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The Broadcasting Years


Memoir of a Television Pioneer

William L. McGee
with Sandra V. McGee

BMC Publications

Induction into the Broadcast Pioneers, 1982

Praise for The Broadcasting Years, 1958–1989

“As someone who spent a long career in advertising, I highly recommend this book for anyone considering a career in communications. It gives you a good understanding of the ups and downs of both business and life.”

—Joel Lewis, Lewis & Partners Advertising

“In the seventies, Bill McGee enticed me to be on the creative team for what turned out to be two highly-successful broadcast sales presentation films, Get It On! Get It On Radio Now!! and How To Make Effective Low-Cost Television Commercials. These films were the first of their kind in the industry and just one of Bill’s many innovative sales ideas which have earned him the title of ‘father of modern broadcast marketing.’”

—Robert C. Pritikin, Award-winning advertising executive and author of Christ was an Ad Man

“Bill McGee revolutionized electronic media sales. His creative approach, focusing on retail sales cycles and local sales promotions using co-op dollars to switch a portion of the retailer’s newspaper ad budget to broadcasting, was a paradigm shift. Today, many of those same techniques are used in large and small markets. I will forever be indebted to Bill McGee, my mentor.”
—Elaine Clark, former Co-op Director, Jefferson-Pilot Retail Services 

Copyright © 2018 by William L. McGee and Sandra V. McGee


Memoir of a Television Pioneer

by William L. McGee with Sandra V. McGee

ISBN 13: 978-0-9984635-6-8

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PO Box 2327
Napa, CA 94558

Publisher’s note: This is a work of non-fiction. All photographs unless otherwise identified are from the Author’s Collection.

Front cover: Bill McGee at WATL-TV, Atlanta, 1970. (Photo Dave Funderburg)

Cover design

Dedicated to

Norman Tokar – for pointing me in the right direction in 1958 by suggesting I work in a segment of the entertainment industry that used my sales skills.

William A. “Bill” Andrews – for the ITC years … for being a good friend for 56 years … for the hours we shared re-telling each other the same stories and laughing each time as if it was the first time.

John “Johnnie B” Brigham – for being a good friend whether I was working for him at PGW in the 1960s or he was working for me at BMC in the 1970s.

Richard C. “Dick” Block – for inspiring me to think creatively and then find a practical way to implement the idea.

Frank Tuoti – for putting his creative spin on broadcast sales at KBHK-TV in the late 1960s.

Wally Hutchinson – for being my founding partner in 1971 at the launching of BMC … for consulting on BMC products and services in later years ... for being a good friend.

Robert C. Pritikin, Alan Cundall, and Allen Patterson – my award-winning creative team on BMC sales presentation films.

My former staff at BMC – a most creative and talented group ... and my

five-star sales reps: Ron Jamison, Tom Howard and Dick Stein.

And my beautiful and talented co-author and wife, Sandra.


Foreword by Richard C. Block
Preface: The Seven Lives of Bill McGee
Introduction: How I Broke into the Entertainment Business


1958: Allied Artists
1958–1960: Independent Television Corporation (ITC)
1960: NBC Radio
1960–1962: ITC Revisited


1962–1967: Peters, Griffin, Woodward
Family Time in the Sixties


1968–1970: Kaiser Broadcasting: KBHK-TV
1970: U.S. Communications – KEMO-TV and WATL-TV


1971: Launching BMC
1972: Co-op Advertising: “Use it or lose it!”
1973: Newspaper “The common enemy of radio and television.”
Time-Out: Mount Everest Trek
1974: Get It On! Get It On Radio Now!!
Time-Out: Alaska
1975: Arbitron Buys BMC’s Newspaper Advertising Service
1976: A Banner Year for BMC
1977: Riding on Success
1978: An Idea on the Beach
1979: “Problems Are Only Opportunities in Work Clothes”
1980: Get It On Television!
1981: The Year I Met Sandra
1982: The New Electronic Media
1983: An Offer I Couldn’t Resist
Time-Out: Colorado River
1984: A Milestone Year for BMC
1985–1986: A Pause to Smell the Roses
1987–1988: So Much for Retirement
1989: Decision Time


BMC Products, Services, Awards
About the Authors
Books by William and Sandra McGee
Praise for Books by William and Sandra McGee

Foreword by Richard C. Block

Bill McGee is one of those special people one meets in life – if fortunate – be it in high school, the service, or in their chosen career, who rises above the everyday tumult, is unforgettable, and reinforces or rekindles faith in humanity.

Bill was the general sales manager at KBHK-TV (for Kaiser Broadcasting Henry Kaiser) the relatively new Kaiser-owned TV station in San Francisco, when I first met him; although our paths could have crossed before as broadcasting was and still is a small business. My first recollection of hearing about Bill was how much he was respected for his skills, integrity and warmth, not attributes that are widely encountered in any enterprise.

I had launched six major market TV stations for a subsidiary of Kaiser Industries over the span of three years transmitting on the then thought to be inferior Ultra High Frequency (UHF) channels, a situation succinctly explained in Part III of this book.

Kaiser Industries at the time was a conglomerate in primarily heavy-manufacturing industries that included steel, aluminum, and automobiles, and was headed operationally by another extraordinary person in my pantheon along with Bill McGee, Eugene E. Trefethen.

The Kaiser way was to trust management and challenge the status quo, implicit in Bill’s approach to life. Founder Henry J. Kaiser, supposedly retired on Hawaii, in partnership with Fritz B. Burns, a prominent Los Angeles developer, built a hotel on a less choice strip of Waikiki Beach. The collocated broadcasting stations were intended to crack through the opposition of locally-owned media to Kaiser’s unwelcome invasion of the pre-jet plane quietude of the Islands.

