It is rare in life when one can say they have enjoyed the opportunity to work with a living legend. I was lucky enough to do it twice. I worked from 1987 until 1990 with Bill Close. He was a television icon in Phoenix, Arizona. He was gruff, opinionated, hard but fair. He was a great journalist.
Tom passed away today after a rough ride health-wise the last few years. It's a big loss for Western Kentucky. And it brings me back to a time while I dealt with a personal life fraught with turmoil, along side a man who tried to gently guide me through the challenges of being a news manager.
Tom Butler had created a bible for running his newsroom. It was there in black and white, bound together in a massive book. While I initially didn't agree with everything in that book, we both shared a love of crisp, sharp, television news writing.
During my tenure I slowly came to realize the deep sense of community that was ingrained in Tom's newsroom bible. The things that had rubbed me the wrong way now began to make sense. All the while, Tom offered his sage counsel, only when I sought it. He never force fed me his beliefs about running a newsroom.
My favorite Tom moment came in the aftermath of a fierce winter storm that had left a thick layer of ice and snow across Paducah. Tom had called me at sometime before 3 a.m. to warn me of the challenge he was facing getting to work. I ended up putting on my running clothes and heading over to his house about a mile away to try and help push his huge car out of his driveway. It wouldn't budge. He waited at home for a tow truck that would never come while I ran to the station and due to the nature of the day, took his place on the air for the first and only time in my life where I "anchored" the news.
When I left the station a couple of months later, Tom's kindness and encouraging words helped make my departure a little less painful. He was the gentlest soul that ever graced a newsroom. I am so grateful that our paths crossed.
Friday, March 24, 2017
The man in the glasses was a great photojournalist, John Roach. The man in the white shirt and tie is Phil Witt. You can see me looming large on the right. I'm writing this because Phil Witt announced that he will retire sometime in June.
It's the end of an era in Kansas City television news. I say this because Phil is the last of the great trio of male news anchors who ruled over the TV news scene for more than 40 years. I include Phil in the ranks of KMBC's Larry Moore and KCTV's Wendall Anschutz. These three were above all reporters, great reporters. They led their newsrooms, in different ways.
My first job in television news was at KMBC with Larry Moore looming large. He was loud, brash, fun and a win at all costs kind of journalist. A year later KCTV would promote weekend anchor Wendall Anschutz into its main anchor chair. Wendall appeared to be a kinder, easier going type, than Larry. Wendall was more Charles Osgood as opposed to Larry's, Shepard Smith, for those of you too young to remember them. KMBC was a strong number one in the ratings with KCTV in second and WDAF a distant third.
Phil was a weekend anchor when I joined WDAF in 1980. In three years he would be tabbed to be the main anchor at the station as he had helped Action 4 News climb to the top of the ratings. Moore had abandoned Kansas City for San Francisco and Wendall enjoyed a brief run at the top of the ratings heap before WDAF made a nice four year run at the top.
Phil didn't miss a beat with co-anchor Cynthia Smith, weatherman Dan Henry, and sports director Frank Boal. He never lost his love for reporting while sitting in the anchor chair. And more importantly, he was a patient teacher and leader. God knows how he put up with this hot headed producer. Phil never lost his cool. He just wanted to get the work done and get it done right.
Eventually Larry came back to Kansas City and WDAF lost its mind and let the Oprah franchise slip away and KMBC climbed back atop the ratings. Yet, despite several ownership changes, Phil Witt remained a steady leader at the station along with long time news director Mike McDonald. What made Phil unique is that he could co-anchor with anyone and make it work. The ratings through the years prove that.
My favorite Phil memory came sometime in the mid-80's. I was tired of all the attention we gave to high school sports stars. I asked Phil, wouldn't it be great if we could highlight regular high school students who were outstanding in other areas, academics, as community leaders, etc; Thus, Reaching 4 Excellence was born and Phil Witt made it a weekly standard. And I still grin when I remember a Phil faux pas involving bowling pigs. Don't ask.
Wendall Anschutz left the anchor desk in the 90's. Cancer took his life in 2010. Larry Moore stepped down in 2013 and that left Phil as the last man left who had sat at a Kansas City news desk as far back as the 70's. He did it with grace... a simple grace that always held true to his Nebraska roots.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
On a warm, wind swept Saturday afternoon the senior from Fort Myers High School ran what I believe is the fastest 800 by any girl from this neck of the woods. Krissy clocked a 2:11.89. That's a personal best by about four seconds.
Last spring I touted the incredible wealth of talent in the 800 in Southwest Florida. I predicted that Krissy along with Moriah and Sierra Oliveira could be under 2:15. Gear certainly stood up to the challenge. The question is now, just how fast can she run this spring.
Gear will face some formidable challenges from North Fort Myers senior Kayla Easterly. Gear has a habit of relying heavily on her strong kick. If she sticks her nose into the middle of a competitive 1600 she could find herself running under 4:40. A time like that would put her among the all time greats among Florida high school girls. The greatest of them all, Jenny Simpson, an Olympic bronze medalist, ran 4:48 in high school.
I know, that's setting the bar mighty high. The competition to run some incredibly fast times will come the next two weeks with meets in Tallahassee and Gainesville. If the weather is good and Gear doesn't hold back she could make some more history. As a track and field fan, watching an athlete make a run at history is rare opportunity to watch. Here's to six more weeks of great track and field history for this deserving Furman recruit.