Why did I leave the studio down on the river?

That has to be the most commonly asked question I’ve received since I bid farewell to viewers December 24th of 2004. People want to know if it had to do with my relationships with particular co-workers.

On the anniversary of my departure, I’ll try to explain in this post, which I will tell you will be a long one. I want to make sure you have the background in context. These are the events as I recall them and I’m sure there are those who dispute what’s in this post. As my younger brother says, there are two sides to every story and somewhere in the middle is the truth. I will also say at this point, if you are one of those posters who like to write nasty things anonymously, please, please don’t on this blog. These are my thoughts and like I used to tell people who would call and complain repeatedly about something they saw on 3: “Don’t watch” or “Switch the channels”. One of the things great about America is that we have the freedom to choose what we watch and read. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, watch or read something else. It’s just that simple.

When I first went to work at the studio down on the river, I signed a contract. It was a page and a half long and basically included a non-compete clause, spelled out my salary, had a morality clause and some other boilerplate you’d expect in such a contract. It was a fair agreement. Both sides knew what was expected of each other. There was a little give and take and both sides felt it was acceptable. Every three years after that, the contract seemed to grow. It eventually grew to 17 pages. More on that later.

At 3. I was originally hired to report and work the then, half hour morning show with Todd Demers. Jerry Tate was still working at WHBQ at the time and since so many people had left, Alex Coleman, who had been working weekend nights, was working six nights a week on the 6 & 10. I filled in for him on Saturday nights. Todd and I enjoyed working with each other and a good time was had by all on the anchor desk.

Around the last of June 1989, six months after I started, the station announced that Jerry was coming back to 3. The news director also announced that Alex was being promoted to Weekday mornings and that I was being promoted to weekend nights with reporting three days of the week. Yes, Alex and I were give “promotions” to each others spots. At the time I told the news director I appreciated the “promotion” but that one of the reasons I had moved to Memphis was to be able to see my two young sons on the weekends in Western Kentucky where they lived. I told him I knew the station placed an emphasis on family and I hoped he understood. The news director smiled, said if I wanted to work there, I would suck it up and do what he said. I did just that, especially since my wife and I had just bought a house.

I knew that if a person worked hard, let people see you as a team player, that doors would open for you. I made the best of the situation and grew close to my co-workers on the weekend. A good time was had by all.

Fast-forward to the early 90s and a couple of news directors later, I was called into the ND’s office on a Friday morning. It was announced that starting the next morning, 3 was starting a two-hour Saturday morning newscast that would run from 6 to 8. I asked what unlucky %&#! got stuck with that shift and he smiled and said YOU. I showed up the next morning at two o’clock for the inaugural Saturday morning news and for the next six weeks, I single anchored the show. That’s when the ND announced the response to the morning show was so good that they would lengthen it to three hours and start a Sunday morning show as well. I would continue to single anchor it. The hours were bad but I knew in my heart that if you worked hard and showed you were a team player, that doors would open for you.

By now, the weekday morning show had expanded to an hour and Alex Coleman and Marybeth Conley anchored it. Alex was then moved to the 10 to co-anchor with Jerry and they needed someone to sit in with MBC. Since I was anchoring weekends, I was put on the desk with her for three days a week and Dennis Turner sat in with her the other two days. Eventually I was promoted back to the morning show Monday through Friday, where I had started back in 1989 and Dennis was moved to the weekends and he was given a co-anchor. I figured one more promotion would either have me back on weekend nights or out the door.

Now in the ten years of news prior to my arrival at 3, I had worked with a variety of co-anchors and except for one who couldn’t seem to remember my name, (kept confusing me with the weather guy who was Jack) I can safely say I got along with everybody. I learned if you want to be a successful anchor, get to know your anchor team, and let the audience get to know you. If the audience considers you to be part of their family, it builds trust and they are more apt to welcome you into their home on a regular basis.

When it comes to a co-anchor, one would be hard-pressed to find someone better than Marybeth Conley. For about nine years, she and I were joined at the hip for two and a half hours each morning. Except for my wife, she knew more about me than anybody else in the city and I would say except for her husband, I probably knew as much about her. I used to tell people that with her last son, I was there for everything but conception and birth. MBC was the consummate professional and was a stickler when it came to what she thought was sloppy writing by the producers or reporters. I always said she made me look good and I hoped that I helped her in some way or another. The two of us were paired with Todd Demers on weather and Joey Hadley on traffic and not only did we climb to the number one spot for a while in the mornings, we had fun doing it. I used to actually look forward to getting up at that time in the morning just to get to work. What kind of insanity is that? By this time, I was also anchoring the Noon show where we had what I felt was a close knit group and was also co-hosting the only locally produced outdoor show, which proved to be quite popular. I felt I had hit my stride and that things were looking up, Things were going so well that during my next to the last contract signing, I was led to believe that I had a path to the night side anchor slot, which was the only post I had not held at the station.

