No money, power, ratings, control or other reward can beat this....
My greatest memory and greatest source of professional satisfaction came in Huntsville. It was during the April 3, 1974 tornado coverage. Sgt Bob Owens told me we saved the lives of his family with our continued coverage. Some 50 people died in several Northern Alabama counties, many more were injured and the property damage I saw on the ground and in flyovers was immense all the way into Tennessee. There's nothing that tops being part of efforts that save lives.
Respectful condolences to those whose loved ones have passed away. Best wishes to the rest of you.
A few thoughts to share about a couple of touchy subjects. There are many, but in this and future "contributions" to the alumni, I'll try to stay with only the most signficant. One is race.
The college picture and a quick feature on Good Morning America recently reminded me of some progress we made in Huntsville toward racial equity. In 1953 we called our closed circuit radio and tv WSLC for Southeastern Louisiana College, later to be declared a university. Our best works were played on the local commercial stations. One famous alumni is Robin Roberts of ABC's GMA. Much too young to be a classmate of mine in 1953, Robin attended much later on a basketball scholarship. The coach's wife sent her pic to GMA in early July, 2003 and they showed it. Part of our speech course in 1953 was debating all sides of integration, which was destined to happen soon. Just out of Annie Eastman High in Hammond, Louisiana, I worked to earn my first year's college expenses in furniture manufacture in Grand Rapids, Michigan and remember being told, "Sam, we have integration in this plant and you could be being supervised by a 'colored.' Any problem with that?" None then. None since. Ask Garry Armstrong, former ABC editor with 35 plus years after in Boston and Les Brownlee, Chicago's 50 plus year journalist, now professor at Columbia College. Robin's preparation at SLU shows brilliantly. She is among a long line of very accomplished "people of color."
I'm not sure if I was the first to propose to MD that we get not just one African American but two. I used my "bottom line" approach, "sixteen percent of the potential audience is black. That would go a long way to increase our audience and having two would really beat the competiton." We hired John Barret Townsend. I couldn't resist John's quoting MLK three times, "I have a dream" (to be in television news.) Soon, we hired Linda Ammons. Both were excellent workers and responded very well to the help and advanced training we gave them. I think they were significant in our efforts to win the ratings. I had tried to convince Ray McGuire, the manager at the Mobile station the year before, to use our black reporter there as our morning anchor to eventually be prime time co anchor. McGurie said the market wasn't ready for it and the Pontiac dealer who bought spots in those slots would never go along with it. MD was much smarter. One consolation in Mobile was that Hank Aaron's sister was the newsroom secretary.
I don't know how much interest there is in what I have to say on this website. I hope what I say is significant to those with whom I worked and those who followed and will follow in broadcasting. I don't plan to pull any punches, whatever the subject and some could ruffle some feathers. I make no excuses for anything in my career. I offer no apologies although experience has taught me to handle some things differently and more diplomatically. I'm proud to have been a part of getting the "word" out. After all, even the bible says, "in the beginning , there was the "word." Some words are unbelievable. Some people who have the most to hide are pushing hardest to create a credibility problem for us. Some actually mean well and have contributed to our honing and improving our abilities to serve the public. Others just plain don't know or want to know better. Some think they know better and don't. Some have other agendas that we conflict with when we report. It's up to us to show them all, but particularly the public, where we're coming from. I don't claim to have all the answers. We are evolving. I hope for the better. We are more than just an "image" and when we are at our best we contribute significantly to the public interest. There were times when I forgot who OWNED the press and who were influencing them most. Like the man said, "freedom of the press belongs to the owner of the press." LIke I said, I make no apologies whatever for my efforts to be a true journalist. I lost a lot, but I gained much more self respect when I was at my best at fulfilling the oath I took when I joined the Society of Professional Journalists nearly 40 years ago, and then, after being in news fulltime for 4 years. I tried. Beyond that, I cannot brag. It's just that journalism carries with it a sense of values that shouldn't be compromised by anyone. It has to do with the US Constitution and the extreme importance of public interest.
