Building a Family – Part Two

As chronicled in his new memoir Enough to Be Dangerous, Mort Meisner recalls his life in TV News and Rock & Roll. But a person cannot be defined by his or her job alone. Each of us is more complex than that.

In last week’s blog post, we highlighted the deaths of Mort’s parents, the birth of his son Mark, and the contentious court battle that enabled him to finally adopt his beautiful daughter, Nicole.

Mort’s experience as a father didn’t start with Nicole and Mark, though. It began with his son Jason.

The Harrowing Days of Cocaine Use

While writing his memoir, Mort struggled with whether he should include his “cocaine years.” Eventually, he succumbed to the idea. After all, it certainly played a pivotal role in his life.

Three years into working at WXYZ in Detroit, Mort wanted to see a Bruce Springsteen show in Chicago. Through a series of events related to this show, he would end up meeting the woman who would become his second wife.

She was a working for a rock promoter and they were regulars at concerts.

Then Mort discovered cocaine. It was like candy. It made him feel happy, upbeat, and omnipotent. It wasn’t long before any time and any place was a good time or place to do it. Plus, it never impacted Mort’s ability to get to work.

Sometime after that, Mort’s girlfriend became pregnant.

Building a Family… Sorta

Pregnancy did not inspire Mort to stop using cocaine.

Of course, he didn’t realize that the cocaine was helping him mask the pain of his childhood. Even so, he moved to Chicago in 1982 to marry his girlfriend and his son Jason was born in 1983.

After Jason was born, Mort was still using heavily. When his wife threatened to leave him, he didn’t believe her:

Things got worse from there. And when I missed Jasons first birthday party because of a breaking news story – which now is inconceivable to me – we had a huge fight. When I came home from work the next day, she had cleared out everything from the house. EVERYTHING. I thought wed been robbed. But she had taken Jason and moved in with her parents. She filed for divorce in 1983. It was clear though that our happy little home was never going to be of the white picket fence variety.

After that, Mort was only allowed to see Jason one day at a time and he couldn’t keep him overnight. It was one of the biggest heartbreaks of Mort’s life.

He didn’t get to spend enough time with him during his formative years. Even as Jason got older, Mort still only saw him every other month. It was never enough.

Eventually, Mort would establish a relationship with Jason. By the time he moved to St. Louis, he made sure that at least once per month, he’d fly to Chicago to see Jason, or have Jason flown to St. Louis to see him.

Jason would also later be a long-distant half-brother to Mort’s daughter, Nicole, and other son, Mark.

Being the Father He’d Always Wanted

The cycle of abusive parenting stopped with Mort. When he and Leslie decided to build a family, he was determined to be a good father.

After Nicole’s birth in 1992 and Mark’s in 1993, he found himself suddenly trying to reconcile the inordinant amount of time he spent at work with his desire to be with his kids. So when he was let go from WJBK in 1997, it was actually a mixed blessing:

I loved being a father. I now had time to coach Marks baseball team which only further strengthened the bond I already had with my son. I would throw him batting practice 46 weeks per year. I watched him blossom into a great player and he eventually was able to realize his dream of playing Division One Baseball. Hes now a Major League agent.

Meanwhile, Nicole was proving to be a gifted runner. Although I was not able to coach her in her sport, I was able to travel to see her run at meets throughout the country and even the world. She was one of the best sprinters ever at University of Detroit Mercy and broke records on both the national and international levels when she competed.

And Jason? For Mort’s part, he says if he could do it again, he’d have found a way to be there for him more often.

Whatever the case, Jason is now an incredibly successful business man managing restaurants in Maryland. And Mort is finally able to see him with the regularity he longed for those many years ago.

Better late than never.

Get a Glimpse into the Complex Life of Mort Meisner

Whether you’re a friend of Mort’s, an acquaintance, or just hearing his name for the first time, Enough to Be Dangerous will pull you in, befriend you, and keep you interested.

So order your copy today by clicking here.

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Building a Family, Part One

In his recently published memoir Enough to Be Dangerous, Mort Meisner recalls the violence he experienced in his family of origin.

Given the rage and anger that filled every corner of his childhood home, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Mort had opted to not have a family of his own.

But as with every aspect of his life, Mort wasn’t going to let his dark history stop him from building a family. And despite the obstacles along the way, he’d successfully rise to the occasion.

Saying Goodbye to His Own Parents

After a bout in the hospital in 1985 and a subsequent surgery, Mort’s father’s life came to an end. From his memoir:

After the surgery, the doctor came to us, his face long and drawn. After telling us about tremendous blood loss, as well as brain damage, the doctor said with absolute certainty, You dont want this.”

He said that my father wouldnt have any sort of quality of life in that state. My brother and I had to make the tough decision to take him off life support. Then they pronounced my father dead. It was 3:17 p.m. on Thursday, March 14, 1985.  We all went in and it was surreal. There was my dad, 70-year-old Morris Meisner, this once huge, powerful, and blustery man—now lying there dead. Gone.

Shortly after his death, Mort’s mother was attacked in her home and subsequently had a stroke. His mother had always trusted people, even letting strangers into her home to give them cookies and brownies. The police suspected it was someone who’d been to the house before. She was moved into a nursing home where Mort would regularly visit.

In 1988, Mort and his wife Leslie decided it was time to build a family. They tried for four years and had no luck conceiving. Meanwhile, his mother’s condition slowly worsened until she died in 1992. Mort was with her the night before she passed.

He and Leslie still hadn’t conceived.

