From Punched, Kicked, Spat On, and Sometimes Thanked, by Paul Orlousky
I was working in Binghamton, New York and had sent out dozens of resumes and videotapes of my work. I had received dozens of rejection letters and returned tapes. When WYTV in Youngstown, Ohio offered me a job, I jumped at it. It was not a great station, but it was a bigger television market. A bonus was that it was close to Cleveland. I was an avid Browns fan. (And despite the pain over all these years, I remain one!)
Youngstown, at the time I arrived there, was mob-infested. For a news guy, that meant it was a great place to learn how to cover a city where you could get some dirt under your fingernails. Problem was, I was the weekend anchor and was only on the streets three days a week. I never got my nails that dirty, but did see a lot from that anchor chair.
There was a huge underworld culture in Youngstown at the time. It was right out in the open. It was almost like the movie Goodfellas. People talked with reverence about “Briar Hill Jimmy,” the Carabbias, the Strollo Brothers, and Joey Naples. There was a bar and drive-through beverage store close to the TV station, almost out the back door. You could go there to buy beer, pop, and all the usual stuff. You could also go there and play football parlay sheets from your car. In Youngstown, parlays also included high school games. On Tuesday you’d go back and collect if you won.
WYTV aired Monday Night Football. If games were in Pittsburgh or Cleveland and didn’t sell out, the Youngstown market was blacked out and the TV station couldn’t carry the game—which made viewers irate. One Monday night during a blackout, a guy who had been drinking came knocking on the station door, complaining. We didn’t want any trouble and he wasn’t drunk, just pissed off. We said, OK, come on into the newsroom and watch. We could get the game from ABC; but we couldn’t broadcast it. He watched, thanked us, and left. I am sure we had a viewer for life.
That situation gave the photographers an idea. An illegal but ingenious one. On the next blackout night, they cooked up a deal with the bar we backed up to. They ran a cable from the TV station to the bar. The bar then plugged the network football feed into their TVs. They made a fortune because it was the only place in town that had the game. It was on the QT, but all the “goodfellas” in town knew about it. The payoff for the cameraman was a free bar tab for a week or two.
Watch What You Drive to Lordstown
A big employer in the Mahoning Valley at the time was the Lordstown General Motors Plant. Thousands worked there. The UAW was king. It was notorious for a contentious relationship with GM. In the union hall parking lot, there were two parking areas. One was close to the building, with a sign announcing that only American-made cars were welcome there. The other, farther away across a small bridge over a creek, was for anyone driving a foreign car.
Only one of our news vehicles was a foreign make. I don’t know how WYTV’s station management ever decided to buy it. It was probably a trade-out with one of our advertisers. It wasn’t a great move to take that foreign car to a press conference at the union hall. When the crew came out, all four tires were flat. They didn’t just leak air. Knife punctures took care of that. Message received. I believe the station bought only American cars after that. They certainly didn’t take that foreign car anywhere near Lordstown again.
In 1980, just before I moved to Cleveland, I was the co-anchor of the nightly news. One night, the weatherperson was off and we had an opportunity for an unusual replacement. Donny Osmond, “America’s Sweetheart” at the time, was in town to promote an upcoming concert given by his family. Arrangements were made to have him come in and do a guest weather segment. I knew a bit about weather and had done the weather in a pinch in the past, so I would lead Donny through it.
The weather segment came, and my co-anchor threw it over to me. I introduced Donny and announced him as our guest weatherman. In those days, weather graphics were created on a large erasable board showing an outline of the United States. Weather fronts and other information were drawn on the board with a marker by the weather person.
Donny had the marker and started by drawing a big sun over Utah, where his family is from. Good start. He noted that a front had passed us by and that the all-day rain in Youngstown had stopped. I told him he was doing great. Then he moved farther east on the map, and closer to me; then, unexpectedly, he reached over and started drawing the weather on my face!
I was caught flat-footed, dumbfounded. It was unplanned and I was completely unprepared! What was I supposed to do? This was America’s Sweetheart; I certainly couldn’t punch him. Pushing him away would look awkward; I was at least a foot taller than he was. So I just stood there, going along with it. To this day, I wish I had done something—anything—else.