My attitude "problem" remains. I'm still a journalist. I defended the consultants in 1972 in the official magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists during a time when they were under heavy flack. This, at considerable risk of a good reputation I had earned before and during my membership. I said the consultants help a lot. Phil McHugh had EARNED my respect and I felt someone should speak up. I wrote QUILL and they published it verbatim. I'll paraphrase. I said even Joseph Pulitzer said to tell the stories in a clear and understandable way, making it interesting while being fair and objective. McHugh never interfered with the news content. Consultants help in research(which good reporters do anyway) to get a handle on what the audience is concerned about and they are outstanding at many other aspects of presentation, promotion and strategy. They bring ideas from other markets and know who's available. MD mentioned "talent search" as part of his reason for changing to Magid although McHugh had helped guide WAAY TV to the number one spot.
MD told me recently, "I personally liked Phil McHugh a LOT. I hated to change to Magid, but I needed the kind of research he would provide and the depth of tapes they sent showing how other stations do certain features, talent search, and a variety of things Phil could not provide."
I disagreed. Phil McHugh was extremely valuable to our efforts as I'm sure Magid proved to be when they came onboard. I looked forward to learning more, but left for Houston soon.
The consultants were just beginning to be really effective in the late 60's with Phil McHugh leading the way. He was followed soon by Magid, Al Primo, and several other consulting agencies. I didn't recall anything in that oath or our journalistic ethic that said "get those meddling so and so's outta heeyuh." I wrote that the consultants bring research, ideas, production and presentation values, and strategies for winning.
Of course, no endeavour worth doing should ever be done without give and take and agreements to disagree at worst and, at best, work together and share ideas. I wouldn't want to work anywhere that everyone agreed with me or where I was expected to agree with everyone. It's from differences of opinion, approach and just plain ways of doing things that we get progress. Total agreement works real well in dictatorships and progress in such an environment has a very low lid.
Although I had built very strong broadcasting and journalism credentials from small to medium to major to network markets and back, I'm probably the best person to give advice on "how to be a real journalist and be highly mobile." I was told by the owner of a small town newspaper when I was a printer's "devil" at age 8 and had just gotten my first byline, "you don't want to be a reporter in a small market, Sam. A reporter isn't worth his salt unless he gets ridden out on a rail within two years." Damned if he wasn't right.
(Title) Fools rush in.
Sorry. I couldn't pass up the temptation to insert the following paragraph in my part of the WAAY TV reunion website. It's considered THE worst first paragraph of all literary times. There's a contest each year to find worse. Maybe they should check some of our newscripts! Seems so appropriate in a lot more ways than one. You'll find the contest at http://www.bulwer-lytton.com.
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London[Samnote: insert "Huntsville"]that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps[Samnote: insert "TV NEWS" ] that struggled against the darkness."
--Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)
Time for a break from all that heady, serious stuff.
(Title) The following is for adults only
One night, the late and very great Bob Sullivan (our engineer who threw the switches) came to me and said, "Sam, there's a great feature on the daily electronic closed circuit feed from ABC." "Oh? What is it?" I knew this was coming from a guy who drove a great sports car which I wanted to buy and he wouldn't sell, so it must be good. Sullivan smiled,"take my word for it, it's one of those features you refer to when you say you want something people will talk about."
Hey, if it's good enough for Sully, it's good enough for me. "Ok. I'll schedule it for the closing segment."
"It's not for children to see."
"Hmmm..." I thought maybe I should look at it, but I started thinking about a disclaimer of some sort. I trusted Bob because he also knew what gets audiences. I didn't have time to look at it, but I composed a teaser for before the commercial that went something like this: "If any children are up now at almost 10 30 pm, send them to bed. We have something after the commercial that they shouldn't see." I still hadn't seen it. Bob had such a glint in his eye that I knew if he liked it so much a lot of people like him would, too. I ALWAYS pay attention to technicians and stage hands. They're more in touch with audiences than a lot of us "nabobs."
