It is Sunday morning at the law office (6/22/03) and I’m writing this after driving down memory line with stop and go traffic through the many stories on the web site. I now want to add a word or two about my dream to work with all of you.
I started watching Channel 31 a long time ago, I mean a long time ago. We would visit my grand parents during the summer years for a couple weeks as my father was station with the Air Force. We would all gather and watch the news and other programming after the family communal dinner. It was a blessed time with generations of Hills solving the world’s problems. I remember thinking this TV stuff was cool and it only took a couple of “eyes in front of the set” visits with Johnny Evans on Saturday mornings to hook me. My sister even appeared on his show. She was the star of the family for years.
Fast forward, to the beginning of my Broadcast career. I set out with one purpose in mind and that was somehow, someway to get a job at WAAY. No kidding. Those who worked close with me in the field know what I’m talking about. I sent tape after tape to the station for years. Finally I got a call from Cliff Windham. Cliff called me and we set up an interview date. I came up and did the walk around thing with Cliff and met with Mark McGee. Finally I met the man. M.D. visited with me for a couple of minutes discussing the usual stuff and then he popped the question. “Cliff, how would you do a better job reporting on stories than the competition?” (or something similar to this in any event). Well, I remember it knocked me to the floor. I stammered saying something not really bright like, “Well, Mr. Smith I’ll sure work hard.” Of course I didn’t get the job and was down but not out.
I set out on a new course and for the next couple of years I decided every time I got a vacation or was in the area I would call and drop off a tape. I wouldn’t take the hint after that didn’t work. So I started out on a new strategy. I figured I could get a moment with Cliff Windham by calling him and saying, “Hi, Cliff this is Cliff”. I would usually get a couple of minutes with Cliff. Then I would get to drop a tape off to Mark. (years later Heather Burns found one of those early tapes of mine and lets say, I know why I wasn’t ready for WAAY)
I finally made it to Huntsville when 48 brought me down from Cape Girardeau to set up its morning show. (The show was cancelled 9 months later) Then out of the blue came a call from Mark and Cliff who needed a fill-in anchor for the weekend. That call ended my long quest to work at WAAY.
Through the years at WAAY I had the honor to work for and with many fine people. Channel 31 was a family. As a family we sometimes got into arguments, we shared each others ups and downs and through it all did some really good work. I enjoyed the support I received from my co-workers and the management relative my investigative work. The man in the corner office, while reserved and cautious about my investigative stories would throw his full support behind them when the decision was made they would air. And even more importantly he stood with me when we ruffled more than a few feathers.
Years later I asked M.D. about his question to me as a young aspiring reporter. He saw so many come through the doors it didn’t surprise me he didn’t remember the question. There really isn’t a right answer to the question. It was a question reflecting ones ability to think on their feet, a necessary requirement for live television. Before the doors closed on my time at WAAY, I answered MD’s question, saying, “Simply do the story better than the competition no matter what it took.” I believe that was the standard at WAAY during my time. When I lived up to it, it was the best of times, when I didn’t, it was the worst of times”.
I know you’re not going to see this until the party is over at whatever time tonight or tomorrow morning. However, I want to thank you for putting this together. I’ve called across the country looking for my friends from by-gone days and alerted them. You have a great big family at home and at the channel 31 of yesterday. I was proud to work for you, honored you hired me, and grateful for your support along the way. When the sale of the station was announced and the handover took place, I was quoted in the paper saying, “I was proud to be going out with you”. It was true then and true today. You’ve meant a lot to all of us and continue to do so.
Thanks for the party. Should you ever get another station call and I’m there.