Sterling "Red" Quinlan discusses the book "The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch"
BROADCAST: Jul. 30, 1974 | DURATION: 00:48:15
Mr Quinlan a pioneering Chicago TV executive and one time general manager of Chicago's ABC affiliate WBKB, discusses the book "The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch." Mr Quinlan and Studs converse about the trials against RKO General/General Tire, a struggle that lasted 15 years. Includes an excerpt of an interview with Denis Mitchell.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel Sterling "Red" Quinlan has written a new book. It's called "The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch." Some call it the broadcasting industry's own Watergate. It's a powerful work and O'Hara the publishers, but at the moment I'm thinking of Sterling "Red" Quinlan and my life. And Red Quinlan has been involved with Chicago television the very beginning. He was the station manager of WBKB, which was Channel Seven's outlet, and later on of Channel 32. And Red represents something to me quite rare today. The independent, the independent man in the world of what we call mass communications and he's always been in a sense this man who had derring-do and took risks and perhaps I'm getting personal now because Red has influenced my life a great deal. And perhaps the fact that I'm on right now on radio may be due to the fact that Red Quinlan was a man who took chances during certain times. We should hear before we talk of Red's book "The Million Dollar Lunch," and "Hundred Million Dollar Lunch," what involves as far as power boys are concerned and control of television channels. This is a very celebrated case and it's a powerful work. Perhaps we hear the voice a mutual friend of ours. Denis Mitchell. One of the most marvelous documentarians, film documentarians around and about, and one day when Red Quinlan, this is by way of introducing Red who is seated here, was general manager of WBKB, Mr. Mitchell came to Chicago, and he had won the Prix Italia, had done some remarkable work for BBC and on other places in England, he'd like do a film about Chicago. I thought that one man who would run that risk, and it was Red Quinlan. Quinlan saw an earlier film of Mitchell's, says we'll do it, and the film was made and became quite a scandal here. It was prevented from being seen on television by people who had never seen it, they heard it was not good for Chicago. And later on. Well there's an aftermath of this that's ironic and funny. And it was Red who put himself on the spot, with the network, with the city, and with the channel. But Red took that chance and he wanted to cause he respected the artistry of this man Denis Mitchell. I'm in London now as we hear talking to Mitchell. It's sometime after the film was made and these are his, we hear his voice.
Denis Mitchell The vitality. Thought it a very beautiful city too. One of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, I've ever been in. I loved Chicago and I have the most happy memories of it. And I, I very much hope to come back sometime.
Studs Terkel I think Denis, even though I'm interviewing you, I've got to add a little editorial comment. This is not par for the course for an interviewer, but often people live in a city are not aware of the impact that city may have upon a stranger. And the impact can be both good and bad, and probably is a combination of both. And so often we're ashamed of the very thing that is our strength, in this instance, it's vitality and this cannot be dissociated from the violence. I think you mentioned to me at the time you were making it, a life in this 20th century has so much of both the vitality and the violence. And I think you used the word loneliness too, and this certainly has come out for those who have seen the film. I hope- by the way I hope one day soon, there's a possibility this will be seen in Chicago so people can judge for themselves.
Denis Mitchell Yes, I hope so too, of course. It's- I've never done, I think, well perhaps with one exception, I've never done a film that I didn't want to alter afterwards. And I think "Chicago" is too long. And I think its opening is too long with its drunks, and so on. I think that's true, but all the same, if I could cut five minutes out of it, I still think it'd be a v- it's a good film.
Studs Terkel Simply offering that conversation in which your name Red Quinlan figured a good deal and with a great deal of fondness on the part of this filmmaker, Denis Mitchell. And he thought of you, the Chicago television executive who took that chance. Now, a thought come to your mind as you recall that film?
