Lights, camera … action!

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, August 29, 2013

By Frank Roberts

My television experience hearkens back to the medium’s heyday. It was a different thing than what you see today — a lot less fancy, a lot more challenging.

I worked two NBC stations. In news in North Carolina, I covered nearly 50 counties, usually going out by myself, setting up a camera, then doing the interview, and then anchoring both the 6 and 11 p.m. news. It was grueling, but fun.


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Nowadays, the anchor stays anchored, and a dozen or so reporters are out in the field, each one covering one story.

At an Iowa station, I co-emceed a Bingo type game, conducted a 15-minute talk show, and emceed a late-night grade-Z movie. That provided one of my happiest moments.

Once, I stood atop a tall ladder, suddenly falling down and yowling en-route. Four or five doctors called asking if they could help. I landed on a couple of soft mattresses, but those worried calls made my day.

The roughest time was doing an ad for Ace Sewing Machines. Everything was live in the ‘50s, so there were no do-overs.

My first shot with Ace was showing how it works and, of course, all-thumbs Roberts messed up. The material bunched up. Did I get flustered? Nah. I said using the machine was so simple even a child could do it, but I wasn’t a child.

The Ace folk were not amused.

For local ads, staff members usually auditioned, the sponsor deciding who should represent their product. The 7-Up bottler selected me. Each time I was on camera I drank, said “Ahhh” and grinned. They were 30-second spots, running between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. I had to be there all the time, receiving 50 cents for my efforts.

Fortunately, I did like that beverage.

The drawback was that the station was on a hill in Waterloo, Iowa, and during the winter, going back and forth was no easy task. I often curled up and slept between cameras. I wasn’t married then, so it was no problem.

Problems came after marriage to wife number one, but that’s a whole other story and, right now, you and I are probably both storied out.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at