next day, in the kitchen. (Thanks, mom, for having a good reputation that got passed on to your son!)

In my next chapter, I will talk about my college radio experience.

Subsequent entries to my autobiography series will be posted every Saturday morning until further notice.  If you wish to subscribe to notifications of my posts, please enter your e-mail address in the form at the right, under "Follow by e-mail."  If you wish to view previous blog posts of my autobiography, please click on the link under "blog categories" at the top right, "autobiography."