When I was in high school I was given the chance to be an intern (a nice word for free labor) on the production of a United Cerebral Palsy Telethon. The broadcast was produced by Allen Hall, the producer for 25 years of Bozo’s Circus on WGN-TV. I only got the job because my dad met Al Hall at a cocktail party and quick to get his kid out of the house Dad volunteered me. (At this same cocktail party my dad had his picture taken with Cesar Romero and it made all the papers. I still have no idea what Dad and The Joker were doing together, but there they are forever together in print.)
I went to the studio that evening not really knowing what to expect. I had no skills or experience. I didn’t know anyone, BUT I was smart enough to keep my eyes open and see what I could do. For the most part I ushered clowns- Bozo, Cookie, Whizzo- back and forth between the green room and the set and took messages and food between the control room and Al at the front of the stage.
As happens in 24-hour telethons there is a lot of downtime and that is when this internship really paid off. I was just starting to think about colleges and asked Al where he thought a young guy like me should go- Syracuse, Northwestern and Boston University, I still remember his answer. I also spent a lot of time with Jose (Joe) Cornejo who was the associate producer and was a regular member of WGN’s Cub broadcast team. I asked him where he went to college and he said, “Hard Knocks.”
Thinking he said Knox College I said, “In Galesburg?”
He laughed and said, “No, the school of hard knocks.”
I still didn’t get it, then finally it dawned on me. “You didn’t go to college!” I asked as if he had two heads. Nope, and lesson learned.
I must have done something right that night because Al Hall gave me his business card (the first one I ever received) and invited me out to the station. A couple of years later he gave me a letter of recommendation for college and a year after that recommended me for an internship at an NBC affiliate. Joe Cornejo invited me to the ballpark to watch a Cubs broadcast from the booth.
This one night of experience quickly went to the top of the work experience portion of my resume- pushing aside Soda Jerk, Paper Boy and Camp Counselor. Getting in the door was the first step, but knowing how to act professionally once there was the key. Had I been bored, inattentive, less curious or fallen asleep- all very real possibilities when working all night- I would have missed out on the chance that really helped define and shape my career.
The moral of the story is obvious (it’s not become drinking buddies with Cesar Romero) take every opportunity you get and make the most of it when you can.