My mentor, Mort Werner, whom I knew from childhood, had been wooed by Kaiser from the NBC network to oversee its production and sponsorship of network shows, and if he had time, to fix the Hawaiian stations, which after a year had become liabilities lacking direction and experienced leadership.

Long story short, in my fourth year in the broadcasting business and working at my third TV station, and prior to that an FM station, Mort got me to leave being merchandising manager at KRON-TV San Francisco (where PGW was the rep – one of those path crossings with Bill). In three years, Honolulu’s KHVH-TV (for Kaiser Hawaiian Village Hotel) became the highest rated ABC affiliate in an equal-facilities CBS and NBC competitive environment. The radio station, KHVH-AM, was Honolulu’s leading non-rock & roll outlet.

Bill’s current memoir not only lucidly and accurately recounts a critical era in the evolution of American electronic media for scholars, but also for readers who relish contemporary history as well as those who seek an enjoyable and fulfilling read.

—Dick Block

Santa Monica, California

October 2018


(Dick Block was President of Kaiser Broadcasting and later Executive VP of the Metromedia TV station group. Along with broadcasting, education has been his second love, and he has taught an overview of the entertainment industry since 2006 at USC in Los Angeles, preceded by teaching a similar course at Stanford University, his alma mater. He also works in international TV distribution for the annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, and produces two Career Days annually for the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) Educational Foundation.)

Preface: The Seven Lives
of Bill McGee

I’m not a celebrity, but I wanted to write my memoirs in hopes of inspiring anyone who did not pursue a formal education—like me—with how they can still succeed in the career of their choice.

In the 1990s, I dictated a rough first draft of my memoirs and had it transcribed. Unfortunately, in 2003, one of the worse things that could happen to a writer happened to me: I became legally blind from macular degeneration. My memoirs were shelved and I didn’t expect to work on them again.

Fifteen years later, and saddled with more health problems, my beautiful wife and co-author, Sandra, said I needed a creative project—something to wrap my mind around and look forward to each day. She offered to help me put a polish on the rough draft and get it published. As she was working through the transcription, sorting the accompanying photographs and materials in multiple stacks all over her office, she said she saw my life divided neatly into seven phases. She suggested rather than write one memoir—which would be a lengthy work—we write a series of seven shorter memoirs.

I am asked a lot about how I went from cowboying to a thirty-two year career in the broadcasting industry. To set the stage, allow me to take you on a short stroll down memory lane by way of my previously published memoirs.

Montana Memoir

The Hardscrabble Years, 1925–1942

I was born in 1925 in the “wild and woolly” town of Livingston, Montana, and grew up cowboying on a cattle ranch in Phillips County. The nearest town was Malta, a small cow town on the Montana Hi-Line just south of the Canadian border. My father deserted my mother, my three siblings and me during the early years of the Great Depression. He moved to Alaska claiming Montana was getting too crowded. A scoundrel of the first order, he never sent a dime home.

I believe those hardscrabble years instilled in me the very qualities I would need later on to make it in business and life. As James Michener, one of my favorite authors, said, “When you have a childhood like mine and you survive it, it gives you strength.”

Bluejacket Odyssey, 1942–1946

Guadalcanal to Bikini

When the United States entered World War II on December 7, 1941, I was sixteen and working in the Kaiser shipyard in Vancouver, Washington. I had dropped out of high school so I could get a job and contribute money to the kitty at home. Like so many other youths at the time, I couldn’t wait to turn seventeen and get into the fight.

On my seventeenth birthday, September 30, 1942, I walked into the Marines recruiting office in Vancouver with a consent form signed by my mother. During the physical, the doctor found a small hernia in my groin. He suggested I have it operated on and come back, or go next door and join the Navy because they would take me and operate if needed. I joined the Navy and, in retrospect, I believe that hernia saved my life. The odds of a Marine living to a ripe old age in 1942 were not very good.

Bluejacket Odyssey chronicles my four years of military service in the Pacific theater. My memoirs, along with interviews with former shipmates and other survivors, are set against a background of WWII in the Pacific.

Operation Crossroads, Lest We Forget!

An Eyewitness Account, Bikini Atomic Bomb Tests 1946

When the war officially ended on September 2, 1945, I still had one year left to serve on my regular Navy hitch. I put in a request for duty in the Atlantic Fleet, picturing a nice tour of European ports.

However, the Navy had other plans for me. I was shipped back to the South Pacific on the heavy cruiser USS Fall River (CA-131), the Flagship for the Target Fleet at Operation Crossroads, the first postwar atomic bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. I was one of the 42,000 military, scientists, and civilian personnel assembled at the Bikini Atoll for a front row seat at what many historians now regard as one of the most significant events of the twentieth century. As an “atomic veteran” (as the military participants are called today), I may very well carry the scars from the bombs’ radiation—a controversy which still rages on today.

The Divorce Seekers

A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler, 1947–1949

After my discharge from the Navy, I tried Montana State College on the G.I. Bill. (Colleges were making exceptions for high school dropouts who fought in the war.) But after a year, I returned to cowboying. I wrangled horses in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming; worked as a trail and deer hunting guide at Lake Tahoe, California; and then landed the coveted job of head dude wrangler on the Flying M.E., an exclusive dude ranch twenty miles south of Reno, Nevada. The “M.E.” catered to wealthy Easterners, socialites, and the occasional Hollywood celebrity, most seeking a six-week “quickie” divorce.