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Oh yes indeed yes, that- well, you brought Denis to me Studs, and I was very grateful. As you know we made the deal with a handshake that same afternoon. There was no formality or contracts. And because I knew if I had checked New York, they'd have given me 15 reasons why I should shy away from it. Because it was a personal subjective view of an artist of a city, which I see nothing wrong because it was labeled and it was to be. But the deal
Studs Terkel The reason I ask, the reason I ask that is because, I knew you were the only one who would do it. Because you take that chance. We, we live in a time of so much blandness and blandness then and now. And I was always wondering, ever since that day, because it was a battle royale for those who may not know. It was headlines and the mayor, Mayor Daley, threatened to punch Denis Mitchell on the nose. He never saw the film but told it was bad for Chicago. And remind me Big Bill Thompson punching King George in the nose and all sorts of executives were furious. But Quinlan, you stuck to your guns. Though you couldn't show the film then, you showed it later on on Channel 32, which you
Sterling "Red" Quinlan were Yes, unfortunately the BBC ran at first and that created the headlines in Chicago. I was very sick with hepatitis, which I got over later. But I was right in the middle of that and I was in a semi-coma and I couldn't move. Had I been up in my office, I would have put that film on the same night just to thumb my nose at everybody. But as it turned out, I got-
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan And I bought the rights to run the film from the BBC. We ran it not once, but three times on Channel 32. And as far as any moral outrage, it will turn out to be a big yawn. Nobody had any objection.
Studs Terkel Yeah,
Studs Terkel Yeah, so we come to you now. Not accidentally, you've written this book. Before that, you wrote a powerful novel that dealt with merger. This involved someone you knew and worked for and how merger takes over and destroys the free individuals, and- who have a certain derring-do as you. "The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch." This book, that's received, by the way, acclaim from Bob Sheehan, who's one of the best television critics in the country, and Nick Johnson and Bartley as well as more conservative FCC people, Newton Minow. The book itself, "The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch," deals primarily with what, do you say, power?
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Power in action. Yes. And the obfuscating of killing force of power and also, trying to deal over 25 years in government is like trying to deal with the will of the wisp. It changes from liberal to conservative or any shade in between. And it was a tragic story in which hundreds of thou- 2000 or 3000 people lost their jobs and it was really a shame [unintelligible].
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Yes. WHDH-TV, Channel 5 in Boston, owned and operated by the Boston ""Herald Traveler"". And at that time the station, the paper, for whatever reasons, was on economic [pages turning?] bad ground. It was not making its own profits, so the station supported the the newspaper. And because a couple of men had a lunch, from whence I get the title "The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch," when it was in litigation. The lunch then triggered a whole chain reaction that lasted for 25 long years. At the end of that time the station went down the drain, the newspaper, one of the oldest in the country, went down the drain. And I don't see anybody as a winner. Although I must say, WCVB today, the new owner is, is, is a landmark, a benchmark station, and setting all kinds of new
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Yes.
Denis Mitchell Yes.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Yes. Yes. The- the license was being appealed by the losers in the original group. And, at that time, there was going on a Senate oversight, Legislative Oversight Committee, there was a lot of hanky panky, as my first chapter is titled "The Whore House Era of the FCC." There were a lot of carpetbagging and free-wheeling and under the table deals. It was a very raunchy period for the FCC. It has since cleaned up a great deal. It's a pretty good commission now. But, at that time, this oversight committee heard a mention on another case in Miami that the witness said Well you sure we had some luncheons with the chairman of the FCC, Mr. McConnaughey. But that's nothing new up in Boston. A chap by the name of Choate was doing the same thing.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Yes.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Chairman.
Studs Terkel McConnaughey.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan The court of appeals heard about this remark in this committee meeting, and they said "Hey, hold on here." And they said to the commission before we act on this appeal in granting WHDH its permanent license, What about that comment that just fell out of the blue in that Miami case? And so the commission immediately held a hearing and exonerated Mr. Choate and Mr. McConnaughey. Of course, as the chapter indicates, they couldn't remember too much what went on. And actually, there were two or three luncheons, two documented, and I think there must have been more.
Studs Terkel But the reason for the challenge by other people, other groups, the ones who own the station would come to them is the fact that it was connected with the newspaper. Isn't that the point?
