More blasts from Madison’s media past

Early in the history of this blog I wrote a popular entry on what Madison media I could remember and find online in my early TV-watching days.

That included this classic photo of WISC-TV’s “Action News” from the 1970s:

The earliest version of this set had neither of the Big Giant 3s; it had up to five anchors sitting in chairs you might find on your screened-in porch, with graphics that would come up in the non-blue checkers behind them. (Which obviously eliminated the old summertime blazer-and-tie-and-shorts for those who report the news behind desks.)


News Checkerboard 2.0 added the 3 table (which obviously also indicated how many people could be seated at the table) and the big blue 3 behind them. (Back when I was on cable TV in Ripon I suggested someone build a big giant R table for programs. It didn’t happen.)

Doing the news on the Big Giant 3 set this night were Tedd O’Connell (center), the so-called “hipster newsman” whose career highlights included visiting Cuba with Mayor Paul Soglin (in the middle); sports director Jim Miller (left); and reporter and weatherman John Digman, who used a ’40s car antenna as his weather map pointer.


(Digman once talked to my high school journalism class. He was hilarious. Sadly, he died at 40 of a heart attack.)

It turns out that WISC-TV’s website has a number of old photos, including O’Connell after “Action News” was replaced by “News 3” and the checkerboard and Big Giant 3s were replaced by something more colorful: also has photos of O’Connell’s colleague and replacement John Karcher …

… weekend anchor Rick Roberts …

… Bill Brown (at least I think he is), deep-voiced news anchor who preceded O’Connell back when WISC had one hour of “Eyewitness News” at 6 …

… local TV pioneer Marlene Cummings …

… meteorologist Marv Holewinski, minus his banana-yellow blazer (and Holewinski can still be heard on Wisconsin radio) …

… and former weekend sports anchor Curt Menefee, now host of Fox NFL Sunday:

A web search found another photo of Brown, who is one of the first TV people I remember:

YouTube also has one of the aforementioned Digman’s former coworkers, Rick Fetherston, who later went to WMTV while teaching my UW–Madison broadcasting course. Digman and Fetherston were on-set at WISC while longtime anchor Jerry Deane was doing the news, when suddenly Deane’s dentures flew out of his mouth live on the air. Since apparently this had happened before, Deane calmly caught the dentures in mid-air, put them back in his mouth, and continued as though nothing unusual had just happened. He was the only person acting like this; Digman said Fetherston and he were on the floor laughing off camera.

Also on YouTube is Tom Bier, who worked on- and off-air at WISC for years:

Those with interest in Madison media history can also go to the online Wisconsin Broadcasting Museum, where can be found Wisconsin Broadcasting Hall of Fame members Tom Bolger of WMTV, WISC owner Elizabeth Murphy Burns and general manager David Sanks, WIBA radio founder William T. Evjue (who, yes, also founded The Capital Times; Evjue is probably spinning in his grave over WIBA’s carrying non-lefties Rush Limbaugh and Vicki McKenna), WKOW meteorologist and Weather Central founder Terry Kelly, WISM and Z104’s Jonathan Little, WKOW radio (later WTSO) and TV’s Roger Russell, WKOW sportscaster and “Dairyland Jubilee” host John Schermerhorn, WKOW and WOLX radio owners Terry and Sandy Shockley, former WISM and Magic 98 general manager Bill Vancil, and one of my favorite UW professors, School of Journalism director Jim Hoyt. A number of famous Wisconsin sports announcers can be found there too.

Not in the Hall of Fame is former UW–Madison pharmacy Prof. Phil Mendel, better known as the former public address announcer for Badger hockey games at the Dane County Coliseum, and road-game color commentator for Badger games. Mendel worked with Bob Miller, the first of three Badger hockey announcers who later worked in the NHL, and then when Miller left for the Los Angeles Kings, Paul Braun (announcer of four of six UW NCAA hockey titles) and former UW assistant coach Bill Howard.

As you know, Braun and Howard got to cover one of the more wacky moments in college hockey history, the 1992 North Dakota–Wisconsin Water Bottle Fight.

Mendel always opened games at the Coliseum with “Good evening … hockey fans” which I, uh, pay tribute to by opening every one of my live games with “Good morning/afternoon/evening, [insert sport name here] fans.” The “If you grew up in Madison you remember …” Facebook page contains a thread started by a former UW hockey player, where those who remember Mendel’s ’70s radio and ’80s TV appearances chimed in with such sayings of his as “[insert opposing goalie’s name here] is as useful as a screen door on a submarine!” and “[insert opposing sieve’s name here] is as frustrated as an unmated coon!” You are unlikely to hear the latter on the air anymore, but that’s not the point.

For those who think a 30-minute hockey fight started by a water bottle is strange, consider what Braun, Howard and Mendel got to cover the next year in another UW game against the Boys (Then) Named Sioux. Wisconsin played North Dakota in the 1983 Western Collegiate Hockey Association semifinals, a two-game total-goal series in Grand Forks that, thanks to the first night’s 1–1 tie and second night’s 4–4 score after three periods (only because of a Chris Chelios goal with 12 seconds left in regulation), went to overtime. And then a second overtime. And then a third overtime. And then things got strange.

Ted Pearson scored the game-winning goal in the third overtime, only to have the goal disallowed because Pearson was using an excessively curved stick, which Mendel and his partners dramatically announced upon coming back from commercial after the supposedly game-winning goal. So not only was the game (and series) not over, but the Sioux went on the power play due to the resulting unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. An overtime penalty usually is a recipe for losing the game, and yet 26 seconds after Pearson went to the penalty box, teammate Paul Houck scored to win the game again, this time officially. (Remarkably, it was the first shorthanded goal North Dakota had given up all season.) The Badgers then beat archrival Minnesota in Minneapolis to win the WCHA playoff, and beat St. Lawrence twice in the quarterfinals, then Providence and Harvard in the Frozen Four in, of all places, Grand Forks (where North Dakota fans improbably wore “This Sioux’s for You” buttons in support of the Badgers) to win the Badgers’ fourth NCAA title and the first of two for coach Jeff Sauer.

Would you believe there is something older from Madison? How about WISM radio from March 4, 1966 (when I was nine months and one day old):


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