Lights, camera...Avy!
By Angela Caputo
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Photo by Sonny Hersh
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Photo by Stacia Timonere

Feet planted on the gold shag carpet in a tiny dining room on the Far North Side, Alderman Bernard Stone, D- 50th, sits with his hands folded and posture just right as a cameraman begins rolling for "The North Town News Magazine" cable TV show with host, producer and director Avy Meyers. In front of an off-white canvas backdrop, wrapped tightly around a metal frame, the two men sit casually at a table.

"So what are we talking about tonight?" Stone asks.

"As always we make it up as we go," Meyers replies.

Behind the scenes, wearing a set of headphones and gripping the camera with both hands, the man affectionately known as "Mr. Everything," Sonny Hersh, keeps his eye on the audio, lighting and technical equipment.

With a string of other guests appearing on this week's edition of the weekly local news show--including a top lieutenant from the Rogers Park Police District and an election lawyer who sits on deck--Meyers and the alderman began chatting.

First they talk about skyrocketing property values, gossiping about new multi-million dollar homes going up around the corner. Stone dishes the details on a shopping center development going up near Devon and Western.

The alderman is able to cut loose, showing a charming side usually absent from the City Council meetings. Acting like they've known each other forever, the two crack jokes between themselves and then pull Hersh into the mix.

From the front walk there are no obvious signs a television show is being filmed on the quiet 2600 block of West Pratt. Look a little closer, though, and the steady stream of guests, with political heavyweights like Stone coming and going, neighbors are most likely clued in that there's a little more cooking in the ranch house than burgers in the kitchen.

For such a small-time operation, filled with airtime jokes and side conversations that become part of the show that usually airs as-is, the North Town News Magazine has hosted plenty of big-time officials including Mayor Richard M. Daley over its 14 years.

"Everyone from (Secretary of State) Jesse White to (Cook County Circuit Court Clerk) Dorothy Brown has used the washroom here," Meyers jokes.

The local news show has won wider acclaim, winning three awards by the national non-profit advocacy group the Alliance for Community Media in the "best news show" and "making a difference in the community" categories.

But it's the Rogers Park and North Town guests who make the show most interesting to people looking for local scoop, and make Meyers and Hersh local celebrities of sorts.

After wearing many hats over the years--from poll watcher and political campaigner to working with local civic groups--Meyers has earned somewhat of a reputation since he moved with his family from the South Shore in the late-60s.

It was through his involvement in the civic group the North Town Community Council that he first got a taste for cable access broadcasting. Former director Mike Moses sent him to classes so they could learn how to fan their message over the airwaves. While new to the camera equipment, Meyers wasn't a total novice at the time.

A journalism school graduate and former-reporter with the then-Chicago Daily Defender and later the Jewish Sentinel, Meyers knew how to throw out a question. He even had his own publication, Jewish Chicago, for a couple years. But his early TV shows, he recalls, were definitely amateur hour. At times the cameraman bailed and he would film and anchor the show himself.

His partner, Hersh, a retired trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, joined the show more than a decade ago.

Now that the duo has it down pat, and swinging the $65 annual dues for CAN-TV is no sweat, there should be plenty more shows to come. And why not, Meyers said. "It's a labor of love."

Copyright© 2005, Digital Chicago Inc.
Reprinted by permission