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Oral History Interview with Joy Fox

Channel 24’s Joy Fox and cameraman Ed KaKavo at the Skylab I launch on May 14, 1973. 

My name is Joy Fox and I was born in New York City. I was in New York for the first nine years of my life and then transplanted against my will to Miami, Florida in 1951… My father worked for television in advertising and he started his career, I think, in Chicago… he worked for the Chicago Sun. In New York he worked for CBS television… In 1951 we came to Florida. He opened a store on Miami Beach… and then Miami finally got around to building a new television station – Channel 10 – and he went to work there…. When I graduated from the University of Miami I left Miami and went to work for a New York publishing company for a time. And it was called New American Library and they published paperbacks. And while I was working there I met Ian Fleming and I got his autograph; and Erskine Caldwell and I got his autograph. So I stayed in New York for a while. I loved the time there. But I eventually wound up coming back to Florida and I came to Orlando to live… 

LISTEN  Part I  (20:02)

 

The reason I wound up in Orlando, my parents had moved up to Titusville and were living there so I came and stayed with them for a while before coming over to Orlando and I went to Rollins College to get my Master of Teaching degree. I stumbled into teaching as a profession and one of my teachers – she was teaching music and she was also working at Channel 24. And the new season was basically starting for instructional television and she recommended me to Jim Hendrickson.

Channel 24’s Jim Hendrickson, at his desk at the public television station in Orlando, circa 1970s.

Jim called me and asked me if I wanted to work there. I never had to interview or anything. And it took about ten seconds to jump on the opportunity. And so I went to work  at ITV, Instructional Television which was filmed at Channel 24 and broadcast to Orange County and Osceola County Public Schools.

 

John, a camera man at Channel 24 public television station on the set in Orlando, circa 1970s. A graphics board can be seen in the background.

And I spent three years and wrote, produced, and presented 144  20 minute lessons…. And one of the reasons I was hired was I had a teaching background and I also was a major in Radio Television & Film at the University of Miami. I had that background as well… 

So the Instructional TV it seems like this would have been a whole new territory for education and technology…

It was. But every classroom had a television set so that these instructional programs could be broadcast into the classrooms. And the last series that I did which was in 1973 and my favorite one was called “Adventures Unfolding”. And that series they made films from and the films were loaned out through the Orange County Public School System to classrooms around the county for the next 20 years. So the county made an attempt to hold on to some of this stuff….

Gary Yeoman, Director of Instructional Television (ITV), working in the central booth at Channel 24 public television station in Orlando, circa 1970’s. 

144 lessons is a lot. Would you tell us about some of the lessons…

When I first started out at Channel 24 it was 1970 and I was doing history for grades 4, 5, 6. So I was doing at least three programs a week basically. I was getting the ideas for one program, writing the script for another program, and presenting a third program. And that’s how it kept rotating throughout the school year. I didn’t work during the summers. I did work when school was in session. The ones that were being aired, sent out to the classroom were not the programs that I was currently making. We’d as I said put it in the can. So they’d be airing a fourth program while I was doing all of these. I shared an office with another lady, she was doing health for grades 1, 2, 3. The subjects that we did for ITV, the ones before was music instruction for 4,5,6. I was doing history 4, 5, 6. Someone was doing health for 4,5,6 and 2, and 3.  So it was hectic. We were assigned studio time. We had two hours. We used the second hour to actually record. It did take the full hour to actually put down a 20 minute program….

 

Joy Fox in a sci-fi educational studio production at Channel 24 in Orlando, 1973.

One of the programs that we did was “Moving Out West….” Another program, I did a sci-fi take off on the “Twilight Zone”.

Joy Fox on the set in a television production for Channel 24, circa 1970s.

And that led into a discussion of the space program which I was very much in love with and I had many press passes to the Apollo, Skylab, Apollo Soyez programs. I had press passes to all those and also to the first shuttle launch. I saw that up close and in person.

“Adventures Unfolding”

I also did a series in my last year called “Adventures Unfolding” and it was the first use of two pieces of technology for that era: One was using a color camera. Because the “Adventures Unfolding” was filmed in color and it was the first use of color by Channel 24 in the Orlando area and this was in 1973.

