Archive for December 2005

Bonehead deeds from 2005

December 31, 2005


These days news organizations are doing a variety of lists and “best of” and “worst of” from the past year. I’ve seen listings of things such as Top Stories, Top Newsmakers, Biggest Jerks, Worse Person, etc.

After having lunch with a couple of my former coworkers and the mention of a couple of bonehead calls or statements we had encountered, I thought it might be interesting to hear what kind of bonehead things or stunts people have seen or heard in the TV business over the past year.

Since I’ve not been in the business during the past year, I can only go on things that I know of from my days in the business.

There was the news producer who, when writing about Lady Diana, referred to her as the Princess of Whales. When told it was Wales, she said, “No, it’s Whales. England is an Island and there are whales around it and that’s why she’s the Princess of Whales”.

Then there is the high-ranking manager who, after the station was knocked off the air, wanted to run a Chyron crawl at the bottom of the screen, alerting viewers that we were off the air. I think somebody had to explain that we couldn’t do that since the station was off the air.

Then there was the high ranking manager who, when seeing the station’s logo projected on the studio floor, was worried that people walking on it might scuff and scratch it. The logo was projected onto the floor a spotlight from the lighting grid overhead.

Then there is the news director who after getting several contracts signed by talent, handed the wrong contract to an anchor.

Then there is the EP who wrote a scathing memo to a newsroom employee. The EP was using the new newsroom computer system and sent the email to everyone in the newsroom instead of just the person in question and the ND. The EP then raced through the newsroom to tell people NOT to read it.

Folks, I’m not making this up. This all happened down on the river.

Do you have any fun things that happened in your shop or at your station over the past year?

Please, don’t name names. Just tell the stories. We’ll let the readers of this blog decide on their own as to which situation merits the status of “top Bonehead” from 2005.

Let the postings begin.

There’s nothing like getting together with old friends over lunch.

December 30, 2005


I got together Friday afternoon for lunch in Southaven with Jamey Tucker, and Marybeth Conley. We got caught up on life in general and business in particular and it was so much fun. I’m sure glad that I wasn’t trying to drink milk during lunch because they probably would have had me laughing to the point it would have come out my nose.

As it was, we sat there and strolled down memory lane together. I had forgotten how much I missed chatting with MBC since we used to spend about three hours every morning chatting about stuff. I know I’ve talked with and emailed Jamey more this past year than when we worked together down on the river. I’m going to miss Jamey as he prepares to move off to Nashville to work there as WKRN’s religion reporter. In my opinion, they are lucky to have him and he will be a great asset to the organization. For those who don’t know Jamey, he’s a great guy who has an endless supply of jokes. If you can call him your friend, consider yourself fortunate. I know I do. I’ve gotten spoiled to being able to pick up the phone and call him just about anytime of the day.

Thanks to the efforts of MJ who has posted a couple of times on my blog, I have a couple of photos to show you. One is from lunch. I’m the one with the beard and Marybeth is the one with the…oh never mind. You’ll figure it out.

The other is an old publicity photo that was sent to me. It’s about ten years old. In that photo, I’m the one with the dark hair.

Guess what everybody, I’m headed to WMC Channel 5 AND I’ll be working at WHBQ Fox 13.

December 30, 2005

Those are the rumors that have picked up steam in the last couple of months as my non-compete runs out. I think the WMC rumor stems from the fact that I had lunch back in August with 5’s ND Peggy and was working with some of my wife’s PR clients over at 13. Several good friends have asked when I’ll be back on the air in the Memphis area. I’ve told them while I never say never, I’m not sure it’s going to happen, at least in the area of news. More on that in a minute.

Speaking of getting out of the news business, one of the first people I met when I moved to Memphis was a former reporter from down on the river by the name of Earl Farrell. If you’ve ever met Earl, you know he’s quick with a joke or snappy comment in that growl of a voice, and never met a person he didn’t like or at least wouldn’t say hello to. When I first met Earl he was a partner I think in “Sleep Out Louie’s” in downtown Memphis. Earl had just gotten out of the news business and was telling me how glad he was to have put it behind him. But somewhere along the way, something happened at Sleep Out’s and Earl found himself looking for a job. He briefly reported again at 3 and was later working mornings at WMC for a while. After a few other things, he started producing a show called “My Favorite Restaurant” which airs on the PBS affiliate here in Memphis and also airs in Texas. He’s done well with that.

