Eventually I left this station to work for a competitor in Memphis, and for more money. However, Channel 5 did have its moments, one of which turned out to be a very famous one, at least as the future would dictate. I met a very young, and still on the way up, Elvis Presley, one night. He just walked into the studio and said hello. He had asked the receptionist if he could see the studio, the door was open and we weren’t on the air, so he caught me in the middle of setting up the next show.
He very politely asked if I would give him a tour of our studios, which I readily agreed to. By this time the engineering crew was congregated around the window from the control room to the studio trying to get a good look at Elvis. Actually, I was embarrassed, since our main studio where we were at the time was converted from the offices of an old bank building and looked like it. Since this was my first job in television and these were the pioneer years, the 1950s, we were just beginning to make the rules.
I showed him around, explaining that almost everything live he saw on the tube from this station came from this studio. There was also an announcer’s booth, a small cooking show studio downstairs, and a stage on the second floor with an auditorium for special events. But we still did the bulk of our “productions” from this area that was not much bigger than a large living room. Hey, this was the beginning of TV, where it all started.
But Elvis seemed impressed, and, that said, I still cannot tell you just how much fun I had in this oversized playroom, because we were just learning what television was all about and still setting the guidelines. Guidelines we changed on a daily basis to make things more entertaining for the public. This often included mistakes that completely broke up the crew, but as the guy in charge, I had to remain cool in the chaos. However, there were a couple of times when it was so bizarre that I almost lost it.
Before the King left the studio, he reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a Zippo lighter and showed it to me. He asked me if I thought something like this would sell with his picture on it. It was Colonel Parker’s idea, he told me. I replied that I was sure anything with his picture on it would sell. He thanked me for everything and even graciously waved to the control room crew before leaving. I had taken him in to meet them and he was fascinated over how we produced shows.
It wasn’t until later I realized that at this point he had not yet appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” That was September 9, 1956, when 60 million viewers watched the birth of the “King of Rock and Roll.” Elvis garnered a whopping 82 percent of the television viewing audience. If he had been on the “Ed Sullivan Show” before coming into our studios, I’m sure it would have been a huge let down. But he did leave appreciative and the next time I saw Elvis Presley was on the “Really Big Shew.”
Journey with me boozed up to sobriety in WITHOUT THE LAMPSHADE. It’s a trip on Amazon here.