My few minutes with Andy Rooney

This morning we wake up to the news that Andy Rooney has died following complications from surgery at the age of 92. Like many of you, I’m saddened to hear of this.

Me, perhaps more so, because I had the occasion of meeting and speaking with Andy when I did some work for CBS News at their West 57th Street office in New York years ago.

Back in 1989 when I worked for WeatherNews, I designed a broadcast graphics system for television weather presentation based on the old IBM-AT with its 286 Intel processor and “massive” 20 megabyte hard drive. This was in the era of MS-DOS 3.0 It was based on the venerable Targa frame buffer board, and my own specially designed RGB to NTSC broadcast quality video encoder board, the first ever such device to fit on a full length PC card. CBS news bought one of these systems to deliver satellite imagery and weather maps to its affiliates via their satellite newsfeed service called CBS Newspath.

Being the inventor of this system, naturally I got the job of installing it at CBS News. It was a proud moment for me to be able to enter the place that at that time I considered the “revered halls of broadcast journalism”. Most of the work though was in a control room, behind equipment racks, away from the on-air product of the studios. Getting our 9600 baud modem to connect and deliver images and get the presentation system working automatically was a challenge, but I relished the work.

On my second day there, I had the occasion of heading down from the 4th floor to the basement where they had the commissary to get some lunch. On the elevator ride back up, it stopped on the first floor, and when the doors opened, this curmudgeonly guy in a beige trench-coat gets on, none other than Andy Rooney himself. Being no stranger to the hassles that sometimes follow you from being on television, my mind raced to find something to say without looking stupid or to give away my being in awe of the man.

I managed to blurt out “Good day Mr. Rooney”. His response was a grunt while looking at the elevator panel, next to me, then he said “three” (IIRC) which was the floor he wanted, and I dutifully punched the button.

Of course I didn’t know what else to say, but when he got off the elevator, I felt obliged to say something as he was leaving. I said. (thinking of his work but being too dumbstruck to elucidate it properly) “Thank you Mr. Rooney”.

He turned and looked at me, maybe wondering “What the hell is this idiot thanking me for?” and then I added “Your broadcasts”.

He grunted an “eh” turned, and with that trundled down the hallway. I recall thinking to myself, “he’s just like he is on TV, a curmudgeon”. A few years later, when his book came out, I was pleased to see this passage about elevators:

I suppose it might be vanity for me to think that maybe in some small way I contributed to that passage. I was just one of thousands of such events in his lifetime no doubt.

Like many, I’ll miss Andy, here is his farewell.

I often tuned in for the last 5 minutes to see what my elevator buddy was going on about this week, but now I have no reason whatsoever to watch 60 Minutes again, as I can’t stand the biased reporting.

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35 thoughts on “My few minutes with Andy Rooney

  1. “I often tuned in for the last 5 minutes to see what my elevator buddy was going on about this week”

    Exactly what I have done for many years.

  2. Hi Anthony
    I had many years of fun in the ITV (UK) studios, control rooms, in racks etc., so I know what you mean.
    I had not too similar ‘lift experience’ with Mohamed Ali after his appearance on a chat show.
    -You were great sir.
    - Want a punch? I was not great, I am the GREATEST!
    I was not amused, then he burst into huge laugh.

    ps lift = elevator

    .

  3. While at one time I found Rooney to be funny, I gradually found him to be just bitter. The last 10 years especially so.

  4. I am not with you all on this. I thought Andy Rooney evolved into the person from whom ‘It was expected” that came sage commentary and everyone waited to hear what the the man said.

    I found him cruel, nasty, and presumptive and often wrong and ceased listening to him.

    I acknowledge his long career but quite a bit shorter duration as relevant. In any event, may he rest in peace an may God have mercy on his soul.

  5. I too will miss Andy. Sadly, he was one of the few remaining reasons to watch the now remarkably biased show.

    Funny, I happen to remember very well the piece on elevators!

  6. He looks and sounds so frail in his farewell broadcast. Sad what life does to a person. No such thing as a happy ending.

  7. I disagreed with his view on eyebrows. With his logic (you work with what you’ve got), one need never perform any personal hygiene. There’s really no need to scare the children.

  8. I recall sometime in the ’80′s Andy Rooney was commenting on the NFL playoffs, which had just started. Andy ended his commentary by stating, in a completely matter of fact voice, “The San Francisco 49ers are going to win the Super Bowl.”

    The 49ers did win the Super Bowl that year. I was impressed that Rooney was willing to gamble his credibility on a prediction like that.

  9. I once shared an elevator with Scotty Bowman and Phil Esposito. I simply nodded to them saying “Phil, Scotty”. They smiled back and said “How’s it going?” Phil didn’t mention me on that night’s broadcast.