Along Came Nicole

Two months after his mother’s death, Mort received a call from his friend and WJBK employee, Murray Feldman. He recalls:

I know its none of my business that you and Leslie have been trying to have kids and havent had any success,” he said, then paused. Have you considered adoption?”

We hadnt.

He said to me that his sister-in-law, Judy, had adopted a child out of Kansas and they knew of someone else whose 15-year-old daughter was pregnant and would be putting the baby up for adoption.

Though we hadnt considered adoption before, it made sense. After all, we wanted a baby. And the opportunity was presenting itself. We pondered it for a couple of days, then called Murray to get more information.

Five days later, he and Leslie were heading to Philadelphia to meet the birth mother, Nicole, her mother, Sue, and the birth father. In October, they received the call. Nicole was in labor.

By this time, Nicole and her mother had relocated to Kansas to have the child because she’d been harassed by the birth father, who had threatened her with bodily harm. They figured she’d be safe there.

When the baby was born, Mort and Leslie named her Nicole because they loved the name and wanted to honor her birth mother. They flew home the next day with their beautiful, two-day-old daughter, knowing they’d have to fly to Missouri 30 days later to finalize the adoption in court.

They thought it would be simple.

The Challenge of Building a Family

When they returned to Missouri, they were informed that the birth father had changed his mind. This started a three-state, two-year, $150,000 legal battle. The case would end up going all the way to the Supreme Court in Kansas and subsequently change child’s rights laws in Michigan. Mort and Leslie had even set up contingencies to hide their daughter in Canada, if need be.

Fortunately, none of that happened and they eventually prevailed. To this day, both Mort and Leslie can say with certainty that it was the best money they’ve ever spent – having the honor of raising their wonderful daughter, Nicole.

Then, as is often the case with adoptions, just two weeks after they brought Nicole home, Leslie found out she was finally pregnant. Nine months later, Nicole’s brother Mark was born…

The Joy of Fatherhood

Interestingly enough, Mort was already a father to his son Jason by the time Nicole and Mark came along.

Our next blog post will look at how Mort handled the challenges of both long distance fatherhood and being an everyday dad while saving dying news stations across the country.

In the meantime, get your copy of Enough to Be Dangerous by clicking here. And if you’re interested in the book launch party and other events, be sure to subscribe to our blog!

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Hard Knocks Management

Mort Meisner has been electrifying the airwaves on TV and radio—as well as telling it like it is in print and online media—during interviews about his best-selling memoir, Enough to Be Dangerous, released on October 1st.

As a guest on Fox 2 Detroit’s Let It Rip! he did just that with his hard-hitting spin on the first presidential debate. During live interviews in St. Louis, and on The Mitch Albom Show, Mort has divulged some of the difficulties he experienced, and the tough realities he faced as a news director in big-city newsrooms.

Currently one of the nation’s top news talent agents, Mort shares stories in his book about his life as an agent, rock and roll promoter, and highly successful news director. He also describes how he resuscitated several stations around the country in the 1970s and 80s, including WJBK in Detroit, which was dangerously close to gasping its final breath.

For as rewarding as his work was, though, he still questions whether he could have been a little softer around the edges during certain occasions.

Raising the Bar

To know Mort now, it’s tough to imagine his being anything but the kind, charitable, and enormously personable guy he is.

Yet while he’s always possessed those qualities, there were simply times that they didn’t serve him. You didn’t bring a station back from the dead by tip-toeing around talent and cutting everyone a lot of slack.

Craig Nigrelli 2And if you were going to work at a station that Mort Meisner was managing, then you were expected to meet up to (and beyond, ideally) his high expectations. Craig Negrelli was one of those people who rose to the occasion.

In a previous blog post, we talked about Craig and how Mort saw something in Craig that others hadn’t. The ability to see true potential in talent is one of Mort’s superpowers.

Even Craig’s former agent said he’d never be an anchor. Mort disagreed. Craig wasn’t anchor material when Mort met him. But with a tremendous amount of guidance and coaching from Mort, he’s now a successful anchor in Wichita.

These days, Mort is Craig’s agent.

Even so, Mort had no intention of making Craig’s journey an easy one. He drove him hard and wasn’t willing to give him any breaks he didn’t deserve.

Driving Talent Hard to Be Their Best

As Mort worked his way up the news director/management ladder, he continued to battle sexism and racism in the industry. And there was no shortage of either. But because racism was so insidious, he often came across Black talent that was very promising, but hadn’t been given any chances.

Black male talent in the industry was grossly referred to as The Garbagemen. They were given bottom-of-the-barrel, lackluster stories that nobody else would covered. So there wasn’t much motivation for these reporters to improve.

Furthermore, management didn’t believe in them and did nothing to foster their growth. Until Mort came along.

Al AllenSuch was the case with Al Allen, who also has a memoir released by Two Sisters Writing & Publishing. When Mort came to WJBK, Al was one of the lower men on the totem pole. Mort could see he was an unquestionably good reporter, but suspected management had only hired him for the sake of appearance and had no interest in seeing what he could really do.

Mort changed that. He came in, took over, and made it crystal clear to Al what he expected of him. He also assured him that he knew that Al was more than capable of meeting those expectations. At times, it wasn’t pretty. There was some pretty hardcore “tough love” going on and Mort wasn’t feeling particularly popular.

Yet, in an interview this past week, Al had this to say about Mort:

Ive known Mort for a long time. He was a visionary news director. He saw things in reporters they didnt see in themselves. He had the key to lift restrictions we were under to make reporters award-winning broadcast journalists — including myself. Thats the kind of person he is. He changed the way we were doing stories at Fox 2, which allowed us to breathe, so to speak. By breathing, we could do a better job. We didnt realize how good we were until we had these restrictions lifted by Mort.”

