Smith first got into television in 1951 as a stagehand at WKY-TV in Oklahoma City. He recalls the time when studio lighting at WKY became an issue between engineering and production.
"Engineering wanted to use fluorescent lighting, but Hoyt Andres decided to visit Hollywood and study the model lighting they used to make movies and television. He came back and conducted a slide presentation on the subject of lighting...how you're supposed to have one main source of light, like in nature. Avoid 'double shadows' on people's faces because it doesn't look natural. His presentation was so interesting I decided to become a lighting man."
WKY purchased professional Mole Richardson and Century lighting for Ken and the staff to worth with. In 1954, WKY became the one of the first stations to produce local live color programming. Ken's experience with lighting and color television drew the interest of management at Gaylord's newest acquisition, WTVT in Tampa, Florida. Several WKY staffers were moving to Tampa, including general manager P.A. 'Buddy' Sugg.
"Everyone in Oklahoma City wanted to go to Tampa. I thought I was really lucky to get to go. They needed someone who knew about lighting. They thought that color was on the way, and I had experience in color lighting and knew the requirements and manufacturers."
Tampa in 1956 provided a world of opportunities to the young staff of WTVT.
"The first time I went to Clearwater and saw the beach, that was just heaven. The golf courses were nice and I was an avid golfer. My future wife Jeri worked as a WTVT switchboard operator and in the promotion department.
Channel 13's building was really small, just one studio that was the dining room for a Greek restaurant. I came to help plan the lighting for the new studio. First thing I did was tell them what the lighting grid had to be. The squares had to 7 feet each way, and I knew how far the rail had to be from the studio wall, 3 or 4 feet. The lights had to be about 14 feet above the floor, and not much higher or the lights came down at too severe an angle."
Ken was also a stage manager and in charge of the crew. He worked with Channel 13's directing staff, which included Larry Renault, Bill Rennie, Walter Rhoads, Joe Russo, and Peter Martinez.
"At one point management needed somebody to direct one of the morning shows so they said "It's time you got into the directing field." I started out doing the morning show and the farm news. I aggressively took on directing everything I could get my hands on because I loved it."
Smith directed many remotes, including the opening of the Howard Frankland Bridge, John F. Kennedy's appearance in Tampa during the 1960 Presidential campaign, the annual Gasparilla invasion, and a news remote from a flood-ravaged area in north Tampa.
Smith also traveled with the mobile unit onto the aircraft carrier Randolph for pool coverage of early NASA space capsule recovery missions. Back at the studio, Smith directed 'Popeye Playhouse' starring Mary Ellen.
"She was a doll. Mary Ellen was just a sweetheart on air and off. We all loved Mary Ellen. I was directing Mary Ellen, and the news back to back. I think I even helped serve pizza to the kids in the studio. I was having a great time doing live TV. Hey, this is fun!"
In 1958, Channel 13's operations supervisor Bob Olson decided to transplant a popular character originated at WKY-TV. '3-D Danny' was an intrepid space traveler who fought evil with his sidekicks, a young lieutenant and a robot.
" '3-D Danny' started in Oklahoma. The character was played by Danny Williams, who was a friend and we used to play golf together in Oklahoma City. I think "3-D" stood for 'Dan-Dee-Dynamo.' The show was Hoyt's idea as I remember, and Danny could travel in time to introduce the cartoons. He had a robot named Bazark. Danny Williams wrote the show and made it up himself. He was also an announcer and had an interview program later (The Danny Williams Show). Mary Hart (co-host of Entertainment Tonight) was his sidekick for a while. Danny's still on the airhe's got a morning D.J. show."
Olson cast Tampa resident Ed Scott in the role, and hired Lyle "Red" Koch to play Danny's young sidekick. Production chores were assigned to Ken Smith.
"I'm not exactly a science fiction fan, but I got into it. Ed Scott and 'Red' Koch both contributed to the story lines on '3-D Danny'. We discussed each episode and future plot lines as we went along. They were both great to work with and very creative. Ed Scott was a professional. He could take direction but didn't need very much.
Being a local show, five-day-a-week show, the budget was pretty tight. They said we could have so many minutes of film every once in a while, which I shot out in the woods or in deserted quarries. I couldn't hire very many people so I used any staff around the station who wanted to get in front of the tube. I even had 'Buddy' Sugg's secretary doing a part on one occasion. Buddy walked through the studio at one point and said "What're all these people doing in here?" Sugg got a little upset when he saw everyone having fun."
Smith's magnum opus was an episode called "Adventure of the Sea Monster."
"I'd been out fishing with 'Salty' Sol one day and I caught an octopus. It was live and we brought it back. We decided that the octopus would make a great sea monster adventure for Danny. I got an aquarium, filled it with water, and put this baby octopus in there. I went to the store and bought a toy submarine that looked like the Navy's Nautilus atomic sub. I used a 16mm camera and nudged the octopus with the sub. The octopus would grab the submarine and wrestle with itturn it upside downchurn up the water. I got some really good footage. Then, we got film from Marineland of sea turtles and devil rays and stuff. I took all the film and spliced it together and put it on two projectors.
I had Danny live in a submarine set fighting the sea monster, and I'd cut to the film of the octopus holding the toy sub. We'd cut back and forth from the film to Danny falling aroundI had dramatic music goingI was like Cecil B. DeMille. This was live, and I did not realize the Marineland film had an audio track on it. At the height of the drama, when I was ready to receive the Academy Award, a voice comes on and says "If you toss a few graham crackers on the water, you'll notice how fast the fish comes to the surface."
Well, (laughing) this went out on the air and I was devastated. Welcome to live TV."
Smith, who married Channel 13 employee Jeri Bunt, became WTVT's production manager in 1962, and was responsible for hiring (among others) Jim Benedict, John Sherry, Joe Wiezycki, Dan Boger, Dave Togey, and Doug Ibold. He left the station in December of 1968 to join WESH-TV, an NBC affiliate in Orlando being managed by former Channel 13 sales executive John Haberlan. Smith was named operations supervisor over news, production, and programming. He eventually was named station manager and retired from WESH in 1993, occasionally returning to serve as a consultant.
Smith has many fond memories of his time at WTVT, and summarized them for 'Big 13.'
"It was exciting. Good people, and fun to work with. A real fun time doing something we thought was important. We were good communicators with our news department. CBS was a helluva network then with Walter Cronkite. The legacy of CBS was really tops. We were lucky to have ownership with the Gaylords. They wanted to be number one, they wanted to run a good shop, treated their people righthow could it be much better? Looking back on it, it was Camelot. We probably didn't know it then, but it was Camelot."
Thanks again to Ken Smith for sharing his memories of WKY and WTVT.
Be sure to read the story of Ken's wife Jeri, who is a Channel 13 "Year One" employee. Click here to read "Jeri Bunt...Channel 13's Cover Girl"
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