Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Year in the Life of MCPB

1975 was quite a year. Mood rings competed with Pet Rocks and Rubik’s Cubes for our attention. We wore hip-huggers, bellbottoms and leisure suits and weren’t embarrassed by our appearance. We munched on PEZ candy and had Magic 8-Balls tell our future. We listened to eight-track tapes and the latest in Disco and…oh, you get the idea!

By 1975 Sharon and I had been three years into what would become a five-year stint at MCPB. By the fall of 1977 I had moved on to another job and we returned to Minnesota. Camelot was no longer a part of our lives but it has always held a special place in my mind. As one of my favorite songs goes ‘There are Places We Remember’…

Of course, time has that ability to wash over the not-so-good times and sunlight-silhouette the good times. But even a non-partisan evaluation of that time couldn’t temper the good things that happened to us in Maryland.

As a struggling writer, it was for me taking those first tentative steps in novel writing and story-telling. Sharon began a lifetime of fund-raising and event organizing. I ran, or at least attempted to run, the JFK 50 miler. Our son, Brian, was born there and we made some lasting friendships that endure to this day. We grew as a couple and individually as did the station.

By 1975 the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting had moved up the ranks of public television stations around the country that was producing outstanding local and national programming. It was on an accelerated curve of creativity and innovation for everyone involved.

We really believed that ‘Love will keep us together’ (Captain and Tennille) and that it might not be safe to swim in the ocean (‘Jaws.’) ‘A Chorus Line’ was playing on Broadway and we couldn’t get enough of our favorite curmudgeon in ‘All in the family.’

For me it was acting the role of entrepreneur under the protective umbrella of MCPB. Sharon had a great job with the Baltimore County school system. Our lives were being enriched with a wealth of experiences that only the east coast could provide. It was a taste of what happens when good people get together for a common goal and shared vision of producing great television and expanding friendships.

Public broadcasting was born in Maryland in 1966 when the state’s Public Broadcasting Commission was formed. By 1975 Maryland’s public television outreach was impressive. The Maryland State Department of Education produced programs which were used by almost a half million youngsters across the state. Nearly two thousand Maryland students earned college credit through the Center’s College of the Air. Hundreds of company employees registered in the Center’s business training courses.

One of the highlights of the year was the activation of the Center’s fourth television station in Annapolis. WAPB had one of the two most powerful transmitters in the U.S at that time. Its signal doubled the population within the reach of MCPB’s signal.

1975 also marked the first full year of the operation of the Center’s Office of Tele-communications, one of the nation’s first efforts to catalog all of the telecommunications activities within the entire state.

There were other innovations I was only vaguely aware of at the time. For example, the FRU (field recording unit) expanded the possibilities of production far beyond the confines of the studio and in turn took audiences ‘in the field’ for pre-recorded as well as ‘live’ programming.

Membership week sought to acquire supporting members for the Center even though it was a state-funded entity. A full third of the Maryland public television programming schedule was produced by Center staff, either in the studios in Owings Mills or ‘on location’ through the FRU.

My own department of Program Distribution sought to expand the reach of our television programming to a much broader audience. By its second year of operation we had our own program catalog that attracted clients from colleges and universities, library systems, hospitals, and business and industry.

Some folks in the office were dabbling with their own Altair home computer kits and making their own personalized computers. Only the select among us had the newest Home videotape systems (VCRs) which freed them from only going to the movies in a theater. Two guys in California were making the news with something they called their ‘Apple 1 prototype.’

In retrospect it was a wonderful couple of years filling with new adventures.

We were young and free and the world was our playground. I left a great group of friends back there but meet new ones along the way. Our lives expanded and grew and were enriched by new friendships, our daughter being born and more travels. It was as the cliché goes ‘all good.’

Now with the benefit of time, reflective wisdom garnered over the years and wonderful hindsight I can look back at 1975 as a watershed period in our lives and the height of Camelot for the station. Memories are what often prompts a smile in one’s mind. MCPB did and still does that for me.

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