Those words brought tears to Mort’s eyes.

Questioning the Hard Knocks

While Enough to Be Dangerous certainly covers Mort Meisner’s career life, it also documents a painful childhood wrought with verbal and physical abuse. Mort’s father, in particular, felt that abuse was the best and perhaps only way to motivate someone.

As such, Mort’s been left to question whether some of that “training” seeped into his handling of employees. Is it possible that he could have garnered the same results without being quite so rigid and demanding?

Hindsight being 20/20, he has mentioned that if he were to do it now, he’d probably soften a bit. But at the end of the day, he knows that his hard knocks approach those many years ago made a world of difference for the Craig Negrellis and Al Allens he helped along the way.

And he wouldn’t trade that for anything.

See Mort in Action in Enough to Be Dangerous

To get the bigger picture of the larger-than-life Mort Meisner and how both his accomplishments and failures formed who he is, order a copy of his memoir today by clicking here.

And stay tuned. The official launch party is in its final planning stages, so subscribe to our blog to stay in the know!

Interview With John Pertzborn

 

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Taking a Walk Down Memory Lane

When Mort Meisner sat down to start writing his memoir Enough to Be Dangerous, he was flooded with mental snapshots of his life. After all, if you know Mort, you know he has a steel trap of a memory for days of yore.

In some cases, reliving the past was a pleasant walk down memory lane. At other times, digging up and remembering darker days was no walk in the park.

Mort knew that drudging up the past was bound to bring some different emotional highs and lows. What he didn’t expect was all of the people who’ve reached out to him in response to his new book.

Edgar Guest School

In the prologue of Enough to Be Dangerous, Mort recalls a horrible day in second grade when Black students were going to be bused to his school in Detroit and how the white parents and neighbors were responding with such vitriol:

My seven-year-old mind could not comprehend their fury over plans to bus Black students whose school had burned down. To me, it was great that they could come here and attend Edgar Guest Elementary School, named for a poet who celebrated optimism about everyday life.

My naïveté was more like Mr. Guests philosophy, because I was excited for new kids to join our school and become my friends. In fact, my imagination had spun idyllic visions of smiling children descending the steps of big yellow busses.

Somehow, though, I feared something bad was about to happen.

He was right. And he would soon witness his first truly negative experience with racism.

Yet, it wasn’t all bad there at Edgar Guest Elementary. Recently, upon hearing about the publication of Mort’s memoir, a woman named Nancy called Mort. She remembered him from kindergarten and recounted to him how he napped on his rug just beneath where she napped in 1958.

And another man named Eric called, remembering Mort from those elementary school days. He was shocked when Mort was able to immediately recall that Eric sat in the last row near the windows and second seat from the back of their second-grade classroom. (Yep. Steel trap.)

Other Interesting Encounters on Memory Lane

While having two elementary classmates remember him was pretty extraordinary, Mort continues to be surprised by others who are reaching out to him and are excited to read his memoir – having been a part of his life as well.

For example, he’s been in touch with several of his teammates from both the TV2 and Motown teams on which he played baseball. They remember fondly those days of zipping around the bases and hitting the balls out of the park.

Another woman named Donna recalled joining Mort at the Ho Ho Inn in the Cass Corridor for Chinese food after seeing a Sly and the Family Stone concert at Cobo Arena in the 1970s.

And then there’s Jeff.

According to Jeff, Mort owes him $25. Here’s where Mort’s steel trap of a memory fails him, because he’s just not sure. While he vaguely recalls meeting Jeff at a bar one night, he has no memory of Jeff loaning him any money. But then again, it was a bar. So who knows?

There are countless others who continue to make contact with Mort each day. And it’s made his courageous choice to put himself out there and make himself so vulnerable all the more rewarding.

Were You a Part of Mort’s Past?

If so, he encourages you to contact him. There’s plenty of room on memory lane to walk together.

But even if you’re just hearing about Mort for the first time, believe us when we say he’s got a great story to tell in Enough to Be Dangerous.

The book will be available from Two Sisters Writing and Publishing on October 1st. So if you want to buy a copy, simply click here.

And be sure to subscribe to our blog to keep up with all of the excitement around its release!

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The Changing Face of the News Industry

Obviously, the talent is the face of the business.

But true talent possesses far more than stage presence. While that’s an absolutely necessary component, there has to be far more than that.

That’s why talent agent Mort Meisner finds it depressing that the industry is moving away from hiring singular talent and replacing it with teams.

And when it comes to recognizing true talent, he’s one of the best in the country. He’s found more than his fair share.

Success Stories

Craig Nigrelli

Craig Nigrelli

When Mort first started his agent business, one person who stood out among others was Craig Nigrelli. When Mort met Craig, he had aspirations to become an anchor. He also had an agent who didn’t believe in him. As Mort recalls in his book, Enough to Be Dangerous:

I recognized he was rough around the edges, but believed he could do it. So he fired his agent and I got him a morning anchor job quickly. Of the large pool of talent I now represent, Craig continues to be with me. Today he is an anchor in Wichita.

As he became more established as an agent, he was frequently approached by those not in the broadcasting industry looking to change jobs. Irika Sargent was one of those people.

