Golden age of TV at college

Editor’s note: This is a series of columns by John Malcolm on his “50 years at Fredonia.” Retired, he is a professor emeritus at Fredonia State.


While McEwen had its troubles, the previous director had terrible relations with the staff at Fort Apache. (That name has been removed recently.) With a lot of direct diplomacy things gradually improved with a new roof, heating system, window seals and some paint.

McEwen’s paint scene was obviously chosen by the designers. Even the lettering was specified. When we attempted to add “super graphics” to liven up the first floor we were told that there were five standard colors – like “Suffolk Blue.” This has certainly changed in the contemporary McEwen.

Television in the meantime had gone to color with the construction in 1974 of Thompson Hall. This was the first of the buildings named after people I knew. Robert Thompson was the dean of the college when I was a student. (He is also credited with gaining accreditation.)

Apparently Thompson had started as a replacement for the Campus School in “Old Main” but this activity would soon be removed from the college’s responsibilities. Instead Thompson evolved as a multi-departmental office, studio, and classroom building.

For television it provided a space that could be utilized by Instructional Resources for its technical, audio-visual, and television services. Chief engineer Charley Blohm ordered and installed two professional color cameras, switcher, and lighting system. It was to be reserved for professional production under the supervision of a full-time television director.

Over the years it has served this function but finally evolved as a classroom for television instruction with periodic use for college and community functions such as the long running “Talk to Santa” and the college’s commencement. Its equipment has also changed dramatically over the years. This year “Santa” was streamed and could be picked up on the College’s web page.

When I came back to Fredonia in 1977 work was in progress for a series of programs that could be described as a “Sesame Street” for Seneca Indian children. The director, however was very disorganized and a great deal of film and tape had been expended with no final product in sight. When asked for scripts and a production schedule this individual left for other work and a new producer and director were hired. For weeks afterward anyone walking through Thompson encountered various characters based on the Seneca clans – like “Turtle”.

Over the years a number of interesting programs were produced like “The Writer and the Committee” created by Professor Henry Salerno based on the activities of the U.S. House of Representatives UnAmerican Activities Committee. The casts were all members of the faculty. There were some interesting sidelights to this series-like the scene shot outside the President’s office involving a faculty member being interviewed in a 1938 Cadillac owned by the director of physical plant Dick Lord.

Another scene had a faculty member using the college president’s office as a set and being served coffee by then president Dallas Beal.

There was a program series titled “Accent on Education” produced by and starring current OBSERVER columnist Robert Heichberger. It was used by the Education Department for their advanced program. There was an original drama based on a Halloween theme. Another series was “County Fare” and featured various interesting people and activities of Chautauqua County. It was hosted by Professor Steve Warner who presided in front of a fireplace gained from the Dick Cavett show in New York City. The set was obtained through the good offices of Douglas Manly and Red Wing. (Now Carriage House.)

The set is still in use (2014). It was obtained in 1982. We also produced live concerts from Rockefeller Arts Center and two Gilbert and Sullivan productions and a series from the Opera Workshop.

Sadly, this kind of effort faded with increased budget restrictions and staff cuts. The biggest blow came with the sudden death and non-replacement of Ron Warren who had taken over, ably, as the studio director. (The Santa show was Ron’s idea and over 20 years later it is still aired and dedicated to Ron.) Ron was also a “stringer” for WIVB in Buffalo and headed the college’s graphic and photographic efforts.

John Malcolm is a Fredonia resident.