Friday, March 21, 2014

The Most-Watched, Successful, Profitable, Legendary, Local TVNews Franchise in the History of the Bay Area

 It was the birthplace of Happy Talk." The industry tag line, "if it bleeds, it leads", for better or worse, originated from its old studios on 277 Golden Gate Ave. In the 70's until the mid 1980's it made the most money of ANY local TV News operation not just in the Bay Area but entire USA.

Local TV watchers made it a point to watch this very San Franciscoish news program complete with its own unique name, "NewsScene." It even born the invention of the lapel called "Circle7".

Live from the unsavory and gritty streets of the Tenderloin; across the street from the famous, (or infamous depending on your stomach); Studio Café; a block from St. Anthony's Dining Room and a stone's throw from City Hall; Van Amburg, Jerry Jenson, John O'Reilly with Sports and Pete Giddings with Weather.

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  1. So which one is weatherman Brick Tamland and which one is sportscaster Champ Kind?

  2. They were the best at it but all Bay Area stations were into that "happy talk". Laughable today. Breaking stories were something filmed since yesterday's telecast as the instant news of today hadn't happened yet.

  3. Amburg and his crew may have been the best locally in the 70s-80s, but it is extremely unlikely they originated Happy Talk.

  4. O'Reilly didn't last long as Amburg - the ex-sportscaster as he was at both KGO Radio and KPIX - was a stickler for getting the sportscast right. At least 5 sportscasters went through News Scene. Only 2 survived the Van Amburg Era - Don Sanchez (who moved to the feature news department and ended up with a fabulously long stay at Circle7 that just ended a couple of years ago) and Martin Wyatt, who had two stints at KGO before moving back to his native Seattle for good after retiring several years ago. Remember the '6-Weeks' promo for Jim Celania? Plus, I believe Tom Janis ended up at KNTV, then I don't remember where afterwards.
    Jensen left us all too soon when cancer took him in 1982. Amburg has never gotten over it - Van was probably closer to Jerry than to his own family, the respect for each other's work was that deep. Even when the last two remaining Van colleagues, Cheryl Jennings and Carolyn Tyler, helped out, along with Suzanne Shaw (then Saunders, now a KNTV executive) and others, the last 4 years were not the same for Amburg (rarely used his trademark greeting "Good Evening, Here's what's happening", sticking with only a tired "Good Evening").
    Of course, everybody remembers that Amburg & KGO used the Paul Newman classic movie, 'Cool Hand Luke' from 1967, as the News Scene theme. It was clear that Amburg absolutely worshipped Newman and didn't hesitate to put Newman in the newscast when the acting great appeared in the Bay Area. Oh, and Amburg's successor turned out pretty good and also sadly left us too soon - Pete Wilson.
    Only Giddings remains active, and that's only on occasion in Reno. Here are some memorable names that backed up Giddings during his heyday, with only one still active, but in Bakersfield - Bob Marshall, Jack Hanson, and Lloyd Lindsey Young. Two more later backed up Giddings after Amburg left - Joel Bartlett (after he left KPIX) and Leigh Glaser, who still does weekends for KGO.
    1970s KGO-TV clearly was the most profitable Bay Area newscast of all time. But KTVU beginning in 1976 with Dennis Richmond and KPIX beginning in 1977 with Dave McElhatton started to close in on Van Amburg, with both of them taking leads at one time, with Richmond winning most of the time past Van & Dave (and into PIX's current Ken Bastida era) until his retirement in 2008 (Mac retiring in 2000, but not before catching up with Van in the 1990s). It helped the first Circle7 (did KGO use this before KABC-LA & WABC-New York did? Not to mention ABC-Chicago?) that ABC was the best of the networks for most of the 1970s as ABC was dominant then the way CBS is now in the 2010s.
    I'd love to hear from Rich's followers who actually didn't choose KGO in the 1970s and may remember many of the pre-Mac rejects at PIX (post-John Weston) and the revolving door at KRON, not to mention the George Reading and Marcia Brandwynne stints at KTVU before Richmond launched his legendary run.

  5. I worked in a copy/duplication shop - "The Carbon Alternative" - right across the street from the old ch. 7 studios in the 'Loin. I met some of the on-air folks who came in to do some xeroxing. Quick impressions:

    Suzanne Saunders (-Shaw): beautiful, down-to-earth, approachable, friendly, chatty. Did I mention beautiful? She lit up a room.

    Pete Giddings: above it all, thought he was God's gift. Not a mean guy, per se, but too in love with himself. He looked right through you.

    Van Amburg: all business, but not in the least nasty or pushy. An OK guy.

    Jerry Jensen: nice guy, friendly, talked easily with us "little folks". I liked Jerry.

    Never met John O"Reilly.

    And a couple of comments about the Studio Cafe: I ate lunch there every day for almost two years. The joint was run by three Greek brothers. Well, two of them actually ran the joint; I got the impression that the third brother was a bit mentally challenged, and he just basically swept the floor and did other menial tasks.

    I liked these guys a lot: they had "been around the block more than a few times", as I used to say. I loved hearing the stories they had to tell - on the rare occasions when you could actually get them to stop working for a minute and chat.

    They were a bit gruff with tourists and other "occasionals", but if you were a regular customer, you were treated like a god. The cheeseburgers were superb, and the salad greens were always fresh. And if you were a regular, and the brothers were otherwise occupied, you were welcome to run the cash register yourself and make your own change.

    Those were the days.....

  6. There are only a couple of "TV Moments" etched in to my memory...Di Fi announcing the death of Harvey Milk; the blacked out, on fire Marina District seen from the Marin side of the bridge on October 17, 1989...and Van's memorial tribute to Jerry...

  7. I remember the western themed promos, filmed in Hollywood and featuring Van, Jerry, Pete and John in cowboy garb, astride horses.

    KRON countered with a "newshound" theme. Their anchors, and primary reporters were photographed holding giant paper-mache dog heads ... a different breed for each personality. Those billboards always made me think of the "Doggie Diner."

  8. I met John O'Reilly several times over the years at games, and he was a really good guy. He ended up leaving the Bay Area in the late 1970s and going to Houston where he did drive time morning sports reports on radio, That's the last I heard of him. Interesting sidelight to Van Amberg's career, ( I should say Fred Van Amberg, as that was his real name!) He was what they used to call a 'communicaster' (talk show host) on KNEW when that station was all talk back in the late 60s and early 70s and still had the Raiders broadcasts with BIll King. KNEW had talk show personalities such as Joe Dolan, ( liberal) Pat Michael, (the arch-conservative) Hilly Rose, (what a name!), Robin King (best pipes on the radio and his sign off line was always, "and remember, love, too, is a four letter word!), Steve Somers, (who did some sports fill in on local TV and then went on to work for many years at WFAN radio in NYC as the overnight sports talk host) and yes, Van Amberg, who was a mid day talk show host on KNEW.

  9. Did Radnich even know of - JO?

    Raddy used to make fun of Nettles unmercifully?

    Btw where is Jan Hutchins these days? Still have more money than 'god'?

  10. So that's what really happened to John "Stumpy" Pepys he did weather on KGO.