Early the morning after the holiday weekend, I was awakened shortly before 6 A.M. by a call from the TV GM. In a voice laced with panic, Kent went on to describe that Channel 7 was off the air. Hundreds of raucous union “goons,” as he called them, were blocking the driveway’s entrance where the handful of AFTRA strikers had before been peacefully picketing. The goons, said Keck, were attacking any car attempting to drive through and get into work. Hardly anyone, like himself, had managed to get through success-fully. Most had given up once they saw the huge crowd blocking the en-trance and what was happening to the cars attempting to drive through.
The station had signed off its previous broadcast day at 1A.M. earlier that same morning in the usual ritual, common in those days, of the “Star Ban-gled Banner” playing in the background while the American flag was wav-ing. The station had been preparing for its normal 6 A.M. sign on for anoth-er broadcast day.
But the mass picketing that Keck was screaming about had blocked that from happening. The morning shift of IBEW technicians and all the other necessary union and non-union personnel, including replacement on-air tal-ent, just couldn’t get in. Engineering switches had to be pulled, dials set, and buttons pushed to get the station, its studios, and transmitter back on the air but now there was no one inside to do the engineering work.
Keck implored me to get over as fast as I could. As we were talking, I turned on the set in my room and Channel 7 was indeed off the air. It was probably the first and only time in the station’s long history, then or since, that the station was shut down completely.
Fortunately, the two radio stations never signed off and went all night. But with their relief column not able to proceed up the driveway,
radio was still flying, but it was just for the moment and with only one wing.
Showering and dressing as quickly as I could upon receiving Keck’s desper-ate call, I drove my Hertz rental at ridiculous speeds the few miles up Ten Mile Road to the building's driveway entrance. I was very lucky there were no Southfield police on the road to stop me and I later found out why. As it turned out, they were at the rear of the stations’ parking lot taking state-ments from Keck and the valiant few who managed to drive, relatively un-scathed, through the picket lines.
Nothing that I had or would ever experience in my years as a labor lawyer prepared me for what was about to happen. It was far worse from what I was expecting when I hung up with Keck. Making sure my windows were closed and doors locked, I slowly made the left hand turn and attempted to navigate my way up the driveway. I was pretty much stopped within a few feet of making the turn by a massed crowd blocking my path forward. It was a group of between 75 and 100 angry, shouting men carrying picket signs with names I could make out of AFTRA and Teamsters. Some in the crowd were holding baseball bats. Rocking and attacking my rental vehicle that was still slowly creeping forward, it was a scene right out of some easily recogniza-ble news footage. It could have been picket lines from years past nasty au-tomotive strikes in Detroit or steel strikes in Pittsburgh.
The windshield was attacked and cracked, but miraculously it did not shat-ter. Still seeing in my mind’s eye, 50 years later, not only the face of the person who hit it with a bat but also the deep, blue color of his work shirt, I can almost hear the jeering crowd. Somehow, and to this day I do not know where it came from, I managed to keep control of the car. Partially covering my eyes with one hand for protection against any possible flying glass, I pressed the peddle and the car moved forward. With that, the crowd separat-ed a bit creating a space just wide enough to pass through. While they were still beating on the car, it was a miracle I maintained control and did not run over or injure anyone.
When I arrived at the back of the station, I found a few Southfield police of-ficers interviewing the brave few who had preceded me safely through the mass of violent picketers. Several people later told me that in my excite-ment and high emotion, I jumped out of my car and began screaming at the police, in a high pitched voice. My adrenaline was demanding answers why they were not up front at the driveway entrance controlling the crowd and protecting those trying to get through.
Now after half a century, I can honestly admit it. This was the only time in my four decade career in labor relations, living through many very high stress situations involving my own personal safety with some tough and mean characters, that I was ever so truly scared.