Meet the Staff-Wally Podrazik

November 12, 2007

Hundreds of traditional and new media will descend tomorrow upon Denver for the first DNCC media walk-through in the lead-up to the 2008 Democratic National Convention. For many members of the media, this walk-through will serve as the first opportunity to see the Pepsi Center facility and to begin mapping coverage plans. For the ninth Convention running, it will be Wally Podrazik – with bullhorn in hand – leading the media though this first glimpse inside the home of the Democratic National Convention.

When Wally isn’t doing media logistics for the DNCC, he is busy writing books. In fact, he’s written ten books over the years, including “Watching TV: Six Decades of American Television” (a season by season story of TV). Wally, a Chicago native, also has written extensively on the greatest band of all time, The Beatles.

Before the media arrives, we decided it would be a good time to ask Wally some questions about his time with the Democratic Convention.

Q: We’ve got to ask: What drives you to keep coming back?
A: I love the role the convention plays in the process. This is the launching pad, the beginning of the final run to Election Day. And working with the media organizations is particularly satisfying. Every four years there have been leaps in technology that they’re eager to show off. More important, this is an event that brings out some of the best in journalists. Even as they gripe about preordained outcomes, they’re still here because THEY recognize this as an important event.

Q: You’ve worked at the intersection of politics and media for years. In the history of television, what show best depicted the world of politics? What TV show best represents the world of journalism?
A: West Wing, in particular the Presidential campaign of the final season. Not only did it feel as if we were truly along for every strategic moment, the choice was between articulate and principled characters played by Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits. (The cast of the West Wing even visited the convention.) Of course there were plenty of journalistic moments in that series adding to its authenticity, Historically, though, I’d cite the newspaper series Lou Grant (which ended in the early 1980s) for capturing the journalistic purity of pursuing a story. Guess I can’t resist principle and purity.

Q: From giant headphones with massive receivers to button-sized cameras, media technology has changed a lot over the years. What is the coolest device that you’ve seen the media use to cover the Convention?
A: Though tiny cameras are de rigueur now, back in 1996 they were expensive and exotic. So I did a double take the first time I saw ABC’s Sam Donaldson at the podium wearing a piece of equipment on his head that turned out to be a fully functioning, tiny camera. We had gone through intense negotiations with the networks on the numbers and locations of cameras in the hall and I thought … I don’t remember THAT one being on the list. Still, Sam was there, it was the last night … so we made sure the curtain was drawn across the podium entryway so that he wouldn’t catch speakers unaware as they prepared to emerge from backstage. And it was a cool shot.

Q:  You’ve lived all over the country for the various Conventions. Which do you prefer: the pizza of New York or the Clam Chowder of Boston? (and you can’t say Chicago’s pizza because you grew up there)
A: I love matchless signature dishes. So, Chowder. And while in Boston I also had Boston Cream Pie at the Parker House where it was invented. As to pizza, I am from Chicago, so there’s no contest.

Q: What is the strangest request you’ve received from a media outlet?
A: Out of the blue at convention week in Los Angeles (2000), one of the networks asked if they could place a huge, inflatable network logo at their outside (trailer) workspace.  Of all the things to be thinking about! I guessed that this was a PR department idea being pitched via a reluctant news department, so I listened, considered, and got back to them with a polite No.
Q: White Album or Sgt. Pepper’s?
A: White Album. It’s the longest Beatles album. Great songs by all four to fit any mood. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Helter Skelter,” “Julia.” Even Ringo with his warmly schmaltzy “Goodnight.” But ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a different favorite.

Q: Of the nine Conventions you’ve worked for, is it possible to identify a favorite Convention moment?
A: When the speakers connect with the crowd, it’s magic. President Clinton. Rev. Jackson. I can still picture the face of a young woman during the acceptance speech of Geraldine Ferraro as the vice presidential nominee (1984, San Francisco). I happened to look over and saw a joyful tear in her eye. For her, this was more than a speech, it was a moment of great pride, hope, and excitement. After all the business of the logistics of a convention, what ultimately matters is providing a stage, a platform, an opportunity, that allows people to feel invested and a part of our democratic process. It’s a terrific feeling.