Tag Archives: videotape

I’m a thief

Special by Garbage from Absolute Garbage

It’s true.  I am.

Now, the statute of limitations has far outstripped my crime, so technically, I’m not a thief any more.  I was young, green, and angry.  I’ve since mellowed, calmed, and gained more conscience.

But you have to understand something: I don’t regret the crime.  In fact, having learned what happened in the years after it I am actually quite happy that I took what I did.  Now, I may make this sound like I’ve committed the Brinks crime of the 20th Century but it’s really not anything that awful.  In reality I took a couple TV station master tapes.  The crime is now harmless because the remainder of those said masters no longer exist.

Let me go backwards and show you what I’m talking about.

In 1989 I began my first internship at a television station.  That station was the model and prototype for what would eventually become the local cable news outlets like the News12 system in the New York area or Bay News 9 in Tampa.  The station was created by TCI Cablevision out of Colorado and it was cable’s attempt at both gaining a favorable cable franchise agreement with cities and gaining credibility as being a local news outlet.  I joined as an intern and within a month was getting a paycheck (which had no taxes taken out.  $5 an hour minus SS and Taxes put me below the poverty level).

This is small market television at its absolute pinnacle.  I would go out on good days and shoot 1 or two stories, come back, go to the control room, create the pre-production for the show and then direct and punch the 6pm newscast – our only show.  On a bad day I’d shoot a story for a reporter, then a story for myself, come back, write and edit the piece and be done – hopefully – by 3pm in order to . . . do said preproduction and punch the newscast.  It was stressful, exhausting, and a set of battle scars and friendship that really knitted people together.  We would do election coverage up to 1AM and race across the street to the bar to drink as much as we could before closing at 2.  I wasn’t 21 and when the health reporter told one of the managers they shouldn’t be serving me a beer he asked my age – when I told him 20, he said “he’s old enough to get drafted and die for his country he can have a brew.  Drink up, Dave!”

It was into this world walked my wife.  She was blonde, boisterous, excited, and . . . well I have to say it . . . beautiful.  Yes, I noticed that.  Yes, I couldn’t help noticing that.

Andrea wanted desperately to be an anchor and reporter.  More anchor than reporter.  I’m not giving away any secrets here, she liked the attention.  But she wasn’t an attention-whore, not a person who’d have years later sold her soul for a reality show.  She liked to write and talk to people.  She liked features and Entertainment.  Eventually, she got a paycheck like I did and began doing the station’s entertainment reports.  This was, though, on top of doing regular reporting during the week.

She and I both learned innumerable balancing skills in trying to get stories each day and her segment on at the end of the week.  I’ve recounted how her work helped her get an internship on the East Coast – one that she was unable to attend – so I won’t go into that again.

Every story ended up on a master videotape, a 3/4″ strip of mylar inside a large plastic cartridge.  Most of you will never have seen a 3/4 tape.  We shot on cameras – even then – that had tubes inside them for catching images, so you were not able to shoot lights, the sun, nothing, or it would burn a massive blue dot into the tube and you’d have that dot in every interview and piece of video you shot after.

A 3/4″ Videotape

The daily stories were on a series of tapes.  One day you might be on Master 341 and the next on Master 220.  However, there were segments that ended up having their own masters.  Andrea’s Entertainment segment had one.  Reporters would horde masters to use for all their stories, both so that they were easy to find and so that they could make resume videotapes for getting a new job.  I was no exception.  Neither was Andrea.

When the time came that I left my second stint at said small market station, I took one of my masters . . . and one of Andrea’s.  I found them recently, having forgotten I’d even taken them.  I always had a pang of guilt for taking them years ago because they were masters that contained a small snapshot of Council Bluffs, Iowa’s history.  We shot stories and did news that was just that city – unless the city of Omaha was collapsing we weren’t going to cross the river to cover it.  I remember checking to see there weren’t stories they’d really, really need, but at the end of the day it wasn’t MY tape to take.  It was work product of that company’s and I’d never, ever do something like that today.  I haven’t done it since.

But I don’t feel guilty anymore.  There are two reasons:

First, the company who bought the company who bought us from TCI didn’t really want a news division.  They acted like they did, initially, but their goal was always to move the group to Omaha and begin doing community TV.  Not news.  Right as I was giving my notice to leave and work for the NBC station they tried to get me to take the job of News Director.  They told me who they’d give the job to if I said “no” and claimed that this person would not know how to handle it and it would then be my  fault that they dismantled the operation and fired everyone.  I told him, impolitely, to go fuck himself.  I had a better job and he wasn’t going to blame me for his being an ass.  They did dismantle the building, move everything, and then took more than 10 years of CB history on videotape and unceremoniously threw it in the dumpster.  Every tape.

Second, and this is most important, those tapes are gone forever.  If I’d never taken the tapes, the only visible evidence of my wife’s original career, her history would be gone forever.  I’d have lost the moving images of her – frozen the way I choose to remember her: that beautiful blonde woman with the twinkling smile that spread across her entire face.  The spark in her eyes as she was happy reaches through the TV and grabs you.