It was during these years that I first became interested in the entertainment industry. I met writers and directors from Hollywood and New York. I met movie stars, such as Ava Gardner and Clark Gable. I led the guests on afternoon trail rides in the Sierras, or escorted them in the evenings to the watering holes in Carson City, Reno, or Virginia City. I asked them a lot of questions about their work.

Two guests in particular were influential later on in my getting into the entertainment industry: Norman Tokar, a writer/director from Hollywood, and Terry Robinson, a screenwriter from New York City. Terry was divorcing Hubbell Robinson, the vice-president/program director for CBS. During her six weeks on the Flying M.E., when she wasn’t on a trail ride with me, she was in her room sitting at her Smith Corona writing scripts for the new television series Robert Montgomery Presents and Goodyear Television Playhouse. When I asked Terry how she got into the business, she said candidly, “It helps to know someone. In my case, I married him.” Terry suggested if I was ever in New York, I should take classes at the School of Radio and Television Technique.

I thought if I ever left cowboying, I’d like to try to get into the entertainment business.

Merchant Man, 1950–1958

And then I fell in love. She was a beautiful young woman I met on the Flying M.E. We had nothing in common—I was a cowboy from Montana and she was from a moneyed family in the East—but we tied the knot anyway.

In December 1949, I left the Flying M.E. and went east with my new bride to her hometown of Englewood, New Jersey for the holidays. At a cocktail party one evening, I was offered a job selling Willys Jeeps. I was told I’d make one helluva good salesman and could make more money in one month selling cars than in a year of cowboying. My wife, her father and I headed into Manhattan for new dude clothes for me. When we left the store, I had hung up my Levis and boots for Brooks Brothers suits (as I liked to say).

I stayed in Englewood for two years and sold automobiles. To my surprise, I enjoyed selling and was making good money. I decided then and there to focus on a career in sales rather than return to cowboying. However, during my stay in the East, I did take classes at the School of Radio and Television Technique.

When my wife and I returned to the West, I worked in the world trade business importing steel and wire products. I rose to a top-level executive position and negotiated deals with big construction companies, such as Kaiser Engineers and Bechtel Corporation. I honed my sales and deal-making skills on a world stage—and I never looked back.

The Broadcasting Years, 1958–1989

Memoir of a Television Pioneer

And that brings me to the sixth phase of my life. At age thirty-two, with three decades still ahead of me in which to forge a new career, I decided to look into opportunities in the entertainment industry. Once in, I worked my way up the ladder. In those early days of broadcast advertising, my life wasn’t unlike those of the characters portrayed in the recent television series Mad Men—a world filled with deadlines, pressure, travel (too much in my case), and more than a few martini lunches.

There are plans in the works for a seventh memoir tentatively titled Author, Publisher, Marketing Man. This one will cover my so-called golden years and final career as a World War II military historian.

Some have called me a renaissance man because of my varied careers and interests, and I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every one of my “seven lives” and have absolutely no regrets. As with my other books (I’ve written twenty-two), this book is written in my signature spare and straightforward style, also described as “just the facts, ma’am” and journalistic. I’ve included a few time-outs for special trips I took that I thought deserved the extra ink.

I hope you enjoy my broadcasting years.

—William L. McGee

Napa Valley, California

September 2018

Introduction: How I Broke into the Entertainment Business

Actor Hugh Beaumont (left) and director Norman Tokar

(Photo courtesy Deborah Tokar Schneider)

Beverly Hills, 1958

“Bill, as I said to you at the Flying M.E. ten years ago, why would you ever want to leave cowboying for this crazy entertainment business?” said Norman Tokar. “Most men would give their right arm to work on a dude ranch and take care of all those beautiful and wealthy women.”

Norman and I were having drinks at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills. We had just come from the CBS Studio Center in Studio City where I had watched Norman direct an episode of the hit television series Leave It to Beaver starring Jerry Mathers as “The Beaver” and Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsley as his parents, Ward and June Cleaver. I sat in on the story conference with Norman and his writers; then watched Norman direct an episode from the control room. Watching him at work, I thought I would like to direct and produce television programs and-or movies.

Norman Tokar was a former child actor and later played Henry Aldrich on the radio. After the war, he went to Hollywood and became a director. We met in 1948 on the Flying M.E. dude ranch outside of Reno, Nevada. I was the head dude wrangler on the ranch and Norman was there for a six week “quickie” divorce.

Norman and I settled in with our cocktails, and he asked me what I had been doing since we last saw each other. I brought him up to date starting in 1949 when I got married and left the Flying M.E. with my wife to go east; then selling automobiles in the east for two years; and then becoming a successful merchant in the world trade business in San Francisco for six years. I said I still had a few good decades ahead of me—enough time to start a new career—and I really wanted to take a shot at getting into the entertainment business.

Norman was silent for several minutes. Then he said, “You know, Bill, you’ve got a few strikes against you. At age thirty-two, you’re considered a little old to be starting out in this business. And you have the responsibility of a wife and four small kids to support. But I have an idea that I think might work for you.” Norman went on to say that since I had become a darn good salesman and deal-maker, with an impressive track record to prove it, he thought a job in the entertainment business where I would use those selling skills, such as being a talent agent or selling programming, just might be the ticket.

For that piece of advice, I would forever be indebted to Norman Tokar.

I returned to San Francisco and what followed was a chain of networking events starting with Hap Kaufman, my neighbor in San Francisco. Hap was a producer for ABC’s KGO-AM in San Francisco. Hap introduced me to Ed Hewitt at a San Francisco Milline Men’s Advertising Club shindig. Ed was the syndicated film sales rep for CBS on the West Coast and he suggested I focus on a job in syndicated film sales. Ed, in turn, introduced me to Kirk Tormey, another syndicated film sales rep based in San Francisco. Kirk loaned me his copy of Broadcasting Yearbook, a directory of all the television stations and networks in the country, as well as the peripheral vendors to broadcasters. Kirk had checked off the names of all the leading syndicated television film program distributors.

