Lawrence Hubert "Larry" Taylor, broadcast engineer, dies

Veteran broadcast engineer helped construct WMAR-TV's original transmitter

  • Lawrence Taylor
Lawrence Taylor
July 22, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Lawrence Hubert "Larry" Taylor, a retired pioneering WMAR-TV broadcast engineer who was also an original Rodgers Forge resident, died July 15 from complications of a fall at Oak Crest Village retirement community.

He was 90.

Mr. Taylor, the son of a truck driver and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Waverly. He was a 1938 City College graduate.

After high school, he attended Maryland Mechanical Art School and the Radio Institute of Baltimore, and began working in broadcasting in the late 1930s as an engineer for WCBM-Radio. "It was a peanut whistle of a station then," Mr. Taylor said in a 2007 Baltimore Sun interview.

He then joined the fledgling staff of WMAR-TV, Maryland's pioneering WCBS affiliate television station that first went on the air in 1947.

"TV was so new then that I didn't even know how to spell the word," recalled Mr. Taylor, who added, "So I read a book about TV and became an engineer."

"He's one of the few people who preceded me at WMAR. On the technical side, there was nothing that Larry didn't do and do well," said Jack Dawson, the former sports director who retired in 1992 from the station.

"He was a genuine character and not the least bit standoffish," said Mr. Dawson. "Larry did everything in this business from football and baseball remotes to a lot of other weird stories."

One of Mr. Taylor's many non-studio duties was maintaining the station's transmitter, which rose 1,319 feet into the Northwest Baltimore sky, 730 feet above the high ground of Television Hill.

"One time, I had to go to the top in a hurricane to check on the transmitter," Mr. Taylor, who had no fear of heights, explained to a reporter several years ago. He added that he reached his lofty perch by way of a two-man, radio-equipped elevator.

He also recalled the laying of what seemed liked miles of temporary coaxial cables and wires needed to do a remote broadcast from old Memorial Stadium, as well as lugging heavy TV cameras. He also recalled that the station's first mobile unit was a converted former large blue-and-gray transit bus.

Helen Delich Bentley, former congresswoman and former chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission who earlier had been maritime editor of The Baltimore Sun, worked with Mr. Taylor on her television series "The Port That Built a City and State," which aired Sunday afternoons from 1950 to 1965.

"The engineering staff at WMAR in the early days was the best when it came to doing remotes from the waterfront or the decks of ships. They did it all," said Mrs. Bentley.

"And given the technology that was available at the time, this was not simple to do, but they did it, and Larry was part of that crew," she said.

George Ward, who worked as a news photographer and engineer at WMAR for 26 years before retiring in 2003, worked closely with Mr. Taylor.

"Larry was a real mentor to me and he'd carefully explain to me what we call microwave propagation. He was very good at explaining the physics of that," said Mr. Ward. "When he was back at the studio and I was on a remote, we'd communicate by radio, and he'd tell us how to adjust our antennae to get the signal in."

He said that Mr. Taylor had a "great sense of humor" and was a "pleasant guy to be around." He also said that his friend was a practical joker.

"If Larry were in a department store's appliance section, he'd turn all of the knobs on the sets to Channel 2, so when a salesperson turned on a TV for a customer, it went instantly to WMAR," Mr. Ward said with a laugh.

Mr. Taylor retired in 1985.

In 1945, Mr. Taylor married the former Eileen Bohli, a Glenn L. Martin Co. secretary whom he met at St. Bernard's Roman Catholic Church.

"She said 'no' to me for seven years until finally agreeing to marry me in 1945," Mr. Taylor said in the 2007 interview.

The couple started married life in an apartment in the 2600 block of Kirk Ave., and after the birth of their first child, a son, they needed more room.

They purchased an end-of-group row house in the 100 block of Regester Ave. in Rodgers Forge for $11,500, and moved in at the end of 1950. They remained there for the next 57 years until moving to the Parkville retirement community.

At the time, Mr. Taylor recalled in the interview, developer James Keelty was still building homes and there was plenty of open space.

"When we moved in, we were the first to have a telephone in the neighborhood. WMAR put it in case they needed to get a hold of me because I took care of the transmitter," he said. "All of the neighbors used to come over and borrow it."

The Taylors and other neighbors took over a vacant lot on Dumbarton Road and planted a communal garden, sharing in the work as well as the harvest of tomatoes, corn, beans and peppers.

He was an avid long-distance cyclist and enjoyed the sport until he was well into his 70s.

He was an active communicant for 60 years of St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church, where he sang with the choir, trained altar servers, and was the church's general handyman.

Mr. Taylor was a member of the Notre Dame Council of the Knights of Columbus.

"He was quite a lively guy at the Notre Dame Council, and after meetings, we'd sit in the lounge and he'd tell stories from his broadcasting days. When we had a dinner theater, Larry would bring all of his family and friends," said Ted Lingelbach, a retired WFBR Radio news writer.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Aug. 8 at St. Pius X, 6428 York Road, Rodgers Forge.

In addition to his wife of 65 years, Mr. Taylor is survived by a son, Lawrence W. Taylor of Birchrunville, Pa.; a daughter, Mary Taylor Barnes of Lutherville; two brothers, Jerome Taylor of Catonsville and Richard Taylor of Havre de Grace; a sister, Marguerite Ellis of Grayson, Ga.; and four grandchildren.

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