Thursday, April 25, 2013

We Called Him Obi Wan

I started in television 39 years ago.  One of biggest lessons I've learned in this very difficult and nasty profession, you're news operation is often only as good as the public information officers that you rely on to keep your viewers informed.  I think I can speak to this because I worked for almost three years as a PIO.

Harold Knabe
I write with a heavy heart tonight because we lost the gold standard in PIO's.  Harold Knabe passed away this week.  He served for a long time as the public information officer for the Kansas City, Missouri Fire Department.  Harold retired from that position a long time ago.  But he held that job during some of the department's toughest hours and some of its finest.

What made Harold so good is that day or night, regardless of the story, he would talk to you.  He was always friendly, honest and in good spirits.  I can't say the same far too many PIO's I've worked with through the years.  In Phoenix, they were just plain jerks, in Topeka they tried to play it coy, the same with some of the folks in Fargo.  The PIO's in Sacramento were by and large pretty good and the same is true right here in Southwest Florida.

Kansas City was a tricky place when it came to finding information.  Most of the suburbs were hell to deal with on any given day.  Kansas City's Police Department was like navigating a minefield.  If you could get the right detective, your job was a dream, if not, you were in for a real ordeal.  But not Harold, through it all, he played it fair and square.

My favorite Harold story happened in 1983 or so.  For some reason the day side crew had sent photojournalist Phil Maslin to shoot the funeral for Sparky, one of the KCMO Fire Department mascots.  Both the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. producer had passed on the video so I decided to run it at 10 p.m. 

Sometime after 8 p.m. I looked through the video to write the story.  It was a very solemn ceremony, the Dalmatian being laid to rest in a simple pine box at a pet cemetery.  The honor guard of firefighters were lowering Sparky's casket into the hole dug in the ground when they encountered a problem.  The box was a little too big for the hole.  Now down on all fours the firefighters started to push the box into Sparky's final resting place.  The next thing the box goes whoosh with the firefighters tumbling into the hole with it. 

Why Phil never told anyone about his video gold is beyond me, but then again, that's just Phil.  After I got done laughing it occurred to me that running this might offend our friends at KCFD.  So I called Harold at home.  Yes that's right, we could call him at home.  I told him about the funeral and Harold just started laughing and begged me to run it.  Harold told me he was happy I called because he wanted to be sure to videotape the newscast.

Poor Stacy Smith couldn't even get to the end of the copy he was laughing so hard.  And that's what I think of when I remember Harold Knabe, the man we lovingly called Obi Wan Knabe.  RIP, Harold.

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