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The Other Side of the Control Room Glass
Bill Pasternak, (ham radio call letters WA6ITF), is an oddity in our profession: a Broadcast Engineer who can write outside of the realm of technical publications. He works as a Broadcast Engineer with KTTV Fox 11 / UPN 13 Television in Los Angeles and private Broadcast Consultant specializing in the design of video post production facilities. He is the co-founder and Managing Editor of the all-volunteer Amateur Radio Newsline(tm) bulletin service and Creator/ Administrator of the annual “ARNewsline(tm) Young Ham of the Year Award” program. He is the author of three books, production staff member to several educational films and videos including Co-Producer of the award winning “Amateur Radio Today,” authored the “Looking West” column for 73 Amateur Radio Today Magazine for 26 years, currently writes the monthly “VHF, FM and Repeater” column for Worldradio Magazine, is a contributing writer to several broadcast trade publications and is a frequent contributor to CQ Magazine. He is a member of the ARRL, Radio Club of America and Quarter Century Wireless Association as well as a founding member of the Hollywood Hills QRP Contest Club. Bill is the only person ever chosen to be recipient of both the prestigious Dayton Amateur Radio Association’s “Specific Achievement” (1981) and “Radio Amateur of the Year” (1989) awards. He also was presented the ARRL National Certificate of Merit (1995) in recognition of his contributions to the “furtherance of the goals of the Amateur Radio Service.” Bill and his wife Sharon (KD6EPW) reside in Santa Clarita California with their two “puppy people” and can be reached by e-mail to or


For each of us there is a beginning. I am not talking about our birth.
The fact that we are here makes this a fait d' complies. Rather, I am referring to that place and/or point in time where something sparked within to begin us on our career in this crazy business we call TV news.

The truth be known, in the case of this writer there have been so many sub-careers, or, at least "wanderings from the path" that I often wonder what would have happened if I had made one of the others my prime goal.
Alas, I will never know for as the character of Benjamin Stone in the Steven Sondheim musical "Follies" laments: "You take one road. You try one door. There isn't time for anymore. Ones life consists of either, or."

Yet this last statement in itself is a bit of a dicotome in that I might not have ever heard of "Follies" much less have an abiding love of live musical theater had it not been for the happenstance of being in the right school and the right class with the right teacher at the right time. Nor might I have turned my talent to the broadcast industry
either if not for an edifice of secondary education in my native Brooklyn, New York, that was named after the Marquis de Lafayette. A school that over the years has given the world such greats as song stylist Vic Damone, baseball hall of famer Sandy Koufax and our industry's own Larry King.

So we travel back in time. The year is 1958. Its the fall term and my 12th year in the New York City school system. For the past two I have been attending Lafayette High School which is located not far from the confluence of 86th Street and Stillwell Avenue. A point in space known to Brooklynites as the place where the West End elevated train (today's B train) turns south for the last few miles of its run from MidtownManhattan to its final destination in Coney Island.

Perhaps the best way to begin this saga is to share a few anecdotes about my own years in Lafayette. And we start with the truism that in every high school there is a caste system. Within the first few daysthat you are there an invisible label painted on you. It may be that you will be among the most popular, the most athletic, the most learned, the most entertaining, etc. And then there's that "other" group. Thoseof us who carried the invisible sign across our forehead that simply said "geek." And dear friends, in the 1950's I was the absolute epitome of a "geek" with a bent toward technology. A "terchno-geek" -- if you will.

No, don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with being a high school "techno-geek." The fact is that we were, and still are a very necessary part of any schools social landscape. Back then, we were the kids who, among other things helped out in the Physics Lab, the Biology Lab, served on the A/V squad or took pictures for the school newspaper.

We were the ones who put the microphones out on the auditorium stage, turned on the old Newcomb or Bell-Sound amplifier, waited for its tubes to warm up then gently advanced a noisy microphone gain control just to the point where squealing feedback occurred before backing it off a bit.
We then boldly walked out onto the stage in front of our teenage peers, stood in front of each microphone and in our best imitation radio announcers voice intoned: "...testing. 1-2-3-4. Testing." Sometimes
there might even be a round of applause. And with each word our self esteem grew.

Then there were those movies to run. Today a teacher slips a DVD into a player and a monitor overhead on a wall comes to life. But in my day it was a bit more complex. There were no DVD's. In fact, there was little in the way of videotape outside the early experimental Ampex quad machines of the big city T.V. stations. In teenage world of the 1950's it was 16 MM film and magic projecting machines that carried such nowforgotten names as Victor Anamatograph, Ampro, Bell and Howell, Movie - Mite, Natco and many others.