My wife and I had a chance to have lunch with him last summer and he was talking about restaurants again. Now I see in today’s CA that Earl is opening an eatery in the old Friday’s location at Overton Square. It’s called “Garcia Wells Southwestern Grill”. If you get the chance, stop by for a drink or a bite to eat when it opens. It’s the least you can do for a person who used to be in the news business and still trying to find life after it. While Earl may not buy you a drink, I’ll bet he’ll tell you a joke and chances are, you won’t be able to repeat it to your mom.

I also see that one of the most popular threads in the “Watercooler” section of TV Spy these days has been “I’m so glad to be out of Television”. At this writing it has 118 responses and has been going since 12/22/2005. I think they’ve just about beaten it into the ground. Check out some of the comments at www.tvspy.com .

I talked to my long time friend Jack recently about the news business. He and I started working together in Jackson, TN where I anchored the news and he was sports director. Jack and his wife Pam (who is the most generous, kindhearted and tolerant person you’ll ever meet) have traveled the country as he went from station to station. Jack eventually moved into meteorology and has his degree and seal of approval and has worked at news operations in Missouri to Florida to Texas, to California and to New York State. He has walked away from the news business more often than Vanderbilt has lost to Tennessee. (Okay, not that many times) He’s also worked in TV sales and in sales of equipment for TV. Jack has gotten around and you can just about say that if it has to do with TV, Jack has been there and done that.

I managed to catch up with Jack recently and he and I talked about the TV business and my future. Jack described the news business as being similar to being an athlete. I’m adding to his analogy here. Basically you get the adrenaline pumping for your next performance and you hustle and hustle, trying to get where you need to be on the field or court. The adrenaline rush can sustain you for a while but once the game is over; you realize you have to have another “fix”. It’s the same way in news.

As long as you don’t get hurt and the team does well, everything is fine and you’re looking forward to another round of beating the clock and the competition. But the truth is it takes more than adrenaline to keep you going. A person has to have substance and in the last few years, it seems that is harder to come by.

I left the business in part because I felt drained and exhausted from 25-years in the business. I felt it had sucked the life and energy from me. Like an aging athlete, I wanted to quit before I got traded or booted.

Jack told me it’s easy to be seduced by the siren call of TV news. Like I’ve blogged before, everyone who isn’t in it wants to be and those in it, want to get out. Jack’s returned to the business several times and says at most, it only takes a couple of weeks before you regret having done so. He says the last time, the feeling of regret came just seconds before he went on the air for the first time at his new job.

Jack has managed to parlay his experience into a job where he sells stuff TO television stations now. He’s home on holidays with the kids these days and manages to be there for those special events.

So, will I go back into TV news? I don’t know. I’d like to do something related to TV, but I don’t think it will be the news business.

But like I said, “Never say never”. It will get you every time.

The 50-years of WREG-TV should have been an hour long.

December 29, 2005

I love history. The History Channel (or as my wife calls it, the World War II channel) is my default channel. It’s educational and offers a great amount of what I call “gee whiz” stuff to help clog your brain.

That’s one of the reasons I TIVOed the 50th anniversary of WREG that aired Wednesday night. I remember when I set it up to be recorded that I was stunned to see it was just a half hour long. But good things come in small packages. I liked the open and I could see the creative hand of producer/videographer Mike Suriani immediately. Let me just say that Mike makes things sing and when he and I worked on projects, he always made the projects look great and helped me look like I knew what I was talking about. Mike is a detail man.

I was stunned to find out that WREC founder Hoyt Wooten was such a visionary and in my opinion, genius. Yes, I know you have to be smart to get something like this started, but he was thinking about TV back in 1928 when RADIO was in its infancy and TV was the stuff of science fiction, much like warp speed and phasers are today.