Sterling "Red" Quinlan One of the big vulnerable point which still exists, there was a lot of people in government and out who think that control of communications in one single town where they own a newspaper, a radio station, AM and FM, and a TV station, is in a- could be an abuse of power. And that theme has been a part of the regulatory system and HDH, of course, had a radio station, and FM, and the newspaper. Now they had the TV, so the the attacks on it by the other challengers was based on cutting down some of that power. And that was the main theme for quite a while and what was one of the reasons why the present owners finally got it 22 years later.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan It was supporting the paper. Yes. It would be tantamount if the Tribune were losing money in Chicago. It is not. It happens to be making money. But the Herald- say Tribune were losing money and it was supported by WGN and a group of us who were able to get the channel away from Channel 9. Then the Tribune would go out of business on the hypothesis it's losing money. It's not. But it was that kind of thing in Boston where the paper went out of business because it was supported and-.
Studs Terkel What's astonishing about your book is that, I'm thinking about it and reading it, you know, having read it, you know, I mark it kind of wildly and crazily, is that it deals with whims sometimes as well as power and influence and changes in patterns. There was a man named Colonel Cunningham, the first examiner, ruled against Boston "Globe Traveler" and WHDH. He ruled against
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Right. Yes. It's flip- It flip flops back and forth for all these years with no apparent sense or pattern or rhythm because of the political climate changing. The lunch was the reason for it being put on, onto the fire. The lunch was then taken out. The station was actually granted to WCVB-TV because of integration of management and diversification.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Diversification is in diversifying a conglomerate out of one of its properties. You know one to a customer. If you're- The commission would really like every station to be owned by people who had no newspaper interests. They'd even like everybody own maybe one AM and TV- FM, but not a TV. Or if a TV, not an AM or FM.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan The three major challengers. When it was set up for a brand new hearing were of Boston broadcasters who finally won it. Charles River Civic Television with the- another Brahmin family the- what's their name.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan So there were three. Down to the wire, and BBI or WCVB, the winners took it away on the basis that they would do much more in promising performance than any of other station has in the history of the communications business. But then the court of appeals, the FCC was in a rather odd position of having to defend its decision and they put the lunch back in. They said, well this lunch should have been in the beginning and it was still bad. So they-.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Choate
Sterling "Red" Quinlan As
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan He's the one that exonerated Choate and McConnaughey. He said he saw nothing wrong with it, and it was OK. And he gave WHDH a clean bill of health, but the Justice Department filed a very strong disclaimer on that. Newton Minow came in as chairman of the commission at that time. He agreed with the Justice Department and he said hey this whole thing has got to be opened up. And it was Newton Minow's strong opinion, along with Attorney General Rogers, William Rogers, opinion that did reopen it up, despite the fact that Stern gave the whole station a clean bill of health.
Studs Terkel See, what is to me, what's fascinating about your book, this "Hundred Million Dollar Lunch," Red Quinlan is my guest, is that you are a good writer too. But you also, there were changes. It's hard to tell what made these guys overrule the examiner. What made them open the case? What made them flip flap back and forth as though there were political climate changing involved all the time too.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Yes. Yes. There's a theory in there, by some of the people, that maybe this was an expiation. A theory that the commission had been so bad during that whorehouse period of passing out licenses without any real investigation that they they felt that this would expiate them in the long term. That's a philosophical theory but it's supported by some
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Oh yes. They were-. They were not competing for a license, but they certainly didn'"Herald Traveler"ald Traveler" to have a TV station and they supported the government and everybody else and fought real hard to have the head of the station taken away and give it to some other owners.
Studs Terkel So now we come to what happens to the FCC and enter some figures, exit figures and Nicholas Johnson enters into this too in a moment. Choate, in the meantime, Choate of the old family dies.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan He died of a broken heart, Studs. He died of a stain on his family honor. His wife was very bitter, and is today a very, very bitter woman. I'm sure his son is very bitter about this case. And he died. They, they literally threw him out of their own corporation. They put him in a backroom someplace. And then he had a retina of the eye operation and he died of a brain tumor actually. But it was induced, I think, by the emotional strain of being without honor in his own company.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Well, if there are two people applying for a license in any community, they are thrown into a hearing. And these examiners are really judges. There's about sixteen of them at the FCC, and they hear your merits and mine are claimed what we're going to do. So that they have to make up their own mind and they issue a ruling, an opinion. Now, then it goes to the FCC and has to be voted on by a seven man commission. Sometimes a seven man commission doesn't vote. One man will consider he doesn't. He didn't know enough about the case or he was out of town. And, in this case, the vote was a mere four out of seven. A mere quorum.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Another commissioner backed away because he was working at the Justice Department and had had some dealings with this case earlier. And the third commissioner came in much too late. He was too new and he just didn't want to get involved in it. So that left it down to four commissioners.