Irika Sargent

Irika Sargent

She called me a number of years ago and said she was an attorney and was interested in becoming an anchor woman. I recognized that she had all the necessary elements in place to make it as an anchor, but it would take some time. I told her she would have to be okay with taking a major pay cut. She was. Irika started in a small market in the south, moved up to Houston, then eventually Miami. She is now in Chicago where shes the top female anchor both in background and credibility. 

Not everyone has been as great as Irika, though.

And the Not-So-Success Stories

Mort once repped a reporter in Cleveland whom he got an anchor job in Las Vegas that paid $100,000 per year. At one point, she owed him $7,000 and as months went by, she kept giving him excuses as to why she wasn’t paying. He finally got her on the phone and asked when she was going to make her first payment.

Im sorry, Mort,” she said. My grandma has been sick and Ive just been overwhelmed with everything. I will pay you next month.”

Well, I wasn’t about to come down on her and demand payment, given her situation.

But the next month, she gave me the same excuse. This went on for several months until she told me her granny died and she would have to pay for the funeral. I didnt want to challenge it because, what if she really had died? 

But six months passed and she still hadnt paid. So I contacted her again. She said she still couldnt pay me. Granny had her other leg amputated,” she said. That clinched it.

They must have dug up her body to do it,” I said to her.

It was amazing. She wasn’t even able to keep her lies straight. So he sued her and eventually prevailed.

Straight-Shooting “Shatterer of Dreams”

As an agent, Mort always shoots straight and tells it like it is. One day, he received a call from a man who was inquiring about becoming an anchorman. He was a bank manager in Detroit and had been watching Mort Crim and Bill Bonds for years, and didn’t think it would be “all that tough.”

Mort agreed to meet with him because he likes people and is always hoping to find the next Bill Bonds or Diana Lewis. The man, probably in his late 30s or early 40s, confidently handed him his demo reel. Mort popped it in and started listening.

Now, I generally have an 18-second rule, whereby I can tell if someone has the right stuff, so to speak. So after that 18 seconds, I popped it out and asked my visitor if he had a thick skin or thin skin.

Id say its thick,” he said with confidence.

Good,” I said, looking him straight in the eyes. That was one of the worst, if not the very worst demo, I have ever seen.” I then held the reel in two hands, snapped it, and dropped it in my garbage can. I suggest you keep your job as a bank manager and I truly wish you well.”

It sounds cold, I know. Yet, he took my words surprisingly well. He stood up and thanked me. Then as he walked to the door, he turned and said, Thanks so much for your time.”

Two hours later, Mort received a call from the man’s sister, who had some choice words for him that amounted to what a son of a bitch Mort was and how he’d shattered her brother’s dreams. The next morning when Mort came into his office, his assistant at the time posted a sign on his door that said, MORT MEISNER – SHATTERER OF DREAMS.

It’s still displayed to this day.

Mort Meisner – Agent of Change

Today, Mort continues to be a champion for news talent all over the country. In spite of the changes in the industry, he fights every day to ensure they get the benefits and the pay they deserve.

Read Enough to Be Dangerous to find out more about Mort’s life experiences that brought him to become a true agent of change.

Due out on October 1st from Two Sisters Writing and Publishing, you can pre-order your autographed copy by clicking here. And subscribe to our blog to keep up with all the latest and scheduled events around the release.

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A Nod to the Mentors Who Planted the Seeds

Nobody makes it to the top alone.

Mort Meisner is quick to acknowledge this fact. And he is ever grateful to everybody who fostered him along on his path to success. There were two people who were especially pivotal in his upward climb.

Over the many decades in the business, Sportscaster Dave Diles and News Director Phil Nye were truly inspirational to Mort in so many ways. And were it not for them as his mentors, he believes he wouldn’t be where he is today.

Dave Diles

Dave Diles

Dave Diles, ABC Sports and WXYZ TV Channel 7, Detroit

When Mort was a child in the 1960s and 1970s, sportscaster Dave Diles had a show on WXYZ AM 1270 that was the precursor of today’s sports talk radio. And Mort didn’t miss a single episode.

He particularly loved that Dave invited listeners to “Dial Dave Diles” and try to stump him with questions. Mort called many times per week in an attempt to outsmart him. He was pretty confident in his knowledge of sports trivia, thanks to his older brother who ate, slept, and breathed football. From his memoir, Enough to Be Dangerous:

The excitement of sports provided a soothing refuge from the chaotic violence of our household. At night, I would crawl under the covers with my powder blue, nine-volt transistor radio and listen to games, whether they were played locally or on the West Coast. As I fell asleep to these games, I absorbed the information like a sponge. 

All of this gave me the ability to stump Dave and go toe-to-toe with him, even though I was just a young kid. As a result, they always put me on the air— which, by my estimation, made me something of a radio personality. And in a way, I was. Dave made jokes about me and called me Morty in the Morning.” The more he joked, the more I loved him. I frequently sent him letters about how much I longed to be in the business someday.

One glorious day, Dave invited Mort to have his dad bring him to the studio. Completely out or character for Mort’s dad, he agreed to take him. More in character, he refused to accompany his nervous 12-year-old son into the studio.

So Mort entered the studio alone with sweaty hands and a pounding heart, certain he was going to be interviewed. It quickly became clear that wasn’t the case. It didn’t matter, though. Dave let him soak everything in, and fall more deeply in love with the idea of being a broadcaster.

Mort always remembered the amazing opportunity that Dave had made a reality. Over the years, he would call in and write letters to him. Dave almost always responded, encouraging Mort to follow his dream of becoming a sportscaster. “There is no short-cut to your dreams,” Dave said to him. “Just make sure you pick a good university to make them happen, though.”

