…in a backwater little valley town called Sacra-tomato, change was afoot.
Broadcast news…long the bastion of white males wearing cameras and suits…opened up to minorities and women. (Thank you FCC.)
Enter into this a tough talking chick from New Yawk and a kinda shy kid from further south in the valley. They met, they meshed and for one year they were a team.
As we age, those golden days of our youth resurface in memories that are probably pretty accurate. Oh, we may be better looking and smarter in our recollections than in reality…but I can live with that.
Me…I was the shy valley girl. Picked up a still camera at age 12 and never let go. My goal was to become a newspaper photographer, but even with a college degree, getting an internship was tough. So I took whatever job I could after marrying the love of my life and moved on. Sigh.
The roller coaster ride was about to begin.
After a year or so Ron and I moved from said Sacra-tomato to the raisin capitol of the world, Fresno, to continue with our higher education at my ala mater – CSU Fresno. Where I was called Cyndy Mog and he was called Mr. Mog. (Took a while to get those surnames corrected.)
Somehow in this move I hooked up with the college community affairs department, writing press releases and shooting publicity photos.
My goal: somehow become a news photographer.
In the meantime, diminutive Joann Lee was laboring in one of the largest markets in the broadcast kingdom – Los Angeles – as a production assistant.
Her goal: somehow become a TV news reporter.
After researching and writing a nifty little story on a new intern program that combined federal, state, and local monies to get college students into low-paying jobs, I applied for and was accepted as the first fem-photog intern at KFSN, Channel 30. Fresno’s CBS affiliate.
Joann, meantime, had talked her way into the field and was following cameramen around on stories. And one day she talked one of them into letter her stand in front of the camera.
“Ginsing – an oriental herb.”
On the strength of that story, she landed at job at KXTV in Sacramento. (Tomato capitol of the state – or so they liked to think.)
Meanwhile I was finishing up my internship at KFSN…rolling with the cameramen, learning the craft of shutter speed, f-stop all over again with sound and motion added. How to wear forty pounds of camera, camera brace, audio mixer. Use of a light meter when there was time and how to make quick guesses when there wasn’t. How to load film and how to process said film. My specialities: mixing the chemicals and filing the film at the end of the day. (The new kid got the work no one else wanted.)
Magical times. Met my first dead body rolling out with Chuck “Boom Boom” Hoover, the station’s scanner freak, to a drowning in a canal. He also showed me how to artistically backlight broken windshields at accidents and once even beat the fire department to a fire (something I did twice more in my own career).
Time for convergence.
Some months after Joann got established at KXTV, I got my first ever interview with chief photographer Bob Helmes. He seemed to like what he saw and heard, and only had these words before putting me on staff: “If you don’t work out, we’ll never hire another female again.”
Of course, those being the times, I didn’t think twice about it. Just did my best to work up to and beyond expectations.
And totally screwed up on day two. Shooting some little nothing story at the local college, I forgot some shots, crossed my axis…horrible stuff.
And Bob – who was taking a quick nap in the newscar – commented: “Yesterday I was glad I hired you. Today, I’m not too sure.”
That rammed me straight back into the ground. Put me in my place and made me even more aware that I had only this one chance.
Fast forward six months or more on the weekend shift…got moved to nights and introduced to this tiny little thing with a big, opinionated mouth. My new partner.
How DO you DO?
I’m Cyndy. With two “y”s.
I’m Joann Lee.
We initially worked together warily…and I’m sure she was more nervous than me. No reporter likes working with a newbie cameraman. They don’t always know what they’re doing and they make you look bad.
Somehow we became a team…and I am sure the shortest (most petite) broadcast news team on the continent. I was five feet two…she was five one. I was afraid people would look at me and she could drill a subject with her voice and glare from one hundred feet. (Privately I called her the “Dragon Lady”.)
What brought us firmly together was our newness to the profession and our passion. It was us against the world some days…like the day when we got sent out to interview the family of the last man executed in the state. The angry family members’ response when we knocked at the door: “If you had been a male crew we would have beaten the crap out of you.”
The day we got sent to do a story on the local rice cooperative: “Why didn’t they send a real news crew? Why didn’t they send MEN?”
And talk about the times – often Joann was mistaken for Connie Chung – the “other” Asian reporter. Me, I never got mistaken for anyone. There was only me.
And the good times. Covering state politics in the days of Governor “Moonbeam” himself – Jerry Brown. Cruising the highways with scanner on high on summer nights. Pushing deadlines…telling stories of joy and tragedy; making chaos into something understandable. Partying together on weekends.
Eventually we both moved on…me to Washington, D.C. and then to the SF Bay area. Her to Chicago, then CNN in New York.
Somehow we both ended up in education. Professor Joann Lee (Chow) set up shop as head of the journalism department at University of Nevada, Reno at the same time I was starting my first program at Middle College High School in Stockton, California. She had more than half a million to spend…me, I had five thousand.
So we get together…less and less frequently it seems. Miles and lives lived apart have built walls that hinder meetings.
But those memories still surface. Those days when we were young, brash, invincible.