Studs Terkel Before we come to that final decision of these four commissioners. This is near the end of the 25 years of this regular hearing back and forth. What was the- what was the feeling of the people working at the station. That was one of one of insecurity throughout wasn't there?
Sterling "Red" Quinlan He took over after Choate and became head of the station. He fought a rear guard, tough, bitter, action and he kept his morale of his troops up pretty high. But I know that a lot of this was talk and that a lot of them were looking for jobs. Fortunately, a number of them were able to connect on with the new owners
Studs Terkel Of course, you would think that the station that's on would not have to prove itself. So that's kind of good. But you and I may disagree, by the way Red. I think, my own, in reading your book, you see, I think the decision was good. So I lean with Nick Johnson.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Yes.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan No, I don't think I have. I have not been accused in any of the reviews so far that I've seen of writing an advocacy book. I, sure, I think Channel 5 today, the new owners, are doing a marvelous job. And I did not write a point of view book because I thought for, for, for history and the future that all I should try to throw all the light I can on how mixed up you can get, Studs, in a battle like this and let you, the reader, make up your own mind. The only the only thing I could argue about what is public service, Channel 5 today is on 24 hours a day, five days a week. They are employing more people than any other station. They are giving more public service. They're doing everything they promised. Marvelous. That I'm in total agreement. And I think they are going to be the benchmark
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Today.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan WCVB-TV.
Studs Terkel Let's take a slight pause, we're talking to Red Quinlan, Sterling Red Quinlan and the book by, it's a very good one. It's a book about power and what goes on behind the granting of a license to a station and the losses or the loss of it. It's called "The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch," but that's about the dough that's involved in. O'Hara's the publisher. We'll resume the conversation the moment after this message. Resuming the conversation with Red Quinlan on "The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch," the whole question of renewal of licenses and one of the ex-FCC commissioner, Nicholas Johnson, you know, was the enfant terrible. And he voted against WHDH. When the four, there were left four, four people finally voted. Four members of the commission. And one was a big surprise. The four were Bob Lee.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Right.
Studs Terkel Right.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Yes. And he's always been adamant about newspaper TV cross-ownership in the same community. And he too was consistent. He just didn't ever believe that was good. Lee thought it was all right, and that's where they differed.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan And Nick, well, Nick was fairly new on the on the commission then. And there's no question he was going to vote against WHDH. He actually preferred Charles River Civic Television, because they were going to run their station as a foundation and put all the money back into the community or into charity. And- but he didn't want as long as somebody else got it besides WHDH, he went along with Bartley and- and that- that cook the goose. But Nick did a surprising thing, you know. Not only was this decision a shocker to the broadcast establishment, it shook them to their foundations. He went on and wrote a concurring statement. This is kind of a gratuitous thing to do. You can write a dissenting statement, but usually they don't write a concurring statement to amplify why. Well, he took the privilege of writing about a page and a half concurring statement, which said in effect, "boy this is marvelous. Now we've we've taken away one. Why don't we take away more?" And it is all of the present challenges to licenses, and the petition to deny petitions to deny by community action groups really stem.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan The umbilical goes right to Nick Johnson's concurring statement. In fact all the problems today in broadcasting, if you turned into a game of Monopoly, the Boston case would be square one.
Studs Terkel And it was interesting that of the people who liked the book, the great many of the various ones commenting, Nicholas Johnson says ,"As one who didn't enjoy living through the case, I very much enjoyed read Quinlan's account of the adventure. Now two years later, two years after the end of the case." And on the opposite side is Robert E. Lee, who says "the subject matter has had one most profound effect on the broadcasting industry. The results of which are still being felt. To Red Quinlan, it has to be commended for tackling this difficult subject matter. Of all students of communications law, the opportunity to read and learn from this book, Red's book," which I find very interesting.
