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Wanna be on TV? Push the button and talk

Friday, September 28, 2001

By Gene Collier, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In a difficult time, when the public's thirst for good news is especially acute, it would appear to be a welcome development that you can now get yourself on the TV news without having to rob a convenience store or lay off a couple of thousand people.

Ernestine Mason of Homewood answers a question at KDKA's You TV booth at Monroeville Mall yesterday. Mason was one of a handful of people who used the booth yesterday afternoon. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

If you've ever watched the news and thought "What this newscast needs is my opinion on random topical questions!" then all you need do is go out to Monroeville Mall, or to Borders in Northway Mall, or to whichever roving location that KDKA-TV has its "You TV" booth, and you can get on the 5 o'clock news without even having to get a decent haircut.

Maybe.

The markings on the "You TV" booths read: "You say it, we play it, on KDKA-TV."

Or at least they might.

But you can't be on the news if you don't walk up to the booth and allow yourself to be taped answering random topical questions and/or just giving your opinion on whatever's aggravating you at the moment. Not walking up to the booth was what 99 percent of the patrons at Monroeville Mall were doing over a two-hour period yesterday afternoon.

Despite its prime location in mid concourse between the Ritz Camera and Kay Jewelers and its proximity to the kiosk that sells framed pictures of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe and that one with both of them at a piano bar with James Dean and Humphrey Bogart -- which actually sold for $55 while we were standing there, can you believe it? -- the "You TV" station suffers from being a little discreet. It needs a big sign that says: "Be on TV!" As it is, it looks as though it could be an ATM.

One woman walked up to it, pushed the green button that starts the tape, then looked around as though she were waiting for the shower to start, and walked off in either disappointment or bewilderment.

Still, KDKA says it has gotten scads of people with opinions on tape since the technology was situated two weeks ago, and the "You TV" segment has been airing in the 5 o'clock hour since Monday. Yesterday's tapings will be aired next week, with respondents talking about what police should do to catch the East End rapist and which age groups make the worst drivers.

"I'm probably not going to make it; I stuttered a little," said Ernestine Mason of Homewood as she stepped away from her taping. "But I think it's a good idea. We're all a little star struck."

The "You TV" experience is a kind of parallel to the Giant Eagle self-checkout technology in which you can now negotiate another slice of your life without having to deal with actual humans, in this case an interviewer and a cameraman.

You just step up to the screen, hit the big green button -- toddlers love it, but you're supposed to be 18 to participate -- center yourself for the camera, read the question and respond for up to 30 seconds. You then have another 30 seconds to discuss your own topics.

Silvana Haas of Indiana Township and her two daughters, 15-year-old Stephanie and 13-year-old Shelly, walked up to it without really knowing what it was, but dutifully answered the questions.

Haas said she thought seniors were the worst drivers and later told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette exclusively that she feels they should turn in their licenses when they hit 69. While her mom talked, Shelly figured out what was going on.

"Whoa! We're on the tube!" she yipped.

Well, maybe. They don't use every interview. They're not crazy.

And how long before somebody flashes this thing?

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