MD, place commercial popup here.
ANCHOR: "Again, the following is for adults only...." I'm still wondering what we're about to see. I forgot the lead in, which was provided by ABC, but it went something like this, "A woman in (I forget where) is earning her Master's Degree in Political Science (or some such) in an unusual job. "We get more in this report from ABC's (Joe Blow or somebody, I forgot the name...not Peter Jennings, for sure.)
We got more, all right!
Bob had already started the roll-up of the tape and as almost every time it popped immediately on the chroma behind me and soon filled the screen.
The lady was paying her way strip dancing!!!!!! The Playboy channel wouldn't have done a better job. The g strings and pasties were flesh colored!!!! Bumpity-bump, whirl-whirl, dip-dip, swoop-swoop, flippity-flop, all to the raunchiest strip music and loud drumming you can imagine. The lady looked as naked as a jaybird!!!! Needless to say, my eyes were glued to the screen.
I got more verbal flack from one viewer than anytime in my career before and since! That includes all that time I spent covering integration and anti war protests! I think MD just smiled. I don't recall his saying anything about it. A very religious and irate young woman called me. She was the daughter of a former German aeronautical engineer turned Redstone and Nasa Scientist after World War Two. He had designed the first vertical take off aircraft. I think he was retired when he became a hobby shop owner. His daughter made me feel like I was forever and unflinchingly pretty much banned from the shop, which I had visited often, "how can you expect parents to get
their children away from the television set?" You don't want to know what else she said, but it was all very prim and proper. I don't recall any cusswords.
I suspect that one feature was talked about an awful lot in our market for a long time. I also suspect our audience grew quite a bit after that.
In the meantime, Sully and I were still laughing about it long after it ran. I didn't tell anyone about that call, so you just got an exclusive. Happy now?
(title) Dutchboys, we ain't.
It might have been the first day I was at WAAY TV. I know it was soon after my arrival. We had a poke the dam moment. Ed and I were co-anchors. I produced the cast. We each wrote our own segments, which were evenly divided with very short passes.
We had gotten a tip a valley was in danger because a dam was leaking and about to break. We lined up an official to meet us there for an interview. Going in, I envisioned flooding of a whole subdivision in this valley. It was still lit enough by the afterglow of sunset to reveal there were probably fewer people living there than were on the way to cover this "imminent danger." I kept thinking about Boulder Dam. Visions of the Dutch Boy swirled through my imagination. Swimming came to mind. Swimming hard against torrents. Hey, this could be dangerous! Too late. Come to think of it, we were there even feeling that danger and willing to take the risks because we thought we could save some lives. We were on our way. I faintly remember a few dark jokes and quips and at least one, "did anyone bring life jackets?" Fortunately, it wasn't a "dark and stormy night."
The trip seemed like forever. We had prepared most of the newscast, leaving the usual holes for late breaking news, particularly this story as an item or film if we could get it developed in time. It was dark by the time we got there. The dam, which we had to look at by the camera light, was NOT, repeat, not the sophisticated concrete structure I imagined with at least one convenient hole for this dutchboy to plug a finger, foot or appendage in and therefore save the world. If there was a second hole, I'd expect Ed to fill it. Beyond that, I had no plans. Boulder Dam it was not. A Tennessee Valley Dam it was not.
We walked, again for what seemed like forever, along the base of the dam, still not able to see in the pitch dark. What we saw in the light was a bunch of rickrack stones and concrete rubble with a fairly strong rush of water cascading over it. I wondered whether the concrete was debris from the broken dam. I also wondered how much more water might be about to break through. By that time, I was holding my watch in the camera light and ready to get back to the station in time to do the newscast. I'm sure there was more to it. Ed says there was a big lake behind it. I never got back to see for myself. I just remember darkness pierced by Frezzi lights.