  10. Ah Anthony,

    the TARGA card, that takes me back. I worked on TARGA-Paint published by AT&T with the TARGA cards.

    Andy will be missed, his segment on 60 Minutes was a staple.

  11. I suspect Andy was a rather LOYAL, “FDR type Democrat”.

    For this I DO NOT condemn him! And in fact, I praise him for the fact that despite his political leanings, I NEVER detected it in his life commentary. His life was not his politics and his politics was not his life. (Alas, too true. Both on the conservative side and the liberal. But in my own limited observation MORE SO these days on the liberal side. However, I think, to be fair, it was LESS SO during the marvelous WWII era that Andy “came of age” in.)

    One must remember not only “growing up” in the “Great Depression” having an effect, but Andy was among the first journalists to witness first hand the death camps at the end of WWII. This certainly will have an effect on you the rest of your life. (A grade school friend’s father spent an extra year in the Army, at one of the camps, nursing the survivors back to life. Talking to him, that was pivotal in his life!)

    SO my hat(s) off to a dear person. A person not afraid to be seen typing on a MANUAL type writer, well into the ’80′s, 90′s etc.

    Andy, we’ll miss you!

    Max

  12. Latimer Alder says:
    November 5, 2011 at 1:16 pm
    Who was this guy? What did he do? Weatherman?

    Totally unknown in UK.
    =====================================
    Think Jeremy Clarkson, without a sense of humor. Or cars.

  13. I agree with those who remarked that somewhere along the line he transited from curmudgeonly inciteful and entertaining to just curmudgeonly bitter. As for 60 Minutes, it became an untrustworthy, biased muckraker.

  14. I walked past Mr Rooney in an empty hallway. I also made a comment and he gave me the same “grunt” reply.

  15. I recently heard Dick Cavett tell Mel Brooks (and obviously Brooks had heard it before, as he begged him to tell it again) his “riding the elevator with Jack Benny” story. Cavett was a young writer on the Johnny Carson show, and found himself in the elevator with Benny on the way out of the building. Unfortunately, the doors opened 1/2 way down and a bunch of tourists got on as well. Poor Benny was peppered with questions, to which he just smiled and nodded.

    Finally they reach the ground, the doors open, and the tourists rush off. Cavett finally turns to Benny and says “Doesn’t that ever get old?”

    Benny looks at him, puts his hand on his shoulder. . . and you have to be old enough to hear Benny’s voice in your head to really be floored by this. . . and says, “Kid, sometimes I just want to tell them to go **** themselves.”

    It helps that Cavett’s Benny impersonation is pretty good.

  16. “I often tuned in for the last 5 minutes to see what my elevator buddy was going on about this week”

    For me, it was one hour recorded on TiVo, 55 minutes fast forwarded through, and 5 minutes of great television, thanks to Mr. Rooney. Thank you too for sharing your story.

  17. eh, i heard andy rooney complaining one time that Gen. George Patton was a horrible man….
    and that was the last time i listened to rooney…..he was the typical leftist loser…

  18. Anthony thanks for posting this, it was great to look up and learn of Andy Rooney and his life. You were indeed fortunate to converse (brief as it was) with this man.

    I had been doing some other work today and came across this work on the Far East Pacific War POWs & civilians. So I am posting it for others who may not understand the situation as it was here in the Asia Pacific.

    It may be of interest to readers and if people take the time to read the stories below they may come to understand Andy Rooney’s attitude to work and life. He was one of the first US journalists to visit and write of the Nazi concentration camps.
    Whenever I chat with or read accounts of the men & women who fought and still fight in our wars (and this includes civilians) I am forever humbled by their courage, generosity and integrity. And how they went on, continuing to build the nations, their families and communities we live in today.

    Remarkable men, individuals, families and peoples.

    Children & Families of Far East Prisoners of War

    http://www.cofepow.org.uk/pages/stories_frederick_gurnsey.htm

    source: http://www.cofepow.org.uk/pages/stories.html home page: http://www.cofepow.org.uk/index.html

    Centre for Research Allied POWs under the Japanese

    http://www.mansell.com/pow-index.html

    also http://www.weihsien-paintings.org/NormanCliff/history/RonBridge/txt_BritishCivilians.htm

    Red Lady – that was very funny about Rooney’s observations of ‘Women over 40, and thanks for posting. I will support most of his observations, but that may be confirmation bias :) http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/rooney2.asp

  19. I was never a huge fan, but liked to hear a little curmudgeonly grousing now and then. He was good at that.

    “Just let me eat my dinner.” This should be his epitaph.

