Alumnus Richard Allman recalls a career in the technical side of show business
When I graduated from Wayne State University in 1960 with a degree in electrical engineering, I went to numerous job interviews, but nobody wanted to hire me. I guess that was because of my rather odd resume (and my mediocre grades). I had spent more time working at the WSU television center and Wayne University Theater than I did studying. However, I was eventually able to make a career out of both my engineering education and my love of theater.
My mother was a radio actress for many years. I thought this was terribly glamorous and wanted to follow in her footsteps. She rather discouraged this, but I pursued it anyway. I had been to the WXYZ studio (in the Maccabees Building on Woodward Ave.) where she worked on The Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger, and Challenge of the Yukon among others, and was fascinated by the whole process.
When I was in intermediate school, there was a call for auditions for WDTR, the Detroit Board of Education’s FM station. I went and was accepted. I trotted myself over to Joy Road about once a month and took part in dramas depicting great historical figures.
As a teenager, I was asked if I wanted to be part of a quartet to make some records. Of course I did. Thus I became part of “The Classmates.” We made a couple of records and spent an inordinate amount of time going to “record hops” at high schools singing the songs, doing our act, and trying to drum up sales of the platters. A local disc jockey, Robin Seymore, proclaimed us “Hits of Tomorrow.” However, tomorrow never came.
I enrolled at Wayne State in the department of electrical engineering, but continued to pursue show business through my job at the television center and the Wayne University Theater. After I graduated, the television center at Brooklyn College in New York was looking for a chief engineer. They wanted somebody with an engineering degree and production experience. I suspect I was perhaps the only qualified candidate. In any event, they hired me.
Eventually, the college could not rectify a non-teaching staff member with a tenure track position, and because it prevented me from further promotion, I asked for and was granted a one-year unpaid leave. I went to work for an outfit called the Physicians Radio Network (PRN). At the end of the year, admittedly with some glee, I wrote a resignation letter to Brooklyn College saying that I would not be returning.
I had been with PRN for about a year and a half when the company was sold to an outfit that planned to move it to Stamford, Conn. In the process, they fired the entire staff, top to bottom. I picked myself up and walked five blocks uptown to ABC and asked if they needed an engineer. Turns out they did.
As it happened, one of ABC’s engineers had just resigned when I went looking for another job. Lucky break. I was interviewed by several people, being passed up the line until I reached Max Berry, vice president of engineering. We talked, I showed him drawings of things I had done at Brooklyn and PRN. He hired me as audio-video systems engineer.”
When the chap who did most of the computer work for ABC Sports resigned, I was asked if I wanted to do that. Of course I did! During the last 10 of my 18 years there I was involved with computers and graphics for more ball games (of various sorts), skating championships, horse races, swim meets, auto races and Olympics than I can remember. During that time I accumulated passport visas, stadium passes, frequent flier miles, two Emmys and a pension. I was the manager of graphics for the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, for which I scored two technical Emmys.
Over the next few years I did shows off and on at various venues off Broadway. Then I moved from Brooklyn to Freeport, Long Island, and travel to Manhattan became more difficult. After retiring from ABC and moving to Connecticut in 2002, I discovered the Coastal Chordsmen, a barbershop chorus, with which I currently sing.
Needing something to do after retirement, I began working with the Plaza Theatrical Productions organization, where I am now head of audio.