• The Reporter on the Road goes the lazy journo route
• Everything you wanted to know about ROTR but couldn’t be bothered to ask
• Q & A = Quasi-journalistic and Apathetic?
When I was a cub reporter writing for alternative weekly newspapers, I disliked the kind of article that used the Q & A, or interview, format. It’s lazy journalism. All you had to do was ask your subject questions and transcribe their answers. No descriptive passages, background or context, no research, no legwork. I still feel that way today, when newspapers as respected as the New York Times increasingly opt for Q & A’s.
But I’m feeling lazy today. As the disclaimers go, The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.
How are you feeling today, Mark?
Like I said – lazy. But go ahead, Mark; I’m feeling nostalgic, too.
You’ve had quite a career, covering everything from war to famine to sports, celebrities and showbiz.
Yes. Are you going to ask a question?
Were you ever in a situation where it was all you could do to keep from losing it?
Yep. In the 1990s I interviewed Luciano Pavarotti in his townhouse on 57th or 58th street in Manhattan. He was at the peak of his stardom and his fame had outgrown merely the great opera houses of the world. He was singing at FIFA World Cup Finals concerts, huge televised specials from Hyde Park to the Great Lawn, and even duetting with U2 on a song, Miss Sarajevo. So I was doing a CNN profile. It was his profile – and his head-on look – that was so odd I had a hard time concentrating.
We had set up our camera and lights on a hot day in a basement room that was very poorly ventilated.
It was hot as hell, basically, and although we offered him a chance to move the interview or postpone it, the great tenor insisted on going ahead, right there.
As we talked, and sweated profusely, I could see that his makeup – heavily, I mean heavily, applied – was not holding up well. It was starting to run, but was on so thick, he looked like . . . a large, melting candle! Bizzare, and unforgettable.
You’ve said you don’t care if there’s a concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. What if you had to cover it?
I would do what I did in 1983, at the US Festival, which drew about 670 thousand fans to a park near San Bernardino, California. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak recruited top bands like The Clash, Van Halen, U2 and David Bowie, for the 3-day event that lost an estimated 12 million dollars.
The venue was vast, hot and dusty. Thanks to the ABC radio station, KLOS-FM, the Reporter on the Road really went mobile for the network’s coverage. Borrowing one of a fleet of motorbikes KLOS had rented, I tooled around with my tape deck and a two-way radio. It was absolutely the most efficient way to cover a lot of ground and it made this event, despite the choking dust, probably the most fun concert I ever worked.
What’s the oddest question someone asked you?
At Rock in Rio in Brazil, in 1985 – probably the least fun concert I covered — I was offered a brief one-on-one with Rod Stewart at an after-party. I used my Sennheiser shotgun mic so the background noise of the party would be minimized. I aimed it at Stewart and before I could ask the first question, he said, “Is that your knob?” I was momentarily nonplussed. If I knew the meaning of the slang term, I hadn’t heard it frequently enough for it to register. Plus, Rod’s Scottish accent didn’t help. “Huh?” I said. Rod repeated, “Is that your knob?” I got it finally, forced a laugh and proceeded with an interview that went downhill from there.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to learn about you?
I was once a member of a small group of people who played an oversized role in which music videos you saw on MTV. Back when MTV was still actually “music TV,” in the late ‘80s, their PR department assembled a focus group of a sort made up of music journalists and reporters who covered entertainment. Every two or three weeks we were invited to a conference room in their HQ around 7PM, plied with pizza and sodas and asked to watch the latest music vids the record companies had submitted. After each, we went around the room expressing our reaction, good or bad. It was surely the golden age of music video, and you’re welcome, I enjoyed being your curator.
What’s the weirdest story you covered?
The MOVE shootout. MOVE is an odd Philadelphia-based group that’s been described as promoting a cross between black power and flower power. There was a history of violent confrontations between the police and MOVE and that led to a standoff in May of 1985 in a West Philadelphia neighborhood. Tear gas was used to try to get MOVE members out of a fortified house. Gunfire broke out. Police used a helicopter to drop two explosive devices on the rooftop, A fire resulted and 65 row houses were consumed. I was there for ABC Radio News:
Was your timing ever off?
Well sure….but I’ll narrow down your question a bit. One career move I made was definitely made a moment too soon. When I left WEBN Cincinnati for WMMR Philadelphia in 1978, I left behind Craig Kopp, a guy I hired right out of college when I was WIOT Toledo’s news director. When I left, Craig brought the other WIOT news guy, Rick Bird, down to Cincy to share newscasting duties. Thanks to Saturday Night Live, a wonderful promotional gimmick dropped into their laps: SNL’s John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd exploded on the scene with their band, the Blues Brothers. Craig and Rick immediately took the name The News Brothers, and cemented their radio legacy in the Queen City. I felt better when, at reunions like the one below, they reverently dubbed me “the News Mother.”
What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you at a professional sports event?
Do you know Hubie Brown, the basketball coach turned broadcaster?
He has, among other things, a reputation for having perhaps the foulest mouth in sports. I was credentialed for some Knicks games when he was coaching them and I can attest to the average sentence of his sounding something like this: “Those fucking guys better fucking learn how to fucking pass the fucking basketball or I’m going to fucking go crazy.” This is not an exaggeration.
My friend, John Hewig, was the Knicks communications head in the ‘80s and for a game between NY and the Boston Celtics, John had invited me to sit at a courtside table in between the bench and the scorekeeper’s table. The game was tight, going down the wire, when a timeout was called with under a minute to go. As the Knicks gathered around Brown in front of where I sat, the Knicks’ traveling secretary, a crusty old gentleman sitting next to me, asked me what late NBA game from the West Coast would be televised that night. He’d seen that I had pulled that day’s Times out of my briefcase at halftime. I opened up the paper to the TV page and was answering the guy when the whistle blared, the Knicks returned to the court, Hubie Brown swiveled to head to the bench . . . and stopped dead in his tracks in front of me. I looked up over the top of the outstretched newspaper to see him staring at me incredulously. “What?” he yelled. “The fucking game’s not exciting enough for you?!!!”