Studs Terkel As you say it's not a point of view book. That's right because you do keep it open. I had a feeling that you were rooting for, maybe it's my impression. You offer these men who were involved, all the humans, the lawyers too, we'll come to them, and members of the commission. And very very many live and rich and the surprise of four people choosing. It so far is two to one to take away the license from the "Globe Traveler". Johnson and Bartley against Lee. And now we come to Jim Wadsworth.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Oh yes, that's an astonishing story. Which gets right down to almost how, if you have an acid acid stomach, eighteen years of litigation can go one way or another, depending on how a commissioner feels that day. And I had a difficult time smoking out the real reason why Wadsworth voted, because remember he was a staunch Republican. His vote certainly by WHDH had to be anticipated as being in their favor. But what did it, Studs, was the fact that he had gone to the Choate School and he knew the Choate family. He revered the family. And at one point during the hearing, one of the WHDH lawyers said in effect we see nothing wrong in that- that luncheon, even though so many other people do. We'd have. Would you do the same thing over and this man said yes, we'll do the same thing. We would. We see nothing wrong in what he did. Now, this astonished Wadsworth, who, as conservative he was, had a- had a feeling a moral outrage about- had they said something else at that time, Wadsworth never would have voted as he did. But this was- he was his tough Yankee and he believed in integrity. And he didn't think that lunch was right. And for that the old owners to say nothing wrong with it. That's what turned the trick.
Studs Terkel Just to explain the lunch again, for those who may have tuned in later, that this is the seeming reason why this station, this group, WHDH lost this channel 5 in Boston. The seeming reason, the deep one, would be the connecting link with the newspaper. But the seeming reason was a luncheon in which Choate invited the head of the FCC to talk things over ex parte. And perhaps there's an italicized paragraph here by Quinlan worth reading about Wordsworth's thoughts on the subject. "Later that day, Jerry Wadsworth continued to turn the difficult decision over in his mind. Troubled thoughts that he could not bring himself to tell the others, such as the high regard he had for the name Choate. It was a name that as a youngster he had venerated. Hadn't he gone to a Choate school? He remembered with great fondness his many cumbrous Joseph P. Choate Jr., the father of Robert Choate. This is what disappointed him most of all. The fact that somewhere in that testimony, he had read that Robert Choate had said that he was convinced that he committed no wrong. Under the same circumstances, he would do the same thing again. His extraordinary sensitivity about human behavior that could be questioned in terms of ethics was for better or for worse a quirk of his." This is Wadsworth. "During his long career in public service, he guessed he had made half a dozen similar decisions. Decisions that were more practical. More pragmatic. Public servants might find difficult to understand. That's the way he was, he reflected. Too late to change now. They remained hang ups. These were peculiarly his own."
Sterling "Red" Quinlan And here is a man who did not like his job at the commission. He worked at the United Nations, and he drank martinis rather excessively. He fell asleep sometimes at Commission meetings in the afternoon. And the lawyers had they had to be sure they kept him awake during this oral hearing to be sure they could get his attention. So he was not a man who did his homework on cases, Studs. He was probably one of the least interested in his job of anybody at the FCC. And at that at the commission level. And yet this one little quirk-.
Studs Terkel But now we have somebody else that you touch on, Red. It's very important I think. You touch on the reaction of broadcasting magazine to this decision. So my take off in the broadcasting magazine, let's face it, represents the industry. It's sort of a house organ,
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Right.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan And I'm on the side of broadcasters putting more money back into the community. I think that the profit ratios of broadcasting in the major markets where the leverage is, you know, astonishing. Thirty-five and forty-five percent profit ratios. You know where I stand on that issue. I always felt that way running an ABC station here. That we had autonomy and I believed it. And I think that broadcasters often don't put back in as much as they could. Some do and, but more of them don't. The performance of WCVB-TV today has, is greeted with great misgivings by the establishment. They hope the station fails. You know, think of it, any station 35 percent local public ser--local live, 350 people when they can get by with 225. 24 hours a night operation five days a week. Twenty five percent of the station going to executives within the station. No other broadcasting ties. A dedication to taking out maybe 15 percent in profits instead of 85. That's what the present Channel 5 stands for.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Sure.
