By John Silva, Tech-Notes Contributing Editor

In the early days of television at KTLA, Channel 5, I had the opportunity and pleasure of combining both, the directing of television shows, and serving as Chief Engineer for the station -- all at the same time.

This unusual combination came about because the Vice President and General Manager of the station, Klaus Landsberg, had come from an engineering background, but had an enormous flare for television production. He created and directed most of the early TV shows that started as far back as the 1940's.

Over the years, Klaus and I developed a great friendship. This happened as we worked closely together in the experimentation of television programming and engineering in the "early" days. I joined Klaus at KTLA in 1946.

As Klaus developed each show, he then proceeded to direct it for a
year or so until his creative juices directed him to other avenues, such as the search for new and interesting talent.

At that point, Klaus would turn the show over to me to direct. I knew each show fairly well because I was his Technical Director on all of these early productions.

In time, Klaus' search for talent led him to the discovery of none
other than Lawrence Welk, himself. Lawrence had been in the music world for some time, but had never been involved with television.

Original KTLA studios on Bronson St. in front of the then
Main Gate to Paramount Studios

On May 18, 1951, with this discovery, Klaus created and
directed what became the "Lawrence Welk Show", which was televised every Friday night at 9:00 P.M. from the
Aragon Ballroom on Lick Pier in Santa Monica, California.

In 1952, after about a year of doing the show, Klaus and Lawrence,
who were both very definite-minded individuals, began to have
both business and creative differences.

This went on for a while. Finally, Klaus said to me, "enough of this - - John, you have just inherited the Lawrence Welk Show -- I'll show him!" --- He probably thought I would mess it up, and serve him right!

At that point, I started directing the production. As a matter of fact,
I directed it for three years. During that time it developed into the
number one rated TV show in the Los Angeles area.

The "Lawrence Welk Show" was both interesting and exciting to do.
There was no rehearsal. It was a procedure of counting musical bars
and switching and dissolving between three cameras, to the beat of
the music, while referring to a special music cue sheet that Lawrence
would provide each week.

The sheet had no music on it, but instead, a sequential listing of the
band sections (musical instrument groups), along with the number
of musical bars played by each, as each musical arrangement
progressed. (i.e., 16 bars of violins, followed by 16 bars of brass
section, followed by 8 bars of organ, etc.

It was a matter of getting together with Lawrence before the show
to go over this cue sheet and to discuss any production details,
such as his dancing with his Champagne Lady, Roberta Lynn,
or any other detail he thought needed special treatment. This
was all the preparation the show ever got -- no camera or talent
rehearsal. But the show went off beautifully, with almost no
on-camera errors during the performance.

Once the show was over, and the dust had settled, Lawrence,
his Champagne Lady, Roberta Lynn, and I would meet in the bar
in the Aragon Lounge, occupy a booth, and spend an hour or so
rehashing that night’s performance. Lawrence always wanted me
to tell him what I thought of the show, and I always used to tell
him it was terrific -- which it was!

Champaign Lady, Roberta Lynn

At that point in time in the television world, commercials were
always scheduled to run in sequences starting every 15 minutes
during a production. Usually two or three commercials were involved in each break. This was standard in the industry.

However, as time went on, the networks began shifting over to
commercial breaks starting every 10 minutes. After observing these network programming changes, Klaus thought this was a good idea and decided to try it on Channel 5.

All was well until he decided to inaugurate the new commercial break timing on the Lawrence Welk Show.

Lawrence was very unhappy about the whole thing, to put it mildly. He felt very strongly that his show would suffer greatly if it were broken up every 10 minutes with commercials. He told Klaus that in no way was he about to change his show format to accommodate a 10-minute commercial interval. Klaus, of course, had other ideas and was not about to be distracted.

During the days preceding the next show, both of them argued their own cases, with neither giving in. Lawrence declared he was doing his show around the 15 minute commercial break timing. Klaus declared the 10-minute format was going to be implanted right on schedule, and that meant on the "Lawrence Welk Show".

On Friday, the day of the impending show, I was confronted with
both Klaus and Lawrence. First Klaus reminded me that I had to exit the show and return to the studio for commercials exactly on split second timing, regardless of what Lawrence was doing with his production at the time.

When I got to the Aragon Ballroom prior to the show, Lawrence,
of course, pulled me aside to warn that his musical production was
timed as always before -- exactly for 15-minute commercial breaks.
I told him that I had no choice but to follow Klaus' orders, as I worked for KTLA, and that I hoped he wouldn’t take this personally.

left-right: Silva, Spade Cooley (country & western band leader hosted show of the same name on KTLA) and a very young Welk.

He said that he was not going to hold me personally responsible, but that I had better not work against his format timing. We shook hands and went our own ways.

Finally show time came, and it went off like clockwork ­ in the beginning, that is.

Nine minutes into the show the phone rang, and who's on the other end of the line but Klaus Landsberg, himself.

We've just started a fairly long musical number. I'm busy counting bars to the beat, and switching and dissolving between cameras -- and Klaus is telling me to standby, as we are about to come back for the first commercial break.

