The globally broadcast Live Aid extravaganza is being staged today in London and Philadelphia. It’s a fund-raising tale of two cities--offering the best of times for millions of rock fans to fight the worst of times for millions of starving Africans. Calendar reports today on preparations for the concerts both on stage and off.
South Philadelphia gave the pop music world such teen idols as Fabian, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell. It also yielded Tony Verna, who describes himself as “the only one who came out of there who couldn’t sing.”
It didn’t matter. He made his mark as a top TV sports director. This week, he returned to Philadelphia, not for sport but for today’s globally broadcast Live Aid rock-star concerts held there and in London to raise millions to fight famine in Africa.
Verna is the big show’s executive television director. With co-director Vince Scarza, he’s calling the shots the world is seeing, cuing satellite feeds from London and elsewhere, putting it all together in what he hopes will prove a generally glitch-free video spectacular.
“I never did a show that had so many satellites,” marvels Verna, who first worked with one in 1965, when Early Bird, the world’s first commercial communications satellite, was launched and stationed over the Atlantic.
He says he’s using 10 television and four audio satellites for the marathon Live Aid broadcast.
The broadcast began in the United States before dawn today, aired in its entirety by MTV, the rock video cable network, and ABC Radio (KLOS-FM in Los Angeles). It also is being aired from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Los Angeles by KTLA, Channel 5, one of 105 TV stations, including 30 network affiliates, who preempted their Saturday daytime schedule for the concert. The program’s closing three hours at night are being televised exclusively by ABC-TV (KABC-TV, Channel 7, 8 to 11 p.m. in Los Angeles on a tape-delay basis).
Although ABC has its own director, Verna says he’s directing the basic Live Aid feed from which other directors can choose for their respective networks.
A sardonic man with a good Italian laugh, Verna is no stranger to the Big Event, with or without satellite.
That he is held in high regard by his peers is indicated by the fact that ABC Sports President Roone Arledge has written the foreword to a new textbook by the veteran director. Due out next year, Verna’s tome is entitled, “How to Produce and Direct Live TV.”
Verna’s long track record includes three Olympics, the last one as part of ABC’s swimming-event crew at the 1984 Summer Games here. With CBS for 20 years before going free lance in 1981, he also has worked five Super Bowls, 12 Kentucky Derbies and many CBS Sundays of pro football.
He was a bit tired Wednesday. He said he’d risen before dawn for a “CBS Morning News” chat with former “NFL Today” co-host Phyllis George--"whom I broke into the (sports) business, I’m sorry to say,” groused the director, no doubt in jest.
The high-tech setup he organized for today’s Live Aid benefit includes an electronic village of sorts in Philadelphia, where acts from Black Sabbath to Duran Duran to Mick Jagger are among the 35 or so star attractions rocking ‘n’ rolling at sold-out JFK Stadium.
Verna’s battle station, festooned with TV monitors, is in one of the 37 broadcast trucks he says are clustered outside the 90,000-seat stadium. He has about 200 troops helping him televise the rockathon. Not all are there for technical matters, though.
Several are advising him on instant identification of rock stars who, although famous, may not always be immediately recognizable. Verna, whose first direction of a video musicale was CBS’ “The Fred Waring Show” in the summer of 1957, says he’s taken a crash course on rock star identification. But he has experts in the field--rock video directors and such--helping him, just in case.
Interviewed by phone last week at his home in Palos Verdes, he discreetly dodged saying whether he’s a fan of rock music. However, his reply indicated that even if one hates the stuff, some knowledge of it still can be forced on a man by sinister forces.
“I am the father of rock fans,” Verna explained.