I came to Channel 31 in 1980, fresh from Miami, Fl. I was kind of passing through town, visiting with my Mom for a while, saw an ad in the Times for a news photographer (no shooting experience needed, still photography a plus) and came up the mountain to talk with Mike Sullivan, then the News Director. I had only my still photography portfolio to show my "eye", but Mike went ahead and hired me. We were still shooting film with CP-16's (talk about way back machines), and just transitioning into video with the huge TK-76 camera and a "portable" 3/4 inch deck. Try running up and down the sidelines of a Friday night high school football game with 40 lbs. of gear strapped around your body! Ah, youth! I was kicked up to Chief Photographer, produced the weekly medical feature "Eye on Health", with Dr. Charles Morley, and also shot the still ads for TV Guide, and the infamous Hall of Shame Anchor portraits. As M.D. said when I asked him why I had to shoot stills when I was swamped with duties in News, "we do whatever it takes". And we all did. As I look back I can't believe all that we accomplished in the short two years I was with the family. From unbelievable lives shots at the Space and Rocket Center, racing downtown for a possible jumper from a water tank with Adrian Gipson--Mike Sullivan later told me he wondered if I would follow the guy if he jumped. Luckily I didn't have to find out, though I know the answer. Snow storms and camping out at a reporter's apartment so our team could cover whatever transpired, working Thanksgiving or Christmas(new doesn't take a holiday, whoever said it), running as part of the 31 relay team in the marathon, doing commercials and promos with Carl Spurlock(Hey Carl, remember the bathing suit one and the make out silhouettes for Gorilla theater?). Adrian's best line on camera, "If if and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas". I don't remember the story but it came out of nowhere and I just lost it.
Filming Helen Keller's home, Opryland and Graceland with Steve Newvine for One Day Getaways, a personal favorite because we were the first media allowed into Graceland before it was opened to the public. This was 1981, just three years after the death of Elvis. Steve, a HUGE fan, suddenly channeled the King when we were left alone, unsupervised, upstairs in Elvis's bedroom, just next to the bathroom where he died. I sort of remember Steve opening a closet, trying on one of the King's capes, and cutting a move--Thank you, thank you very much.
Of course Winds of War hoopla. Those pics of me are scary, thanks Helen.
Oh, yeah, the mercenary training series that garnered an Emmy Award with Jim Marsh reporting and Jim Miller producing. We spent several days with those wackos somewhere near Selma in the dusty oppressive heat of the summer. They trained their paid participants with live ammo, so of course since Jim Marsh was the on camera guy, naturally he had to "imbed", and take part in all of it, and I mean all. We camped with them, ate their food, got bit by the same damn bugs. I rolled tape as Jim waded through water and crawled on his belly as LIVE rounds from an M-14 were fired in his direction. I paused after one particularly sweaty, hellish, moment for Jim and told him we had to go again because I ran out of tape in mid-hell(for him). Let's just say if looks could kill--no bullets in his gun--I fessed up that it was all good. Hey, whatever it takes. Did I mention LIVE AMMO!?! Man, what the hell were we thinking?
Eye on Health with Charles Morley was great. I scoured medical journals for material and one day each week I would disappear all day to shoot with Charles. While Mike or Jim Miller kept calling to see what was taking so long, they thought it should only take three or four hours, Charles took me to lunch, we hung out and talked sports, literature, film, travel, currant politics, then shot the piece--a very civilized way to produce. The weekly feature was top rated, and Charles loved the attention, though he wouldn't admit it, and all the docs in town readily opened their doors to us.
I was in the film room the night of Dick Van Valkenburg's heart attack that Helen talked about. "Souping" the film was a solitary task that I enjoyed--just the radio playing in the dark for company. When I opened the door that night I saw the EMT's as they rushed by with Dick on a gurney. It was very surreal to step into such drama without any indication before hand of what had unfolded the previous 20 minutes. I think that was the last hurrah for him at the station and he was relegated to rule his spot news roost from his recliner at home. He would page the photogs on call at any hour of the night to cover the news. I was awaken one late Saturday night(actually early Sunday AM), to drive to the River by Ditto Landing, body in a car trunk. Let me tell you, when a pager goes off at 3AM, serious thoughts of ignoring it drift through your head, as it did happen on more than one occasion. I called in and Dick even said, "didn't think you would answer it". But I did the drive from north Huntsville, got the body out of the trunk shot, and also got some kudos from Dick, which was pretty damn cool to come from him.
OK, one more, the last 31 moment I have and it took place a couple of weeks after I quit work at 31. Bill Bocking, Homer Hickam, a scuba diving buddy and author of the book Rocket Boys that was made into a movie recently, were water skiing off Ditto Landing when The SCI-Tanic sank. This was a terrible tragedy where I think 18 or 20 people drowned when a huge stormed upended their boat--31 followed up the story several years ago so this all came back to me again. Bill, Homer and I were among the first to arrive in the middle of the river after the storm passed at the now upside down boat. We all hoped for a rescue operation, but it soon became obvious that all aboard were lost and we spent the afternoon pulling bodies onto the flat underside of the boat. Homer dove repeatedly with borrowed scuba gear, located every body inside, and gently floated them to the surface where Bill and I lifted them topside. It was traumatic for all involved and we knew that the circling boats contained news crews filming the activities. Bill and I talked about being on the other side of the story, how one's life can change in a split second and how we all changed that day. When we pulled up to Ditto Landing, we saw all the Fire Trucks, ambulances, and news vehicles and the last thing we wanted to do was face a camera. I ran into Steve Kerr, he caught my eye and knew something was up. He asked if I had been out there. I nodded and knew his next question. I said no way could we speak about what had happened, and to his credit(at least to me), he said OK. The next day I was up at the station picking up some of my remaining stuff and the newsroom was buzzing with the previous days coverage. I still hadn't told anyone I was involved and the air of distance in the room from that moment was obvious. Talk was of selling the footage to network and CNN, sending out follow up crews, just the normal newsroom stuff. I finally pointed out that the figure in the green t-shirt in the footage was me. It was cathartic to talk about it with my former work mates, but I knew I was no longer part of the team and it was best to leave them to their jobs, which they did exceptionally well. 31 had the evenest coverage, and I watched it all from the comfort of my house. Homer still lives in Huntsville, and Bill is up in Louisville, a Fed EX pilot, good guys both.
Interesting people, stressful moments, a big time learning environment at 31. Although I don't shoot news today, thank God, the work ethic of getting the story under deadline stays with me.
Thanks for doing all this, Mr. Smith. I know the event will be a blast. It starts soon. Wish I could have been there. Coming from Seattle, I think I would have a lock on the long distance award! Please keep me in the loop. This has closed the years gap for me.
I know you'll edit this down to a readable length. It's been good to see some of this in print. Wow, alot happened those two years.
cheers and all the best--Bruce
Bruce E. Hutson