As the clock on the wall counted down the seconds, an annoying electronic whine ricocheted off the walls of the tiny control room. "Oh boy. Oh boy. Wait a minute," said 78-year-old Carl Johnson as he fiddled with the sound board. Soon, the conversational tones of talk show host Helma Heard were coming over the speakers.
"Are we ready to roll this puppy?" Carl Sundberg, head of instructional television for the Hernando County School Board, asked into his headset.
"Stand by. Fade to black. Mike down, music up. I'll roll the deck here," Sundberg said, failing first to consult with the videotape deck.
"Hold on a second, everybody," Sundberg announced to the crowd in the cramped control room and the three camera operators in the television studio 10 feet below. "We've got a slight technical snafu."
But not for long.
"Take font and music in five, four, three, two, one and do it."
Music suddenly filled the air, and computer graphics filled the television screen, announcing the birth of yet another edition of Hernando Focus.
This public-affairs talk show is produced twice a week in the School Board's television studio for broadcast over CableVision Channel 12. School Superintendent Dan McIntyre appears once a month; Lykes Health Systems Inc. sends a guest every month.
The remainder of the programs feature school representatives, public officials or just plain folks who get their moment on the county's electronic soapbox.
Think of it as a cross between The Andy Griffith Show and Face the Nation, with a new episode every Monday and Friday at 7 p.m.
The channel may get its largest audience of the year this week when the senior volunteers who tape, produce and direct Hernando Focus produce five live debates between candidates for the School Board and the County Commission.
Nobody will know for sure because no one has ever measured how many hundreds _ or dozens _ of people watch the half-hour shows. "I know we hit quite a few people who want to stay informed," Sundberg said.
Some shows are more lively than others. Sundberg said one of the best was when County Commissioner Richard Killingsworth appeared last year after his name arose in a Sheriff's Office drug investigation. Killingsworth never was charged.
Then there are the times such as when a woman came to talk about the new surgery center at Pinebrook Regional Medical Center. Within minutes, all that was left to discuss was the color of the tiles on the operating room floors.
"We rolled it out in 22 minutes, that's how bad it was," Sundberg said. "But you run into that."
Monday's program was typical: Sandy Woodall, the former Brooksville city clerk discussed the legal fine points of a proposed state constitutional amendment that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Four minutes, 40 seconds into the taping of the program, Sundberg relayed an update to the camera operators in the studio, while he watched one of nearly a dozen monitors glowing in the control booth.
"Gosh guys, I wish I could tell you something to do to improve, but we look all right today," Sundberg said to his crew, which includes Bill Weiser, a retired pressman from Indiana, and Joe Kucharik, a retired machine shop worker from Ohio.
They, like show hosts and most of the people who produce Hernando Focus, live in Clover Leaf Adult Mobile Home Park, across U.S. 41 from the School Board headquarters and the studio.
Sundberg may be the technical brains of the show, but its heart and soul belong to Carl Johnson, who carries the title of producer/director.
Hernando Focus traces its lineage to Jan. 19, 1980, when a video ancestor was taped in the studio at Clover Leaf and sent over the closed-circuit television system to park residents.
Johnson and the group that later became Clover Leaf Studio Nine Inc., would produce weekly health and public-affairs programs of interest to the park's retired residents.
Sundberg and Johnson became friends when Sundberg was asked to help the Clover Leaf group figure out some of their equipment. From that friendship came the local candidate debates, which first appeared on the countywide cable system in 1982.
But the weekly programs still were being taped and shown only to Clover Leaf residents until two years ago, when Johnson and Sundberg came to a decision while chatting at the studio.
The two men decided on a new name and said the show should "go big time," Johnson said. "And away we went."
The School Board provides the studio, the equipment, Sundberg and his assistant, Carolann Roth. The volunteers run the cameras and other equipment.
Everybody profits, Sundberg said. By appearing on Hernando Focus, McIntyre and school officials can tell residents how the school system is operating. Viewers get local public-affairs programing rarely seen in a community this size, he said.
Of course, he said, there are limits to what volunteers can do. Such was the case when the group was doing live election coverage in November 1988. As midnight came, most of the results were yet to come, but most of the volunteers were fading fast.
"The Clover Leaf gang was falling off their chairs," Sundberg said. Finally, the show had to go off the air. The volunteers would be providing election coverage this year, Sundberg said, if the system wasn't going to be busy televising the School Board meeting.
Despite occasional problems, things usually run smoothly, as they did at the taping of Monday's show.
"Credits ready to roll?" Sundberg asked as Helma Heard and Sandy Woodall wrapped up their discussion.
"Stand by to go to black and lower the music all together in five, four three, two, one. Thank you very much."
Focus on debates
Hernando County candidates will appear on CableVision Channel 12 this week in a series of debates. The 30-minute debates will air live at 4 p.m. each day, and each will be rebroadcast at 7 p.m. Here is the schedule:
MONDAY: County Commission District 2 _ Virginia Brown-Waite (R) and Hannah "Nancy" Robinson (D). Also can be seen at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
TUESDAY: County Commission District 4 _ Tony Mosca Jr. (R) and Verne D. Smith (D). Also can be seen at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
WEDNESDAY: School Board District 3 _ Nancy Gordon (D) and Jeff Stabins (R). Also can be seen at 8 a.m. Thursday.
THURSDAY: School Board District 1 _ Diane Rowden (D) and Beth Sanczel (R). Also can be seen at 8 a.m. Friday.
FRIDAY: School Board District 5 _ Susan Cooper (D) and Richard Drankwalter (R). Also can be seen at 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 8 a.m. Monday.