The official arrived. We left him uninterviewed because we were about 2 minutes short of getting back for the late newscast. We made it. The "show" went on. We had a short item about the leaking dam and a brief apology for not interviewing the official, who arrived a minute before we had to leave. I called Ed recently and he said that dam broke soon after we got out and we COULD have been killed as we feared going in and leaving. I didn't remember that it broke. I thought it was only a little water "over the dam," so to speak. How soon it broke after we left, we don't know, but we do feel, interview with the official or not, it was important enough for the risk. I don't even remember if we had a story about it the next day. No one was hurt. I'd certainly remember that. Ed and I were kidded almost unmercifully but mostly between ourselves.
Good feeling, that. The feeling you get after you've come close and survive. I didn't consider that close a call, though. I've been in many more dangerous situations than that. We were soon enough to ALL be in a very dangerous situation and would have our chance to help save lives. A situation we shred with everyone in Northern Alabama. Ed says he was told the dam broke "not long" after we left. Good thing we didn't have a live remote unit at that time. Ed and I probably would have been riding on top of the truck, singing dirty sailor ditties, as it floated down the valley. I can see MD flying over now, trying to get natural sound and expecting Cactus to cut out all the cuss words and dirty lyrics.
We shudda sent the weatherman.
I should have just let those first couple of paragraphs be all that I contributed to this website, but some other elements came into "play" that needed covering. The website is worth contributing to because MD said it could become part of the University of Alabama archives for student reference. In that case, more should be said. Ed Sisson has already posted his contributions and advice, much I find agreeable and worth reading. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid essay is worth the read, specially for you who want to learn how to retain your sense of humor in the midst of all those people losing their heads and blaming it on you. Ed's posts on this website is like watching John Wayne walk, kinda like he's... breaking in new boots.
Flying high and feeling mighty low....
MD's recounts about his equal love, flying, brought back a memory we pilots must always keep at least in the back of our minds. I have a close call story to tell after I try to clear up some misconceptions that linger beyond normal shelf life After all, some young budding new news people might stumble across this and need to know some things. Obviously, this will not complete their education, but maybe they'll learn something.
Part of our verbal agreement that helped me decide to come to Huntsville was a couple hundred dollars a month toward building my airman skills and poking holes in the skies. It was also one of the factors in my decision to leave, when they dropped that perk, but just minor compared to other reasons for shortening my planned tenure at WAAY TV. I actually thought about staying there for the rest of my career. MD and others who were there have their versions and I have my version, which is best and more professionally, after these more than 30 years, left there. I still wonder why I was singled out to be described as the "bad boy" in descriptions that were approximately 80 per cent negative. Obviously, this was NOT, repeat, not what I expected. I certainly didn't expect MD to say something negative, specially after we both agreed this was to be a fun and pleasant reminiscence of long ago. MD and I have kept in touch these many years, by phone and moreso lately by email and that contact has been 99 per cent positive. I sorta expected the same treatment as everyone else is getting, short of being made some kind of hero I'm not. Any thing different than pleasantries at this stage is counterproductive and totaly unnecessary.
My Mensa membership is irrevelant and the description of me as lacking tact (that's the correct spelling by the way) is about 10 per cent accurate. Intelligence comes in many forms at all levels and I can point to many geniuses with low IQ's. The battery of tests indicated I qualified to join Mensa and another so called group by being in the upper .004 per cent. So what? There are many people with lower IQ's who know hundreds of times more about their chosen areas of study or experience than I. There are people of lower than average intelligence who have contributed a lot more to humanity than I ever could. So, let's get that straight here and now. I can screw up as well or worse than anyone else, most of the time much more brilliantly and noticeably. I'm sorry MD brought it up. I'm not diminishing anyone with high or low intelligence. We all have our contributions to make. The challenge is to see and bring out that genius that is in every human being.