As the 10-minute mark came up, and the band was right in the middle of this intricate number, we switched back to the studio.
Of course, the band played on.

I cued my stage manager, who was John Polich, that we were in a
break, and he in turn, cued the camera crew to "cool it" for the break.  In the meantime, Lawrence and the band were playing their hearts out.

As performers always play to the camera with the red tally light on,
I directed the cameramen to pan their cameras on anything but the
band, like at the ceiling, while we were on the commercial break.

When this happened, I saw a strange look come over Lawrence Welk's face.

Anyway, the number concluded, and at that very instant, the studio
switched back from that location to the Aragon Ballroom, having
completed the commercial break.

Immediately, as scheduled in his program, Lawrence did his commercial lead-in and "sent it back to the studio" -- right in front of God -- and everyone else watching the show!

Of course, we didn't switch back to the studio. Our cameras were focused on Lawrence and the musicians, who were doing absolutely nothing, except maybe scratching their noses or other parts.

As we had about 3 minutes to look forward of observing absolutely nothing, I decided to pan the cameras on the huge audience that surrounded the bandstand.

When Lawrence saw this, he looked very grim. He knew then that he was positively between a rock and hard place.

After about a minute, which seemed like an hour to me, he directed
the band to start the next number, and did his normal verbal lead-in. From that point on, Lawrence did his best, and I certainly did mine, to continue the show and follow our lead in getting in and out of commercials. Of course, the rest of the show was very rough around the edges.

Anyway, after about an hour of this, the show finally struggled to a conclusion, and Lawrence managed to do his normal ending.

Needless to say, Lawrence, Roberta and I did not have our usual post show meeting that particular night. After the show, and a brief word with the production crew, I got into my car and headed back to the studio in Hollywood. There was no way I was going to post- mortem the show this particular night, and I was positive that Lawrence felt exactly the same way.

As a postscript to this episode, I would like to say that after that night, Lawrence Welk was a good sport about the experience, and became very cooperative in adapting to the 10-minute interval between commercials from that point on.

Lawrence and I never looked backwards after this episode. Each week after the show, which continued to be rated “number one” for some time, Lawrence, Roberta and I continued to meet in the Aragon Ballroom Lounge to have our post-mortem meeting after each show.

He never mentioned the incident of the preceding week, nor did I,
which in my mind, proved that Lawrence Welk was not only a good
sport, but was even a bigger person that I had ever previously


For engineers who might be interested in how we did it back in the
1950’s, here’s a short run-down in the engineering and production
setup used on this show, as well as many others during this period.

At this time KTLA had two home-made mobile units equipped to
handle the many live shows done each day that were remote telecasts.

Today, everything is digital- based. Back then, everything was of analog-design, including cameras, monitors, camera control units,
sync generators, video switchers, microwave transmitters, etc.

Sylva and Landsberg in home-brew-remote truck

The mobile units were moderately-sized compared to those used
today. We used to call them glorified pie-wagons. At any rate, they accommodated a director, technical director, an audio mixer, and
had observation seating for two or three people, i.e. producer, talent, or guests. These units performed unbelievably well.

For the Welk Show, the cameras were RCA TK-30’s having 3 inch
image orthicon pickup tubes. At that time we were in the good ole
black and white days. The video switcher used was one that I had
designed and built myself.

We were about 25 miles from our KTLA Channel 5 studios in
Hollywood. The microwave receiving point was at our transmitter
site on Mt. Wilson, approximately 50 miles from our Santa Monica
location, at a height of 6,000 feet.

So that we would be in sync with the studio for smooth transitions
ack and forth, we genlocked our camera equipment with KTLA’s
off-air signals as transmitted from Mt. Wilson.

As a note of interest, back in the late 40’s and up to 1950, we built
our own microwave transmitter and receiver pair that operated on
2-GHz. The transmitter’s RF output stage was a Westinghouse P232 lighthouse tube having a home-made flat metal-loop tank circuit. 

When our received signal was not acceptably noise-free I was able
many times to save the day by carefully inserting and positioning
the sharpened end of a pencil in the loop to provide positive feedback.

This many times would double or triple the signal power.
Don’t laugh! It worked; and we were making history.

Also, during this period our microwave transmitting and receiving
antennas were home- made. They consisted of a 7-foot transmitter
and 14-foot receiving dish pair each having circularly-arranged and parabolically-shaped arrays made of wooden struts.

In each case, the parabolic reflector surface was accomplished
by applying metal wire mesh over the parabolic surfaces of the
wooden struts. Each feed was a simple yagi dipole array supported
out from the dish to the focal point of the reflector and pointed back along the center axis of the parabolic surface.

However, by the time we started doing the Lawrence Welk Show, we had switched to commercially-built, 2 watt, 2-GHz microwave equipment that had then become available. We also were using commercially-built, all-metal, 4-foot transmitter and 6-foot receiver, parabolic microwave dishes with waveguide antenna feeds.

This commercial microwave equipment really helped to make our
lives much simpler.



Editor’s Note: For more about KTLA and the early days of TV, stay
tuned as John has promised more.
In the mean time, check out these URL’s

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