Capitol Broadcasting Company has been on the leading edge in so many areas of broadcasting. These “firsts” are most evident to the public on WRAL simply because viewers can see when we introduce new technology. But, there are “firsts” going on behind the scenes as well, especially in terms of human resources. Today we’ll take a look at the three women who have held the reins of one of the most highly acclaimed newscasts in the nation; WRAL News. Their title; Director/Producer.
The three women, from first to current, are Pam Parris Allen, Leesa Moore Herman, and Keyetta Mangum. These three women directors span the years at WRAL from 1981 – present. That is 36 years. The path that each one took to attain their goal is quite similar. Here are their stories, in their own words.
PAM PARRIS ALLEN
Since I was the first female director and author of this Throwback Thursday for CapCom, I’ll kick it off. I arrived at WRAL in late August, 1981. I am the only female director who worked at another television station prior to my time at WRAL. Here is my story.
I became fascinated with behind-the-scenes television in a rather odd way. During my high school years, I would arrive home after school and watch “The Merv Griffin Show,” a syndicated talk show that aired on WFMY-TV in Greensboro. During Merv’s opening monologue the viewer could occasionally see camera shots of the audience, usually reaction shots from a joke or something clever delivered by Merv. But what caught my eye was a person seated in the front row of the studio audience. He was there for every show. Sometimes you could see him use hand signals, other times he was talking on a phone – not a cell phone; remember – this was quite a while ago. One day, Merv strolled out and chatted with folks in the audience. As he made his way back to the stage he stopped and talked with “that guy.” Merv introduced him to everyone as Bob Shanks; his producer. Ah! A name and title to place with the face. More later on Bob Shanks. But from that point on I became very curious about the behind-the-scenes people working in television.
I knew exactly what I wanted to major in at college; broadcasting. I was aware that UNC-CH offered a degree in RTVMP (radio, television, motion pictures). I also heard from my neighbor, a student at Appalachian State University, that AppState had just started a broadcast major. A plan crystalized in my mind; go to ASU for two years and transfer to UNC for my last two years. But, after two years at ASU I decided to stay in Boone all four years. Once a Mountaineer – always a Mountaineer. I interned at WFMY-TV in Greensboro during my last semester of college (1975) and they hired me after I graduated. I was on my way.
My time at WFMY was great. Within two years, I became a director; the station’s first female director. I was working with savvy news people like Rabun Matthews, Jim Eldridge, and Richard Griffiths. I learned how to create innovative production techniques for newscasts and special projects from people like Tom Zattizahn with Magid Associates, Larry Perret (EP at WFMY) who ultimately built KCBS News in Los Angeles into a powerhouse in the late ‘90s, and Bruce MacCallum (Producer at WFMY) who became a long-time senior producer at Entertainment Tonight. “News 2” was a dominant newscast in the Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem market and it was an honor to have been able to direct the 11:00 newscast back then. After four years of directing at WFMY, I was called to join WRAL in August 1981 by WRAL Program Director Jack Markham. I would be WRAL’s first female director. I hit the ground running. Within the second week, I was directing the noon newscast. Four months later, January, 1982, I was tapped to direct “Action News 5” 6PM newscasts – a newscast that routinely pulled a 53 Share compared to WTVD’s 25. Three months later we were rehearsing and blocking cameras for the hour-long newscast that premiered on June 14, 1982. Action News 5 at 6:00 was so dominant that it was declared the #1 Newscast in the nation according the Nielson ratings – May, 1984.
My most memorable project was directing and producing the Inauguration of North Carolina Governor Jim Martin. It was a unique project in many ways. It was presented by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters and televised statewide. The production staff (camera operators) came from different stations throughout the state, mainly eastern North Carolina. Field anchors were from other stations as well. The production truck, WRAL’s Unit Zero, was staffed by WRAL. I met my entire crew for the first and only time the morning of the inauguration! The morning was cold, and snafus popped up before we even arrived on site. The crane for the “aerial camera” was not only late, but went to the wrong site! The location of the cannons for the “salute” changed from the initial location planned by the inaugural committee to a far flung place on the other side of ceremonial stage. Just like “Gumby”, we flexed and adjusted to the situation. As soon as we rolled the open, everything fell into place. Fabulous broadcast! We felt honored to be a part of making North Carolina history.
The craziest directing moment that comes to mind is when WRAL News anchor Denece Boyer finished the news segment in the noon newscast and tossed to WRAL meteorologist Bill Schmidt for weather. Well, Bill’s name unfortunately rhymes with another word associated with scatology. Yes, she accidently said Bill _ _ _ _. Bill was a pro and started his weather segment, but didn’t get very far. The camera crew was practically on the floor with laughter, which in turn made Bill laugh. He tried hard to keep a straight face, but finally he had to bail out and toss back to Denece who was completely dead-pan with her expression – as if nothing had happened – and cued the commercial break. We were laughing so hard in the control room that I could hardly count down to the break for Master Control to take control to air the commercials. I dissolved to a cover shot, theme music played, and then I tried hard to say, “5…heavy laughter, 4…laughing,” theme music continued to play, “3…2…1…we’re out.” I think we sat on the cover shot for what seemed to be an eternity, but it was more like 5-7 seconds. Yes, it is on a blooper reel.
