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  “PERCEPTION” – “The Farmington Canal” – 1959 “Perception”, so-named by director Harry Parcell, was a Channel 3 public affairs program, produced in cooperation with the Hartford Board of Education. In fact, in the ten years or so that I was privileged to host it, we never once consulted with “the board”, nor did they ever offer any input. There is a good chance, now that I look back, that they didn’t even know it was on the air. We created our own content and the show very often served as a dramatic outlet for our talented staff as well as others in the community. These were still the early days of television. Videotape had just been introduced which allowed us to record the program on a Thursday or Friday evening for playback on Sunday morning at 9:30.

Joe Lorraine was one of the engineers assigned to the Ampex video recorder which was the size of a Volkswagen sedan, as I recall.. One night, we taped a drama starring Ronnie Rolly as Thaddeus Lowe, a reconnaissance balloonist during the Civil War. In one crucial scene. the floor manager’s arm suddenly thrust out from the left side of the frame to give a cue to the actors. It was a blemish, to say the least. Following the taping, I asked Joe if he could remove those few frames from the tape. After about a half hour, during which he carefully painted the tape with a magnetic liquid in order to see the pulses, he made the diagonal cut and spliced the two ends together. The floor manager’s arm had disappeared and the picture didn’t even jump or roll. I couldn’t believe it.

Radio producer Paul Gionfriddo wrote several scripts for us. One day in 1959 he came to me with an idea. “I want to do the story of the Farmington Canal”, he said. Always grateful for ideas I immediately said ‘yes’.

Paul and I drove out to Farmington and found a spot where the banks and the “ditch” could still be discerned. We probably dispatched Dick Heinz or Bob Dwyer to film it but, after more than 50 years, I can’t be sure.

Paul then wrote a script which called for “live” actors and voice-overs to tell the story. I believe Ronnie provided the on-camera actors while I corralled Bill Hennessey and Bob Ellsworth to do the VOs.

A young Trinity college student named Hans Bauer was recruited to write and perform an original song which told the story of the canal. Hans appeared on camera as he rolled out verse after verse while playing his acoustic guitar. He was incredibly talented.

In all probability Harry Parcell directed the show. I seem to recall that Jack Guckin was still a member of the floor crew at the time.

We were fortunate to have Bob Arel as our booth announcer I believe Bob did the opening announcement “live” on Sunday morning because he also gives the station I.D. before the program begins.

All that remains is the audio portion of the show. The videotape wasn’t “lost” as such. The two inch tape was simply recycled to be used over again the following week. Except for expensive (and not very satisfactory) kinescopes there was no way to make a copy in those days.

I can’t help but think that we all were in this business at a very special time. What we attempted to do back then would never even be considered today. I’m not trying to imply that we produced better television in those days. In fact, we didn’t. However, I am saying that, in all probability, we had more fun.

Dick Bertel September 17, 2010

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