In May of this year, I joined about 30,000 others from around the world to converge in, of all places, Dayton, OH. Why would so many people from all around the United States, Japan, China, Germany, Italy, England, the Ukraine and many other countries meet there? It was time for the annual Dayton Hamfest, the largest gathering of amateur radio operators in the world.
That the broadcast industry is well represented each year at Dayton is readily discernable as you walk around indoor exhibits, attend forums and shop at the indescribable flea market. One encounters station and network executives, as well as engineering and technical staff, who not only share a vocation but an avocation as well. Anyone who has attended or, perhaps, happened to pass by the ballroom that hosts the ham radio reception at NAB each year can tell from the overflow crowd that our industry is well populated by hams — and not just those in front of the cameras! The engineering and technology involved in professional broadcasting offer an affinity to the broadcasting aspects and the technology associated with ham radio, thus providing a natural career-path progression for many in the industry.
One such ham whom I met many years ago at ABC's New York network headquarters was Steve Mendelsohn. Steve had joined the broadcast operations center as a systems engineer. Given his quick- witted, extremely sociable and always ready to break into a grin personality, I joined the long list of Steve's friends. Steve had his own lively and extended social network while Mark Zuckerburg was still in diapers. Loving challenges, Steve was a great fit at ABC, where he enjoyed applying his uniquely creative systems engineering skills and was a master at coming up with innovative solutions to the most complex of problems.
I happened to bump into Steve and his wife, Heidi, in the airport waiting area as we were all preparing to fly to Dayton for this year's Hamfest. Greeting me with his usual grin and firm handshake, but with a bit of tiredness in his eyes, I told him it was great to see him and asked how he was doing. His response, despite the grin, was “not too well.” He went on to say that in January of this year he was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and was given a matter of months to live. But, he went on to say with incredible spirit, he was going to lick this thing; he was going to beat it.
Steve has enjoyed a remarkable career. He has made major contributions to ABC network's programming and broadcasting capabilities. He was a key part of the design team who created the network's initial all-digital control room. In its heyday, ABC's Monday Night Football sportscast drew huge ratings. In no small part was this due to Steve's contributions to innovations such as the parabolic mic to pick up sounds to accompany video of the on-field mayhem. Steve's love of football, coupled with his ham radio experience, landed him his dream role of being the game day frequency coordinator for the New York Jets. This role led to Steve being asked to take on similar responsibilities for everything from the 2003 Super Bowl to the New York City Marathon.
For the turn of the century a decade or so ago, ABC decided to do a special broadcast entitled “Millenium Around The World.” This ambitous project would capture and air live the ringing in of the year 2000 around the globe. The technical challenge was switching from venue to earth-circling venue, back to the network, on air, live. Rising to the challenge, Steve integrated IP, satellite and telephone technologies into what was probably the most complicated communications system ever designed for broadcast television. Steve reached a career pinnacle for his efforts by being awarded a technical Emmy in recognition of his achievement. His industry peers recognized him once again in 2004, when he was awarded the DeForest Audion Gold Medal for his lifetime of significant achievements.
Steve is now in the fight of his life. He has started round two of chemotherapy and his weight has dropped to a precipitous 110lbs. But, he has already bested his doctor's longevity prediction several times over. With much notoriety, another Steve, initially diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and also of prodigious creative genius, sadly, was recently lost to us. (Does being named “Steve” impart special technological talents and creativity?) As our industry colleague, Steve Mendelsohn, fights on tirelessly and determinedly, we wish him well. I look forward to seeing him in Dayton again next year.
Anthony R. Gargano is a consultant and former industry executive.
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