Then I took out subscriptions to all the leading trades in the broadcasting field: Broadcasting Magazine, Television/Radio Age, Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Sponsor Magazine, and Advertising Age. I became a voracious reader of the trades and soon became conversant with industry jargon and happenings.

I rented space in an executive office suite on Kearny Street in San Francisco. The monthly rent included a small furnished office, a shared receptionist, a shared secretary, mail service, and telephone answering service. I created a good-looking resumé backed by blue paper stock and sent it off with a personalized cover letter to the general sales managers of each of the leading syndicated television film program distributors headquartered in New York. My cover letter stated I would be in New York City the following week and would call to set up an interview appointment.

In New York, I based at the Roosevelt Hotel near Grand Central Station. On Monday morning, at 9:30 a.m. sharp, I began making phone calls to set up interviews.

Two interviews were particularly memorable. The first was with Pierre Wise, a sales manager at Ziv Television Programs. Ziv was founded in 1948 by Frederick Ziv. The company produced pre-recorded, syndicated television programs, which were sold directly to local television stations market-by-market to help fill their time in the early days of television. This service proved to be lucrative and Ziv soon became the pioneer producer of syndicated television programming with such popular series as Bat Masterson, Highway Patrol, and I Led Three Lives, to name just a few.

“Bill, you have a good-looking resumé, but how do I know you can sell?” said Pierre Wise. “See that chair? Sell it to me.” I gave him a damn good pitch for an executive chair. What he didn’t know was two years earlier, I was on the receiving end of sales pitches when I furnished my new office at Ferrostaal Pacific Corp. in San Francisco.

At another interview, the sales manager said, “Why the heck do you want to work for me? Based on your resumé, I should be pitching you for a job.”

After each interview, I followed up with a Western Union telegram thanking the sales manager for their time. By the end of the week, I had interviewed with all of the syndicated television film program distributors on my list. I gathered from the feedback I received from these hard-boiled, New York sales managers that they weren’t used to being pitched for a job by an applicant outside the business. Furthermore, they weren’t used to receiving a thank-you note.

When I returned home to San Francisco in March 1958, I had three job offers in syndicated television film program sales: two based in Chicago and one in Hollywood.

And that is how I broke into the entertainment business. Along with a detailed plan of attack, it didn’t hurt that I also had a healthy dose of confidence and “can do” entrepreneurship.


1958: Allied Artists

My Little Margie starring Gale Storm and Charles Farrell was an Allied Artists off-network rerun with great sales appeal. (

San Francisco, March 1958

With three job offers to choose from, if I had only myself to think about, I would have taken the job with the prestigious Ziv Television Programs in their Chicago office. But I had a wife and four young kids to consider, and they were very happy living in Sleepy Hollow in Marin County, north of San Francisco. The family was settled into the Spanish-style ranch house at 77 Fawn Drive that Joan and I had designed and built in 1955. As a bonus, Joan’s mother and stepfather lived in Sleepy Hollow and they were always happy to babysit. Sleepy Hollow was country-like with open spaces, trees and horses. I taught the kids how to ride at the Sleepy Hollow stables down the road. When they became of school age, there was a country school within walking distance of our home. The setting was perfect for raising a family. I was home most evenings. On the weekends, I did what suburbanite husbands did: played golf, went to sports events, or worked on projects around the house. We were living the American dream and I didn’t want to uproot my happy family if I could avoid it.

So I accepted the position in Hollywood with Allied Artists, working for the television arm of the studio that handled the licensing of all the studio’s off-network rerun television programs. I learned early on in life to speak up if I wanted something, so when I interviewed with Lloyd Lind in Allied’s New York office, I told him I would like to work out of my San Francisco office with periodic visits to the Allied Artists office in Hollywood. Lloyd Lind said that would be fine with him. However, my office on the Allied Artists lot would be rent free, whereas if I based in San Francisco, I would have to pay for my office expenses. I chose to base in San Francisco.

I was hired as the Western Division sales rep for the eleven Western states, plus Hawaii and Alaska. I was an independent contractor with a draw against expenses and commissions. Being as I had no experience selling syndicated television programs, it was a risky proposition to work on a draw, but I had confidence in my selling ability and wasn’t afraid to take the risk.

During my first week on the job, Lloyd Lind picked up my travel expenses for a trip to New York City. He gave me a crash course on selling syndicated television programs, both first-run and rerun. He taught me the differences between network, syndicated, and locally-produced programming.

Back in San Francisco, my first order of business was to go through the industry directory, Standard Rate & Data Service (SRDS), and create a direct mail list of all the television station general managers and program directors in my Western Division. I sent a letter to every name on the list and introduced myself as the new Western Division rep. I followed up with a phone call to set an appointment and then sent another letter confirming the appointment, always with a copy to the program director.

In the early days of television, the “Big Three” networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) and their local affiliates had lots of time slots to fill outside of prime time (prime time being 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 or 11:00 p.m.) At the time, ABC was mostly a nighttime network and its affiliates had to program most of their broadcast day. Once a new television series had completed its first-run on the network, reruns of the series usually became available off-network to syndicators to license to stations throughout the country. (Note: In syndicated television program sales, the word “sales” is misleading. Technically television programs are “licensed” for a specific period, such as one or two years.)