And that’s exactly what Mort did.

Phil Nye

Phil Nye

Phil Nye, Legendary ABC News Vice President and News Director, and Mort’s mentor

Mort would end up having a lot of great instructors at the University of Detroit. But it was Phil Nye who was the biggest motivator for his eventual move to broadcasting. He met Phil in 1974 when he was a student in his News Writing for Broadcast class. As Mort recalls in his memoir:

Kid, youre a terrific writer,” he told me. Stick to it, follow your dreams.”

So I did.

When I finished college in 1975, Phil was the legendary news director at WXYZ, ABC Channel 7 in Detroit. Hed been a newsman at local AM WKNR, and was later credited with being one of the men who started and proliferated happy talk” with the ABC-owned- and operated-stations. He was brilliant, well-respected and intimidating enough to manage Detroit news anchor legend, Bill Bonds. Only a small handful could lay stake to that claim.

Since he’d so wholeheartedly encouraged Mort to follow his dreams, he started to ask Phil for work. He wrote him letters and called him regularly. Sometimes he responded.

In August of 1976, Phil informed him that he expected a bottom-rung position to open up soon at the station. Mort took this as a free pass to show up at the station three to five days every week and sit outside Phil’s office. Then finally, in late December, Phil walked out and said, “Morty? If I hire you, will you leave me the fuck alone?” To which Mort was completely amenable.

When he walked into the station lobby that first morning, he thought of the day so long ago when his father had taken him to meet Dave Diles, but wouldn’t join him inside the station. This wasn’t the same place, of course. But he was just as excited. It was 11 years later and he was finally on his way.

Life Long Lessons

Over the years, Phil Nye would remain a fixture in Mort’s life. He would provide Mort not only with new opportunities, but with sage advice.

For instance, while Mort had the good fortune to win many awards over the years, they were never what mattered. He kept his focus on the viewer. He knew what the viewers wanted because he talked with them and, maybe more importantly, they talked with him. They kept coming back again and again. Phil Nye had always counseled him, “Take it to the people, to the neighborhoods.” Mort carried that theme throughout his career.

And while he wouldn’t encounter Dave Diles nearly as much, shortly before he left Detroit for Chicago, Dave Diles and Jim Herrington threw him a going away party.

Just before the party, I went to Dave and told him, Its been incredible. Youve been such a great mentor and even gave me relationship advice—even though youve been married multiple times. Why were you always there for me?”

To my surprise, he grabbed me by my shirt and shoved me up against the wall. What the fuck is the difference why I did it?” he snarled. I did it, didnt I? And you better fuckindo it, too.”

Though Mort was a little shaken, he never forgot the gesture—or the lesson. Any time someone needs 10 minutes of his time, he remembers this. He can honestly say that any time someone has asked to meet with him over the years, he’s always said yes.

Even on days when maybe he felt like saying no.

A Shout out to All the Mentors

Dave and Phil were among the mentors that showed up in different shapes and forms through Mort’s career.

If you’re interested in learning about some of his other inspirations, pre-order your autographed copy of Enough to Be Dangerous today – due for release on October 1st from Two Sisters Writing and Publishing.

And until then, be sure to subscribe to our blog to get all the latest info on the launch party and other events!

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Everyone Deserves a Second Chance

If you lived in the Detroit area in the 1980s, you may remember the WJBK FOX2 branding campaign with the “It Takes Two” jingle.

The song was originally made famous by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston. Mort Meisner hired Kim Weston and Marvin Gaye’s brother Frankie Gaye to perform the WJBK version. In doing so, he helped to revive Kim Westin’s career and give Frankie some exposure as well.

Mort has always been drawn to opportunities to answer the door when someone knocked on it for a second chance. As such, he not only succeeded in reviving some careers, but was able to apply it to his own life as well.

John Noel

John Noel

John Noel

Given his upbringing, the odds were stacked strongly against reporter John Noel. Growing up in New York, he was an addict by the time he was a teenager. He quit school and made a habit of holding people up at gunpoint. Then he decided to clean up. From Enough to Be Dangerous:

From that point forward until the day he died, he never touched an ounce of alcohol or took a single drug. He also became proficient in the martial arts. Philosophically, John and I were aligned.

When I left KSDK to come to Detroit in 1988, I was in desperate need of others who bought into my philosophy. By that time, John had made himself into a singles hitter. So I brought him on. It wasnt long before hed become a doubles hitter, and then after ten years, a triples hitter.

No stranger to a tumultuous upbringing, Mort had seen something in John that others missed. Years later when Mort was asked to leave WJBK and became an agent, John didn’t want to stay there without him. He was going to go back to New York and asked if Mort would rep him there. When Mort got him a job in New York, he didn’t ask for a contract from him. He was that special to Mort.

WLS-Chicago Reporter

When at WLS in Chicago, Mort worked with a reporter who always aimed to please the rough and tumble management team there. He had a good voice and he could write. Mort struggled with his lack of motivation, though, and couldn’t tolerate anybody just phoning it in. The fact was, Mort didn’t like him, and he didn’t like Mort. Even so, Mort was about giving second chances.

There was a heat wave in Chicago one summer and people were dying. Mort called the reporter into his office and told him he wanted him to cover the story about what people were doing to stay cool. He challenged him to come up with a strong angle – give the viewers something different. The reporter said he’d do the broadcast from the lagoon in Lincoln Park. Pretty hackneyed location, but Mort gave him the benefit of the doubt:

So the night of the broadcast, the camera panned to him.

