For 39 years and counting, I’ve been in front of and behind television and radio cameras and microphones in the nation’s largest markets. I had my own weekly Show on Chicago’s WMAQ-TV/NBC, was for years on CNN’s worldwide radio network and CNN.com. We have a worldwide listening audience on the Internet for The Paula Gordon Show: Conversations with People at the Leading EdgeSM and I’m on YouTube. I was part owner of a prestigious film and video production company where I produced, directed and wrote for films and videos, television and radio shows and commercials. I’m a communications consultant. And I’m a regular on www.HuffingtonPost.com.
“How’d you do that?!” ask astonished friends I knew “back in the day.” They know just how outlandishly improbable it all is. My answer? Oberlin College.
I graduated from Oberlin in 1968, a government major. I had to have a job. After an agonizing search, I got one: Medical Secretary 1/entry-level. For one very depressing year, I descended daily into the bowels of a large hospital/research facility in Rochester, NY.
By late spring of 1969, when finally I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I quit. Now all I had to do was to figure out what I wanted – really wanted – to DO. And I thought that was the hard part!
Cut to the chase. I chose television. I could see how perfect the fit was with my government degree. Television was and would be increasingly crucial to the democratic process. And it played to my strengths. Nevermind the howls of derision and dismay from friends and relatives. They’d all heard then-Federal Communications Commissioner Newton Minow say, “Television is a vast wasteland!” So had I. He was right and I wanted to help change it.
Only my newly minted husband liked the idea. “Get started!” he urged. Where? There were only 4 options – the local TV stations: ABC, CBS, NBC and ETV (that’s Educational Television, PBS was not yet a network). All I had to do was convince someone somewhere IN “television” (not that I had a clue what one did in “television") to give me a chance. Right.
Remember, this is 1969. None of the revolutions we now take for granted – communication, computer or the women’s movement – had happened yet. Television required a great big, very expensive video studio. Location production was all done on motion picture film, 16 or 35 millimeter. Who shot film in Rochester? Kodak cinematographers. And Kodak had already turned me down – they weren’t hiring secretaries!
Options A, C, and N saved me a lot of time. “Go away” came their unanimous reply as fast as my calls and letters could be returned. With the “educational” station now my sole option, I simply refused to take their “no” for an answer.
Finally and ever so reluctantly, the Community Relations Director agreed to an interview.
We met. He described the job that had just come open. Was I interested? Absolutely! Was I qualified? Well … if a passion for democracy, a work ethic honed by four wonderfully challenging years at Oberlin, and a hunger to succeed counted – and we could agree to skip the part about what it was he was actually describing about which I was clueless – you bet!
It is a rare moment when one has the opportunity to watch a complete stranger determining the future direction of one’s entire life.
When finally he spoke, these are the exact words he used: “You graduated from Oberlin College,” he grumbled. (He was a former newspaper editor, and grumbling is their m.o.) “That tells me you’re smart. If you are willing to learn … ("be still, oh my heart!!) … I am willing to teach you.”
I was. He did. And so it all began.