Mel Martin, news director at WTSP-Ch. 10, was sweating it out, worried that this transcontinental experiment was going to flop. "It's a technical high-wire act," Martin said. "I think we're going to have problems. I might be working in the cleanup crew tomorrow."
Martin was trying to mastermind a satellite-linked news talk show between the Tampa Bay area and Moscow on Thursday morning.
While Martin's crew tried to solve sound problems, the station's limited Soviet satellite time ticked away.
At that point, anchor John Wilson in the Soviet Union was having problems hearing counterpart Sheryl Browne in Clearwater.
But within seconds, Wilson and Browne were trading barbs and compliments as though they were sitting next to each other at the anchor desk.
"Once again, you're overdressed," Wilson said to Browne before air time.
"Where is your panel, John, or is it just you?" Browne quipped.
Three hours later, the WTSP news team had successfully linked live audiences and panelists on two continents.
"This is something that's not been done by local news," Martin said. "We called (ABC's) Nightline for advice and were told to expect big problems. . . . It went a lot more smoothly than I expected."
The show aired Thursday night and was the result of a year of research and preparation.
For the last 10 days, Wilson and a news team have been in the Soviet Union sending nightly reports and preparing for the special.
St. Petersburg Mayor Bob Ulrich and Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman were among panelists that included business and religious leaders, educators and politicians from both countries.
Some panelists talked too fast for interpreters, who begged them to slow down. The audience was left frustrated.
"We all had a lot of questions we wanted to ask," said Harry Schaleman, a professor at the University of South Florida.
"That was frustrating. We wanted to be more active in the discussion, but the answers on the other side seemed so lengthy that we didn't have time."
"The program itself was probably boring at times, but it goes beyond the program," Browne said afterward. "It's symbolic."