He said, When I got to work this morning, my boss man told me to do a story on what people are doing to beat the heat.” The boss, of course, was me.

He ran through some of the things people were doing. Pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. But then at the end of the story, he looked directly in the camera and said, Mort, heres what Im going to do. This ones for you.”

Stripping down to just his boxers, he jumped into the pond.

Everyone assumed Mort would be mad. But when the reporter entered the building, Mort stood up and applauded him. The reporter’s attempt to make Mort angry had actually forced him to do a great story.

Twenty years later, the reporter called him to tell him how he had hated Mort then, and that he still didn’t like him. But he did admit to Mort that that particular story had changed him and his career for the better.

Second Chance at Love and Family

It took some time for Mort to be lucky in love.

Although he had a son he adored with his second wife, their lives were riddled with drug use and when she moved away, he rarely got to see him. He would do his best to visit Jason, but it was never enough.

Then he met Leslie and they were married in 1984. He whisked her away to a romantic wedding in Italy and they’ve been married ever since. Children did not come as easily, though.

After several attempts, they decided to adopt a child – their daughter Nicole. And as is so often the case, Leslie became pregnant with their son Mark soon after. Mort finally had the chance to be the father he wanted to be. And he loved it. Upon being let go at WJBK, he embraced the silver lining:

I now had time to coach Marks baseball team, which only further strengthened the bond I already had with my son. I would throw him batting practice 46 weeks per year. I watched him blossom into a great player and he eventually was able to realize his dream of playing Division One Baseball. Hes a Major League Baseball agent.

Meanwhile, Nicole was proving to be a gifted runner. Although I was not able to coach her in her sport, I was able to travel to see her run at meets throughout the country and even the world. She was one of the best sprinters ever at University of Detroit Mercy and broke records on both the national and international levels when she competed.

Mort has even had a second chance with his oldest son Jason, a successful restauranteur whom he visits regularly and with whom he has a strong relationship.

And with his two grandsons, Tony and Bruce, those second chances just keep on coming…

Get Your Copy Today

Enough to Be Dangerous isn’t just an action-packed memoir about working in the music and news industries. There are plenty of heart-warming stories too.

This dynamic memoir is due out October 1st from Two Sisters Writing and Publishing, but you can pre-order your autographed copy today right here.

And remember to subscribe to our blog for updates on the launch party and other book-related events. See you soon!

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Some of the Big Stories – Part Two

In our previous blog post, we talked about some of the big stories in Mort Meisner’s career that boosted ratings.

But some of the other big stories in his career were those that truly moved him. They were the stories that made him want to get involved on a deeper level.

And at the end of the day – or the newscast, as it were – they were the stories that made a difference.

Some of the Big Stories That Truly Mattered

Spend any time with Mort and you’ll hear a wealth of fascinating stories about his years in the music and news industries. But the following stories are among the ones of which he is most proud. They are the stories that enacted change.

Viola Liuzzo

Viola Liuzzo

Murdered Detroit Civil Rights Worker, Viola Liuzzo

In 1965, when Mort was just 12 years old, Viola Liuzzo, a civil rights activist from Michigan and mother of five, was murdered along with two black men while on a freedom fighting mission in Selma, Alabama. Her murderers were members of the Ku Klux Klan.

There was no investigation, however. From Mort’s memoir, Enough to Be Dangerous:

  1. Edgar Hoover was the head of the FBI at the time and served only to besmirch Liuzzos image. He was determined to portray her as a whore who just wanted to have sex with black men. Her case was sealed for years until her family sued the FBI in the late 1970s. At Channel 7, we did news stories to try to force those files unsealed. And finally, the family won the case to open them.
Viola Liuzzo Crime Scene

Viola Liuzzo Crime Scene – Image courtesy of Historic Images.

To this day, Mort continues to have relationships with Viola’s adult children. Her murder put a tremendous strain on the family though. While her son, Tony Jr., delivers powerful lectures on civil

Viola Liuzzo Memorial Stone

Viola Liuzzo Memorial Stone

rights, some of his siblings developed drug and alcohol problems. And their father died a broken-down alcoholic.

The Palm Leaf Murders

Mort had been just two years in the news business in 1979 when there was a series of prostitutes being kidnapped, raped and murdered. The assailant always left behind palm leaves on the bodies of the victims as his mark.

The story didn’t get much coverage for two reasons. One, the victims were prostitutes and therefore considered second-class citizens. And two, the Republican National Convention was coming to Detroit the following year and Mayor Coleman Young wanted to keep the story under wraps.

It was horrifying.

Then one day, a woman called the assignment desk at WXYZ and reported that she’d been a victim of the assailant. Mort had taken the call.

On my urging, she went to the police and met with the head of homicide, Robert Hislop. The whole venture was pointless, though. He sent her away because neither he, nor the rest of the police, believed her.

So I went to Kathryn Kiefer, a female reporter who worked for me and whom I highly respected. I told her what was happening. We decided to collaborate on a series of stories about these prostitutes who were being raped and murdered.

Kathryn invited the woman to tell her story on the air. She told her near death story, how shed faked her death, and how when she went to police, they turned her away. Of course, this didnt go over too well with the police or the mayors office.

Of course, Gerald Hale of the Detroit Police didn’t take too kindly to this. He put out a notification that Kathryn and Mort were engaged in deceptive practices. They were sure they would get canned.

They didn’t though. The GM put out a news release that supported them while attacking the Detroit Police Department. Hislop was forced to retire a short time later.