Then the show started showing the people whose names became synonymous with WREC/WREG over the years. Some of these people I had the good fortune to meet during my 16-years down on the river and others I had merely heard of. My lovely and talented bride Bethany, who grew up in East Memphis, knew of many of the old timers.

There was Russ Hodge, Kitty Kelly, Fred Cook, Paul Dorman, Roy Dickerson, Olin Morris, Frances Kelly, Charles Brakefield, John Powell, Jim Hutchinson, Ray Pohlman, Pam Crittendon and Tom Stocker.

The program looked back on the station’s first broadcast, which featured the 11th Gator Bowl with Vanderbilt taking on Auburn. My wife beamed with pride knowing her beloved Commodores were part of this historic event.

It was interesting to hear the comments from the “old timers” as I call them who helped shape television in the MidSouth. I was glad to see they had an interview with Paul Barnett who used to stop by the newsroom well after he retired. He used to stop by and offer news tips and story ideas to the news director and then would stop by my desk to chat with me. He said he liked me and thought I was a level headed young man. Okay, maybe he wasn’t a good judge of character. It broke my heart when one of the news directors basically had him barred from the newsroom because the ND found him to be annoying and out of touch with the current view of what passes for news. Paul died a few years ago.

We got to see groundbreaking events such as the first stereo broadcast in Memphis. (It was the Sunset Symphony) and to hear from those who covered the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel.

It showed Pam Crittendon, who is now at FedEx. She was the first black woman to anchor evening news at 3. I remember I had just started anchoring in Jackson, Tn and I saw her on a Sunday night broadcast that was just 15-minutes long. She was moved to 6 and 10 weekdays not long after that. Later, I would work with Pam at 3 for several years before she left the station.

I saw Ray Pohlman who served many roles in the newsroom including ND. He’s now a honcho at Autozone. I interviewed with him once. He didn’t hire me.

I also have a quick story about former sports anchor Tom Stocker which I will relate at the end of this posting.

But getting back to the special. By the time we got 19 minutes into the commercial free show, I remember wondering, how are they going to get everything into this since they’ve spent 2/3rds of the show just getting us to the mid-80s. I found out in the last ten minutes. They kicked it into high gear and raced through the 90s and early part of this decade. I was disappointed. I got the impression that this project was originally going to run an hour and someone high up on the food chain said cut it and shoe horn this puppy into a half hour slot because we don’t want to lose money by pre-empting a network show. I also speculate that some editing had to be done close to the end to remove those in news who no longer work there. (Pam McKelvy, Jennifer Van Vrancken). You can’t tell me they weren’t in the original wrap-up.

I ended up on the cutting room floor (the original host of the News Channel 3 Outdoors show which is the only locally produced outdoor show) but then that doesn’t surprise me. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people ended up on the cutting room floor.

All in all, I give the show a 7 on a scale of ten as entertaining and informative. It started a strong 9 and then in my opinion, dropped off a bit. Still, if you can tear yourself away from a silly sitcom and catch a re-run of this, it will be worth your while. You may be able to see it on-line at 3’s website.

Now, back to Tom Stocker, local sports announcer and former sports guy at 3. I first met Tom back in 1982 at the State Basketball Championships in Murfreesboro, TN. I was anchoring at WBBJ back then and the sports guy at 7 was Jack Church, who is still one of my best friends. He was going to cover the championships on a Saturday night and wanted to know if I would like to go along and help him. He would shoot the games and I would shoot the interviews for him in the locker rooms. We were up in the press box with crews from around the state shooting the games and there was this guy right next to us, complaining about something that had happened at the station. He was saying they wouldn’t give him a shooter for this or that and managers didn’t appreciate this or that. I thought he looked familiar and Jack Church was almost beside himself. Jack turned and whispered to me, “Do you know who that is, that’s Tom Stocker. He works at Channel 3 in Memphis.” We were both quite impressed since he worked at a place that reflected the pinnacle of achievement. We introduced ourselves and later remarked how we couldn’t believe he wasn’t thanking his lucky stars he worked at that station in Memphis.

