Archive for January 2006

Odds and ends

January 31, 2006

I am so far behind and I’ve got to hustle if I’m ever going to catch up. I had planned to check out WHBQ’s new News Set which I hear looks pretty good. I had planned to tune in to WREG to see how CB and RR look after a week. I had planned to set my TIVO to see the award-winning weekend newscast on WPTY. I still have time to do all of that, but two of those were planned for last night. Former co-worker and now Religion VJ from WKRN Jamey Tucker distracted me.

He called Monday morning to tell me he was in town and was planning to cover Salman Rushdie who was speaking at Ole Miss. He wanted to know if I wanted to tag along. I said yes for two reasons. One, I wanted to see first-hand how this VJ thing worked and two, I wanted to see this man who gained world wide attention after being put under a death order (Rushdie not Jamey) . For those not up to speed, Salman Rushdie, a Moslem, was condemned to death by the former Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on February 14,1989, after publishing the book SATANIC VERSES.

Rushdie was quite entertaining and later I had him sign a copy of Satanic Verses. I told him I had never had a book signed by an author who was under a fatwa. He laughed and said there weren’t many such authors. Earlier he had called the fatwa “an extreme form of literary criticism.”

I watched Jamey work and for the most part it was a simple one-man band as I remembered doing it back when I worked at KFVS-TV in Cape Girardeau, MO. It was when he shot his stand-up that I noticed how much things had changed. He set his camera on a tripod, turned the LCD flip out monitor toward the front of the camera and took his place. He made a couple of minor adjustments to the camera and since it is self-focusing, he knocked out a couple of stand-ups with Rusdie signing books in the background. It went much smoother than I remembered since back then no one had cameras that automatically focused and you had to look through the viewfinder from behind the camera to get things framed up. I can see how this VJ thing is poised to take off. I don’t think it will work in ALL applications, but I can see where it will work in MANY applications.

By the way, this is a big week for Ole Miss. While Rushdie had no security and didn’t even want the campus security guards around, the school is ramping up big time for the arrival of the King of Jordan, Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein. He’s scheduled to show up Friday before heading to New Orleans. I was told security was on the level of a Presidential visit. I’m glad I’m NOT going to cover that.

One another note, some folks have asked about me making a big deal about the severe injuries of Bob Woodruff and photographer Doug Vogt in Iraq. The comment was from a fellow blogger and periodic reader of this blog who questioned the big deal that seemed to be made about this as opposed to the U-S soldiers who die there on a daily basis. Hey, the realities are this: here is a recognizable and high profile face. I personally offer prayers to all the people involved in this conflict. It just so happened that here was one person (Bob Woodruff) I was familiar with by virtue of the fact that he was on television. I would not know the photographer if I saw him. I’m sorry if that offended anyone but that’s it plain and simple.

And finally, I think this is the week the new ND jumps into the fray down on the river. I’ve been out of pocket so I don’t know if he’s actually started. Somebody fill me in as I attempt to get back up to speed.


Would I go to Iraq to cover the war?

January 30, 2006

I’ve thought about that on a number of occasions since the conflict began there. The severe injuries sustained by “World News Tonight” co-anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt brought that back to mind. According to ABC News, they remain in stable but serious condition following surgery at a U.S. military hospital in Iraq. The two and an Iraqi soldier were seriously injured when their convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device in Iraq.

Oh, back in my early days of reporting when I was full of “vim and vinegar” and still thinking I was invulnerable I might. But I guess the realities that there are people here in the good old U-S of A who would love to do bodily harm to news people and some wouldn’t mind those injuries being more serious has changed my mind. Veterans of the business know it can be a jungle out there in the city you cover. I’ve had a beer bottle come sailing by my head after the videographer and I walked away from a story where a riot almost broke out in one section of Memphis. I walked backward the rest of the way to the car so I could watch the crowd. I’ve had bullet ricochets buzz close enough I could hear them. I haven’t seen it yet (at least I haven’t and I hope not to) where someone with a grudge decides to exact some serious revenge against a reporter. I think it will happen in the not too distant future and that’s a little scary.

As Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to say on the NBC show “Hill Street Blues” Hey, let’s be careful out there.” Also, keep Bob Woodruff, Doug Vogt and their families in your thoughts and prayers.

Did the world come to an end down on the river?

January 30, 2006

I TIVOed last Monday night’s news at 10 o’clock from down on the river to see what some say is the end of the world, as we know it. Former WHBQ anchor Claudia Barr began her stint (however long that will be) on the anchor desk. She was introduced and then they were off and running. Did the world come to an end? No. Did the chemistry kick in? No (but then you don’t expect it to in one night). Will the ratings climb through the roof and blow the competition out of the water? That remains to be seen. But to be honest, it’s just another day in TV News land. Since I’ve been out of town, I’ll have to see how things are going one week after the fact.

Up until I had to leave town for personal reasons, I have to say I could not believe the number of hits this blog had received. At last count, it was approaching 400. I have no doubt that it was driven by recent postings about Claudia. She’s easy on the eyes, got a great smile and she’s known around the Memphis area. I hope she helps them in the way that the managers hope she does. It appears they are needing a boost. I say this because of a promo that I saw run about halfway through the newscast. Since I don’t tune in, this may have been running since Jerry Tate’s sign-off but I saw this promo about Jerry Tate’s farewell with Alex Coleman, Richard Ransom and Norm Brewer talking up Jerry. Hey, isn’t he gone? My wife remarked that she saw this as telling the viewers that while Jerry was gone, it was still HIS station they were watching. IMHO, they need to cut the strings on this and let Richard either make his mark or not. If I were RR, I’d be a little PO’d about that promo. Can we expect to see a Pmack promo too? I doubt it.

I’m back

January 30, 2006

Thanks for keeping my family and me in your thoughts and prayers following the death of my father last week. It was a comfort to know so many people cared enough to post, call and write.
I cannot thank you enough.


Joe Larkins

A Great Man Died Today

January 24, 2006

I was planning to post on this blog about the arrival of the interim anchor down on the river. Then something important occurred which put that particular incident in perspective. That’s why I’m posting the following instead. I don’t know when I will be back. Stay safe everybody.

A great man died Monday night. He didn’t hold public office nor did he lead any armies into battle. He wasn’t a great statesman. He didn’t even like to speak in public.

He was a man who learned the value of hard work at an early age, growing up in a not-so-well-to-do family with three brothers and four sisters in the delta area of Southeast Missouri near the little town of Dorena, which doesn’t even exist any more.

By his own admission, he barely got through high school and was preparing to go into World War II when Germany and Japan surrendered. He figured he could make money farming and got down to the business of working long days and what seemed like longer weeks. He got married in 1949 and by the time the conflict in Korea was well under way, his occupation as a farmer was declared important to the war effort. He never served in the military but he believed in the right and might of the United States and he believed in God. He attempted to instill his beliefs in the seven children he fathered. He demanded that his children respect their elders by saying “Yes sir” and “no sir” and “yes ma’m” and “no ma’m”. He made one son apologize to his 5th grade teacher for behavior he felt was unbecoming for a son of his.

His idea of beauty was a herd of black angus cattle against a field of green winter wheat in the early spring. His idea of good music was Boots Randolph on the saxophone. As he worked six days a week, he dreamed of having time to fish, if and when he ever retired. He never quit trying, even when weather almost wiped out his crops. His advice was to keep moving forward, even if you had to slow down. His years of hard work eventually paid off and he retired in a fashion one might call comfortable. But even then he was reluctant to spend money because he knew from his youth how hard it was to get.

He was fiercely proud and warned his children never to start a fight, but if one got started, make sure to finish it. He taught his children to work hard, that it would pay off. He later changed his mind, saying corporate America no longer appreciated the hard work of Americans.