It would be quite a few years before the man, Carl Watts, was caught and dubbed “The Sunday Morning Slasher.”

When Brother Kills Brother

Sick and tired of seeing young black men and women shot to death – often by members of their own community in their community – Mort decided to do a story called, “When Brother Kills Brother.”

He called in one of his top reporters and told him his idea. He wanted the reporter to go into the neighborhood and knock on the door of every small, medium, and large undertaker.

Mort hoped that the reporter would be able to find an undertaker – preferably an older man or woman – who would be willing to wear a wireless mic and be interviewed while embalming the body of someone under 16.

The reporter found the story, but no one who was willing to wear the mic. And then one day, he did. As Mort recalls:

This was a man who was no stranger to embalming. It was a routine part of his work. But to hear his voice shake, shiver, and crack while embalming a young black man was powerful and emotional. And it was precisely what I wanted to get. The result was an award-winning piece that was so moving that it brought the story home. It didnt change things in the neighborhoods. But it informed and shined a spotlight where it had not been shined before.

In the late 1980s, Time magazine ripped off the story. They even used the headline When Brother Kills Brother. Mort saw it as homage though. To him, the crucial part was that they were able to shed light on a very dark situation.

They made a difference.

Looking for More Stories That Matter?

Enough to Be Dangerous is chock full of them. So get an eyeful of the big stories and triumphs, as well as the hard times and defeats that have woven the fabric of Mort’s life.

The book will be available October 1st from Two Sisters Writing and Publishing.  But you can pre-order your autographed copy today by clicking here.

And be sure to subscribe to our blog to stay in the know about the launch party and other events surrounding this unforgettable memoir.

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Some of the Big Stories – Part One

At the publication of this post, the Democratic National Convention is in full swing. Without going into detail, it’s making all of us aware of just how much things need to change.

Yet, as the old adage says, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Mort Meisner is no stranger to this concept.

Back in 1980, he happened to be working in Detroit where he covered the Republican National Convention. Things needed to change then too.

And while the current Democratic National Convention is certainly a different scene, it does make one wonder what folks are up to on this green and blue sphere?

After decades in the news industry, Mort can tell you it’s a lot.

Just a Few of the Darker Stories

Mort is the first to admit that broadcasting is largely focused on stories that will generate ratings. And in his career, as in many others’, a lot of those stories involved rapes, murders, breaking and entering, and armed robberies.

Still, Mort always felt he was doing more than just boosting ratings. As someone who is quick to make friends out of random strangers, he quickly  recognized you can’t put a price on having friends in the right places. And that gave him a specific edge.

Operation Greylord

Mort Meisner Field Producing

Mort field producing for CBS in Chicago, President Ronald Reagan’s visit, September 2nd, 1981. That’s CBS reporter Frank Currier with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth over Mort’s left shoulder.

For example, one of the biggest stories out of the courts in the history of Chicago in the early 1980s was Operation Greylord that involved a full-blown investigation of corruption in the judiciary of Cook County in the Chicago jurisdiction. Mort had a friend who was a source in the U.S. Attorney’s office who gave him inside information. From his memoir, Enough to Be Dangerous:

I went to my boss Bill Applegate at WLS in Chicago and shared what my friend had given me.

He gave me a dead serious look. In terms of accuracy, are you willing to place your career on the line?”

I had the utmost confidence in my friend, so without missing a beat I said, Absolutely.”

Once he was satisfied that my source was good, we broke the story. It was huge in Chicago, and had both local and national repercussions.

In the end, over 92 federal officials were investigated, indicted, thrown off the bench and even went to prison – along with some attorneys.

Air Canada Flight 1983

Another amazing story happened when Mort was at ABC in Chicago and the Air Canada flight had to make an emergency landing in Cincinnati. During the flight, a fire started behind the lavatory and spread between the outer skin and the inner panels.

The plane began filling with toxic smoke. The fire also burned through electrical cables that disabled most of the instrumentation in the cockpit:

Ninety seconds after the plane landed, the doors were opened. The heat of the fire in combination with the fresh oxygen from the open exit doors created dangerous flashover conditions. The planes interior was immediately engulfed in flames – killing 23 passengers who had not yet evacuated.

I had a source with the FAA based in Atlanta named Jack Barker. He was able to provide me these grim but crucial facts. But the network newscasts were reporting there were few or no injuries. Even in my own building, ABC nationally was reporting that.

In other words, because of Mort’s connection, they were reporting the facts and not fake news. This underscores the importance of having impeccable sources. Especially now when a lot of bad information is getting rolled out as fact.

Prostitution Ring

You hear the term prostitution ring and you likely think of young women in the wrong place at the wrong time. And in Enough to Be Dangerous, Mort talks about the way the industry would ignore stories about prostitution. We’ll tackle that in another blog.

This particular story is about a gay male prostitution ring in St. Louis upon which Mort was partially responsible for putting the kibosh.

At the time, I was good friends with two cops who told me they were having big problems in one of the parks. So we put wires on them and sent them into the park. I dont recall if we cleared this with the police department or if we were working with our own unique brand of vigilantism. Either way, we did it.

One of the cops – a heavyset guy named Jim – went into the bathroom and got someone to solicit sex from him. A man approached him and said he was looking to get sucked and fucked.”

Jim pulled out his handcuffs and said, Well, you got one of them. You just got fucked.”

Powerful stuff. And once again, it came down to Mort having friends in the right places.

Stay Tuned for More…

While reading Enough to Be Dangerous, you’ll be taken with all of the different layers and complexities of the broadcast industry as well as with Mort’s life.