But somehow things started to unravel and it came not long after the arrival of the last news director I worked with. I guess I just couldn’t get in sync and I got the impression that unless you were hired by this person, your stock really wasn’t much good.

It was about this time that my last multi-year contract was wrapping up. I knew things were not going to go well when I first sat down to talk contract. The ND said she hated negotiating contracts and after talks started, I found out why. I think the ND didn’t understand the concept of give and take in negotiating. It was at this time I mentioned that I was interested in coming off the morning show and since it was “all about family” and being a “team player” down on the river, I said I was ready for a change. After all, I had taken one for the team every time they had asked. I wasn’t getting any younger and I said my wife and I wanted to get a life back while we were young enough to have one. Since I knew Jerry was planning to leave in the not too distant future, I raised that possibility with the ND and the GM. It was then that the GM who had been there for ten years at that time informed me that I “had not really proven myself in news”. Now I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m smart enough to know that for all practical purposes, this case was closed. So much for being a team player and that overall family concept at work. They did tell me how much they felt I contributed to the morning show and they’d like for me to stay on there. I was also informed that my participation on the Outdoor show which I helped build from scratch was entirely voluntary. Wow, what a kick in the pants.

On top of everything else, the new contract was close to falling under the heading of indentured servitude. My wife looked at it prior to me taking it to an attorney . She remarked about how one sided it was and that while it spelled out what they could do, it didn’t give me any much of anything. It also toughened the non-compete to the point where if I left or was asked to leave, , I would just about have to move out of town. I showed it to an attorney who laughed and asked “wasn’t slavery abolished by the 13th amendment?”

I told the folks down on the river that I couldn’t sign the new and improved contract and that I’d just leave at the end of the year. The ND then asked if I would stay on for just one more year under the new contract. I asked why the ND would think I’d sign this contract for one year but not three. Then I was asked if I would stick around for one year under the old contact. I eventually signed an extension of my old contract for money they wouldn’t offer in the new contract. To add insult to injury, I discovered after I got home that the contract that the ND gave me as my copy was actually that of another employee.

While all this was going on, Marybeth was moved to another show and I found that no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get the mojo working with her replacement. I finally asked a co-worker whose opinion I valued and I was told that it was not just me. While that made me feel better, it still didn’t resolve the problem and I was called into the ND’s office on more than one occasion where I was asked what the problem was. I never really had an answer. Those who know me, know that I like to joke and tease with my co-workers. I tried that approach and I tried to be straightforward with things too. Nothing worked and eventually we ended up with a situation similar to that found in the “breakfast scene” from the movie Citizen Kane. Go see the movie if you don’t get the reference.

In retrospect, staying on the extra year was not a good idea on my part. Once I had made up my mind that I was going to leave, it was hard to go into work during 2004. Oh, there were times when we really did shine on the morning show, but I will admit there were many days that I was grateful to have Todd on the desk for a distraction. From what I’ve been told, not that much has changed at the desk since then.

So, for those of you who ask, I left Channel 3 because I had nowhere else to go and no future except for the same old, same old. I left because I wouldn’t sign what I consider to be an unfair contract. I wasn’t the only one who thought it was one sided. Still many more folks did sign it. I left on my own terms and it wasn’t because I didn’t get along with a co-worker. That was merely an annoyance that I figured needed to be someone else’s headache and not mine.

Where do I go from here? That’s a posting for another time.

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12 Comments on “Why did I leave the studio down on the river?”

  1. mike Says:

    Thanks for posting this.

    Merry Christmas!

  2. jamey tucker Says:

    Joe, this is the kind of post I wanted to see here. Honest, sometimes brutally.
    It may be a secret on Channel 3 Drive but I’m the other person who refused to sign the new contract. My attorney said basically the same as yours: “this doesn’t guarantee your salary, position or job. Why sign it?”

    I hope you find life outside of tv news as rewarding as I have. And I certainly hope you run with this blog in the same way you started it.

