Chapter 1: Early Career
Lisa: Bill one of the first things we'd like to ask you today; I know your background when you went to school was in political science so how was it that you came to do news reporting?
Bill: [Sarcasm] you're kidding.
Lisa: [Laughing] No! I'm not.
Bill: It's a long story. I graduated high school early, I just turned 17 and I thought I knew everything and I was supposed to go to Cornell but I didn't want my parents to mortgage the house to go. So at the time there was a draft, so I went in the Air Force for four years and one day I realized what a mistake I made. It turned out to be okay; I thought I knew everything and in that one 24-hour period I learned that I knew nothing. So I started going to school and when I finally got out, I was assured in my own mind that I was a captain of industry. So I lived in Overbrook and I was driving out to City Line. The first big building I saw was Channel 6. So I was on my way downtown to go to, like, PSFS with the big buildings. Went to Channel 6, filled out the forms, the back guard said to me, "Oh by the way, what college did you graduate from?" I said well I was in the Air Force for four years and I have two years of college and I'm still going to college. He says, "Let me have that application".He takes it back and he says "You come back when you have a degree." So I had a parking space and I crossed the street to Channel 10 - did the exact same thing. The guard says, "What College did you graduate from?" I said LaSalle. He said "Well go upstairs to personnel" so I- the first person I met was my wife. I was astounded. It was a great place - all the woman seemed to come out of magazines, they were really bright, and beautiful - it was wonderful. Went to personnel, took these tests, went in there to the personnel director - her name was Zara Bishop. She said "I'm looking at your resume and there's something wrong here it does not say where you graduated college." And I said, " Mrs. Bishop the reason it says that is because I had to lie to you. I had to do you a favor". She was - she sits back in the chair and she says, "Favor?" I said, " Yes, because if I didn't lie you wouldn't have had the opportunity to hire me and that would be the biggest mistake you made today." She started laughing. She said, "You're unbelievable, you really mean that?" I said absolutely I mean it. She said "We have a job in a newsroom," I've never even seen the newsroom, " and it's a management trainee job." I said, " I'll take it - I've never been unemployed, I'll take it immediately." They said, "Yeah come in at 5 o'clock on Monday." Went in the newsroom, 5 o'clock, no one talked to me for four hours. Finally a guy came in whistling like this [whistles softly]. Goofy guy. Big goofy guy. And he says to me "Are you Baldini?" I said, "yeah," he says, "Oh you're the new copy boy." I said, "No, no I'm not - I'm the new management trainee." He says, "No, you're the new copy boy." No, no. Now you have to imagine, for four years they've been telling me you're no longer a boy and the first thing I hear is' you're a boy'. I'm really annoyed. I said, "No," he said "You better come into my office." Go into his office to find out I snowed her and she snowed me. So this job was me being the copy boy. There were three of us and the job was midnight to eight, eight to four, or four to midnight. And there were only three of us. One guy just graduated Harvard, he was going to Harvard getting a Masters. The other guy was a senior at Yale. And me. And the deal was within a year one of us would be a writer. So I accepted this challenge and I remember this guy, the news director, says to me "Well what do you think?" I said, "I'm gonna win, hands down." And he says "Why?" and I said, " Because they're boys and I'm a man." [Laughs] I was crazy. And I knew I would never give in. And after a year I got the job. And that's how I started. So I was no longer captain of industry. And he said, "The day you quit school is the day you're fired." So I had to- naturally I finished. Got a scholarship to St. Joe's, went to finish St. Joe's in political science. Crazy story, huh?
Lisa: That's a great story.
Bill: And everybody I worked with- everybody was one of these guys or women who dreamed about being in TV. I mean they started when they were little kids you with Edward R. Murrow. And me? I had no interest at all in the news until I got there and then it became this challenge. And here I am.
Lisa: And there you were, and you've started this and you had no interest in the news, no background in the news
Lisa: And yet you had this incredible opportunity.
Bill: Yeah. I got this opportunity and then the more I was there, the more I liked it. And I changed my- I was an industrial and public relations major then I changed to history then I changed to philosophy and then I got my degree in political science. So the more I was involved in the news the more of a challenge it was. You know writing and learning how to produce. Back in those days you had to go through all the different levels. You had to be a writer you had to be a producer. Then you actually had to do shows be the executive producer and only then did you become a reporter. Now they kinda christen you. Like knighthood. But then you had to earn it. It was really an interesting- you had to be on the assignment desk for at least a year. So by the time you were out on the street you had a fairly good knowledge of how things worked.
Lisa: (01:02:26:00-01:04:55:00) So is that how you heard about Pennhurst, Bill?
Bill: I found out about Pennhurst through an accident. It was probably the most fortunate accident of my life. I was working on a Sunday I had nothing to do. The Marriott was across the street and they used to have conferences all the time. So I said to the assignment editor, "I want to go across the street and see what's going on." I ran into this group, Main Line Chamber of Commerce. They were having a meeting about this place called Pennhurst. I never heard of it. Didn't know where it was. I said what's this place Pennhurst like and they start telling me the story and I sat there and I said, I'll never forget, I said, "If 10% of what you're telling me is true I'll do a story on it." I said, How did you get in?" He said, "Well because we volunteer." I said, "Well I can't be a fraud. How about swearing me in as a member of the Main Line Chamber of Commerce and I'll go with you next Sunday?" So I did. No cameras no nothing. And it was more than I ever dreamed. I mean I was in shock. Everything they said was true, plus. So I came back and I told my boss and he had the same reaction I had and he didn't believe me because I'm this young reporter, I haven't done anything. [Pause]. So I finally convinced him that I should go back with a camera. And he said, "How are you going to get in?" I said, "Well leave that to me." So I went back and I went to the person who was running it, the superintendent Leon Potkonski. And frankly told him I saw everything and if he does not let me in with my camera I'm going to stand outside the gates everyday and explain to people what was inside. And I said, "It's not gonna look good for you. But if you let me in I'll try to help you out because you need a lot of help here." So he said, "Well you're blackmailing me." I said, "You can call it anything you want; I'm just telling you the truth." And so he let me in. I was stunned. And that's when it got started.
Lisa: (01:00:00:00-01:00:42:02) Bill had you ever met a person with a disability?
Bill: Yes I met them but I- I don't know how to explain it. My father was one of those people who always said you never made fun of anyone who wasn't exactly like you and he had a great empathy for anybody that was short-changed by nature for any reason. And it kind of impressed me. So you know I always had this sympathy for anybody through no fault of their own had a problem. But I never saw anything like I saw up there. Never. Just- I was stunned.
About Bill Baldini
Born: 1943, Philadelphia, PA
Broadcast Journalist, NBC-10, Philadelphia
Currently resides in Philadelphia
Journalism, Pennhurst, Institutions