My first sales trips were to television stations in the major markets on the West Coast: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, and Seattle/Tacoma. All the major markets included station affiliates of the Big Three networks. Most of the major markets also had one or more independent stations, which had to rely more heavily on syndicated programming to fill their broadcast day. The secondary markets I called on were mostly located in Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. Over a period of two months, I was able to touch base with almost every station in the major and secondary markets, sometimes in person, sometimes by telephone. I had very few sales because my inventory of syndicated programs had already been licensed or were just not saleable. However, I cemented relationships with many of the managers of these stations, which would prove valuable down the road.

At the time, Allied Artists had three off-network rerun programs with great sales appeal that were available to license. The hottest of the three, The Little Rascals, was first known to movie audiences as Our Gang. The program had already been licensed in most markets by my predecessor in the Western Division, so it was not available for me to sell until its license expired.

The other two off-network rerun programs with great sales appeal were situation comedies. My Little Margie, starring Gale Storm as Margie and Charles Farrell as her father, had its first-run from 1952 to 1955. The series was set in New York City where Margie and her widowed father shared an apartment. Margie was always coming up with schemes to help her father, the vice-president of an investment firm, get new accounts.

The other situation comedy, Our Miss Brooks, had its first-run from 1952 to 1956 and became one of early television’s biggest hits. Eve Arden starred as a feisty high-school English teacher. In 1954, Eve Arden won an Emmy for Best Female Star of a Regular Series.

Our Miss Brooks starring Eve Arden was a winning off-network rerun for Allied Artists. (

In spite of the popularity and availability of My Little Margie and Our Miss Brooks, it didn’t take long for me to see that without first-run programs to sell, it was difficult to get appointments in the larger markets with a television station general manager or their program director. However, if the station needed some off-network rerun programming to fill in their schedules during hours outside of prime time, they were a good prospect for My Little Margie or Our Miss Brooks.

In late March, Lloyd Lind asked me to host the Allied Artists television arm hospitality suite at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Annual Convention at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The NAB was the major association for all radio and television broadcasters in the United States. I requested the services of a secretary from Allied Artists to help me in the hospitality suite. Due to the lack of first-run properties, there was poor traffic to our hospitality suite; however, I still made a couple sales. And I made some good contacts—the beginning of my networking in the broadcasting business

(Note: In 1956, television history was made at the NAB Annual Convention in Chicago. Ampex, a small California company, demonstrated its Mark IV 2-inch Quadraplex, the first program videotape recorder. Up to that time, television recording was accomplished with a Kinescope Recorder, which was a modified motion picture camera pointed at a television monitor. The filmed images were of nominal quality and not instantaneous because the film had to be developed. CBS was the first on-air user of the Ampex videotape recorder and used it to tape-delay the November 1956 CBS Evening News with Douglas Edwards.)

IN SPRING 1958, the broadcasting trades were abuzz with stories about a possible joint venture between America’s Jack Wrather Corporation and Britain’s Associated TeleVision (ATV). Jack Wrather was a wealthy Texas oilman who got into the movie and television production business after the war. He owned a number of network television programs, including Lassie, Fury, The Lone Ranger, and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Wrather was keen on expanding his movie and television production business. The cost to produce a half-hour of episodic television outside of the U.S. was less than half of what the same episode would cost to produce in Hollywood using union labor, and this appealed to Wrather. Media mogul Lew Grade, head of Britain’s Associated TeleVision, envisioned the United States as a major potential market for the sale of ATV’s British television programming. A joint venture would be advantageous for both men.

In August 1958, the trades announced that the Wrather-Grade joint venture was finalized. The new company, Independent Television Corporation (or “ITC” as it would be called), was front page news in all the broadcasting industry trades.

And I wanted in.

1958–1960: Independent Television Corporation (ITC)

ITC logo

San Francisco, August 1958

Most of the sales executives for Jack Wrather’s and Lew Grade’s new joint venture, Independent Television Corporation (ITC), were hired away from Ziv Television Programs. Walter I. Kingsley, former Ziv general sales manager for all syndication, was hired as ITC president in New York. William P. “Bill” Andrews, former Ziv film sales rep in the Pacific Northwest, was hired as ITC Western Division manager in Hollywood. Like me, they wanted in on the ground floor of this exciting new venture.

I called Bill Andrews at ITC’s new office in Hollywood located on Melrose Avenue across the street from Paramount Studios. He was dubious about interviewing me because of my limited experience in syndicated television program sales, but he ended the phone call with a polite “keep in touch.”

When the trades announced that two more sales reps were hired for the ITC Western Division, I called Bill Andrews again. I pressed hard for an interview and this time he said yes. I had to convince him I was the right man for the job. In September, we met at his office and I gave him my pitch. It went well. He offered me the choice of the Rocky Mountain or the Southwest territories, and I picked the Southwest, which included Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas. My home office would be in Phoenix. Ironically, the sales rep hired for the Rocky Mountain territory was Wally Hutchinson. As you will read in later chapters, my broadcasting career path would cross several times with Wally’s during the next thirty years.

When I told Lloyd Lind I had decided to join ITC, I had only been with Allied Artists for seven months. Lloyd Lind was disappointed, but he understood and wished me well.

ITC publicity still, 1958 (Photo Arthur Avedon)

WHEN I TOLD Joan about my decision to join ITC, and that it was an important step up the ladder for me in my relatively new career, and that we would have to move to Phoenix, she was not so understanding. Eventually she relented. “Well, I see you’ve made up your mind, so as you would say, let’s fish or cut bait,” she said. This would be the first of several times Joan would have reason to utter this sentiment, her language becoming saltier with each repetition.