Studs Terkel And just imagine, and 15 percent profit rather than 35 percent. So imagine if community organizations in all cities say, "hey, why should we have a channel." That's why the industry hates this station.
Studs Terkel Ah.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan And now we come to another political change. Let's assume brother Nixon is not long for that chair he's sitting in there. See, either by impeachment or of he's only got a couple more years, and he certainly won't run again. He can't anyhow by law. But one way or another, we're facing a real change politically in Washington. We've got to agree to that. Now the pendulum may swing. Just we may not have one Nick Johnson in the FCC for four or five years. Now we might have three or four. And at some point, maybe some right thinking senator or congressman or chairman or the FCC says, "hey look at that station in Boston. That's the fifth largest market in the country."
Studs Terkel Well.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible]
Sterling "Red" Quinlan So they may promulgate. They may say let's, if Boston can do it, let's set up some rules where in the least the top 10 markets. I don't say Des Moines, Iowa, because leverage of a state is more- in Boise, Idaho or Des Moines isn't that great. But your top 10 markets could generate tremendous profits. And they might just write a set of rules where they really kind of encourage about 20 or 30 more stations to emulate WCVB today. That to me
Sterling "Red" Quinlan That's why the decision is such a landmark decision. That's why so many people would like to see the owners today of WCVB fail. And that's why others are hoping it succeeds beyond its wildest dream.
Studs Terkel So this book, by the way, and we're just touching on various parts of Red Quinlan's book. There are different lawyers involved here to make their case. You paint, you draw the pictures very vividly. You know the lawyers, each one, and the personal aspects too. Even how they also try to make, you know, the ratio of one to the other. That's also part of it too.
Studs Terkel Here's Benny Goggin, who was the lawyer for the station, for the group that won that now controls the station. Yet, he was very much establ- he didn't want, he just wanted to win this victory for the station.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan That's
Sterling "Red" Quinlan No.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Because his firm is a big establishment law firm. They've got nothing but establishment companies and he wanted that case as a lawyer wants to win, but he didn't want to change the face of the industry. And that's why he wrote this second shot and said, you know, Johnson's statement was gratuitous and not necessary. And he did everything to help the commission rewrite the decision. And that's where they put the lunch back in. He is the one that helped put that lunch back in.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Which leads, of course, to the- to the whole question. This case went on for 25 years. The amount of money involved in battling the case, of a group to battle for an autonomous station would have to have an awful lot of dough or stick-to-itiveness,
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Yes. Yes. Yes. You have to be well heeled and you have to expect the unexpected. Because you never can expect the expected. This case, as you know, the FCC did not win this case. It was the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan They held on to it one day. They never let the commission get it back. And in the last days when Dean Birch was then chairman, who's now the spokesman for the president in the White House, tried desperately to get it back because he felt he had the votes to change that decision. That three to one decision that Nick Johnson participated in. He had to get it remanded from the Court of Appeals. Well the court of appeals has doesn't have to remand the cast. What the Court of Appeals kept saying is, No you rewrite this, and, the way we want. Now you've given us the decision we want and we'll listen to all your appeals, and we'll let you know if we will give it back to you, and the commission tried desperately. But every time the commission come up with a new reason to get the case back, the court of appeals turned them down. So, it was the Court of Appeals who has- has been on the other side of the FCC in many decisions. They did not like a lot of these FCC decisions and they don't today. There's a case out in Los Angeles. RKO general KHJ-TV. The commission upheld its license. But the losers have it on appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals. And that might duplicate the same course. The court of appeals may say hold another hearing and come up with a different answer. When you come up with a construction on it that we think is the way we want it, then we'll, you know, we'll give it back to you. So, Birch never was able to get the decision back. It was the Court of Appeals who, despite two attempts, three attempts really, by WHDH to get it listened to at the Supreme Court and failed, it was the Court of Appeals that finally had the commission over a barrel. And they most reluctantly voted on March 18th of 1972. The old owners of the station would go black and the new owners came on and said "Hello world." And that was that's not even three years ago. That's two years ago last March. So the Court of Appeals has a great deal of influence and will, in many cases again, and the decision had it ever been gotten back by Dean Birch under his Republican weighted commission.
