John Keel


John Keel (1978-1985?)

Gee, where do I even start? WAAY was my very first official job and I was there for seven years (with one short break - more on that later). There are SO many memories - almost all good - that I may actually have forgotten more than I can remember, especially now that it's some what? Sixteen years since I left? Wow. Of course, then there are those stories that I do remember, but will carry to the grave (and you all know who you are!).

The first thing I remember is actually getting the job. I was going to Calhoun and had classes with Dave Rowley and Ken (can't remember his last name now - red hair, moustache, news photog - was it Hoyle?) and they got me an interview with Rip, the Production Manager at that time (NOTE - from now on, if there's no last name it's because I just don't remember it - sorry everyone!). I started part-time running studio camera and was SO nervous when I finished training and had to do it all on my own! I also remember thinking I was super cool because I worked at 31.

Another thing I remember is what Liz Webb Cernadas (hey, Liz!) mentioned about having to hand draw Bob Baron's weather maps! It seems so incredibly antiquated now. Plus there were the occasional temper tantrums and fist fights between anchor people! Ah, Show Biz.

From weekends, I moved to weekdays and also began working as part-time projectionist (oh yeah, we shot FILM in those days, kids). Nothing will stress you out more than having a photographer fling you a reel of film that's late and the anchor is reading the intro and you've got to thread that RCA projector in about 5 seconds!

From there, I started working in the film room, splicing together movies and cartoons and then started working in production during the day in the booth. I don't remember how I started, but I managed to do it all, mostly under the watchful eye of John Stanners - audio, vidifont (oh God, remember those big 6-inch-ish discs with like, maybe four fonts per disc?), and ultimately directing. There were days I remember when I would direct Morning Waay completely by myself! I would roll my chair across the floor to get from the audio board to the vidifont - hitting e-mem buttons on the Grass Valley to fire off fades or effects almost never missing a beat.

There were also commercial and promo shoots, working with Carl Spurlock and Jeff Davis on location and in the studio. Looking back, there was rarely a dull moment. Plus, at some point there were stints on master control, mostly during the afternoon soap block, which wasn't too stressful, but addicting (can you believe Luke & Laura are STILL on "General Hospital"? Not that I watch or anything).

About five years after I started at 31, a big-time Hollywood movie (or so we thought) came to town and I wound up getting a job on the crew in the camera department. I thought this was the big time, baby, and so I left 31 to work on "Secrets of the Phantom Caverns". I don't know why I thought that Hollywood was a well organized, perfectly oiled machine, but it by no means was (and after living in L.A. for 7 years now, trust me - it still ain't). It was a mess of a movie and they almost killed all of us by filling up the cave we were shooting in (wasn't it Cathedral Caverns, east of Huntsville?) with carbon monoxide by running generators for the lights. So, I left the movie totally disillusioned with movies and making it in Hollywood. A few weeks went by before I managed to get a job back at 31, this time in the news department as a photographer.

That led to quite a number of adventures as well, but I've gone on way too long as it is, so I'll save those memories for a sequel.

Of course, what made it work during all the years was the people (some of whom I've mentioned already), some of whom I still see or keep in touch with, but all of whom I remember as being helpful, encouraging or just plain fun in various combinations and degrees: M.D., Bettie Higgins, Lew Koch, John Stanners, Liz Webb, Penny Norwood, Deb Napolitano (who is living in NYC), Donna Spurrier, Jan Miller, Lee Baker, Ron Milner, Bruce Hutson (who took my recent wedding photos, see below), Bill Bocking (he's in Louisville), Liz Hurley, Mark Smith, Alan Dunkin, Debbie Benson, Lou Ikard, Missy Garrett, Eric Eisgrau, Brenda Wood, Rick Davis, Adrian Gibson, Jamie Cooper, Jeff Wigginton, Jerry Carnes, Joanne Powell, Ron Brooks, Bob Labbe, I'm sure I'm forgetting so many people, so I apologize to anyone I didn't mention).

I'll close with some quick bits as I brainstorm through random memories:

> The Santa Show! With the exception of whatever leggy Miss Merry Christmas we had that year, it was always a pain in the ass and I hated Christmas for years because of it! Oddly enough, I have no memory whatsoever of who played Santa.

> Adrian calling me to wake me up when I was directing the early morning news and would oversleep. Luckily, I only lived about ten minutes from the station then!

> Two different Ku Klux Klan memories: the first was driving up to work in the fog one afternoon and suddenly seeing the robes of KKK members protesting the station when we showed "Roots II" appear out of the fog - THAT was pretty eerie. The second was when I went to help the news team cover a huge KKK protest/rally in Decatur and Eric Eisgrau picked a spot BETWEEN the National Guard and the KKK to stand and get some shots. That was nerve-wracking, to say the least!

> Leaving the "ON AIR" light lit up after we went off the air on the days we had cooking segments on "Morning Waay" so the crew could get to the food before the rest of the staff!

> Rex Free's big surprise that Helen Howard mentioned in her piece. That was me that played the dead body. I remember Carl Spurlock arranging my limbs on while I laid on the concrete so I would look suitably dead and then they poured fake blood in my hair and down the sidewalk. One of the funniest pranks ever. I saw Rex not too long ago and we were talking about it. Still a great guy, that Rex.

Okay, that's MORE than enough. I've thrown in a few photos here at the end and actually have more somewhere that I'll have to find and scan. I hope that the reunion goes well and I can't wait to see photos from the day.

All the best,

John Keel (does anyone even remember me?????)



John Keel - - - and again somewhere in the early 80's for a TV Guide ad on a news special. Why I still have this, I just couldn't tell you.


Here I am now as of this past New Year's Eve at my wedding to Julie, on the beach in Santa Monica (photo by Bruce Hutson)


and this is me, signing off (with my dog, Dudley) from the camera on top of my computer as I type this. Bye!

© 2003 Smith Broadcasting, Inc. [update 8-15-2003]