The kids—Lucy, Betsy, Billy, and Kathy—were all under the age of eight. They didn’t understand why we were going to move and they let me know they weren’t happy about it either. I put 77 Fawn Drive on the market and Joan started to pack. I flew to Phoenix and bought a new tract house in northwest Phoenix adjacent to a small horse ranch. I thought the kids would like being next door to horses and perhaps they wouldn’t be so upset with me.

After the moving van was loaded in Sleepy Hollow, I packed up the Ford station wagon and off went the McGee family to Phoenix: Joan, our four children, two Dalmatians, and a Siamese cat. I’ll never forget the night we spent in San Bernardino. We confined the Dalmatians to the bathroom and they whimpered and scratched at the door all night. The only one that got any sleep was the cat.

Two days after leaving Sleepy Hollow, we moved into the new tract house in northwest Phoenix. None of the houses in the new development had fenced-in yards yet. When a neighbor kid cut across a corner of our lot on their way to school, Kak, my youngest and still a toddler, was playing outside. She hollered, “Get off our property, you bum!” (Billy couldn’t pronounce “Kathy” and called his little sister “Kak.”) The rambunctious Dalmatians knocked over trash cans and ripped sheets off the clotheslines, which did not make them popular with the neighbors. The first day of school, I drove Lucy, age seven, and Betsy, age six, to the school bus stop that would take them to their new and much-bigger school. It was Betsy’s first year in school and she was in tears. As the girls boarded the school bus, “big sister” Lucy took Betsy by the hand, turned to me and said, “Don’t worry, Dado, Betsy and me will be fine. See you tonight.”

Phoenix, September 1958

ITC Southwestern Division Sales Rep

In September 1958, Bill Andrews held an indoctrination meeting for all Western Division sales reps at ITC’s Hollywood office. His secretary, Jody, made reservations for the reps at the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel. I was impressed with the Western Division sales team Bill Andrews had put together: Ray Barnett and John Serrao, hired away from major station rep firms in Los Angeles; Bill Clayton from sales at a Portland television station; Wally Hutchinson from NBC sales in Los Angeles; and Pep Cooney, the youngest of the team, from sales at KSL-TV, the Mormon Church-owned station in Salt Lake City. All of these men had left good jobs to get in on the ground floor of ITC. Ironically, as it turned out, I was the only sales rep on the team with any experience selling syndicated television programs, albeit for only seven months.

Bill Andrews began the meeting by reviewing Jack Wrather’s off-network rerun programs available for the sales team to license (sell) immediately: Lassie, Fury, and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Once in syndication, the program titles were changed from Lassie to Jeff's Collie, from Fury to Brave Stallion, and from Sergeant Preston of the Yukon to Sergeant Preston. Bill Andrews carefully went over the fact sheet for each program: the network ratings, the audience demographics, and the sales histories by territory (when and if the program had been licensed to a station/market, its price per telecast, and when the contract expired).

After the meeting, I flew back to Phoenix and set up my office in the guest bedroom. I had already met or talked to most of the television station general managers and program directors in the Southwestern states during my seven months with Allied Artists. However, I needed to re-connect with them in my new position as ITC’s Southwestern Division Sales Rep. As I did at Allied Artists, I sent a letter to every television station manager in my territory, along with a copy to the program director, and re-introduced myself. I listed ITC’s credentials and the syndicated television programs available for immediate licensing in the Southwestern Division. I closed the letter with a teaser about an upcoming first-run syndicated television series ITC was planning to introduce in early 1959.

I started working the city of Phoenix. Since I was pitching to both television stations and local advertisers, I monitored my television set and created a prospect list of local advertisers who used television. Most of ITC’s programming at the time was for the early fringe time slots for the children’s audience, so I enlisted Lucy and Betsy to watch the children’s programs on the local Phoenix stations and create a list of the local advertisers. Using a Phoenix city map and telephone directory, I marked the location of every local advertising prospect for children’s programming. For example, for Sergeant Preston, my list of prospective local advertisers included toy stores, bakeries, and the local bottlers of soft drinks. I prioritized my prospect list based on the prospect’s interest in sponsoring or co-sponsoring a particular children’s program.

By the time Christmas 1958 rolled around, I had completed all of the above action steps, but I hadn’t made a single sale. The reason for this: the local advertisers’ budgets for 1958 were already committed and their budgets for 1959 were not yet finalized. However, there was a lot of interest in ITC’s upcoming first-run syndicated television series to be announced in early 1959.

IN JANUARY 1959, Bill Andrews called for another sales meeting with the Western Division sales reps in attendance. Once again, we were put up at the Hollywood Knickerbocker. The buzz in the office was all about ITC’s soon-to-be-announced, first-run syndicated television series. All the reps were anxious to see it.

ITC’s first-run series Cannonball

starring Paul Birch (left) and William Campbell, 1959

Cannonball was a half-hour drama following the adventures of two long-haul truckers as they hauled freight around the United States and Canada. Cannonball was co-produced by Normandie Productions and ITC, and the 39 episodes were filmed in Canada. The series starred two American actors, Paul Birch and William Campbell. The Cannonball theme song and lyrics were written by Merle Haggard who also recorded the song for the soundtrack.

Bill Andrews introduced Cannonball to the Western Division reps with a sales presentation right out of the Frederick Ziv playbook: a flip pitch followed by a screening of the program. (More about the Ziv flip pitch later in this chapter.)

