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First, the idea of running a black-and-white movie on broadcast TV seems “quaint.” Old movies were once a staple of late-night local television, but they’ve largely disappeared.
Now, the “wee hours” after network programs end are filled with sitcom reruns, syndicated shows like “Access Hollywood,” and (mostly) infomercials. Where once the ghosts of Cary Grant and Myrna Loy filled the airwaves, now Billy Mays lives forever, pitching saws that never need sharpened.
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Second, the idea of taping a movie off of television is pretty laughable these days. If you want to see a movie, you put it into your Netflix queue or order it from Amazon.
But in 1989, those services didn’t exist, and if your local video store didn’t have a copy of “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” you were out of luck until the movie ran on TV. (What hardships we endured in the twilight of the Reagan years! Next time, Grandpa MMNF will tell you about cell phones that couldn’t be removed from the car!)
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Third, included in this late Saturday night/early Sunday morning movie were not one, but two KDKA “Speakout!” messages.
Before there were blogs or Twitter accounts or Facebook pages, the opportunities were limited for average citizens to spout their opinions. One way that TV stations encouraged interaction — and fulfilled their public service requirements — was airing editorials from the general public. Mr. MMNF can’t remember what WTAE and WPXI/WIIC called these commentaries, but KDKA called them “Speakout!”
One of the two “Speakouts” was a message urging people not to use illegal drugs (a controversial opinion if ever we heard one). Mr. MMNF didn’t include that one in this short excerpt, because it was a yawner.
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The other “Speakout!” which is included in this clip was related to a highly public (and entertaining) spat between KDKA’s general manager and Pittsburgh’s two newspapers during 1988 and 1989.
Then-KDKA General Manager Joe Berwanger used to deliver KDKA-TV editorials during “Eyewitness News” at 6. During one of those editorials, Berwanger blasted the morning Post-Gazette and its rival, the afternoon Pittsburgh Press, for being provincial and having a small-town mentality.
His ire was mainly raised because on holidays, the Press didn’t publish.
Yes, the editorial was just as peevish as it sounds. Mr. MMNF remembers seeing it live, and thinks it was delivered on Thanksgiving or Christmas 1988, or New Year’s Day 1989. Unfortunately, a visit to the library and two hours looking through microfilmed copies of the Pittsburgh Press didn’t turn up any reference to the editorial.
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The Post-Gazette‘s humor columnists, Peter Leo and Tom Hritz, decided to have some fun at Berwanger’s expense, pointing out in a series of columns that KDKA-TV was upset because on holidays, the station could only steal stories from one newspaper.
Leo claimed to have talked to a Press delivery driver who had spotted the late Ray Tannehill and Patti Burns standing in front of KDKA’s Gateway Center studios, waiting for early edition of the Post-Gazette to come out, while Hritz chided most of the local TV anchors for being blow-dried know-nothings.
That set off KDKA’s John Steigerwald, who delivered his own attack on the newspapers during an “Eyewitness News” sports commentary.
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Meanwhile, Berwanger stewed for a couple of months and fired another broadside at the papers on “Eyewitness News,” decrying the fact that the Post-Gazette and Press were only in black-and-white, unlike USA Today, which had color pictures.
Pittsburgh’s two newspapers were dull and old-fashioned, Berwanger declared, and made the city look like “a one-horse town.” Further, the two papers, though under separate ownership, were not competitive, he said.
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In an eerie preview of things to come, the Greensburg Tribune-Review jumped into the fray. (That newspaper wouldn’t launch its Pittsburgh edition until after the demise of the Press, but it was already engaged in guerrilla warfare with the two bigger papers to the west.)
On June 11, 1989, the Trib published a lengthy and fawning profile of Berwanger, heaping praise on his courageous stand against the newspaper monopoly in Pittsburgh.
Wrote a bemused Leo the following week:
“The remarkable thing about Berwanger’s editorial is this — there are dozens of things the Pittsburgh newspapers can justly be criticized for. But somehow, he managed not to touch on a single one. His feat is comparable to taking aim at Three Rivers Stadium with a machine gun and missing.”
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That’s the background on this KDKA “Speakout,” in which community activist and entrepreneur Reginald Plato concurs with Berwanger’s editorial, calling the newspapers “stagnant and unimaginative” with a “good old boys … pre-Civil War” mentality.
(Ironically, it was a year earlier that KDKA-TV was being accused of its own “good old boys” mentality, after Bill Burns suggested during the noon news that stray cats should be frozen and shipped to Africa to feed famine victims.)
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Other interesting nostalgia “tidbits” from this clip — that’s Larry Richert doing the narration on the “Speakout!” and a few minutes later during a promotion for the Three Rivers Regatta.
Richert had just joined Group W a few months earlier from Hearst’s WHTX-FM (96.1). He was working as a DJ on KDKA (1020) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and hosting a short-lived morning talk show called “Wake Up with Larry Richert” on KDKA-TV.
Also, notice the longevity of KD’s personalities, particularly the “three Jo(h)ns” featured in this video — Jon Burnett is still on KDKA-TV, John Steigerwald is still in the market, and although he’s retired, John Cigna still pops up from time to time. They all outlasted the Press, which was sold to the Post-Gazette and closed after a 1992 strike.
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Mr. Monday Morning Nostalgia Fix hopes you enjoyed this walk through recent Pittsburgh media history.
He’s starting to wonder what other lost gems from the 1980s he’ll turn up. He’s hoping that he finds his hair — but he’d settle for his marbles.
(If the above video fails to load, visit the DailyMotion website.)
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Mr. Monday Morning Nostalgia Fix is feeling old.
He spent part of his recent summer hiatus sorting videotapes. On one of the cassettes was a recording of “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” the classic 1948 movie starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy, which he had taped off of the Saturday late movie on KDKA-TV (2).
Mr. MMNF quickly skimmed through the commercial breaks, thinking, “Well, this isn’t very old — it was only taped in 1989.”
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Suddenly, it dawned on Mr. MMNF that 1989 is old. Today’s college juniors weren’t even born when Mr. MMNF was setting the timer on the VCR to catch this flick.
After he finished sobbing, Mr. MMNF sat down for another look — and realized that this tape had several elements that qualify it as “nostalgia.”