July 1987 I threw my lot in with KTSP (now KSAZ) in Phoenix. I was lured away from my good paying gig at WDAF with the promise that I would be the next Executive Producer because the current EP was pregnant and not expected to return once she gave birth. It never happened. It was probably just as well.
My near three year stint was marked by a lot of personal turmoil. Those that know me well understand what I'm alluding to so I don't wish to dwell on those problems. Instead I would rather focus on the good things that came from this experience.
The first thing was the formation of an enduring friendship with Craig Davidson. When I asked around the newsroom if there were groups that went out for weekend long runs, someone suggested, I believe it was John Warren who suggested that I call Runner's Den. Craig answered the phone at Runner's Den and invited me to join us long run group that met every Saturday in Scottsdale. That was more than 23 years ago. I put in more than a few 16 milers with Craig and the Mummy Mountain Mothers as we called ourselves.
Craig was just a great friend. He never judged me or my bad behavior. He offered unending support and spiritual guidance. He's the only reason I'm going to run St. George this coming weekend.
The other wonderful part of working in Phoenix was the great group of professionals that I got to work besides. Some of them are gone now. The late Burt Kennedy was the consummate professional. His knowledge, his easy going personality, and his courteous style taught me much. Gone to are Mike Makela and Alfonso Duran, two very good reporters.
I also got to work with two legendary anchors. Bill Close was Phoenix television news. He was crusty, could swear like a sailor, but had an unbending, no nonsense approach to journalism. He has long since retired. So has Dave Patterson, who was the main anchor during my time at KTSP. He had an anchor's ego but the chops to back it up. He was a first rate reporter and his ability to absorb information on the fly was unparalleled. He didn't get along with the producers. It took him nearly two years to realize that I wasn't a complete retard and our relationship warmed. Below is a promo from Cleveland where Dave anchored before a stop in Philadelphia. Why he ended up in Phoenix is anyone's guess.
The group of reporters and photographers were great as well. Dale Schornack, William LaJeunesse, Gilbert Zermeno, Richard McKee, Jeff Hollifeld, Linda Williams and John Cain are among the very best I've ever worked with at any station.
I also enjoyed our weatherman Dave Munsey. He was always giving me his old clothes which were expensive and looked great. The sports guys Fred Kalil and former Congressman J.D. Hayworth were simply awesome. J.D. welcomed me on my first day at work by taking me to a Triple A ball game and doing the Rock Chalk Chant, seems like Kansas had recruited him when he was a high school football star in North Carolina.
Two managers also made a great impression on me. Jim LeMay was like a lab rat on speed. His frenetic energy could wear you out. Jim went on to a great career as a news director and now works at CNN. Most important was the gentle guidance I received from Mary Cox, who is the best teaching journalist I've ever been around. Mary is smart, tough, determined and knows how to convey what she wants in the easiest to understand terms. Mary teaches and consults now. I still rely on her wisdom from time to time.
The thing that made Phoenix different is that we traveled to big stories. We went to major plane crashes, hurricanes, and the biggest story of that period, the Bay Area earthquake. It's a sign of a bygone era. Stations don't travel to big stories anymore unless the drive is under five hours. Our news director Dave Howell thought nothing of sending a crew half way across the country to cover a major story. I got to go on the road more than a few times including the 1988 Democratic National Convention and the 1988 Final Four. But nothing could beat attending the first two training camps of the Arizona Cardinals. Eating at the training table was first rate fare.
Unfortunately I needed a big change in my life. I needed support and security and I wasn't getting it in Phoenix. It was time to go home, back to Kansas. And my old boss Mike McDonald was back on Signal Hill after a short stint as a news director for the NBC station in Dallas. So Mike and I conspired for my return to WDAF. It was a professional step backward but a change that was needed to straighten out my personal life.