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Published: Monday, 7/24/2006

40,000 shows later, TV director calls it quits

Not unlike a baseball umpire, Tom Perna knows he is doing a good job when no one notices his work.

His behind-the-scenes role in television news as a director definitely has a "what have you done for me lately?" aspect to it.

"You're as good as your last show," he said.

Perna started at WTVG-TV, Channel 13, in 1966. He has directed more newscasts than anyone in Toledo a "ballpark" figure, he says, would be 40,000.

"I'll bet there is no one else in America who could make that claim," said Al Mannes, who worked with Perna at WTVG for 27 years and now produces the 11 p.m. newscast for WTOL-TV, Channel 11.

Tom Perna: Friday will be the final day on the job for the WTVG director. Tom Perna: Friday will be the final day on the job for the WTVG director.
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Perna, 65, will direct his final newscast on Friday. The Toledo native is calling it a career, one that began in 1960 at WTVW-TV in Evansville, Ind.

Perna's starting pay at WTVW was $1 an hour, but he says it was "the best school in the world" for building a solid foundation for his career. He learned about audio and video, built sets, and operated cameras. Back then, everything even commercials was done live.

"I had to know everybody's job," he said. "It made me a better director."

For the past four years, Perna has directed WTVG's 5:30 and 11 p.m. newscasts. Before that, he did mainly the 6 and 11 p.m. shows.

How does he explain his job to someone who is not familiar with TV news?

"My job is to get it on the air the way the producer wants it," he said. (In simple terms, the producer decides the order of the stories that appear in the newscast.) That means he has to make sure the camera shots are right, the audio and video are working properly, and graphics are in sync with stories.

Then, he has to factor in live shots and satellite feeds.

"There are so many elements that can bite you," he said.

It can feel like a daily tightrope walk with about 40,000 people in the audience. Slip-ups, while rare, are inevitable.

Perna says live coverage of breaking news "when you're flying by the seat of your pants" gives him the most satisfaction.

Whether Perna was working on breaking news or a standard newscast, producer Mannes had high praise for the director.

"Tom has the uncommon and uncanny ability to act in the present but think in the future, and he's completely unflappable," Mannes said.

PINCH-HITTING: Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner will be a guest host on The Troy Neff Show from 7:30 to 9 a.m. tomorrow on WCWA-AM (1230). The mayor has been banned since early June from appearing as a guest on one of WCWA's sister stations, Clear Channel-owned WSPD-AM (1370).

PROMOTION: Jim Snyder is now covering the 7 p.m.-to-midnight shift on WWWM-FM (105.5) on a "permanent" basis. He did part-time/fill-in work at the station for a little more than a year.

FAUX PAS: Ronnie Dahl, a reporter for ABC-owned WTVG, wore a Fox Sports baseball cap in a live shot during coverage of the heavy rain that hit the area on July 14.



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