Thinking Inside the Box

The Analog Years and Otto Schlaak

by Ellis Bromberg, General Manager of MPTV

Hi, I'm Ellis Bromberg, and this is another video "Thinking Inside the Box." We're recording this right before Christmas, so for those of you watching in 2008, let me wish you the happiest of holidays from all of us at Milwaukee Public Television. And those of you who are seeing this in 2009: Happy New Year!

As 2008 ended, I was reading this new book about a subject near to my heart, and I recommend it to you. It's Dick Golembiewski's "Milwaukee Television History: The Analog Years," published by Marquette University Press, and it's filled with interesting stories, historic photos, and lots of memories about all the TV stations in our community, and many broadcast personalities you may remember from when you were a kid. There's a fascinating chapter on our stations alone, which have had their share of controversies, historic technical breakthroughs, and memorable programming over the years.

There's a reason the book is subtitled "The Analog Years" and is coming out now. It's because we are ready to mark the end of television's "analog years" on February 17 when we shut off all the analog transmitters and they are replaced with the new digital stations. This is the biggest change in the history of television, and Dick's book puts a fitting period on the analog years.

Something else occurred at the end of 2008, also, perhaps, appropriate timing: the death of Otto Schlaak, who was the general manager of Channels 10 and 36, my predecessor, from 1960-1986 -- 26 years, the longest tenure by far for any general manager of our stations. Otto was here at Channel 10 the day it signed on. When you look at the milestones of MPTV's analog years, you realize that Otto Schlaak was the stations' leader during many of them.

He was the manager when the studios we still work in were designed and opened. He was the manager when Channel 36 went on the air. He was here when we began broadcasting in color and in stereo. He was the manager when OUTDOOR WISCONSIN, our longest-running show still on the air, was launched. He was here when we started to offer remote broadcasts of arts performances and town meetings, which we still do. He was the manager when the GREAT TV AUCTION and our fundraising group, the Friends, began. And he was the manager through the transition of public television into a significant national voice, when SESAME STREET and MISTER ROGERS, and MacNEIL/LEHRER, FRONTLINE and GREAT PERFORMANCES, NOVA and MASTERPIECE THEATRE all first found their ways into your living room.

Otto Schlaak's name was synonymous with public television in Milwaukee for three decades. He and his wife Nan moved to Florida after his retirement, but he kept in touch, and never lost his love for public broadcasting. He died of natural causes at the age of 89.

But Otto's passing, coinciding with the last days of analog television, does not mark the end of our work in public media. We are beginning the first chapter, I believe, of the sequel to "Milwaukee Television History": "The Digital Years."

And what does that mean for viewers and members in 2009? Well, I'll be talking about that more in this column over the next few months. But here's a taste: a new engagement effort, a series of town meetings in our broadcasting area to hear directly your comments and suggestions about MPTV; a greater use of the Internet to archive our programming, so you can watch it whenever you want; recommendations from a task force of community leaders on how MPTV can better serve the community while sustaining itself in this rapidly changing media environment; oh, and great programs, too (that's what it's all about).

In January alone, be looking for a new MPTV documentary about healthcare in our state called THE WISCONSIN PRESCRIPTION. And the premiere of the 25th season of OUTDOOR WISCONSIN. There's Michael Wood's stunning six-part series about the history of India. From Broadway, Kevin Kline's star-turn in the romantic classic CYRANO DE BERGERAC. We'll cover the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president and talk about the challenges he faces on our own 4th STREET FORUM and INTERCHANGE. For laughs, an excellent new mini-series on the history of humor in America -- it's called MAKE `EM LAUGH. And to start it all off, there's the New Year celebration with the Vienna Philharmonic, an annual treat. All that just in January.

Next column, I know I'll be talking about the analog shutoff coming February 17. But please don't wait until then. On our homepage in the upper left-hand corner, click on the TV set with the "number of days" countdown to learn what you need to do to start watching our new digital channels right now.

And until then, again, happy holidays and best wishes for a great 2009 from my wife Mel and me, and from the entire Milwaukee Public Television staff.