You may think this a minor crime, something not worth mentioning.  For me, it’s a crime that now ranks with the greatest of art heists because I now get a small glimpse of things once forgotten. At 30 frames a second I get to watch that girl smiling at me . . . and sometimes she was, looking past the camera or through it into the control room, smiling because I said something in her ear.  I remember and ache for those days because I can’t even re-live them with her.

Now, I just need to find a deck I can play them on.

A voice from the past

I made a mistake that ruined my entire evening.  I was looking for pictures and items for my little project running the 26th.  In my zeal I grabbed a handful of videotapes, including one that was a 3/4 inch tape – a large cartridge, two cylindrical holes in the back with a metal flap that opens on the top.  I had figured this was a random, old tape that I’d neglected throwing away when we moved or what have you.  I brought it into work in order to see if it was something I should worry about or not.  I wasn’t too concerned because I’d labelled all the older tapes, mine, Andrea’s, random newscasts from my first and second jobs, all of those were in a safe location.

I guess I should feel fortunate that the tape was in the middle, halfway through the tape, with the main part of it being – I kid you not – movie trailers and interviews from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”  I thought it was just a tape I had no need of keeping but to play it safe – and this was my downfall – I rewound it.  I hit the stop button and waited for the wide mylar tape to reach the beginning of its reel, the trademark “thunk” emanating from the U-Matic deck we have in the dubbing area of our station.  I figured, while I made a dub of something in the bigger rack looking at a tape on the 3/4 machine was no big deal.

When I hit play after rewinding the tape, though, it wasn’t Keanu Reeves playing air guitar.  It was abundantly clear that this was the beginning of what we called a “dump tape”: a throwaway tape that a reporter, anchor or photographer would grab and re-use in order to save their best stories or anchoring and “dump” the stories onto the tape.  Only this wasn’t my dump tape, it was Andrea’s.  One I hadn’t even remembered seeing.

I remember the day is the worst part.  I can’t give you an exact date, it’s not that drastic.  But Andrea wasn’t the main anchor for our station.  She was filling in for the anchor, a night that she’d hoped would get her experience and show she could do the job.  She was hoping that when the main anchor left, something that was in the works, she’d be up for the job.  The newscast is from 1992, one of our first TV jobs.  If you saw it today you’d think very little of it.  Small town news, a salt-and-pepper haired anchor sitting next to an attractive blonde, it could be any station in any small market.  But the blonde was my wife.

I looked, and if I tried really hard, I could see on her left hand a ring.  It was her engagement ring, the one I’d given her on February 29th of that year.  This was a night she’d come back from Spring Break, been anchoring, it was likely late Spring or Summer.

I watched and it was just so jarring.  Here she was, just in the throngs of engagement, just having fallen in love, and it was just an everyday sort of activity for her.  Nothing special, the newscast certainly nothing special, but . . . there she was.  She wasn’t great, she wasn’t awful, but she was there.  My head started to swim a little and the first thing I thought of was did I stand in her way?  She wasn’t too bad for being in a small market, especially for the technology we had.  Could I have worked with her a little more, pushed her, let her be the driving career force?  Did my career moves, the failed jump to Colorado, the move back to Nebraska, Texas, all of it make her life go where she never wanted to go?  She was clearly happy here, and it’s what she wanted to do, so my first thoughts were . . . was she happy?

I’ll never know now if she truly left television because she wanted to or because she felt she had to.  She was ambitious, wanted to do something that paid better, hated the way the industry was going, but she’d always said she missed it.  I stayed in the business where she left it, but did she leave because she wanted to or because she thought she had to?  I will never know the answers to these questions, and part of me hopes I never do.

But seeing her again, the woman locked in time, in a fuzzy, distorted tape and locked there in the state she was in when I fell in love with her was really hard.  Hard, because I wanted to be in there with her, not the memory of the guy punching the buttons directing her newscast, which is likely where I was that day.  It didn’t make me break down or cry or anything like that.  It just soured the rest of my day because . . . I missed her.  I have missed her horribly this last couple weeks and seeing this; this just brought that emotion to the front.  Nothing was repaired, there was no “thankful to see her” moment, it just reminded me of what I lost and what it was like literally twenty years ago.  The joyous, intense, carefree days are so long gone I could hardly remember them.

I found myself quiet, answering my kids with two-word answers tonight, and snapping at the little things they wanted to tell me.  Nothing really seemed too important tonight, not really.

A voice from the past, her voice.  Not like some seance with the spirits invading my subconscious, this was just a memory, one I thought I’d forgotten or put in its place.  This was no sign, no happy moment.  One day I’ll look at these kinds of things with a fondness and love, but today . . . today I wasn’t prepared or ready to see it.  Now, I have to try and go to sleep with the memory of what I lost – with the vision of that person on the fuzzy screen in my head and I can’t help but relive so many key moments from those times, and it simultaneously makes me smile and clench my fists, angry I can’t have them again.

I will be able to look at it again, prepared now for what’s there, but it’s the unexpected, the voices from the past, that haunt me and pull me farther back from the progress I’ve made.