The marvels of oak tag tech


Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.
(Credit: CBS Photo Archive)

Early in my career, I was assigned to be a production supervisor for CBS’s coverage of the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

While the official broadcast partner of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has always been NBC, CBS has also been covering the event since 1960.

One of the challenges of providing secondary coverage is that your camera crews don’t get the best position. CBS historically had to stake out a spot early in the parade route, so early that the bands often didn’t know when they would be on. In fact, the year before, the bands were stone cold silent as they passed our cameras and microphones.

It was my job to change that. I knew the band members would want to share their music with the CBS audience, if only they knew they were on. With some guidance from my boss, I paid a kid $50 to stand six blocks ahead of our cameras holding a sign that read: “PLAY NOW FOR TV.”

We estimated that six blocks would give the band leaders enough time to communicate back to their members and get everyone in sync. And we were right! That message–four words written in thick magic marker on a piece of oak tag paper–made all the difference. Following that radical innovation, CBS audiences have heard great marching bands ever since. It’s a good reminder that the best technology communicates information in a simple, direct way.

Happy Thanksgiving and be sure to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade on CBS, live from New York on Thursday, November 24.

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