Channel 24 filming of “Adventures Unfolding” on Hansel Avenue, 1973. Channel 24 Director Gary Yeoman can be seen on the far right next to the camera. 

 

So this was our first use of a color camera and it was also our first use of a truck, a portable truck where you could take the camera into the field and do fieldwork. So it was an exciting time for me. I knew at that time that I was living a part of history.

Channel 24 and the Space Program

I became very active in the space program. I covered, and this was all because of Channel 24, I covered the rollout to liftoff of Apollo 17… and I covered Skylab I launch. I brought a cameraman with me and we covered that.

Channel 24’s Joy Fox and cameraman Ed KaKavo at the Skylab I launch on May 14, 1973.

And I was actually on the transporter when it was rolling along the bed, taking the Skylab rocket from the VAB to the launch pad. That was an interesting experience because they don’t stop the crawler to get up the stairs to get on it. The crawler is moving in the same direction that you’re walking. So you have to kind of speed up and grab the ladder and climb up to the vehicle as it’s moving. It took about seven  hours to take the rocket from the VAB to the pad. That was the most fabulous experience. Absolutely fabulous. And they did allow us to take pictures. I had a camera with me. I took pictures from the transporter…

   

LISTEN Part II  (23:06)

 

Orange County Sheriff’s Department Rescue Training

Another thing that we did was a program with the Sheriff’s Department where they highlighted what they do to rescue people who have gotten in trouble either boating or in a car accident. And I have photos from that event – Hansel Avenue. What the Sheriff’s Department did was they brought two cars to the scene and then they wrecked the cars… Dave got in a car – he does not recommend that anybody do this on their own, but he was backing up and slamming it into a static car. And then we put an actor in there and pretended that he had been hurt. The Sheriff’s Dept. closed off Hansel Avenue… one sheriff just stopped the traffic and held it back while the helicopter was brought in and landed on Hansel Avenue to pick up the injured actor… the cameraman was here filming it….     

Orange County Sheriff’s Department helicopter conducting a staged emergency rescue on Hansel Avenue for training purposes, 1973.

And then we did a boating accident where a skier hit a pier and he was laying halfway across the pier. A helicopter landed on some grass and then the men left the helicopter with a stretcher and ran down to get the guy that had been injured. All of this was staged. But it was also showing how the Sheriff’s Department would rescue people that were injured in boating or automobile accidents…  

Orange County Sheriff’s Department conducting a staged emergency boat rescue near Camelot Apartments on Hansel Avenue, 1973.

The work that you did for Channel 24 this took place in the 70’s, right?

Right, all of this was 1970-73.

There was a lot happening in the area wasn’t there?

Yes, quite a bit. The space program was very active from 1969 to the early 80’s from my point of view. Then it became routine with the Shuttle launches. But very active then. I felt like I was part of living history at the time. And it wasn’t just personal history. It was history that pertained to the entire country especially the space program… Walter Cronkite did make it exciting for them, too. But, you know, there’s a big difference between listening to somebody talk about this on television and actually being a part of it and being involved in it and knowing the science that goes into it and living it… Before Johnson, President Johnson decided to set up Houston as part of the space program and move things out there, they had the simulators on the floor of Kennedy Space Center and I got to go in the simulator and they turned on the star field out the left portal. So I got to feel a little bit of what it was like to go in to space. And I passed a room and there’s Cernan, who headed up Apollo 17, having a meal. And up on the walkway was Alan Shepard watching. You know rubbing elbows with all these people has been the excitement of my life!

You also shared that excitement at the local level on Channel 24 and then you also worked at John Young Planetarium didn’t you?

Yes, I did. When I was teaching in the classroom… during the summers I used to teach at John Young Planetarium. This was at Loch Haven Park where Shakespeare Theater is now, in that building. And we had all kinds of classes. When I first got married which was 1975 time frame, my husband had model rocket group, so I got involved in model rocketry. I did it competitively. I also hold a record – a world record – of one of my launches. I sent two eggs to height and brought them back down with them crashing. The eggs simulated an astronaut and you had to cushion the eggs so that they wouldn’t splat when they hit. So I still hold the world record because they did away with the competition after that.