    /Mr Lynn

  20. “It was based on the venerable Targa frame buffer board”

    I designed one of first IBM CGA clones in 1981. It was an STD bus card for a portable (“luggables” is more apt) computer at a tiny company. Our computer made the cover of Popular Science Magazine in 1983.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=XARMtUUMxm8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=magazine_serial:CzwEAAAAMBAJ&lr=&rview=1#v=onepage&q&f=false

    It was the first of several IBM-PC compatible graphics boards I designed. My masterpiece in that area was in 1988 when I designed an IBM AT compatible board using an Intel 82786 graphics coprocessor. I put a daughter card on it that contained the video DAC. A single board held the coprocessor and up to 16 megabytes of video memory which served both as program store and frame buffer. I had several flavors of daughter cards. Most had a relay on them to switch video output going to the monitor. You’d plug the output of your (likely at that time) VGA card into the input of my coprocessor board and then software would switch between the VGA and the coprocessor video.

    It was primarily a vector processor and I sold it into the AutoCad market. I developed a parallel processing Autocad driver which exploited the 80286 for gross tasks such as clipping where the entire vector was outside the display window which could be executed quickly by a general purpose CPU using integer math before giving the display list instructions to the coprocessor. I used self-modifying code in strategic places to get highest possible performance out of the 80286 and I also divided up the processing between main CPU and graphics coprocessor according to benchmarking done on the fly so the parallel processing capability kept both devices running at top speed with very little time spent where one was waiting for the other to finish something.

    In addition, the 82786 could function in parallel with other 82786 coprocessors. I believe I was the only person in the world to actually ship a product with three 82786′s running in parallel. You needed to provide a common master clock for them and of course they all had to share a video DAC. So I designed it from the gitgo with the master clock on the daughter card as well as the video DAC. I could then run a ribbon cable across the tops of multiple coprocessor cards sitting in the PC-AT expansion card bus to sync them all together. I also had shared memory mapping set up so I could send out display list data to all the coprocessors simultaneously – writing once would put the data into the memory of all three cards or I could select each one independently. Reading the same memory of course always had to be done independently but there wasn’t much data travelling in the opposite direction.

    The result was three screaming fast graphics coprocessors each handling one (R G or B) 8 bit color plane. As I recall I could add a fourth coprocessor to handle an 8-bit mask plane for video keying but not sure if I actually got around to doing that or not.

    Good times then. Thanks for jogging my memory.

    REPLY: I lugged a Kaypro around for awhile. – Anthony

  21. REPLY: I lugged a Kaypro around for awhile. – Anthony

    That’s mine right below the Kaypro on the cover. The one that looks like it could withstand an atom bomb blast. In fact the chasis did conform to some mil-spec that included some amount radiation hardening. Magnetic storage components had a mu-metal shield around them.

    Among some of our other firsts were 3.5″ floppies and 5.25″ Syquest removable-disk hard drives. The IBM CGA clone was the last hardware I did using mylar & tape on a light board to do the PCB layout. At our tiny company we (there were only two of us there doing hardware and software design) wore many hats and we did the PCB layout for our own designs. I think it was the also the last thing I did where I was using discrete TTL chips instead of programmable array logic to replace handfuls of discrete TTL chips. We also did all our own firmware and driver level software. That company is where I made the transition from CP/M to MS-DOS. I did some S-100 design work, briefly, subsequent to that but it’s mostly all been IBM-PC bus stuff since then. I haven’t really done any hardware design at all since about 1993 when I went to work as a BIOS programmer for Dell. I don’t miss it. Always preferred firmware/software development because of the instant gratification i.e. no delay between design and test. Hardware design has a long miserable gap between getting it down on paper (so to speak) and getting a PCB fabricated and populated.

  22. Watching the Ali G interview, I was stunned that Rooney would waste his time…then to realize that Ali G was none other than Sacha Baron Cohen….

    Upon that realization…it’s obvious that Cohen won. Hands down. Whether or not Rooney knew who he was.

  23. Very naughty of Ali g (Borat, etc) to ask “is it because i Izzz black??” when no such reason to ask the question had been given. It’s funny but asking Rooney to see this buffoon (in character) trounce his cherished attention to detail of the english language is painful. His interview of Pat Buchanan is great where he was discussing Iraq and the invasion he iinjects the word ‘BLT’ instead ‘WMD’ and Pat just keeps on rolling. Newt was good but the best is the interview with the high ranking British police officer where Ali G rattles off every slang word for cop ever invented and he just stands there…helpless.

  24. “I often tuned in for the last 5 minutes to see what my elevator buddy was going on about this week”

    Same here – funny how some things we outgrow – like 60 mins, but Andy Roony was not one of them.

  25. Jeff Alberts says:
    November 5, 2011 at 10:19 am

    ========================

    Eyebrow trimming by a red blooded male is the first step toward Metrosexuality. Eyebrow trimming one day, spa visits the next!

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