My favorite people to work with would be John Hudson, Tom Suiter, Adele Arakawa, and of course Charlie Gaddy. They were magnificent in every way. We often said that any one of them could read a phone book to the viewers for 30 minutes and it would compelling, funny, serious, etc. Each one had the “it” factor. They were broadcasters who possessed the integrity and desire to get it right the first time and make it relatable. They made the newsroom fun! Tom Suiter gave me the nickname “Poosie.” Now it has morphed into “Poosie, Woosie, Doozie.” Charlie called me “Thumbs” – still does. Of course, I enjoyed working with the best production and engineering folks in the biz!
Back to Bob Shanks, producer of “The Merv Griffin Show.” On my last day at WRAL in late February, 1987 the host of CBS “The Morning Program” Mariette Hartley and producer Bob Shanks were guests at the station-wide staff meeting. When I heard that Bob Shanks was coming to WRAL, I just about fainted. His past credits included producing “Good Morning America,” The Tonight Show with Jack Paar,” “The Merv Griffin Show,” “Candid Camera” and PBS’ “The Great American Dream Machine,” plus he served as vice president of programming at ABC, and vice president of news at ABC, where he developed “20/20.” I let the WRAL promotion manager know that “I HAVE TO MEET HIM!” And they made it happen. I was able to chat with Bob Shanks off in a corner of Studio A, have my picture taken with him – unfortunately I never received the picture – and he autographed a book he authored, “The Cool Fire.” He even offered me some contacts in California since that was my next destination.
My return to WRAL, 25 years later, to work on the CBC History Project is like icing on my television career cake. Of the three stations I worked for in my career, WRAL will always be “The Place to Be.”
LEESA MOORE HERMAN
The next female director, Leesa Moore Herman, was “WRAL home grown.” She also set her eyes on directing at an early age! Here is Leesa’s story.
“I was fascinated by radio in high school, so I thought I would like a career in communications. When I got into production classes at UNC, I was bitten by the ‘director’ bug. We had to rotate into each position of a newscast and as soon as I sat down at the switcher and put on a pair of headsets; that was it for me!”
However, after graduating from UNC, it took over a year for Leesa to take the next step to start her career in television. She had to be nudged. No, she had to be “bugged” into checking out WRAL. Who was her nudger/bugger? Leonard Peebles!
“I was working in a restaurant he (Leonard) frequented and he bugged me for about a year to apply after he found out I majored in communications at UNC.”
So she followed up on the good advice from the very wise Leonard Peebles and landed an interview with David Gill, then morning production crew chief.
“I was hired as a part-time crew member. In the interview process, David Gill asked me where I saw myself in 5 years and I said I would be a director at WRAL. Thanks to his help and the support of many others, I made that goal.”
Like most directors, she started work on the studio crew absorbing every aspect of production and the work flow. She learned commercial production, live newscasts, special projects and how the production department served internal and external clients. After a few years, she was ready to take on the demands of being a director. However, she became a director by the “sink or swim” method.
“I think my most memorable directing experience was the first time I ever directed a live newscast. Our noon news director went home sick and Paul Pope came to me and said, ‘Do you think you could direct the noon?’… I said yes of course!’ And then I went in the bathroom and had a small breakdown. Up until that day I had only directed commercials, promos, and other recorded projects, but I felt like this was my shot, so I took it. The newscast went well and afterwards, Paul burst into the control room with cheers and a congratulatory sign, which I still have.”
So, did becoming a director live up to Leesa’s expectations?
“I loved the pace and immediacy of live production. Sometimes I would get chills when things went perfectly or went wrong and we overcame the challenge.”
Yep, a true sign of a good director. The satisfaction of all the pieces coming together in perfect harmony, but not getting flustered when trouble pops up. It is like being a quarterback leading a team.
A director is always on call as well.
“My longest day was after the 1989 tornadoes swept through North Raleigh. I left after directing the 11PM newscast and was awakened by a phone call at 1AM from Paul Pope who said, ‘Les, we need you. All hell has broken loose.’ I went back to the station and stayed in the director’s chair until 11AM the next morning. It was an awful event, but I was so proud of our coverage.”
Mentors can be tough task masters. For Leesa, it was Clarence.
“I loved and hated working with Clarence Williams. I learned so much from him, and fluctuated between wanting to hug him or punch him.”
Favorites to work with?
“I must say it was memorable working with Charlie Gaddy and Tom Suiter. Oh wow, I’ve worked with so many amazing people it’s hard to name them all.”
If you worked at WRAL when Tom Suiter was the sports anchor, more than likely Tom bestowed you with a nickname(s). For Leesa, “…early on it was ‘Lovely Leesa’ and then later after I married he called me ‘Scraggly’ as a play on my last name. I was also ‘Goat Mama’ but that’s a long story.”
No matter what your work title is at WRAL, you have a “you can’t make this up” story. Here is one of Leesa’s stories.
