happily ruled the directing booth at WLWT for five productive years. He earned
extra income by teaching television broadcasting at his old alma mater, the
University of Cincinnati. In the spring of 1953 one of Bob's students, who had come
all the way from Florida to take the course, approached him about moving south.
"The manager of St. Petersburg's WSUN radio took my class.
They were getting ready to put WSUN-TV on the air and he wanted me to come
down to St. Pete as production manager.
Leaving my hometown would be hard but what made my decision easier was a
call I got from Florida that April
while it was still snowing in Cincinnati. The caller told me about the sunshine, how the temperature was in the
70's and how he was watching a sailboat out on the bay. I took the job
The TV studio's entrance faced downtown.
With his wife Shirley and daughters Lynne and Denise, Bob arrived in St. Pete at the end of April, 1953, as work was proceeding to get WSUN-TV ready for air. After an inspection of the station's setup, Bob knew there were some challenges ahead. "The studio was out on the end of the Million Dollar pier, in what used to be a trolley turnaround. In the middle of the small studio were two pillars that helped support the pier. We worked around them or even decorated them up to use them on-camera. You couldn't go to wide lens and back up very far. The pier had a large ballroom right next door, but it was hard to get permission to do programs in there even though both the pier and WSUN were owned by the City."
(WSUN logo courtesy Bob Shields)
Channel 38's debut only a month away, the station's General Manager,
Maj. George Robinson, called upon senior staffers to put together some
local programs. "We took the
WSUN radio on-air staff, Harry Smith and Dave Saltzman and Burl McCarty and sat
down with them and literally built the schedule," explains Bob.
" 'We need a news show here, a kid's show here, a disc-jockey show
here.' I directed the first show on
Memorial Day weekend, "The News With Major Robinson." We didn't have a
whole lot of viewers, and the fact that we were UHF didn't help.
Most older sets would need a converter because they were only for
a non-stop schedule of live television programs in Channel 38's small studio
taxed everyone's creativity. Most
programs were 15 minutes long with only a station break between the end of one
and the start of another. It called
for extreme organization and the ability to be flexible. Bob recalls segments aired on Harry's Smith's record program
where he trained a camera on a fish tank, and that the fish would usually swim
to the rhythm of the music. It was
a time where innovations were a daily part of the process. "I felt that the studio's bayfront location lent itself to exterior
work because inside the studio we could be in Chicago or Atlanta or anywhere.
I'd stick performers outside on the pier with sailboats in the
We'd do car commercials out there as well.
We had no mobile unit,
but the first year I was there we decided to telecast the Easter Parade in
Williams Park, which is at least a half-mile away.
It was amazing how Louie Link, the Chief Engineer, and Bill Codding,
staff engineer, pulled this off. We
ran cable all the way down the pier and past Maas Brothers to do it."