Union Strike Stories From The Past

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – You may have read that the Writers Guild of America has reached a tentative agreement with the Hollywood studios. I have two stories from the past that came about as a result of union strikes.

My first boss in TV, Gene Bohi, was working at WBBM-TV in the early 1960s in the Creative Services department. When IBEW struck the station (which supported a lot of network operations), other station personnel had to pitch in to keep the station on the air. Once the strike was settled, CBS founder, chairman and CEO William S. Paley arrived in Chicago to thank those people who kept things going and to award bonuses. Mr. Paley was known for taking care of employees, especially in times of stress. Gene was awarded a $5,000 bonus. In today’s money, that’s approximately $40,000 (depending on what time value of money you use).

But one of the best stories recently aired on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley. Fifty years ago, AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) struck CBS and called for a walkout. Some of the most well-known personalities were off the air. One in particular was Walter Cronkite.

CBS News management had to make some quick decisions as to who would anchor the evening news broadcast. And lo and behold, Arnold Zenker, a 28-year-old CBS News executive was selected. Zenker had done news on radio, but not TV. He was given his marching orders and for the next 13 days, he was anchoring the CBS Evening News for Cronkite (he also was anchoring other CBS Network newscasts). During the time he anchored, he received more than 3,000 letters. But once the strike was over, so was his on-air career at CBS News. He later worked in local news in Boston and Baltimore and years later appeared on 60 Minutes talking about his new career training executives on dealing with media publicity.

When Cronkite returned on April 11, 1967, he looked into the camera and said, “Good evening, this is Walter Cronkite substituting for Arnold Zenker. It’s good to be back!” Said with a smile!

Most of my colleagues don’t know this but this blogger got to anchor the news updates locally on KXTX-TV Channel 39 in the mid 1980s when our on-air news talent left. Mornings and evenings, five nights a week. Only did it for a few months but I sure enjoyed it. My nephew in Dallas, who today is 36 years old, was watching his “Uncle Ken” when he was 5 years old. I think I sounded more like “Murrow Boys” than anyone else, or at least tried, specifically Robert Trout who later was on WCBS-TV in New York toward the end of his career. Get to the point and sign off!

Here is the link to Scott Pelley’s report on Arnold Zenker.

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