Yes, I was responsive but not always tactful. Who is? Dale Carnegie was never in a newsroom but he had a good handle on human nature. I told it the way I saw it, but there's no way for anyone else to know exactly how much I was holding back. I certainly didn't comment or criticize that often. I figured after the newscast was over, each person would work for improvement and nothing needed to be said, specially a lot of nit-picking. I was very satisfied with the team that,
as producer, I supervised for the ten pm show. That was the only newscast I was in charge of and, since we all did our work independently, it wasn't always obvious who was in charge. Together, we had a smooth news, weather and sports program that I would have put in any major market with pride at least half the time. The early 70's news product was good enough to quintuple WAAY TV's news ratings which just about everybody thought would be impossible so quickly.
Technologically, we only had a more powerful radar than the competition with a sensitivity that at least one former meteorologist severely questioned. No teleprompters. No live remote newsfeeds. We were rudimentary for the time. Such tools are fine and welcomed, but those of us working from 1972 to 1975 managed to bring Smith Broadcasting out of the cellar to the top without them. Such tools are just more resources to do what we're supposed to do, INFORM the public.
Adrian Gibson stayed on and proved there are people who can stay in one place and find job security. Adrian did just fine putting the six p.m. together and co anchoring. Adrian's anchoring was more than satisfactory. I usually had nothing to say negative about the casts. The newscasts were what the public saw and that's what mattered in the quest for higher ratings. If I had wanted to, I could have found a lot of things to say to and about each person participating in the newscast. I judged the overall impression we left as adequate and very competitive. If those people would look back wholistically, they'll find I was fairly laid back. I felt they were doing their very best, specially those whose work was "out there" for everyone to see. I knew they had their own reputations to build and live up to. Why would I want to teach them anything they didn't ask me about? Very few asked. They were adequate for the market and each improved. Some, like Dan Jameson and Ed Sisson went on to bigger markets. So did I. John Barret Townsend and Linda Ammons were getting there and went on to better things. Walton Jones went on as weatherman for a while at CNN. Wally was a truly qualified meteorologist complete with the proper degrees and military certification. Bill Farris landed and stayed as news director of our former competitor in Mobile. That competitor remembered well what out team did to them in 1971. Perhaps they figured Bill picked up a few secrets from Ed and me. Bill's learning curve was very high and I could always count on him for excellent camera work and film editing. I knew he was an "up and comer." Tony Beason also had potential and went on to a Missouri station for many years. He's still there and apparently is doing a great job. He learned fast and his gentlemanly manner helped us a lot at WAAY TV and we worked very well together. John Barret Townsend and Linda Ammons were major contributors to our ratings successes and went on to better things. There were others who, I hope, know I respect them. We each had our special roles and I think, fulfilled them just fine.
My "image" was what I was on the air. That was the true me. What they saw is what they got. That was the way I wanted to be with everybody. Many didn't give me a chance from the get-go. After all, I put my pants on one leg at a time, don't I? At worst, I'm very human. I would have appreciated that kind of respect. I always thought news people were supposed to be fair.
Tragedy that is haunting...
Now, about Dan Jameson, one of the greatest tragedies in broadcasting in my memory. Dan was one of, if not THE, best sports anchors I've ever had the good fortune to work with. He followed my advice when I told him about a sportscaster I worked with in Houston in 1959. That sports anchor adlibbed everything. You already know we didn't have teleprompters while I was at WAAY TV and keeping eye contact with the audience was one of those "not easy" thingees. Dan was worried about that. I suggested he just ad lib it all from notes. Dan always concentrated completely on his job (except when he mooned the weatherman every once in a while during the weathercast) and knew every important sports story and event of each day. He also was encyclopaedic about sports history, rules and strategies. He followed my advice and was outstanding on the air. HOWEVER! Some idiot said the audience like/dislike balance was on the negative side. I got that when I came back to Huntsville in 1978 or so as news director/prime anchor at the station down the hill, channel 48.