Teaching Model Rocketry at John Young Museum and Planetarium

So I got into model rocketry and that was one of the courses that I taught out at the John Young Museum and Planetarium during the summer. And we actually built model rockets and then we went out on the lawn and we launched them. And Channel 9 television came to film one time when we were putting on a launch there and one of the things that we sent up was called a UFO. It was a round rocket with three legs coming out of it, metal legs coming off of it, and you put an engine in the middle of this thing and it’s supposed to go up. Well, instead  of going up this thing turned and went right to the cameraman – aimed right for him. It was hysterical. They’re made out of cardboard and paper so he didn’t get hurt… So I taught that. I taught the Planetarium. I had the gentleman who did the night time Planetarium shows show me how to use the projector and to get different star patterns and comets and things like that so I could teach children about things about the night sky and teach them about the constellations…. The kids they really enjoyed it.   

LISTEN  Part III  (22:12)

 

Speaking of education and working with students in the schools, you also brought a computer into the school and that was something novel at the time wasn’t it?

Oh, very much. As I said earlier, computers took up an entire room in a building and for those who know computer terminology, when my husband and I first got married and this was way before our daughter was born, we had one room in the house that was dedicated to the computer. And we had a Westinghouse mini mainframe that my husband had put together from parts that had been tossed. Westinghouse was here at 1200 West Colonial Drive. They were incentivized to come down here. They created the computer instrumentation division and they were trying to get into the mini mainframe. Everything was mainframe at the time. You might call them the cloud now. And he put together a computer for our house out of parts that Westinghouse was throwing out. It was cheaper for them to throw out the boards and build a new computer board than it was to have and engineer try to track down the problem on the board. My husband was doing that in his spare time so we had one mini mainframe that had 64 K and it was something called donut technology at the time which were little magnets that would switch on or off; that’s how they controlled the computer….

Well, we had a teletype machine which is like a keyboard and it was able to make a paper tape. And that tape was then read by the computer. It would see all these holes in the tape and the holes would either be on or off. So that’s how they created programs. We had a paper tape reader. We had a card reader. And the same technology went on to cards. The problem with the cards is if you drop the deck, there go all your comments. It was difficult to put it back together again. We also had a printer and the printer was a 350 character line printer that weighed 500 lbs. It took three men to carry this thing into our house and three men to get rid of it when we did…

I had the first computer in a classroom in Orange County and all of the surrounding counties

After my stint at Channel 24 ended, I went back into the classroom and I was a teacher at Richmond Heights Elementary; and it was a mixed race school. And since Richard worked at Westinghouse, I came up with the idea… of putting a computer in my classroom. What Westinghouse was donating was a $3,000. CRT. CRT was a big television screen basically with a keyboard. The biggest problem I had getting that into the classroom was a fight with my principal because we had to put a telephone in the classroom so that it could connect by handset to the Westinghouse Building at 1200 West Colonial Drive. Because to put the whole computer in the school – we just couldn’t, we didn’t have the room for that. It would be unwieldy. So we put the CRT in the classroom connected it by telephone line to the building on Colonial Drive and I wrote the programs that we used for that terminal. And the fight that I had was with my principal, he was afraid that I was going to use the telephone to make long distance calls… So, I had the first computer in a classroom in Orange County and all of the surrounding counties. This is 1974 – 75 time frame… the first Atari came out in 1981. So this was pre-Atari.

And a couple of stories about my daughter. She grew up literally with computers in the house. The computer came before she did and she was born in 1978. And I started with her when she was a toddler about learning the ABC’s by writing a program on the CRT that showed the letter and she had to find it on the keyboard… She grew up with a computer in the house and I taught her touch typing on the Atari keyboard. It had a cute little program called typo attack. And letters or combinations of letters would come and attack the alien ship. And her job was to press those letters before they hit the alien ship…. 

