Tulsa TV Memories: Tulsa pop culture      

KGCT Channel 41, courtesy of Rick Schneider, aka Chris Van Dyke of KMOD
KGCT logo courtesy of Rick Schneider.

Blake Etter tells his KGCT story

First of all, I would like to thank you for coming up with such a great idea and keeping the Tulsa TV memories alive for everyone to enjoy.

I guess you could say I was the last hire of the original staff of KGCT-TV 41. I started on March 13th, 1981, just days before they first went to air. Although I had earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcasting from OSU in 78, I was not able to get into the industry until KGCT came along. While working in a furniture warehouse and working as a janitor part time, I found out about Ch. 41, so I went to see if they had any openings. My first contact was with the receptionist Debra Burnett. I came in the back door, which was the entrance to the alley. Because the studio storefront was all glass, the real front door was on the other end. Normally people go in that way, so when I came in the back way, right away I thought I did something wrong. She said that they did not have any openings and sent me on my way.

I just didn’t want to be dismissed so easily, so I came back within a minute and asked if I could speak to someone. Just then, Ray Beindorf came from downstairs and I asked him if there was anything I could do. I wouldn’t let go and kept selling him on the idea that I could be useful in some way. I asked if they had a janitorial service and they did not, so I agreed to put in a full day’s work doing anything, and then at the end of the day I would clean up the place. He agreed, and that’s how I got into my TV career.

Within two weeks, Mr. Beindorf wanted to hire me as general gofer, which included doing a whole number of things besides just being a runner. He wanted to keep paying me the same price for my new official duties on top of my existing contract as being their janitor. I told him no, but he could hire a janitorial service, and pay me just for the work of everything else. He agreed. I still have the large yellow janitor bucket that got me into 41.

New! 2/7/2010: KGCT promo spot, courtesy of Blake Etter

I assisted Traffic, working under Traffic Manager Teresa Myers, who was married to radio personality Mel Myers at the time. They called her Tiger Lady. She was a ball of fire, and manually put the program log together on a daily basis. We would go through each and every sales contract everyday and manually type the entire log.

(from GB 280) Jim Reid said:

I was just reading Blake Etter's account of his days at KGCT 41. He refers to me as someone who used to throw things when they were mad. I can't deny it.

I remember one night at KTUL switching a break in the late Friday movie on the Grass Valley 1600 switcher. I tried something fancy by cropping the top of the bump slide and putting in the name of the movie with the CG.

When the break came, I totally screwed it up and it really looked horrible. I closed my headset and in taking it off, I threw it across the room, screaming a few choice obscenities.

I turned around and looked at the door. Standing there was Chris Lincoln, and a family (husband, wife, two little kids) he was giving a tour to. Chris had a great line. "This is obviously the control room".

Very embarrassing. I've stopped throwing things.

Our first day on the air, we had transmitter trouble, so there were times when all we had was snow. We would get color bars to pop up, and then boom, off the air we would go. I’ll never forget the look I got from Dave Ostmo and Dave Jones in Master when I noticed the snow on the TV and my bright solution to the problem was to put up a VIDEO TROUBLE SLIDE! They looked at me like they knew they were looking at somebody whose elevator did not go all the way to the top.

I worked in the control room, as the character generator operator. That was my first experience working with Jim Reid. He was a director who had a habit of throwing things when he got mad. He had good reasons for getting mad. As a seasoned director, he knew what he wanted and when somebody would go over time, or something would mess up the show, the stopwatch he had would get tossed!

While cleaning the place up one night, Dave Ostmo shared some good advice, that the degree I had together with 10 cents would not buy me a cup of coffee. He said that if I would keep the attitude that nothing was too low for me to do work wise, that I could learn a lot about the industry. I held onto that attitude and he was right.

I learned how to shoot and edit under John Bode. I was the 2nd camera of the Turn Five show we did with Ken Rank. When driver Gene Reynolds (Gene Daniel, according to race fan Kenny Bolen, GB 276...webmaster) was killed from doing so many rollovers, the racing association came and watched our footage of the accident and was able to calculate his speed and count the number rolls he took. The video persuaded them to mandate that wings be put on the racing cars.