I tried to hire Dan as sports director. Dan wanted a chance at anchoring. I said, "fine, let's get you in as co anchor on the ten." I knew he had bigger markets in mind. I was there to straighten out some familial problems and planned to leave within 3 months. I figured Dan would be excellent as my replacement. I wouldn't have left the station in a lurch and they would have a valid competitor for MD and that "other" station. The manager wouldn't hire him and I was about ready to leave anyway. So, the manager put his own station in the lurch. I like to think, though, that I had MD, Magid and a few others there worried for a while. I noticed they hired a new news director within a month of my first appearance on Channel 48. I had approached Wally Jones to do the weather and Ed to come join my "over the hill gang." There were many other strategies that I shared with channel 48. So much for winning strategies, eh?
Anyway, back to Dan. I was impressed with his versatility, wide learning and interests. He read Broadcasting magazine from cover to cover, so I knew he filled the bill for one of my greatest compliments for real professionals in this business. He was a BROADCASTER. Dan also kept very well informed on current events and processes. He was very eclectic and it showed. He also had a strong sense of duty. I knew those qualities would help win audiences. Too bad the manager was so myopic. I met that manager again on a tour of all the tv and production facilities in the country. It was in Atlanta, where I was also meeting with Ted Kavanau, chief of CNN Headline news. The manager was belligerant and made a couple of remarks that only gentlemen can take without lashing back. Dan went on anyway. He eventually landed an weekend anchor job in Nashville while night managing a hotel during the week. He was totally devoted to his family. Perhaps all the pressure got to him and his marriage and he eventually reportedly took his own life. I still wonder how a man of his physical stature could hang himself with a necktie caught in a door. He was about 6 feet 3 tall and had to weigh in the mid 200's. Dan also had an ego strength that isn't conducive to suicide. Perhaps it ALL finally got to him, but I have often thought that he might have had something on somebody who didn't want the kind of exposure he was capable of doing. If I'm right, it just drives home the point that there's great risk, obvious and hidden, in being a journalist, specially as visible as television news anchors and reporters. I know he would have worked hard at being a journalist. We weren't as close buddies as he and Ed were, but when I went back to Huntsville, he honored me with the time he had left after visiting his children, usually right after I finished the 10 pm news on channel 48. I treasure those times and still mourn the big guy. Those of us who knew him and those who didn't get to know him, as Ed says, stole his talent as much as we could and were better as a result. By the way, that "bio" written by Dan that MD put on this website, I hope you realize, was strictly for laughs. Dan's wit and satire was world class. I just wish we could have worked together again when I was at that competing station in Huntsville. I'm convinced he'd still be alive and a curmudgeon on CNN or 60 minutes. I also suspect if half our strategies were put into effect, WAAY TV and that other station would have fewer viewers than nintendo.
More about Ed Sisson
Have I talked about Ed? Well, here's more. Ed called me in Mobile to see if I might be interested in joining him. I was keeping an open mind at the time, already with offers from San Antonio and Los Angeles. Yeah, I know. We all make stupid mistakes, but I wanted to be as close to my then estranged family as I could. Huntsville was 8 hours from Mobile. I could work better at reconciliation at best (and worst as it turned out) and at worst, could see my two children more often. One of the things I like about Ed is his detailed descriptions and analyses. He talked about the negatives as well as the positives.
There were people he was impressed with, like MD. Phil McHugh was the consultant...same as in Mobile. Both Ed and I were impressed with Phil. After hearing him out, I thought: chances were excellent to repeat the victory we had won in Mobile. Market was different than many because of Redstone Arsenal, the military base and other democraphics that indicated we had a chance against that "other station." Huntsville was similar to Mobile except that the education levels were higher, on balance. This meant, to me, more interest in more complex stories and citizenship than in a mostly bluecollar market. This is not to minimize the intelligence or learning capacity of bluecollar workers or to stereotype them. It's more a matter of what's in their interest and what interests them. Even the ratings numbers were close to the same cellar position the station in Mobile had....something like 16 thousand homes. MD has said the other station had 5 times the homes. It was the same in Mobile. Ed convinced me to come up and have a talk with the two MD's. I took the job because, as I just said, it was closer to my children and I was absolutely sure we could win the ratings, even with some, as Ed describes them, "sows who don't want their ears to be turned into silk purses." All in all, though, everyone contributed significantly to the victory. There weren't that many conflicts in the newsroom. The old hands generally backed off and at least one was quoted as saying "I'm going to give him enough rope to hang himself." What's most important is we mostly stayed out of each others way. By the way, I did hang myself.