After Bill Andrews’ presentation, each sales rep got a Cannonball flip pitch and sales presentation script with instructions to go back to the hotel, practice and memorize the pitch, and be ready to deliver it the next morning in front of the sales team. Some reps grumbled about being asked to memorize a canned sales pitch, but it was a tried and proven sales method with Ziv, and was particularly successful when pitching local advertisers. ITC put up two sales reps in a room so the reps could practice their pitches on each other.

For the rest of that afternoon and well into the evening, all of we sales reps practiced the Cannonball sales presentation, all except Ray Barnett. He lived in Los Angeles and we suspected he had gotten his hands on an advance copy of the pitch script because he was out partying while the rest of us were practicing in our hotel rooms.

The next morning, each rep delivered the Cannonball pitch in front of the other reps. It was a difficult audience to play to since each member of the audience knew in advance what the pitching sales rep was supposed to say.

My advance letters to all of the television station general managers in my Southwestern Division, with a teaser about ITC’s upcoming first-run syndicated television series, paid off. On the second day of practicing the Cannonball pitch in Hollywood, I got a phone call from the general manager of a network affiliate in El Paso, Texas.

“Bill, I have a program sponsor whose contract for the Mike Hammer series is expiring and the sponsor wants to commit to a new series. How soon can you get here?” he said.

I told him I could be in El Paso the next morning providing I got the green light from my boss.

When I told Bill Andrews, he said, “Gee, McGee, what are you waiting for? Get yourself on a flight to El Paso tonight.”

The next morning, I gave my Cannonball pitch in the conference room of the El Paso television station. My audience was the station general manager, the program director, the local sales manager, the local station salesman who handled the local sponsor account, and most importantly, the local sponsor, a regional dairy. They all loved Cannonball. I licensed the program at the full rate card for a 52-week contract. I walked out of the station thinking, This is going to be easy. I called Bill Andrews from the airport. He couldn’t wait to tell the other reps, still working on their pitches, about McGee’s sale.

With Bill Andrews’ blessing, instead of returning to Hollywood, I flew home to Phoenix. The next morning, I called Howard Stalnaker, manager of KPHO-TV, to set up a meeting for Cannonball.

“Come on over, Bill. We’ll make room for you this afternoon,” said Howard. I did my presentation and Howard and his management team thought the show was a winner. They paid me the full rate card to avoid losing the program to another Phoenix station.

Feeling on a roll, I drove to a Tucson television station that afternoon and closed yet another sale for Cannonball. When I called Bill Andrews and reported my Phoenix and Tucson sales, he said, “Holy mackerel, McGee, I’m going to call you ‘the blanket’ for the way you cover your territory.”

In two days, I had made three Cannonball sales and received the full rate card on each sale, which meant very nice commissions for yours truly. Walter Kingsley, ITC president in New York, sent telegrams to each division manager giving them the good news. I was the envy of every ITC rep still working on their Cannonball pitches.

To celebrate, I took the family out to dinner that night. We went to Kentucky Fried Chicken, the perfect place for a family with four small fry, I thought.

The Damn Ziv Flip Pitch

Here’s how the Frederick Ziv flip pitch worked using Cannonball as an example.

When I was pitching a local advertiser, they got the full treatment, meaning they got both the flip pitch and the film presentation. Ideally, I was in a screening room or conference room large enough to seat a dozen executives. In the back of the room, my 16mm projector was threaded with the Cannonball film and ready to roll.

Standing in the front of the room, I stood by the flip chart and introduced myself.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Bill McGee from the new Independent Television Corporation or ‘ITC’ as we call it. ITC is the exciting new joint venture of America’s Jack Wrather and Britain’s media mogul Lew Grade.” I pointed to page one of the flip chart with photos of Wrather and Grade, and briefly described their professional profiles.

Flipping to page two, I read a few words about Walter Kingsley, ITC president and former general sales manager for syndication with Ziv Television Programs.

Flipping to page three, I read off a list of some of the television properties in the ITC film library as a result of the Wrather-Grade joint venture.

Flipping to page four, I pointed to where the chart read that ITC planned to release no less than three new, first-run properties a year.

Then I gave the storyline for ITC’s newest property, Cannonball, and added a few words about the stars. I walked to the back of the room, dimmed the lights, and said, “Roll film.” While the film was running, I observed the attention and interest of the audience.

When the end credits started to roll, I turned on the lights and said with enthusiasm, “Wasn’t that a great program!” Invariably someone in the audience said, “Yeah, I really liked it!” and that opened up the floor for others to chime in with “Me too!”

The real selling began when I started talking cost. A first-run, half-hour series was sold as follows: 52 telecasts made up of 39 first-run episodes and 13 repeats. The primary objective: to sell 52 weeks of a series to a single sponsor. That was the ideal; but frequently, for budget reasons, I had to sell to two non-competing sponsors, who each paid half of the cost. In these cases, in week one, one advertiser had two commercials and the other advertiser had one commercial; then they alternated in week two, and so on. This was called a major-minor sponsorship arrangement. Each advertiser also had one billboard (a 10-second I.D. spot) per program at either the beginning or the end of the program.

When I was pitching a television station, my pitch was almost always shortened. As I was reaching into my briefcase for the flip chart, some hard-boiled station manager would say, “Don’t give us that damn Ziv flip pitch, McGee. Just tell us who produced, who directed, who starred, and how much. We haven’t got all day.”

San Francisco, May 1959

ITC Western Division District Sales Manager

In May 1959, Bill Andrews called me in Phoenix.

“McGee, how would you like a promotion to Western Division District Sales Manager in San Francisco?”

This promotion was a good one, but telling my family that we were going to move again after seven months in Phoenix was not so good, even with ITC picking up the moving costs. I shipped our furniture to a storage warehouse in San Francisco and the McGee family returned to Sleepy Hollow in Northern California. We camped out at my mother-in-law’s in Sleepy Hollow while Joan and I house-hunted.