LeAnne Taylor

LeAnne Taylor worked as an engineer at KGCT
Photo from later at 8 (courtesy of Chris Sloan)

I worked my way into master control, and worked with Sonny Hollingshead and LeAnne Taylor. LeAnne wore some white colored hot pants one day, and she had Betty Grable legs! Sonny nicknamed her Thunder Thighs. Being the naïve kid that I was, I thought it was a compliment. I had never heard of the expression, and LeAnne had gorgeous legs, so I always associated it as a compliment, until I mentioned it to my new bride. I got slapped!

While Ch. 41 was downtown, I worked as a traffic assistant, cameraman, master control operator, program coordinator, runner, and janitor. The building had an old AC/Heating system that kept the upstairs hot and the downstairs cold. Not bad for the needs of master control, but it was miserable for the people working upstairs. The AC repair guys wanted $1,500 for fixing it. I asked Mr. Beindorf to let me try to fix it. With two phone books, some duct tape and an aluminum plate, I created a baffle that split the flow of air more evenly inside the ductwork, and I fixed the problem. We then had the same even temperature on both floors. It was a good $7 investment.

When the day came that they change to syndicated programming and got rid of the bulk of the staff, after the meeting, a lot of us went next door to the deli and had drinks. Master control was moved to the transmitter site southeast of town. Because I was working in Master, I got to keep my job. My last duty in the downtown building was to remove the baffle ductwork and repel down the front of the building to remove the KGCT letters. The letters found a new home at the Garnett office location, and I went to work at the transmitter.

While there, I learned a little about engineering. I got to climb up the tower and realign the TSL dish to line up with the Garnett location. I learned that you do not stand to close to the transmitters when you are talking on the walkie-talkie, unless you intend to take the signal off the air!

My most lasting impression of working at Ch. 41 was the feeling that we were all one team. There were no “departments” so to speak. You got a sense that it was a family effort. Everyone tried so hard to make it work, so when it failed, we all knew that it was not because we did not give it our best. The 41 family that I knew disappeared, but I would see and get to work again with some of them from time to time.

My last boss was Tom Grey, chief engineer. He had replaced Dave Jones. Mr. Beindorf went back to California and all was left was a new receptionist, Marsha I think was her first name, Tom, and me. They started to hire new master control operators for the transmitter site, but we were the last three of the KGCT 41 when Beindorf left.

While working at the transmitter site, I was able to come to terms with the life and death of the 41 I had come to know. We had a pay for view service called IT Tv. Every evening at 7 pm, we signed off our normal broadcast, and scrambled to IT TV, which some will remember was a pay service for viewers who could not get cable. The scramble signal would play near-first run movies like Cinemax. I believe we were the first station to air Star Wars (in scrambled mode), even before it went to HBO.

The days at the transmitter were peaceful compared to the startup. I had done everything in TV except Sales. I was the Master Control Supervisor. With the transmitter out in the middle of the country, we had attack cows and security horses for our perimeter staff. One night there were severe storms. When I went to look outside, I could not open the door because a horse had butted up against the door, trying to get under shelter.

The program schedule had been planned by the IT TV people long before the remaining daytime airtime was sold to air religious programming, but it was a fitting end for KGCT to end their first religious day, only to scramble and air an adult movie titled “Pray TV”. It was a satirical look at religious tv with a sex flick format.

I quit July 15th, 1983, with no job prospect, and started just two weeks later at Ch. 2 on August 1st, 1983. KGCT had served me well, and I’ll always be grateful for that.

I started out at Ch. 2 as a videotape operator. On May 15th, 1987, I became the supervisor of Master Control. Reaching the level I left at Ch. 41. I held that position until October 1st of 2007, when I went to my current position at KJRH as Traffic Manager. If you hear or see Tiger Lady, tell her I made it.

To all my fellow former KGCT coworkers, some of whom have passed on, I want to let you all know that I’m doing fine, I miss you all, and I cherish all the good times and bad we had together. Feel free to drop me a line at KJRH (etter at kjrh dot com), my home now for the past 25 years. I plan on being here a while longer, maybe another 16. That will make 41, a lucky number for me!

New! 2/7/2010: 2 PSAs ca. 1980 on KGCT. Courtesy of Blake Etter, by permission of Mr. Sartain.

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