In Lafayette High School most of the projectors were RCA 400 series and Ampro Premirer 20's. In the auditorium projection booth at both Lafayette and my previous Junior High (Seth Low) were DeVry sound projectors equipped with 1000 watt lamps and "long throw" lenses. The pair in Lafayette were unique. As I recall, their audio output was insufficient to be heard throughout the large auditorium without further amplification. So, long before my arrival on scene they had been jury rigged to an even then antique external audio amplifier from what Ibelieve was a defunct juke box. I think it was marked SeebergManufacturing and 150 watts RMS out. Not a lot by today's homeaudiophile standards, but more than adequate to be hear from the four speakers strategically (or maybe randomly) hung in the complex.

(If you are to young to remember 16 MM sound projectors, take your web browser over to eBay and do a search. There are plenty up for sale these days. Most at only pennies on their original dollar cost.)

For me the most fun was being one of the school photogs. Thats because it got you out of class a lot. So did running those movies, giving this scribe a lot of refuge from those classes that he could not deal with but could not quit. And in a way it was my introduction to this wonderful media we work in. And, of coarse there was a member of the opposite sex involved.


"Theater English" was class I took as an elective subject I took in my senior year. As I recall it was only the second semester that this class we being given and in effect was a bit of an experiment by a wonderful teacher named Miss Sandler. A person with a fondness of live theater and film and the ability to instill that passion in her students and who truly changed my life.

The class went to see first run movies and Broadway shows. Imagine being a teen sitting in the Winter Garden Theater watching a performance of "West Side Story" and the positive impact of the lyrics and music on a young mind such as mine. Then back in the classroom we would discuss such things as plot, staging, social impact and lots more. It was aclass that was way ahead of its time and, in retrospect it likely only existed because this was a school whose administration looked well beyond the basic "three R's" of education. I know that it had that effect on me as I really began my writing in her classroom and have never stopped. Miss Sandler was the catalyst that set in motion thatpart of my adult career.


Also in that class was a girl named Jill Schaeffer. Candidly, I thought she was the cutest girl in the school but I was a "techno-geek" and as such I never had the guts to ask her out on a date. Deep inside I was afraid she would say "no."

The only time I even came close to asking her on a date was when she, myself and another classmate were sent to WCBS television one Sunday morning to present a thank-you gift to the late Bill Leonard. At that time Bill was the host of a local Public Affairs program called "Eye on New York." It would be many years before he would rise to prominence asthe President of the CBS Network.

But in 1959 Bill had been gracious enough to come talk to our class. He told us what it was like to work in live television. He explained how a TV newsroom operated and how a program got on the air. We all enjoyed his presentation and wanted to reciprocate. So we had the woodworking shop craft a "thank you" plaque and two girls were sent to present him.
Jill was one of them. I was the school photographer by virtue that I owned a twin-lens Super Ricohflex camera and FR speedlite. So I to go as well. More important, it gave me a chance to really talk to Jill and get to know her.

We did talk and we quickly realized we really had allot in common. We both liked live stage productions. We both liked show music. We loved those "then" 10 cent hot dogs sold from pushcarts roaming the beach at nearby Coney Island. And we both liked being on the beach and playing in the surf. We had so much in common, but, sadly, I could not get up the nerve to say: "Want to go out this Saturday night?" In the months and weeks that followed I tried, but never could get the words out.
Jill transferred out of Lafayette before the end of our senior year. Because of this, her picture never appeared in the yearbook and I have no idea what ever became of her. I cannot tell you if she followed a career into the entertainment industry as I did, or, if the road of life she chose went in a different direction or opened a different door. All that remains is a "minds eye" memory of a 5'4" brunette with a smile that could warm the heart of a snowman! Someone whose departure really left a gaping hole in my then young life.


But that was 1959 years ago and this is 2004. Forty-five years have passed since we threw our rented four-corner hats in the air outside of the Kings Theater on our graduation day. And, sadly, those years have not been very good ones for the school where the road to my adult life was crafted. What appears to be a combination of shifting population demographics, poor administration and years of politicians using my alma mater as a proverbial political football have made this once proud institution of learning a mere shadow of its former self. A school that the New York Post newspaper has dubbed "Hell High."

