Friday, February 18, 2011

The Best Job I Ever Had

The summer of 1993 I made the move to Western Kentucky to become the news director at WPSD.  The station was and still is owned by the Paxton family, which also owns the Paducah Sun and a several other newspapers scattered around the southern parts of the United States.

The station was located in a small city but covered a massive geographic region.  Our signal reached into three other states besides Kentucky.  We covered Northwest Tennessee, Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois.  The station had always promoted from within.  My arrival represented a shift in the approach the Paxton's had to doing business.

Coming into the job I inherited a Vice President of News who wanted nothing to do with the running of the newsroom.  Tom Butler was WPSD at the time.  He wanted to anchor the noon news and 5 p.m. and make sure that certain standards of journalism were followed.  He was a great mentor and a valuable resource in learning how to navigate the politics at the station.

I was lucky to have a veteran staff around me that had a passion for good story telling.  I worked at getting them better resources (which included the first ever newsroom computers) and making them feel that they had ownership in the product we were producing.  We made tremendous strides and were headed in a positive direction despite impediments put on us by the owners in terms of coverage.

WPSD by all rights should be the number 1 station in this split market which includes a CBS station in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and Marion, Illinois.  But the Paxton's lacked the will to put the resources into winning over the viewers in Southern Illinois.  Parochialism ruled the day in our coverage efforts.  They didn't want to hear it from their friends at the country club that WPSD was covering too much news across the river.

I loved what I was doing.  I loved the people I was meeting and the friends that I made in my short time in Paducah.  The highlight came in the winter of 1994 when a massive ice storm followed by a big snow fell on January 16 and 17 in 1994.  It paralyzed the region and left poor Tom Butler stranded at home as his Cadillac was ill-equipped for the conditions.  I ended up running into work and took to the airwaves at 6 a.m. in my running clothes.  Fortunately my weatherman Lew Jetton made the walk into work and we proceeded to make it up as long as we could.  For the next month I couldn't go anywhere in Paducah without being recognized.

The other high point was working with the kids at St. Mary's High School.  I helped John Durbin coach the cross country and track team.  The school was filled with motivated runners and I'd like to think thanks to my input John was able to lead his teams to the first ever state championships for the school.  John and those kids, Brent, Will, Jason and Laura, will always have a very special place in my heart.

I served an all too short eight months at WPSD.  It was a deeply personal decision to leave, but I needed to steer my life in a different direction.  What happened to me during my time there was life changing.  The people I met there and had the privilege to work with I cherish to this day.  Doug Harnice, Andrea Underwood, Mike Spissinger, Ron Beaton, Cathy Crecelius, are just a few of the folks at the station who made me feel at home.  But most importantly there was Lew Jetton, who along with Cathy, let me into their circle, inviting me to go along to a Steely Dan concert in Nashville when I had just arrived.  I never felt more welcome by a community and most importantly a station.

WPSD sets itself apart with an annual locally produced telethon it produces every year.  My lone "Telethon of the Stars" I volunteered to run Chyron in the production truck, which I think confounded the other management team which used the telethon to party like crazy.  It endeared me to the production staff and the other regular folk that worked at the station.  And it gave me a chance to see my weekend weatherman play guitar.  Lew's gotten a lot better over the years.  I think you'll agree.

1 comment:

  1. I hated that you left. I truly did. We were doing good work and were headed in a great direction. I think of those times fondly. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago during a big snow I was thinking back to that morning you ran to work and started the newscast in that t-shirt and old sports coat. TV news is so much more complicated now. That troubles me.

    It took us a while to recover from your departure. The next news director was an absolute terror. I learned many lessons from you and him that I applied to the job when I became news director several years later, and I'm so glad we're still able to stay in touch. Thanks!