What did your husband do at Westinghouse?

He was an engineer at Westinghouse. So he was one of the people that wrote the program for the machines. 

And obviously this was before Silicon Valley?

Oh, this was way before – yeah, in the early 1970’s there was a race with companies to get into this mini main frame market because they were smaller than what they call main frame machines. Because main frames had to be like in Kennedy Space Center they have the white room or the clean room as they called it. This had to be a room where the air conditioning was running at about 65 degrees because they had to keep these huge machines cooled down. Otherwise, they would fry and quit. So they were trying to get into the mini mainframe business. Westinghouse never made it. This was when IBM was coming along…   Before they had the Internet there were different places that you could go to communicate. One was called Compuserv. And I was sending up pictures that I had colored and they said, “Look at her artwork. She’s got 16 colors in there. Count them.”  I was doing dithering and I was able to mix colors together and create 16 out of an eight color keyboard…

You and your husband have stayed in this area, what does your husband do now, since Westinghouse?

Well, after Westinghouse, he worked… he was working on robotics and vision for robotics way ahead of his time on that at the 1200 building. And then it became Automation Intelligence and that company, when Westinghouse got out of the computer instrumentation business they had bought a company in Danbury, CT. And they were going to close this area and send everybody to Danbury… they refused to go.”I’m not getting back in that snow….” They really liked it down here. So there were 300 plus employees there at the time. No one left.

Automation Intelligence

So my husband and the other men bought out the division and turned it in to Automation Intelligence. They stayed at 1200 for about 10 years and then moved up to Longwood. My husband was out of that business at the time. He worked for a group called CFEC that was a nonprofit that was in the business of creating high tech businesses. And one of the businesses under CFEC was a company that would translate “I Love Lucy” shows on the fly to higher quality for broadcast. Because those were done for kinescopes which was like the old 78 RPM’s were done for radio…. 

Game Changers for the World

What he does now… we’re doing a lot of volunteer work with Pine Castle Historical Society, with the Audubon Society. I’m working with our Senior Sunshine group at the downtown YMCA. And he’s creating high tech companies that can be game changers for the world, the way Apple and Windows were game changers for the world. I mean each generation seems now to produce a  game changer. But that’s the kind of companies that he’s creating. And he’s working with a venture capital company out of Raleigh, North Carolina, but keeping the technologies here in Orlando.

So that would be jobs for this area?

Definitely! In the high tech area which means more money. Because we have enough jobs in the hospitality industry. I mean, they’re pretty well set. But high techs, and good paying jobs are still struggling. We do have biotech here that’s what started the medical community in Lake Nona. Jeb Bush was adamant about bringing a biotech company here and gave them all kinds of incentives to get them to come, but they did. So we have that and the medical community has sprung up around that biotech company. And Lake Nona has just mushroomed out. We were talking about Orlando’s population today with the Cultural Corridor meeting I just came from and by, in the next 20 years they expect the population to go from one and a half million to two and a half million in this area. So it’s exploding…. 

Historic Pine Castle Cultural Corridor

We also had people from Orange County who came down to the meeting and they were excited about what they were seeing. Something wonderful is happening in Orange County… I just hope that with this development that they get to the point that children, instead of learning all the dates and wars when they’re doing Florida history, take a good six to nine weeks and do local history. And let children understand where they come from. If they live in Orlando they could care less about Jacksonville or Miami. They want to know what goes on here. And there’s so much local history. And there’s so much to be gleaned from that history. And to listen to the old timers and what they went through and what their struggles were in order to create communities… Talking about the Harney’s and the Hansel’s and the Summerlin’s and the names that are part of our culture here in Orlando and Pine Castle and Edgewood. Where did those names come from? Ninety percent of them are the names of people who had something to do with the history of the area. We don’t know that. We’re not taught that. We don’t teach that. And I think that is so important when kids are learning about history. Learn about the local history for the community you live in.

 

Interview: Joy Fox

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: January 10, 2019

Place: Orlando Public Library

 

All photos courtesy of Joy Fox.

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