The book will be available October 1st from Two Sisters Writing and Publishing, but you can preorder your autographed copy today.

And in our next blog post, we’ll look at some of the stories that mattered to Mort on a very different level. So be sure to subscribe!

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Egos Aplenty in Enough to Be Dangerous

It seems in the past few years (let’s say a little over three and a half), many of us have had the experience of trying to stomach the antics of a raging ego-maniac.

In some respects, at least, navigating the trails of the ego-maniacal has been familiar territory for Mort Meisner.

Working in the world of broadcasting certainly afforded him a family-sized sampling of blustery and bigger-than-life personalities. And dealing with them first-hand became something of an art form for him.

In his new memoir, Enough to Be Dangerous, he takes the reader into the newsrooms and other venues that were populated by these characters.

The Legendary Bill Bonds

Bill BondsIf you lived in Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s, you’ve heard of Bill Bonds. He was a brilliant and tough-as-nails anchorman whom Mort regards as one of the five greatest anchormen of all time.

Mort worked with him in his early days of broadcasting when he was at WXYZ. He remembers Bill as a passionate man. This passion wasn’t always pretty.

After each newscast, Bill would hold up the scripts in the newsroom and ask, Who wrote this? Who wrote this piece of shit?”

Someone would meekly raise their hand and Bill would stare them down and say, We are better than this. This is terrible.” Then for dramatic effect, hed sometimes fling the scripts into the air and walk out on his way to dinner or, more likely, the bar.

It was no secret that Bill had done more than a dozen stints in rehab for drinking and had lost a daughter to a drunk driver. Yet, no matter how hard a day he was having, he’d end every newscast with, “Have a peaceful evening.” His outbursts were just par for the course. As Mort says, “That was just Bill. I loved him. We all loved him.”

The Not-So-Nice Al Ackerman

Mort did not share the same affection for sportscaster Al Ackerman and considered him one of the most negative guys he’d ever met.

During Ackerman’s tenure, Mort was running the evening assignment desk where one of his jobs was to be traffic cop for the crews getting moved around. If a big news story was breaking, he’d have to pull a crew for it. One night, he pulled Ackerman’s crew.

Let’s just say, it didn’t go well.

You dirty mother fucker, you took my crew last night,” [Al] seethed. Youre a piece of shit!” he yelled and stormed off.

I wasnt going to take that. So I went into the sports office.

You need to apologize to me!” I said.

Fuck off!” he answered.

The guy was so determined to not apologize that he tried to leave, but I blocked the door. So he turned around and tried to crawl out the first-floor window. It came down on his hand and severed a tendon in his middle finger.

As Mort says, “Al was a curmudgeon who, given the chance, would have kicked Mother Theresa in the ass rather than walk around her.” Yet despite his boorish behavior, he was very popular, knowledgeable, talented, and even feared by many in management of our professional sports teams.

The Blowhard Walter Jacobsen

While working in Chicago, Mort had the distinct (dis)pleasure of working with Walter Jacobsen. Walter had a Napoleon complex and was quick to fly off the handle.

Jimmy Carter often came to Chicago during this time to visit his grandchildren. Stations sent crews, just in case there was something newsworthy. There never was. So Mort made the decision to not send a crew. When Walter discovered there would be no story on his visit, he blew his top. He stuck a finger in Mort’s face and began yelling at him.

Do you like working here?” he finally asked with a threatening tone. 

Not in particular,” I said, feeling heated, because I dont like you.”

Oh yeah!? Well, Ill call Gene Jankowski and make sure you get fired then!” he yelled. Jankowski ran CBS News and was one of the people who could easily get me fired. I didnt care.

Get the fuck out of my face,” I yelled back, waving him away.

He stared into my eyes and tweaked me across the nose!

You just alienated the most important man in journalism,” he said. Then he turned on his heels and walked back to his desk, where his assistants sat behind him like a pack of rats. 

I was approaching a rage. And even though I had a broken leg from a tackle football game, I hobbled over to him. To do what? Honestly, I was ready to beat the shit out of him for everything hed ever done to anyone at all. I got right in his face.

If you ever touch me again,” I growled, Ill put my foot so far up your ass, it will come out of your mouth.”

It’s certainly a provocative image.

Of course, Mort never got the chance to actually do that, since the general manager had been warned that a brawl was about to break out and came to settle it. And in spite of Walter’s massive ego, Mort always regarded him as an outstanding journalist and for that, he respected him.

The Dismissive Mike Royko

Mike RoykoDuring Mort’s time in Chicago, one of his goals was to meet Mike Royko, the late Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the city’s papers. When he was  out at a local watering hole with his friend Jim, the opportunity presented itself.

Theres Royko!”

Jim warned me not to approach him, but nothing was going to stop me. I went up to Royko.

Hi Mike, Im Mort Meisner,” I said. Assignment Manager at WBBM. I think youre the greatest columnist ever, anywhere.”

With a drink in his right hand, he looked directly at me. He made a circular motion with his left hand and said clearly and succinctly, Who gives a fuck what you think.”

So much for first impressions. Even so, Mort still considers Royko the greatest columnist that ever lived.

The Mayhem Doesn’t Stop There

Of course, not every behind-the-scenes story from these major newsrooms is quite so chaotic or mean-spirited.

But there are still plenty more to explore in Enough to Be Dangerous – due out on October 1st from Two Sisters Writing and Publishing. Pre-order your autographed copy today.

And don’t forget to subscribe to our blog to stay in the know about the launch party and other book-related events.

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