Tuesday, June 7, 2016

From the Shores of Camelot

‘There are Places We Remember…’
-Song by the Beatles

Memories have a strange way of playing tricks inside our head. We hold on to the good, distill the unpleasant until it becomes vague and vapid and we usually forget the bad entirely…over time. What remains at the bottom of that reflective memory pond is a residue of time well spent among family and friends, acquaintances and associates. We usually embellish the good times with a glossy coating that has come to define those unplanned, unexpected events that highlight a certain period in our lives.

Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting Headquarters circa 1970s

I’m not sure why it was that my time spent at the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting from roughly 1972 through 1977 turned out that way… a simmering cauldron of fleeting moments, events and faces that marked a very pleasant period in my life.

Coming off an unpleasant stretch down south at a very dysfunctional TV station, it was eye-opening and comforting to feel welcomed by so many initial strangers. There were certainly some good times before MCPB and even better times after it. But that particular time period will forever remain a smile on my face and a pleasant return journey inside my head.

What was it about the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting back in the 70s that many people remember so fondly after all these years? The list of outstanding programs and series could fill a volume of ‘How to do it right’ in terms of public television programming. From ground-breaking series such as ‘Wall Street Week,’ ‘Consumer Survival Kit,’ ‘Hodge Podge Lodge,’ ‘Maryland News wrap,’ and ‘Critics Place’ to regional hits like ‘Duck Carvers’ and historical dramas. ‘Love Letter to Maryland was one of my favorites.’

An article featuring myself

The list goes on and on. All done with creativity and dedication and a thirst for storytelling. That programming was unique among PTV stations and I was proud to be a small part of the action. My own Program Circulation Department was among the first of a long line of entrepreneurial endeavors that MCPB pursued.

Sharon and I in Annapolis

Bob Harrison and I

Sharon and I in D.C.

Sharon and I in D.C.
But for me MCPB was more than just television. It was discovering the narrow cobblestone back streets of Annapolis, the vast plains of undeveloped Westminster, the battlefields of Gettysburg, Intercourse, Pennsylvania, Amish cooking, the Smithsonian, the Capital mall, the Eastern Shore, Chesapeake Bay, Ocean City and all those various weekend jaunts up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Maryland was where my son, Brian, was born at GBMC along with two western novels that didn’t see a life of publication until some forty years later. Our home was the first of several real estate ventures. Maryland was where I began a lifetime of running (attempted the JFK 50 miler and only got half way) and writing and pondering and growing hungry. And I don’t think I was alone.

It’s become quite apparent that a number of alumni of MCPB feel the very same way. There’s a very popular Facebook group page for sharing memories. There are collectively quite a few.

On Location with FRU

Was it because of management? Most would agree that Dr. Frederick Breitenfeld, Jr. ran a tight ship but a good one. He created an atmosphere of creativity and exploration. There were new avenues to explore in public television production and programming and producers took advantage of many of them. Live drama, events in the field, environmental and consumer issues and craft projects were just the tip of the proverbial programming spear. Producers, directors and department heads weren’t afraid to try new things and found encouragement even after the occasional failure. It seemed to be the mantra of the times.

Back then I always felt as if I was living on the shores of Camelot. My job was to distribute the fine programming that others had created. I could only observe and envy the skill of the directors and conceptual visions of the producers. But living on the edge of all that creativity began to rub off in my own story-telling at night and wishful plans for my own production/distribution business in the future.

Like one of those spur of the moment gatherings; unplanned, unprovoked and unscripted, many of the events at MCPB just seemed to happen when creative people bumped into one another in the halls, at the local tavern or a friend’s house.

It was five years of unplanned, seldom solicited creativity slowly simmering far back in the recesses of my mind. It was concepts and images and ‘what if’s’ that gradually leached their way to the surface of my consciousness. Once back in the old familiar confines of Minnesota those ideas and concepts slowly began to take shape and blossom into fruition. I have the good folks at MCPB to thank for that.

I didn’t realize it back then but time spent at MCPB was my graduate education into a world of possibilities. Even today I’m still learning and growing and failing and starting up again. Just like all those folks I watched and envied and wanted to emulate as I stood on the shores of Camelot.

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