by Michael R Dougherty
Mike behind the camera
When I had just turned 13, The Varsity Show allowed teens from my age to seniors in high school to dance on the TV program.
One Saturday, I got all spruced up in my white shirt and bow tie and went to the KTVA studio in the McKinley Building near downtown Anchorage to dance on the show. My “date” was my sister Anna, who was only 12 but looked older.
When we arrived at the studio, I got an unwelcome surprise. The Varsity Show staff told my sister she could go in, but I couldn't because I wasn't old enough. What? Then my sister came to my defense and told them I was indeed 13. Reluctantly, they decided to let me go in. Talk about embarrassing.
Then, in my Junior year of high school, I became interested in a career in television and motion picture production. At the time, my mother, Louise Dougherty, was working at Hewitt's Drug Store in downtown Anchorage (before the 1964 earthquake). My mom knew a man named Jeff Bowden who used to come into Hewitt's to have lunch at their lunch counter. Jeff worked at KTVA channel 11. Mom told him about my interest in television as a career, and Jeff had agreed to talk with me.
When I met with Jeff at Hewitt's, he told me I should audition for The Varsity Show.
A few weeks later, they announced auditions for the show. On the day of auditions, I nervously went to the studio in the McKinley building.
Auditions were set up so that I had to stand helplessly behind a small music stand, where I was facing a firing squad of current Varsity Show crew members seated in front of me behind a long table. Suddenly, I found myself being grilled with a bunch of questions.
Now I wanted to be on the camera crew, so what happened next caught me totally by surprise.
Near the end of my interview, one of the current Varsity Show crew members stood up with a piece of paper in her hand and walked over to me. She placed the piece of paper on the music stand and said, “here's a script, we'll allow you a few minutes to review it, then come back and read the script for us.”
Read the script?
I wanted to be behind the scenes on the camera crew, not in front of the camera!
But because I wanted to work on The Varsity Show, I was prepared to walk over hot coals if I had to. So, I picked up the script and went into the shadows in a dark corner of the studio and started reading it to myself.
In what seemed like only about 30 seconds, I heard “Mike, are you ready?”
I quickly came out of the shadows, calmly walked back to the music stand like I owned the place, and read the script like my life depended on it.
For my trouble, I was told, “thank you, and if you make the crew, we will call you this week to attend a meeting next Saturday here in the studio.” Basically, I heard, “don't call us, we'll call you… maybe.”
Our family didn't have a telephone, so I gave them the number of a family friend.
But the week went by and there was no call.
Then came Saturday, and I wondered what I had done wrong at my audition.
Suddenly, there was a knock on our front door. I opened the door and a Yellow Cab driver was standing there in front of me. “You Mike Dougherty?” said the cab driver. “Yes” was my snappy reply. “Well, you're supposed to go to the KTVA studios for a Varsity Show meeting.”
Wow… I had made it. I was an official Varsity Show crew member. My career in television had begun.
During my first year on the Varsity Show, our host Ron Moore, a very popular local DJ, was unable to do the show one Saturday. That week, at a production meeting, they decided to choose four varsity show crew members to each host 15 minutes of the show. They selected 3 crew members who did commercials on the show to host the first 45 minutes. Then, for some reason, they decided to pluck me out from behind the camera to host the last 15 minutes.
This was a live TV show, so if I blew it, I was going to look like a fool in front of the entire Anchorage, Alaska viewing audience. Gulp. I even had to do a live interview with 4 cheer leaders.
So now I knew why I had been asked to read that commercial as part of my audition.
Just 2 years later, I found myself co-hosting the Varsity Show with Anchorage DJ and KTVA Morning Show host Roger Latham. Then, when Roger left for Hollywood, and I became the host of The Varsity Show for the next few years and through the 1969 season.
While hosting the show, I met the lady who would become my wife. Mary was a staff dancer on the Varsity Show. Shortly after we were married, I turned hosting chores over to Anchorage DJ Jerry Rose (Peter Bie), who hosted the show's last season.
As a final note, because of KTVA owner Augie Hiebert and the Varsity Show, I had a 30-year career in television and motion picture production. Thank you, Augie.
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