Almost ten years later, after Tom had left the business and I was working weekend nights at 3, he filled in for somebody for a few weeks on sports. I asked him if he recalled our meeting back in Murfreesboro. He didn’t. But he was flattered that I could recall the event in such detail.

Oh, the TV news business.

News that I can use from the past 24 hours.

December 29, 2005

Automakers must have heard that except for pineapple, I’ve never met a food I didn’t like. Apparently a growing number of Americans (emphasis on growing) feel the same way (except for pineapple) since automakers announced that starting in 2006, they’re making car and truck seats a half-inch wider to accommodate our posteriors in particular and backsides in general. Thank you Big 3 automakers for thinking of me. Nothing worse than a hangover from alcohol and “hangover” from eating too much. A former coworker told me of an easy way to lose 15-pounds of ugly fat…. Just cut off my head! (rim shot) Good night folks, make sure you tip the waitress on the way out! That’s right, it’s an old joke, but this is an old show!! (rim shot)

The other news I can use from the past 24 hours comes from the CA by way of Woman’s Day magazine. You should eat all day long since sticking to 3 meals a day isn’t the smartest eating plan. You do have to watch what you eat and I’m not talking about the short journey it takes from the plate or box into your mouth. The blurb also says watching your favorite sitcom may just make you feel better about yourself by boosting your self-image and relieving stress. Let’s see, eating all day and watching the tube. That’s my kind of plan. One other thing, the experts say don’t stretch before a workout but do stretch afterwards. I like that too since that means I don’t have to stretch before I jog from the sofa to the refrigerator and back. I can just stretch out on the sofa when I get back.

Folks, that’s news I will use.

When you lose an established news anchor, what’s the best route to filling the slot?

December 28, 2005

That’s a question that’s facing the incoming news director down on the river in Memphis.

I’ve never had to make such a decision and I’m sure it’s going to be a tough one.

Pam McKelvy’s departure after ten years on the evening news at 3 started the speculation on who would take her place. Earlier this year, Markova Reed who anchors the morning show pinch-hit for PMACK while she was on maternity leave. Nightsider Jennifer Van Vrancken, who left after the November book, also did duty on the desk.

The problem stems from the fact that GMs and NDs along with consultants will tell you that mornings are where the growth is. At least that’s what they used to tell me. With 3 and WMC 5 locked in a close race for first place in the mornings, do you pull MRE off the morning for the evening, disrupting an established show and perhaps losing momentum there while trying to get things clicking on the night side? Or do you keep her on the morning show to keep strength there and hire someone from outside to step in, to minimize the disruption. If you do that, you run the risk of alienating the morning anchor who, unless she can be dissuaded, will feel she’s a victim of her own success on the mornings and now has nowhere else to go. It’s a hard sell since the hours are bad for the early mornings, but the night side isn’t so great if you want to have nightlife.

I’d be curious as to what news directors think about this situation and what they’ve had to do or would do in a situation like this. It’s merely speculation of course since the incoming ND and the present GM have the ultimate say.

My name is Joe Larkins and I’m a packrat.

December 28, 2005

We’re almost into a new year and my lovely and talented bride and I need to lose some of the clutter around our house.

How two people and two dogs can accumulate so much junk is beyond me. I’ve got magazines, books, woodworking and shop manuals, banjo building catalogs, (yes I plan to build a banjo even though I can’t play one) more books, stuff and more stuff. I’m tired of not being able to find anything because of clutter. I tend to be a stacker and my desk at home shows it. If a messy desk is a happy desk, mine is overjoyed. I get this trait from my mother who is an admitted packrat. She and I agree that less than a day after you get rid of something, you will need it. It has happened every time I’ve tried to get rid of the clutter but I’m determined to do something before out house collapses from the sheer weight of stacks of National Geographic, Smithsonian magazines and American Heritage periodicals.

Is there perhaps a 12-step program for this condition?