  3. bishop Says:

    Joe,

    I knew you and Markova didn’t get a long. I heard a little different story from some of your former co-workers. I heard that you mistreated markova from day one. I heard you didn’t introduce yourself to her an she had to make nice with you. Is it true you never liked Markova from the beginning? I heard from some of your former co workers that you were very annoying and a little be prejudice. You’re right that it’s always two sides to a story but I must say that it is a fresh breath of air to hear yours.

    I have heard the same story you told about why you left from some other former co workers of yours. I also heard how Markova was very intollerable and had a very high strong attitude. I heard how high maintanence and hard and how hard it is to work with her. Poor Chris! I hear is having the same problem

  4. Joe Larkins Says:

    I’ve always tried to treat people the way I want to be treated. I don’t think I’ve ever mistreated anybody. I sometimes take my teasing too far and on more than one occasion I’ve apologized. I can honestly say that I have annoyed people. Can I get an attitude. Of course, just ask my wife of 19-years. Am I perfect? Far from it. Do I have my opinion on things. You betcha. Can I change my mind about things. Yes. Am I predjudiced. I don’t think so. I’ve always tried to get along with everybody. If I tend to judge people, it’s on the person, not the color of his or her skin or religous beliefs. As for getting along with my co-worker, I wasn’t even introduced to her until after she was hired. In retrospect,if I was guilty of anything, it was trying too hard and there were times I probably came on way too strong. My practical jokes, actions or comments may have seemed overwhelming. Looking back, I realized I wanted this relationship to be like the one I had with MBC. But she wasn’t MBC and that’s okay.
    Still, ask a dozen people who know me and and have worked with me and I think most will tell you I’m not a bad person and that they generally enjoy working with me, expect for my really bad jokes.
    Plus, if it was all about me and my attitude, then nobody else should run into the same problems I did. I can only tell you about my experience. You will have to ask others about theirs.
    By the way, thank you everyone for keeping the posts civil.

  5. bishop Says:

    You have given us a reason to keep it civil. You haven’t attacked anyone I have been waiting on you for a year to start your blog. You are well respected here and people love you. I have always enjoyed you on TV. I did think that you and Markova had a great chemistry. I think she might work better at moving to the afternoon shift. Maybe she will have more rest.

  6. Joy Says:

    I even like your bad jokes 🙂

  7. Joe Larkins Says:

    Mike, thanks for taking time to read this blog. I appreciate it and Merry Christmas to you.
    Jamey, how long this blog lasts remains a question. I can’t believe people are stopping by for a read.
    Bishop, I hope I answered any questions you might have had. Thanks for being fair and civil about your comments.
    Joy, if I’m not the King of bad jokes, my friends will tell you I’m at least in the royal family.

  8. newsboyarizona Says:

    I like to call Joe the Thief of Bad Gags. Har!

  9. Joan Carr Says:

    Wow, Joe, it’s good to finally hear the whole story. I guess you were under some kind of “gag order” for the past year, or perhaps you just didn’t want to go into all your reasons when I asked you why you were leaving. At any rate you were and are missed by the viewers. I know because I took a number of the calls.

    Now that I have also left “the station on the river” I can say it’s really good to be out of the TV world. Good but strange. No one who has never worked in the business seems to understand just how hard the folks in broadcasting work, just how bad the hours are, just how small the paychecks can be. And certainly no one in TV management wants old fogies like ourselves to inform the fresh-faced young broadcast majors what that first job in broadcasting (I hesitate to call it journalism) will be like.

    I think blogs like yours can fill that need. Apparently it’s also a great way to stay in touch with old friends and co-workers. Good luck with this, your latest endeavour. It looks good, and so far the tone is a lot more civil than some other blogs I could mention. And good luck on getting that butt scratch you’ve been waiting in line for.

  10. Drew Says:

    i miss you guys. let’s start our own television station. And it’s nice to read the whole story and not the one’s that made it down the grapevine.

  11. Joe Larkins Says:

    Hey, I know where we can find an empty garage, I can build an anchor desk, you can make the cameras and mics, we’ll put on a newscast!
    Seriously, I’m just posting things the way I see them, saw them or experienced it.
    Good hearing from you Drew and you still owe me five bucks.
    (In case anyone wonders, I removed the previous post after I noticed a misspelled word. It was my post and no one was posting nasty comments.?

  12. Pansy Says:

    Joe
    I’m a little slow when it comes to finding blogs but yours is so right on about the “station on the river”. That whole family concept thing didn’t work for me either. Good luck and stay in touch!


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