A last word about "getting along"
If everyone agrees completely somewhere, something's profoundly wrong and there's a lot of intimidation going on. People are going to differ in their perceptions and approaches. It's those differences, when appreciated and taken in effect, that bring progress. Sure, experience brings us to the correct actions, solutions and fulfilling our common goals, but the thought processes in news gathering and presentation must have the advantages of input from everyone. This, no matter what their experiences or other preparation. Each person's opinion is valuable and should be considered if it's based on facts and not meant to harm. If each of us would compete with our OWN last performance we'd find continual improvement and perhaps as others see what we're doing, they'll try to reach the same plateau.
Answering all that was said about me as I appeared to some more than 30 years ago is an exercise in futility. People change. Whether a long past and shudda been forgotten impression can be changed is moot at this stage of the "game." I had put it all in the past until I noticed what was being written about me wasn't exactly what I would want to use as a letter of recommendation. I've said this, too: on balance, MD was one of several best supervisors I've worked with. He spent time with all of us, listened and selectively used everything we suggested or said, one way or the other. He was communicative, yet secretive as a good manager should be. He was a businessman. I was a journalist. I thought we got along "splendidly" too, considering journalism in the true sense is not a business. Business is guided by the profit motive. Journalism is motivated by public service without direct profit. I thought we had reached a mutual respect of each other's essential makeup. I was also a business man a few years, some before getting into news full time and some during my "vacations" from the profession after. I was also a salesman (on air and in a couple of job situations) before and after. After I left the Houston Television station, I worked in the Oil industry as a grunt iron worker and fabricator. I had manufacturing experience just after college and wanted to get back for a while as "bobby bluecollar" and recapture "his" qualities. I served as Northeast and Central regional marketing manager for a Silicon Valley firm and worked up to Vice President of Marketing within 3 years after I left channel 48 in 1979.
Most of my experience before Huntsville was in the trenches covering news. I started out in 1955 two years into my college media preparation as a cameraman and film editor, moved into production and talent all on the commercial side. By 1963 I was with the ABC newsteam at the Goldwater Convention in San Francisco, beginning many years of full time broadcast journalism. I had the chance to stay with ABC, but I felt I needed a lot of field experience if I was going to go back there as a correspondent. Four years in New Orleans television as exec news producer with a small staff gave me that opportunity. I wore many hats behind the scenes and on camera there as we built the staff from four to about 40.
After all these years, I have nothing negative in thought or word to say about anyone at WAAY Television, regardless of what they may say about me. I accepted all of them as they were long ago. Change is something that comes from within. I've been green with envy myself. I understand.
I just felt I should answer MD's description of because it is inaccurate, no matter how many witnesses he might conjure up. But then, as Macchiavelli indicated, the image, the impression is all.
Speaking of green...
"off we go into the wild green yonder!"
I started this update to my "contribution" to the reunion mentioning how MD's posts about his flying sparked some memories. I hope you forgive me for brinking up some of the sadder memories. Sometimes the sad memories are the ones that help us grow, but I'd certainly prefer the pleasant memories. I do have plenty of them in Huntsville and a lot of people I wish I could see again, at the station and among the many excellent acquaintances I made while I was there. Some proved to be very good friends. The audience we won was wonderful and certainly deserving of out best efforts.
