December 31 1999

December 31, 1999 - 20 Years Ago

December 31, 2019. Another year's gone. Hopefully, we've all done something constructive in it.

For me, it's been a year of surviving. One year ago, an initial test showed positive for something I didn't expect. Something I certainly didn't want. Subsequent tests in January and February would confirm there was an aggressive tumor in my prostate. So pretty much the whole of 2019 was occupied with radiation and drug treatments. The good news is that the tumor shows no signs of life but we're not done yet. Doctors will have me on visits every three months and drugs for another two to three years. If that's what it takes, so be it.

As I reflected back on life as we begin the final year of this decade, I remembered where I was exactly 20 years ago on this evening. Now, most people don't recall exactly where they were on any average day or night unless there was something special about that day. With me, New Years Eve was spent at one of maybe three different places: With family watching fireworks; Playing bass at a church New Years service; or Playing bass in a band at a New Years party. In more recent years because of health issues I've spent it online watching a special New Years church service after the wife has gone to sleep.

New Years fireworks over Tampa Bay

But 20 years ago, this night, was something different. I was working. For nearly 30 years I did sound. I was a sound mixer, sound recordist, audio guy, whatever term you want to use, in the film and television industry. Part of that work was as a member of what are called stringer crews. Those are freelance video crew members called on by the big three networks, and then the many cable news networks when they came in, and then just about anyone who needed to record an interview or do a live feed. Most were done to tape and used later but this evening would be the world.

NBC News was going to follow the celebrations from around the world as the year switched from 1999 to 2000. They were welcoming in the new millennium...or so they thought, not realizing that they were a year off (the new decade and millennium always starts with the number 1, not 0) but that didn't change the fact that the world was celebrating a new year and a coming new millennium and there were parties all around the world. So news anchorman Tom Brokaw was in New York's Time Square speaking with people via satellite from around the globe about what they thought about the situation where they were and what they thought was going to happen.

VHS screen capture of Tom Brokaw in Times Square 12/31/99

NBC News was a regular client of mine so I got the call to drive down to Palm Beach, Florida. By now, most people know who has a home there...a BIG home called Mar-a-Lago. That's right. Today he's known as Mr. President but back then he was "The Donald". We got there the day before to scout the giant circus tent Trump's New Years bash was going to be in and make sure we were set up and "faxed" out with no issues for the following night. These camera crews tend to be small. It was camera man David Brown, myself on sound, and a field producer and a satellite truck engineer. We all met at the location, sought out a good place to do the two minute interview, and then made our way to our hotel room. The next day, I drove around Palm Beach and West Palm Beach with my wife and youngest daughter, seeing the sights and grabbing lunch before making our way back to Trump's place.

Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida

This was only the second video job I've had to do in a full tuxedo and my wife and daughter were in classy evening dresses. We were set up next to the large stage where the night's entertainment would soon begin, that being Gladys Knight and her band. It was quite something to see our crew all dressed in tuxes along with the 400 high end guests Trump had invited to welcome in the new year and the year change to 2000. Of course at this time, Donald Trump had not done a whole lot of television and no live feeds. He had done some interviews to tape and some appearances on day time TV but this would be his first live to the world satellite interview. And this was years prior to him becoming a reality TV star. We double, and then triple checked all of our equipment. The satellite truck had already established it's link to New York way in advance so that there would be no last minute problem. I had my mic lines with backups run to the director's chair where Mr. Trump would sit, and as was policy, opened a live mic so that New York could hear what was going on on set. Their "talk back" was also established so we were ready when we saw the entourage approach where we were.

Leading the way was billionaire Donald Trump and his fiancé at the time Melania Knavs. There were also some people who were very much on their way toward inebriation, including one very rich woman who mistook my daughter as a chair and tried to sit on her. The camera was set back in the darkness with bright lights over and around it as Trump came to our position so I was the only one he could actually see and I asked him to please have a seat. As he got comfortable I introduced myself: "Mr. Trump, I'm Rob, your sound man for the evening. The first thing I'd like to do is put a microphone on you. Would you prefer pins through your jacket or a clamp?" I don't usually ask but I knew that the tux he had on would no doubt be expensive and pins do leave small holes. He answered a clamp and I had it clamped to my own suit coat so I put the lav mic on his jacket at chest level, hiding the cable under the jacket.

I then moved around behind him and once again spoke to him: "Now Mr. Trump, I need to put on the device you will hear Mr. Brokaw through on to you if I may." He said go ahead and I clipped on the little coiled tube that he would hear through to the collar of his jacket on the back. As I brought up the ear piece, I decided I wasn't about to stick it in his ear myself so I said, "Now, here is the earpiece you'll hear through. Please go ahead and push it into your ear so that it's comfortable." He did so as I continued,"And down here by your right hand is a small box with a volume knob on it so that you may adjust the volume of the sound from New York yourself" as I guided his hand down to the metal box for the IFB he was now wearing.

Telex style earpiece everyone wears doing live television broadcasts. It plugs into a volume box.

I informed him that his mic was live and that the control room in New York could hear everything from there on out and would be coming online soon. As I stepped away to my equipment bag I heard him say something like, "Yes..hello..I can hear you fine" as the producer in New York began to talk with him and I adjusted the volume on my mixer. As the network came out of a commercial break, the field producer said "Stand by" and Brokaw introduced Donald Trump. Now the interview didn't really have a lot of substance to it except for three things: Trump was bullish on America; He was toying with the idea of running for President even back then; and that when a helicopter was over Tom's head, he could still hear him just fine. That last point was something I took pride in.

Donald Trump talking to Tom Brokaw during NBC's New Millennium Around The World coverage

In no time, the interview was over and I jumped up, took the mic and earpiece off of him and he disappeared in the darkness of the tent. It had gone flawlessly and the crew took a deep breath as the lights were turned off and David took his camera gear down and the sat truck broke the link. I walked back over to one of the tent posts where I knelt down and started to wrap my cables and stow my gear when I felt this large presence towering over me. It could only be one person who would loom like that overhead and the first thought I had was, "Oh no...what did I do wrong...what's going to career is over." I looked up and it was indeed Donald Trump standing over me. He didn't say anything at first but then remarked, "That was good...that was REAL good...I liked that...are you staying for the party...stay for the my food...drink my champagne...okay?" I smiled and thanked him and off he went. After all, I was the only person on the crew who dealt with him, talked to him, interacted with him and so for that brief moment, we had a connection. The other crew members which were about twenty feet away were all staring at me as I approached them. "Donald has invited all of us to stay for the party...partake of the food...and drink his champagne...and enjoy the entertainment." I wasn't smug but he did invite!

Anyway, we found the food tables and had our fill eating where the help ate. The other guests had to pay $2000.00 a plate. Gladys Knight came on and rocked the tent and we stayed until the family was ready to go back to the hotel. We slept in the next morning and then made the four hour drive back home. When I was asked how I spent New Years 1999 I have always told people that I spent it with Donald Trump at his house as his personally invited guest, welcoming in the new year and new millennium (almost). Well...I did.

If you missed it, here's the interview:

Donald Trump New Years 1999

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