Studs Terkel It
Studs Terkel So again, how the political climate, it alters things. But I'm thinking about community groups, community action groups, the battle, the equipment they need really. The equipment they need to win a case is quite the
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Yes. And- and frankly, with all respect to the sincerity of many of them, maybe most of them, some of them are a victim of a rip off, Studs. And I'll tell you why. They look in a market at a station. This could be radio as well as TV. And they don't think they're doing the right job, whether it's Black Chicanos, or that kind of thing or just more local programming, whatever their beef is. They too often get enthused, overly enthused, by some lawyer in Washington who become specialists in this. And they say, well it takes money, and you get a hundred thousand dollars together will take this case on for you. Well, they get that money together and they- it's almost hopeless to take away a station. As you know this is the first to- one ever taken away.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan So then they have to come up with another hundred thousand, that is spent, and after the public interest group and unable to raise anymore funds, they're still sitting there with a lot of hot air. So that I think the machinery, of course the establishment is trying to change that machinery now. They want a five year license and they want fences put around
Studs Terkel You know, I'm thinking, the fact you wrote this book is interesting. The book is "The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch." O'Hara, J. Philip O'Hara, a local publisher's there, and Red Quinlan is my guest, Sterling Red Quinlan. I think you wrote this book, not accidentally because you always were sort of, even though you were part of the establishment, the general manager of these stations, were this guy who was taking a chance on something else. Not accidentally, the film that Denis Mitchell filmed, Chicago, that's one side of it. But also, you're wanting more and more local live press. This is one of the big gaps isn't it today.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan To me, I think it can be improved, yes. I think we can do much more local television. I think the industry has become computerized and formalized. We don't have the improvisation. We don't have the candor. We don't have the free-wheeling spirit we had back in those days when entrepreneurship was- was- you know, it did exist. It doesn't today. I have had some offers to manage big city stations, not in Chicago, but other big markets. I've studiously avoided biting because number one, I don't want to leave this town which I love as much as you do. But the idea of running a big station is you do it by a Bible now. You do it by all the rules you see. Everything gets so formalized in our society when you come up with a new invention. And it's funny. It makes its dent. And those days were great. They're gone. And I don't think they'll ever come back. They'll come back. I think FM is a blessing, of course, because it has given more voices and more, and more reasons for people to search more dials. But TV you don't.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Yes.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan They are sound and I welcome you know I'd just like to see them not misled. I'd like to see them get good lawyers and I'd like to see them know what they're doing and not get ripped off.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan The the establishment is so paranoid about, you know, they lock their doors now and they have guards around and they're absolutely paranoid. Even more so than they are about the commission, which has always existed. But yes. They're fearful they're fearful and they know that times are a changing and they know they're gonna have to change with it.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Yes.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan It dealt with the company that I-. But fortunately the cash I guess was pretty good on Saturday night and they didn't want to make a change. But I don't think Leonard Goldenson has ever admitted that he read the book but I know he read it. Numerous times.
Studs Terkel It's funny as you're talking, as you're talking Red, this is peripheral yet related to your book, "The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch," and the previous one that Red Quinlan wrote called "The Merger," is that even in baseball and in sports and movies you have the conglomerate. You know, Steve Hamilton, the pitcher, who's now retired, Major League pitcher who is for the baseball players union, was kind of, when he became a delegate to sign for the players, and the owners signed, there was no individual owner. It was a company. It was something else. It was something entirely different. You know, it was part of a conglomerate.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Yes.
Studs Terkel Bigness.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Bigness is sometimes badness, not- not unequivocally. But there are penalties you pay when things get so big and so organized. The individuality zone is sort of gets lost down the path someplace. I think that's a crime.
