Saturday, July 24, 2010


January 1980 I made the eight hour drive from Lawrence, Kansas to Minneapolis, Minnesota.  I remember rolling into the Twin Cities late in the evening and seeing a temperature sign reading 32 degrees.  It would be the warmest temperature over the next 30 days.

WTCN was owned by Metro Media.  The small newsroom there had served as a sort of model for the Mary Tyler Moore Show although at the time this independent operation didn't have any Ted Baxter's on staff.  I was part of the team that would help transition the station into an affiliate for NBC.  The network's lackluster programming had opened an inroads across the country for ABC which had finally gotten its prime time act together.  Across the country NBC stations, with traditionally strong news operations, were dumping the network in favor of ABC.

The ABC affiliate in Minneapolis at the time, KMSP was so horrid, that NBC turned to the independent WTCN when KSTP had abandoned the network. The market leader was WCCO, the CBS station.  It may well have been the BEST CBS local news operation in the country at the time.  Their news was solid and straight forward.  Their investigative reporting was second to none.  KSTP was non-stop crime, car wrecks, and fires.  The Magid consulted station was anchored by the legendary Ron Magers and was giving WCCO a real run for the money.

WTCN was getting a lot of hash marks in the ratings book.  The station had hired an anchor team boasting the dry Jim Dwyer, meteorologist Glenn Burns who would later own Atlanta, and sports Bob Kurtz.  Ted Cavanaugh had assembled a talented team of young reporters, many of whom would rise to success in other markets, like Sally Fitz in Miami and Jane Velez Mitchell who now anchors her own show on Headline News.

Cavanaugh had also pitted the late Brink Chipman against John Hutchens, a huckster from Arkansas.  One of the men would rise to topple the amiable news director Gil Amundsen.  I watched the battle from the sideline as 10 p.m. producer Paul Adelmann did his best to tutor me.  Part of my learning experience included a heavy dose of David Brinkley, simply the best writing anchor in the history of television news.  I savored the experience of sitting with Paul and watching Brinkley's newscast.  Adelmann would point out the deft touches to copy and simple, efficient, yet wry style that Brinkley served up.

All the while I was stuck working weekends with Ted Baxter on steroids.  Stan Bohrman was the biggest egomaniac I had ever worked beside.  He had anchored in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Recently he had made his big screen debut alongside Jane Fonda in "The China Syndrome."  He was impossible.  He was a drug abusing alcoholic who believed the sun revolved around him.  His best claim to fame would be his son David Bohrman, who helped create "Nightline" for ABC.  About six months into the gig we got into a pretty good argument and he shoved me.  The next day I was demoted and Dana Benson got my job, which got his career off to a pretty good start.

It was a blessing in disguise because now I worked five days a week as a writer for Adelmann who molded me into a pretty decent writer and producer.  Before the first year was out Brink was running the newsroom, Bohrman had muscled Dwyer out of the anchor desk and Kurtz was headed to a fledgling cable operation called CNN.  Cavanaugh tried to recruit me as well but making 12-thousand dollars a year in Atlanta didn't sound very appealing.

This guy replaced Kurtz, whom I really liked and enjoyed working with along with weekend sports anchor Steve Pascente, a class act in his own right.  Steve had worked in Phoenix and went out of his way to offer his council and advice.  Ryther was a jerk.  He had left KSTP for Cleveland where he had failed and came back to the dog #3 in WTCN.  Pascente, being passed over, eventually returned to his old gig in Phoenix.

I eventually worked my way back to weekend producing duties but the poor ratings meant change was in the air at WTCN.  Brink was going to have to cut staff and I credit him for being straight forward with me.  It appeared my only option to stay in Minneapolis would be to work as Ryther's producer.  While he wasn't Bohrman's equal in the asshole department the thought of working for him got me off my ass and by March 1980 I had landed a job producing the 10 p.m. news for NBC powerhouse KARK in Little Rock.  The hard living drinker from Arkansas John Hutchens had grown to like me and when he returned to KARK after losing the power struggle with Chipman, he asked me to follow him.

WTCN would find success a half dozen years later after Gannett purchased the station and it became KARE, a station legendary for its story-telling.  Bohrman was long gone imploding at the horrific then NBC affiliate in Philadelphia KYW, while Ryther hung on at KARE for a decade before the station finally jettisoned him which resulted in an ugly legal battle.

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