I first learned about the schools plight a few years ago when I was sent a link to that Post article. Wanting to know more, I called some friends who had been in my graduating class. They too had heard rumors that the school was in steady decline but had not paid very much attention. They, like I, were busy with their careers and had little time to worry about a school that had long since dropped from their thoughts.

Yet something kept gnawing at me. It was this little voice in our head that we all get from time to time. And this one said that its time to go back and see. So I a few years ago I decided to do just that. I wrote the school offering to come and talk before the weekly assembly about the business I am in and the success in life it has brought to me.
Since I go to the "Big Apple" several times a year to visit friends and take in Broadway shows it would not cost the school or the NYC Board of Education a penny. I figured that in doing so I could pay back a little to the place that got me started and, maybe, interest others in coming to careers in our industry.

It took several months before I heard back from the school. It came in a phone call from one of the then administrators (I was home recovering from some surgery and on pain killers when the call came so the details are a bit sketchy.) The guy was very blunt in telling me that the "assembly" sessions of my youth were no more and that there were safety concerns regarding visitors. I told him my offer stood at anytime I was in New York and all he need do was to call. I have yet to receive aninvitation to put it on the line.


This in itself made me all the more curious as to what was really the situation Lafayette. So I began scouring the Internet and with each passing week there were more and more items posted that the wondrous Google search engine uncovered. Perhaps the most telling of these was a Consent Decree entered into last June 1st. between the Department of Justice with the city of New York and various school district officials, settling allegations of civil rights violations and deprivations of equal educational opportunities at Lafayette.

The case was brought by the Educational Opportunities Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in conjunction with the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.

Quoting from the DoJ press release:
"The government's complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges that school district officials deliberately ignored severe and pervasive harassment directed at Asian-American students by their classmates. This harassment allegedly included both physical and verbal abuse, including multiple violent assaults. According to the complaint, students regularly threw food, cans and combination locks at Asian-American students, while shouting ethnic slurs.

Additionally, the government alleged that school district officials failed to take appropriate action to help students overcome language barriers that impeded their equal participation in the school's instructional program, as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974."

Candidly, I was floored. Could this really be the same school I had gone to? The place where the most "violent" crime was the school bully demanding you give him half your lunch or a dime? But what followed in the DoJ report was even more telling:
"Under the consent decree, which remains subject to court approval, the school district will implement an anti-harassment policy that addresses peer-on-peer harassment, provide training so that the defendants respond appropriately to harassment, and take proactive steps to minimize the likelihood of future harassment. In addition, the consent decree requires the school district reform the school's English Language Learner (ELL) program to ensure, among other things, adequate assessment, placement, and academic counseling of ELL students. The consent decree also increases the opportunities for the parents of ELL students to be involved in their child's education by requiring the school district to provide appropriate translation and interpreter services."


To me this language by the DoJ was a clear indictment of both the school administrative structure and the political climate in New York regarding the Lafayette. Lets face it: If the Department of Justice has to get involved, a real problem exists. And if the city is willing to enter into a Consent Decree rather than defend itself at a trial, it knows it has done something wrong. Further research brought numerous articles regarding the tensions between various ethnic and racial groups and some of the reasoning those reporting gave for the current social climate at the school. And as I read, pictures began to form in my mind. More than a single frame. Rather a motion picture of the way that Lafayette was then and how it got to where it is now. A film that not just lay blame where blame was due, but also showed that this school and others like it can return to their glory days if the community, the city and the school administration work toward that final goal.


And in the past few months the idea of producing such a documentary has become an important part of my life. I already have written a basic outline, a one page overview and the opening lines of the script. My big problem is that I am here in Los Angeles and the school is 3000 miles to the East. I really need to find a partner in this project.

One who lives in the New York City area, who knows documentarytelevision production, who went to Lafayette and who feels a strong a kinship to the school. A person with the ability to draw one his/her minds eye and make that the reality of video.

Why do I want to do this? Because amid all the tumult I see hope. I know what this school was like in the past and it can be that again in the future. And for me its a special place and a debt of gratitude that I owe. So that's where the road that I chose back in the late 1950's appears to be taking me now. Or, as another fictional character from "Follies" named Buddy Plummer says while waiting for his date: " I see it all. Its like a movie in my head. Its not just the bad things I remember. Its the whole darn show."

To be continued at some future time.....


Note: If this project interests you, or if you are a graduate of Lafayette High School and want to chat with Bill about your days there, you can reach him by e-mail to He really does answer all of his e-mail and if you include a phone number he will call you. You can also visit Bill's website at and Bill's old high school has a web presence at