“Once, I was at Duke University to direct our coverage of a US President’s visit and I got into an argument with a Secret Service agent. First, never ever say you are there to ‘shoot the President’ and second, the Secret Service ALWAYS wins.”
Oddly enough, I (Pam), had a similar incident with the Secret Service at NCSU when President Reagan visited on September 5, 1985. We provided live pool coverage to all the networks. We did not arrive in time to lay cable for our multi-camera set-up. The Secret Service were doing their security sweep throughout the building and no one was permitted inside. I said something like, “we are providing news coverage for the networks and need to get in the building.” That went over like a lead balloon. We had to wait. Like Leesa said, the Secret Service ALWAYS wins!
As a director, Leesa protected “the brand” from 1987-2007. Now she is TV Director of News Operations/Sports/Special Projects in a corner office with a view!
Keyetta Mangum is the current and third female director at WRAL within the past 36 years.
Thankfully Keyetta is a self-described “down home country girl” born and raised in Wake County. We can be thankful for her loyalty to her roots, otherwise she may have taken an opportunity to relocate to cold, Connecticut. Here is Keyetta’s story.
Keyetta worked as a medical underwriter at CIGNA Healthcare in Raleigh. The department she worked in relocated its staff to the northeast, a far piece away from Wake County. She did what any Carolina country gal would do; she politely “blessed their little hearts” for the offer, but declined the invitation.
Now what? Keyetta kindled her desire to pursue her long time desire to work in journalism, a desire that started when she was in middle school. After CIGNA, she dipped her toes into the biz doing freelance work in the coastal town of Wilmington. Keyetta served as a production assistant on several production sets and entertainment projects. But she kept her options open for something in journalism. In August, 2004, that “something” was an opening at WRAL. Keyetta applied for the WRAL News Production Assistant position. A month later she was called in for an interview. A couple of days later Keyetta was offered the job. She gladly accepted. Bless her heart!
She quickly observed and embraced the workflow in the newsroom.
“My first job at WRAL was News Production Assistant in 2004. I went from NPA to ENG Video Editor, to WRAL NewsChannel Producer to TV News Director/Editor, to my current role as TV News Director/Producer. I’ve been directing for the station since 2009.”
So what attracted Keyetta to the production side of news?
Keyetta said, “I have always admired all of the directors here at WRAL. From the time I started working as a NPA, until now, I continue to observe their technical abilities, flexibility, patience and leadership qualities. If I had to pick one person, I would have to say James Ford has had the most influence on me becoming a director. I hope to one day have as many EMMYs as he does.”
Keyetta already has a few EMMYs and is well on her way to gathering a truck load more!
Keyetta has been around long enough to experience the ups and downs of working at WRAL.
“My craziest moments are every day, Monday thru Friday from 4:30am – 9am, then again from 12-1pm. There are numerous moments of craziness throughout my day working in the newsroom. I remember directing the day when the ‘Pet of the Day’ got loose and ran around the newsroom. What made it so interesting and funny was that it was a 3-legged cat that the production crew was trying to catch.”
“My best days are the times I get to work outside the studio on the parade productions. I enjoy the field work and being around the engineers!”
“My worst day was when I learned of my fellow morning Director Chris Bolanz’s unexpected death. I had the opportunity to work with Chris in several different capacities throughout my various roles here at WRAL. He was one of the best directors and having the opportunity to work with him every morning – and learn from him – was amazing. He was fun to be around outside of the control room as well. Chris passed in 2013, but every morning I still set up the control recycle bin and trash the way he liked it, and laugh from time to time when I think of ‘WANG(s)’ … anyone who worked with him will recognize that term!”
“My most tiring days are the continuous severe winter weather coverage days – especially those that involve an overnight stay at the Holiday Inn Express off Gorman Street.”
And who does Keyetta love to work with? According to Keyetta, “My favorite person to work with is the infamous Raymond Farrar. His experience and personality brings joy, creativity and stability not only to the broadcasts, but to our day as well.”
We can all ditto Keyetta’s comments about Raymond!
As for a unique nickname from WRAL Sports anchor Tom Suiter, evidently Keyetta’s name was unique enough for Tom.
“He never gave me a nickname. I have a name that’s not easy to remember or to pronounce for most people. But from my first day here at the station, Tom nailed it, and never forgot it. Every time I saw him, he would say it correctly. He would also make sure I got one of his delicious chocolate chip cookies every day before the evening shows.”
Keyetta is a confident director with many creative, innovative ideas up her sleeve. Keep an eye on Keyetta!
In the mid-‘70s, women had integrated the broadcast industry as reporters, anchors, writers, producers and sales executives, but the control room seems to be the last area for women to step up and demonstrate their leadership, creativity, and collaborative approach to the production process. We three women directors have EMMYs and other awards to bear out that women are well tailored for the control room.
The WRAL control room door is wide open. If you are ready to take control and express your vision, join the ranks of the EMMY award winning directors at WRAL! The future is for you!
Thanks to Corp’s Pam Allen for this capcom story & these photos. Pam Parris Allen is a former WRAL newscast producer/director who now works as a researcher and producer on the CBC History Project.