Studs Terkel What would you say Red? I'm thinking the book is "The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch." O'Hara, the publishers, Sterling Quinlan's book, and it's very exciting reading by the way. It's a trial because it's a book about a trial or trials, 25 years of them. Thoughts now about television. Suppose you were general manager, this'll be the last question. Suppose you were general manager of a channel in Chicago. How would you program it?
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Well, if it were- I program entirely different if it were an independent station against a network affiliate station because you don't have that much time or choice in terms of the hours and the day to do as much with and with network programming coming through. So you're handcuffed to that extent.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan Independent would be, you know, much more to my liking. Well, I tried to inculcate some of my creative thoughts on Channel 32 when it opened. And when Marshall Field died, the whole philosophy of the organization was different. And they didn't want to expand the way I wanted to. And we had a gentleman's disagreement and signed off on very good terms. I would- in today's- I can't conceive if I were running an independent station today that I would have that much difficulty with public interest groups. Could I- I get them all locked in a hotel room for several weeks of the year and I'd knock heads together and I'd say look I can't be God and do everything for everybody. But we can find some meetings of the minds and I'd- you know, I'd work with committees and I would give them a chance to do things to the best of- the ability they have. My communications in that area would be simple as hell.
Studs Terkel You know, no one's thought of- I know. I know yours would be easy with community groups. I just know that knowing you. I'm thinking the ideas put forth now and then, if there were several hours a day, you know, if this could be- there could be sponsors too, be kind of soapbox for all groups, no matter who- I think it's so exciting to get the voices from below in different ways. And I just let him, whatever it is, you know, you have to be screened to some extent but not screened politically.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan We did all kinds of things at Channel 7 as you remember. And one of the- bearing on that point one little thing that lasted for a couple of years and was still on when I left and then they promptly canceled it. I- I put a camera down on the street. I don't mean the old Ernie Simon-type show. We just put a camera down the street and put the word out. Everybody could come and simply sign a release and we give them a minute free time. And, of course, this is real free wheeling television and we had to edit some of them and throw some out, because they were, you know, a little rocky, some of them, but gee that was fun. It was just a real opinion is all. We like, come down, and we take the signature and they'd have 30 minutes, I mean 30 seconds to a minute and a half to talk about anything they want. And boy they- most of them were gripes. But it was great color and some of them led to some documentaries by the way, Studs. You see, it- if you've got the feel for it--
Sterling "Red" Quinlan That was a- I think documentaries can be done from a point of view. I think the networks antiseptic approach that it must be done impartially- if something is labeled as a point of view, which Denis Mitchell's work was. And, you know, we were going to go from that. I was going to go city and city. I was going to go to Tokyo and we do Tokyo and Tokyo do us. It's great to see you- have others see you as you see yourself as others see you. I was going to do Moscow. I plan to do Hong Kong. I plan to do Rome. I was going to tie up with those networks or creative people. I was going to do a city, city, and city treatment of the top 15 cities in the world. I thought it was a- still a marvelous idea.
Studs Terkel If I had- if I had the funds, I would certainly appoint Red Quinlan general manager of the channel, and I would say with his owner part of it was public. One other thing, perhaps a personal comment, opened with a personal end with a personal account with Red Quinlan. He's the one who could think of the idea of matching me and the late Vince Garrity together. And we- this is on the radio, we have a program called "The Sound of the City," and Red had Vince and me cover the town late at night. I love many listeners here heard that. It was on 12 to two at night. And it was.
Sterling "Red" Quinlan I look for the chemistry in people Studs. And- not just the brains and the talent, but chemistry and you two fellows had good chemistry even though you were wide apart intellectually. People a guy like me is.
Studs Terkel He was a friend, a mutual friend of ours, now dead. Chet Roble had what a Quinola, what a parley. Sterling Red Quinlan is my guest. And his book is "The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch" and the subtitle [unintelligible] "The Broadcasting Industry's Own Watergate." O'Hara, the publisher. It's available. And someone suggested Bob Shandley, the excellent critic, TV and mass media critic, says this one should be read by all students of the mass communications needs speak the novelist's touch that Red Quinlan has. Thank you very much.