Dallas, June 1959

ITC Southwest Division Manager

One month later, Bill Andrews called again.

“McGee, are you sitting down? How’d you like another promotion? This one to Division Manager of a new Southwest Division headquartered in Dallas.”

“I’m in,” I said without hesitating. Knowing how badly this would go over with the family, I phoned Joan with the news and departed immediately for Houston to close a big sale for Cannonball with Jack Harris, general manager of KPRC-TV.

I rented a house in University Park, a suburb in northern Dallas. Then I flew to San Francisco, instructed the warehouse where to ship our furniture, loaded my family into the car and off went the McGee family to Dallas.

My first order of business in Dallas was to open an office downtown and hire and train two sales reps to launch ITC’s next first-run series.

In September 1959, making good on its promise to release three new properties a year, ITC introduced its second first-run series, The Four Just Men. This dramatic series was produced by Sapphire Films and shot on location in Britain, France, and Italy. The series presented the adventures of four men who met during the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943. In Episode One, they are reunited at the funeral of their late commanding officer and hear a message recorded by him before his death. He appeals to the four men to form a quartet dedicated to fighting injustice and tyranny, and to use the money he has left them for that purpose. The men agree and they become The Four Just Men. The series starred Richard Conte, Dan Daily, Vittorio De Sica, and Jack Hawkins, each based in a different country and city—New York, Paris, Rome, and London respectively. The pilot episode was a “loaded pilot” meaning it featured all four stars. The subsequent 38 episodes featured one star with the other three making brief appearances, usually on the telephone.

ITC’s first-run series The Four Just Men starring (left to right)

Vittorio De Sica, Richard Conte, Jack Hawkins, Dan Daily, 1959

The ITC sales reps liked the pilot and initial sales were good. However, when the series premiered in my Southwest Division markets, the television station switchboards lit up with viewer complaints: “We can’t understand what they’re saying!” The viewers were referring to Vittorio Di Sica’s Italian accent and Jack Hawkins’ British accent.

One of my sales reps sold The Four Just Men to Oklahoma Gas & Electric, an important regional advertiser, who purchased the program to play in six television markets in Oklahoma and West Texas. The night the program premiered in these markets, the television station switchboards lit up again: “What the hell is that Italian saying?” or “We can’t understand the Brit!” When Oklahoma Gas & Electric asked to be let out of their contract, ITC hung tough. But you can be sure the next ITC rep to call on Oklahoma Gas & Electric, or any of the stations in the sponsor’s markets, were met with serious resistance if a new program starred actors with foreign accents. This would become a major problem for ITC down the road.

Most of us who have worked in the television advertising business have humorous stories to tell and this is one of my favorites from my time in Dallas. On a sales trip to El Paso, I was winding up a late afternoon meeting with Cecil L. Trigg, president of Trigg-Vaughn, a medium-sized station group. Cecil suggested we have a drink and asked if I minded if he invited one of my competitors to join us, a CBS film rep from Dallas. After a few drinks, Cecil suggested the three of us go across the border to Juarez and visit the clubs. When we had more than enough to drink and it was time to head back to El Paso, much to our chagrin, the bar owner didn’t take credit cards and we didn’t have enough cash between us to pay the bar tab. The owner threatened to call the cops if we didn’t pay up. Cecil suggested we leave the CBS film rep at the bar as “collateral” while Cecil and I hightailed it back to El Paso to get some cash. The bar owner said if we didn’t return with the money before closing time, our friend was going to jail. It was late at night, but Cecil managed to cash a check at a hotel in El Paso. We hurried back to Juarez, paid the bar tab, and claimed the CBS hostage. When I told Bill Andrews this story, he said, “Damnit, McGee, you’ll do anything to make a sale!”

New York City, November 1959

ITC National Sales Manager

A few months after moving to Dallas, and hiring and training three sales reps for my Southwest Division, I got another phone call from Bill Andrews. He had recently been transferred to New York City as ITC’s new General Sales Manager.

“McGee, are you sitting down?” he said.

This time he was offering me a really big promotion: ITC National Sales Manager headquartered in New York City. I would be expected to travel wherever the company needed me to hire and train a salesman, or to help a rep close a sale with a major prospect, or to pitch a major regional prospect. Bill Andrews had a special nickname for this position: “a**hole will travel.” I would soon learn why.

“I’m in,” I said without hesitating, “but this time would you please tell my wife?”

Each promotion at ITC and the long distance move that went with it meant more money, which was hard to turn down and good for the ego. However, the moves were wearing thin on Joan, the kids, and even the dogs. In two years, we had moved four times: Sleepy Hollow to Phoenix for seven months; Phoenix to Sleepy Hollow for one month; Sleepy Hollow to Dallas for five months; and now Dallas to New York for who knew how long.

To soften the blow of moving to New York, I promised Joan we would live near her father, who had remarried and was living in the small town of Pound Ridge in Westchester County. We found a nice house to rent in Pound Ridge. The kids enrolled in a small school, much like the one they loved in Sleepy Hollow, and they got to know their maternal grandfather, who lived a mile away.

Home in Pound Ridge, Westchester County, New York, 1959

AS 1959 WAS coming to a close, there were changes in the wind for ITC, and ownership and management held a meeting in New York City to discuss these changes. Representing ITC ownership were Jack Wrather and the brothers Lew and Leslie Grade. Representing ITC management were Walter Kingsley, president; Abe Mandel, worldwide sales manager; and Bill Andrews, general sales manager.

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