The premiere history-in-the-making event to cover is the Inauguration of the President of the United State of America. It is the ultimate visual of democracy on display. The people have spoken, by way of vote, and a peaceful transfer of power is granted to a new leader. Celebrations are glamourous and parades are grand. Sounds like a plum assignment for any news crew.
The inauguration of George Herbert Walker Bush took place January 20, 1989. WRAL sent news anchor Charlie Gaddy, photographers Jay Jennings and Scott Miskimon in one of the news vans, while Tony Gupton drove LIVESTAR, northbound up I-95 to cover the historic event. These men were seasoned news professionals who have encountered just about every situation under any set of conditions. But as Jay Jennings said in retrospect, “you can’t make this stuff up.”
Our nation’s capital was spic and span. Everything had been scoured, scrubbed, brushed and burnished to the nth degree. The day before the inauguration was one full of festivities. Crowds gathered at just about every landmark in our nation’s capital. The National Mall served as the site for marquee performers including The Beach Boys and The Gatlin Brothers.
Jay and Charlie staked out a perfect location for a remote shot near the reflecting pool. While waiting for the producer’s cue to go live, The Gatlin Brothers cranked up their hit song “Houston” which happens to be one of Charlie’s favorite songs. Charlie remembers chiming in with the boys until it was time to go live. The air was full of music and the Army’s Golden Knights parachute jump team. Since the team is based out of neighboring Fort Bragg, Scott, going for the local angle, interviewed the team earlier in the day before their afternoon aerial performance.
LIVESTAR served as a base of operation for the crew. The truck was used to send packages and live shots back to the station, and additionally served as a satellite feed truck for other CONUS stations. LIVESTAR became a bee hive of activity. After finishing the last live shot of the day, the crew sat back for a breather when someone knocked on the door. Jay opened the door and there stood one of the Golden Knights still in his jumpsuit. He asked Jay, “Would you like to have some aerial footage we shot from our helmet cameras during our jump to the Lincoln Memorial?” Jay’s immediate and natural response was, “HECK YEAH!” Jay recalls Tony leaping to his feet and rigging up the proper cables to make a video copy. “That video gave our viewers an exclusive look at the performance.” Later that evening, with the work of day one behind them, Jay recalls watching one of the greatest fireworks shows “any of us had ever seen.”
Day two started out chilly. It was also going to be a jam packed day. There was the inauguration, the parade, and the inaugural balls. Charlie said, “We were all over it! We reported all the North Carolina angles from politicians to North Carolina high school marching bands.” Charlie recalls the young people being so proud to witness and play a role in such grand historic event.
After a day of crisscrossing the city producing reports and providing live shots, it was time to get ready for an evening of elegance at the inaugural balls. There were several balls where the President and the First Lady, along with the Vice President and his wife, made appearances; it was a bit like a party crawl. While waiting for the celebrations to crank up, the crew had a little bit of down time. Charlie remembers being very hungry. He found a package of cheese crackers in LIVESTAR and chowed down on those. He chuckles when he remembers people asking him “Hey, did you eat at one of those fancy restaurants up there?” Charlie’s retort was “heck no…lucky to get a pack of nabs!”
The sun was going down along with the temperature. The Secret Service cordoned off an area in a parking lot next to the Pension Building, site of one of the balls. Tony parked LIVESTAR as close to the building as he could, and then laid cable from the truck into the building for the live-shots. All of this had to be accomplished before the Secret Service started their security sweep.
Of course something always happens to the best laid plans. Evidently the Secret Service had a shift change after Tony finished his work. There was a knock on the door of LIVESTAR. Tony opened the door and there stood two Secret Service Agents. “You need to pull up your cables. We can’t leave doors propped open. That’s a security problem.” Tony respectfully asked for suggestions as to how to run cables into the building. “Through the manhole cover over there” was the reply from the agents. I’m sure Tony’s first thought was a non-verbal “ooookay.” Sure enough, the manhole cover revealed a passage way underground that led into the building. Tony reeled in his cables and then snaked them down the manhole, pulled the cables through the passage way, and into the ballroom where Charlie and Jay would cover the festivities. Crisis averted.
The hard and fast rule to gain entrance into an inaugural ball was for the men to wear a tuxedo and to have the appropriate credentials. No exception.
Charlie and Jay started looking around for a place to change into their tuxedos that were stowed away in LIVESTAR. Very quickly they realized they were in a dilemma; no place to change clothes. The cab to LIVESTAR is basically all windows; no privacy there. Scott and the van were gone. The parking lot was wide open…except for a lone porta-potty left over from previous construction work. Well, if Superman can change inside a phone booth, surely a porta-potty will provide a bit more privacy. After all, it is a privy.
Charlie went first. Keep in mind it is cold, dark, and breezy. He ventures in and quickly assesses the environment; open urinal, no light, no hook to hang clothes, no latch on the door, hardly any space to turn around in, and an icky wet floor. But you do what you gotta do! Charlie is a large person, so he contorted himself in such a way that he could carefully remove his pants and then hold his tuxedo pants in his teeth until he could step into them, one leg at a time, without his elegant attire touching the gooey floor – all while the door was flapping open and shut with the cold wind.
Jay is up next. He remembers realizing their dilemma “when one member of our merry band spotted a port-a-potty. You stepped into this little plastic palace and you couldn’t see a thing. I’m not exactly sure what was on the floor, but it didn’t freeze despite the fact it was about 20 degrees. Here we are at the Inauguration of the United States, leader of the free world, and we’re putting on our tuxedos in a porta-john!”
Tony went through the same drill of entering the plastic palace and executing the same two-step dance and pants-biting procedure like Charlie and Jay. The once sweatshirt, jean wearing men had turned into princes and traded their plastic palace for the palatial Pension Building. They strode in and made their debut.
Everything came off without a hitch. All the live shots and news packages looked great and captured the charm and grandeur of the celebrations. After completing the last remote for the 11:00 PM newscast, it was time to break down the equipment even though the celebrations continued into the night. Tony remembers that the day and night had been very long and hard, but he still had to reel the cables back into LIVESTAR. Tony went into the grand ballroom where the President and Mrs. Bush were dancing the night away just feet from where he stood ripping up duct-tape that had secured the cables to the floor. Dog-tired in the midst of all the gaiety, Tony just wanted to get things packed up so he could hit the sack. After-all, we all know that the magic only lasts until midnight. After that, LIVESTAR turns into a pumpkin and the tuxedos turn into sweatshirts and jeans. Needless to say, Tony’s head hit the pillow before midnight.
Charlie Gaddy recently regaled his story with me over lunch and we laughed through the whole meal. But he said this several times, “It was an honor and a pleasure to work with the very best. Jay Jennings, Scott Miskimon, Tony Gupton are true professionals. They have that can-do attitude. That is what puts a reporter’s mind at ease. I knew I was in the very best hands.”
Special thanks to Charlie, Jay and Tony for sharing this “you can’t make this up” story.
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.