This great man was not without faults. He had them and he admitted he had them. One of those faults was an addiction to cigarettes that had started by his recollection around the time he was nine years old. He finally quit when he was 67 years old and said it was the hardest thing he had ever done.

That addiction caught up to him this past April, right after he turned 77 years old. An X-ray showed a spot on his lung and other scans showed cancer in various parts of his body. He tried a variety of treatments involving radiation and chemotherapy. In the end, he was just too weak. This great man went to the doctor on a Tuesday and was told he might have eight to 12 weeks to live. A few days later, a hospice worker said the doctor who made the announcement was generous and that the real time frame was half that. They were both wrong. In the course of one week, this man who stood firm and railed against everything that Mother Nature could throw at him, along with working 24 hour days and long weeks that would subdue a lesser man, succumbed to cancer. This great man who loved his family dearly and would have given his life for them, had to be helped from his bed to the sofa and to the kitchen. This man, who had an iron will that could not be bent, was left as helpless as a kitten by the awful ravages of cancer. In the final days his mind was clouded and his speech slurred by the heavy medications used to dull his pain. He finally gave up the fight after each of his seven children and his wife held his hand while he gasped for breath and told him it was okay to let go.

Yes, a great man died today. He didn’t win any medals and awards for his efforts. He was great because he only wanted the best for his family and worked as hard as he knew how to give them the advantages he never had.

He was proud of each and every one of them. I know I speak for my brothers and sisters and Mom when I say, “We will miss you Dad.”

Robert Larkins Jr.

April 15, 1928 – January 23, 2006

The Second Coming

January 23, 2006

Wow, I haven’t seen anything that has generated blog traffic like the announcement that Claudia Barr will occupy the anchor chair at 3 starting tonight. I’m surprised that some announcement hasn’t been made in the Commercial Appeal about this to drum up interest among viewers. I don’t think I’ve missed seeing it. But then, some of the moves down on the river have been kept under wraps until the last minute. For instance, the announcement of switching Jim Jaggers and Tim Simpson on the 10 o’clock news came the Friday BEFORE the November book started on Monday. I would have thought they’d have geared up for that well prior to the start of the book. Since I don’t have any access to ratings information anymore, I will have to depend on someone out there who has that access to let me know if it made a difference.

As for the Barr move, I think you may see some spikes here or there as word gets out in the community, but then viewers will go back to their usual habits. The reality is, most of the people who really care deeply about this are in the TV business and they don’t get a ratings diary so their vote really doesn’t count.

And one final note, I’ve tried to keep things above board on these posts and for the most part, those who’ve taken time to post a response have kept on the high road as well. Please, let’s keep it that way. If you don’t like this blog, do me a favor and don’t read it. It’s like watching television: If you don’t like what you’re watching, change the channel. If you have a bone to pick with me, I’ve got an email address at the top of the page and you can get a Yahoo account just for blasting me. But on this blog, let’s keep it civil.
Thanks in advance.

A High State of Pissivity: Chapter 2

January 20, 2006
Before I get into this, I don’t want you to think I’m picking on the folks down on the river. It just happens to be where the action is right now.
Apparently the feeling of discontent I mentioned in an earlier post is greater than I was first led to believe down on the river. For those just tuning in,the announcement came earlier this week that Claudia Barr would move onto the evening anchor desk to fill the seat vacated by Pam McKelvy. Word on the street says morale has dropped like the proverbial rock among some in the newsroom. I’m hearing that the feeling by some is that things are starting to look a little recycled and some consider such a move to be telling them that “the people we have on staff aren’t good enough for the job at hand”. On the other hand, some in the business who are not on the river say the effort to bring Claudia in is a smart move since she still has a recognizable name and face in the river city. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: The departure of Jerry Tate AND PMack from the anchor desk at almost the same time would be a tough situation for any manager. I know I’d sure hate to be the one trying to put the best spin on this effort as they sell it to the troops. Just remember Nietzsche said, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”. It will be interesting to see who is still standing when all this shakes out. Stay tuned.