My most memorable flight in the Huntsville area was a mix. As they say, "if you walk away from it, it was a good landing." My flight instructor told me later I did everything right, except for one thing. My 12 or so year old son and I took a Saturday afternoon for some flyboy bonding by airport hopping with touch and go practice for me and sight seeing for him. We stopped at just about every little field in a 60 mile radius. I was emptying the tank on my side first, thinking it would help the aerodynamical balance of the plane. It seemed to be working out very well. We landed at south Huntsville airport across the river. I didn't know this then, but I was told later that several pilots over the year had lost their lives in take off or landing crashes there. We stopped, parked briefly to say hello and boarded again. Off we flew. Twenty five feet. Fifty feet. Maybe one hundred feet. All seemed well. Climb was just right. We were above tree level. There was a windbreak ahead of us to the West. A big soybean field below us. All instruments fine. I was going to switch to the right tank just after we levelled off and glanced at the fuel gauges, Uh!!! Ooops! The engine conked out.
I was still in normal climb attitude and didn't want to stall out. That would really have been disaster. Looked like it was about to be anyway because that tree line was too high to get over to a small field beyond it. Engine out turns are not exactly the best strategy, but I saw a corner in the field below me that was our only chance to walk away from this. Problem was, there was a fence and a telephone or light pole right in our path. Tony was asking what was happening and more important whether we were going to die. I only had time to tell him to grab the back of his knees. I was switching tanks but the engine wouldn't restart. Not enough time for the pumps to get enough fuel to restart the engines. That corner of the field got bigger and bigger. I banked slightly, slipped the ship to ten feet, straightened out and soon all we could see was green. The prop was still rotating and soy bean plants filled out view, except for the center of the prop. I still had that fence and utility pole to dodge. No way. So, I pulled back on the yoke and almost jumped the fence. The right wing clipped the corner fence post, but we got across. We stopped about 5 feet from the pole, which was dead ahead. THEN, the engine started! Thanks a lot! I turned off all switches and my son made a hasty run about a football field distance away from it.
Assured the plane wasn't going to blow up, I went back and checked the damage. Dent in right wing. Slightly bent prop. Landiing gear ok. I boarded again, turned the switch back on and radioed Huntsville that I had made an unscheduled but successful landing in a soybean field and over a fence south of the river. Turned out that, after a bit of prop straightening, the plane was flyable. I let one of my instructors handle that. We were given a ride back to the airport where I had Tony call his mother to tell her we had had an unscheduled landing but were ok.
It was pilot error, clear and simple. I was responsible for the mistakes and I was responsible for paying for them. As most pilot errors, it could be traced back to before the flight. Running out of fuel is the number one no-no in flying. Failing to go through pre-flight before every takeoff leads to fatal mistakes. I had asked for full tanks but didn't double check. They had filled them to 18 gallons each, about three quarters full, which was their common practice. Besides, I should have switched tanks at half full and again at quarter full for better balance, even if I was trying to keep less in the tanks on my side because my son was so much lighter weight than I. The cause was pilot forgot to switch to the fullest tank before take-off. No way to get around that mistake. I knew it then and it remains a valuable lesson not to forget.
As if the near crash wasn't enough, I had not paid for the extra insurance that would have taken care of the deductible. The plane was repaired for about 40 dollars less than the deductible. It took me a year to pay for the damage. Ironically, the next series of tornadoes that hit Huntsville, flipped that airplane and totalled it.
So, what's the moral of this story? How is it relevant to news gathering and presentation? My guess is that we all make mistakes and retrospectives help us keep our history from repeating itself. That's also the reason I've gone far beyond what I planned for this upcoming reunion and for the "posterity" or "legacy" this website could provide. The worldwide web is where "it's at" now and in the future. People can enter key words and find them in the most obscure places possible. People looking for where their names are mentioned or where their particular interests can be found and, shore 'nuff, there they are or there are their interests. I can see some young reporter now, searching for the word "journalism" and actually finding it at, of all places, WAAY TV.
Perhaps I'll have more to share in the future, but this will be all until after the reunion. My schedule doesn't allow me to be there this time, but I do hope to visit the Huntsville area again some day. I would enjoy hearing from any of you. My email address is IMwhutIM@aol.com. Says a lot, doesn't it?