The Basement

03/12/2015 05:57 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2015

Admittedly, the year I spent in Santa Barbara wasn't terribly fruitful. I went into my 5th year of higher education already frustratingly bored with the entire process. Needless to say, I wasn't there to make memories. Looking back on my time at the Brooks Institute of Photography, however, through a haze of film developing chemicals and cigarette smoke, the occasional gem presents itself.

When you're in your early 20's, you don't' go home when the bar is closed. You go home because it is closed. Bars in Santa Barbara closed down at 2AM, which is the zenith of convenience considering the fact that 2,700 miles away, in Washington, D.C., in a small sound booth, my dad was going live in 3, 2... One of the reasons this is of note is that I never really got to hear my Dad on the radio when I was growing up. It seemed his pieces were getting picked up on all but our local radio station, WTOP-traffic and weather on the 8's.

In the late 90s, Dad took a new job with Bloomberg Radio, which was broadcast exclusively on 11:30 A.M. in New York City, but with the advent of internet radio, a solution emerged. For years, Dad was on the early shift, and I mean early. Like, in the booth, reporting the news at 3:30 in the morning. It was a grueling schedule, and it nearly killed him, but as I was sauntering home at, say, 1:30AM on the west coast, Dad was gearing up for a 4:30AM broadcast on the east coast. I'd come stumbling into my apartment, past my roommate, who was eating microwave mac 'n' cheese over the sink with no shirt on, flop into my room and dial up Bloomberg's live feed. When Dad's broadcast was over, I would often call him in the booth.

"Bloomberg, Small," he'd answer.

"Oh, you've got honey in your voice today, Pop."

There was barely enough time to harangue me on the subject of a good night's sleep, and tell me to call my mother before he had to be back on the air.

Years before this process became old hat, Dad was UPI Radio's White House correspondent, and it's that period of his life that most of his "A" material comes from.

Under the East Wing of the White House there is a row of radio booths that make a United States Postal Service flat rate box look like an efficiency apartment south of Wilshire. It is on this floor, affectionately referred to as "the basement", that Dad spent most of the 80s and 90s shoulder to shoulder with some of the finest newsmen the industry has ever known. I don't think his colleagues would mind me calling them scalawags. They are. They are radio pirates, simultaneously capable of tear-jerking eloquence and jaw-dropping filth. Dad and his merry crew followed presidents from Moscow to Somalia to Cairo to China and beyond. I've long encouraged him to write down a detailed account of this period, but my request has gone unanswered.

So in early 2014, with a few advertising shoots under my belt, I asked my co-director, Julien Lasseur, if he'd like to stick my dad, his former colleagues, four cameras, and a king's ransom in audio equipment in a private dining room and see what happens.


We flew into D.C. and scouted for all of two days before we agreed on the Old Ebbitt Grill. There's a private dining room in their basement, and that seemed fitting. Since we only had a week to get the shoot done, we broke into teams. Team one stayed in D.C. shooting B-roll while team two drove up to Baltimore to fill a minivan with as much electrical equipment and grip as it would hold.


The shoot itself couldn't have gone smoother. We were joined by Peter Maer (CBS Radio), Bob Fuss (CBS Radio), Steve Taylor (FOX News Radio), Wendell Goler (Fox News), and Tina Stage (Bloomberg Radio). As we laughed uncontrollably at stories of missteps and reflected on how changes in technology have shaped the industry over the years, we slowly realized our makeshift studio was populated by men who had been behind the scenes of almost every major world event over the past 30 years.


We're editing the footage now, but a clip of what we captured can be seen here: