The 50-years of WREG-TV should have been an hour long.
I love history. The History Channel (or as my wife calls it, the World War II channel) is my default channel. It’s educational and offers a great amount of what I call “gee whiz” stuff to help clog your brain.
That’s one of the reasons I TIVOed the 50th anniversary of WREG that aired Wednesday night. I remember when I set it up to be recorded that I was stunned to see it was just a half hour long. But good things come in small packages. I liked the open and I could see the creative hand of producer/videographer Mike Suriani immediately. Let me just say that Mike makes things sing and when he and I worked on projects, he always made the projects look great and helped me look like I knew what I was talking about. Mike is a detail man.
I was stunned to find out that WREC founder Hoyt Wooten was such a visionary and in my opinion, genius. Yes, I know you have to be smart to get something like this started, but he was thinking about TV back in 1928 when RADIO was in its infancy and TV was the stuff of science fiction, much like warp speed and phasers are today.
Then the show started showing the people whose names became synonymous with WREC/WREG over the years. Some of these people I had the good fortune to meet during my 16-years down on the river and others I had merely heard of. My lovely and talented bride Bethany, who grew up in East Memphis, knew of many of the old timers.
There was Russ Hodge, Kitty Kelly, Fred Cook, Paul Dorman, Roy Dickerson, Olin Morris, Frances Kelly, Charles Brakefield, John Powell, Jim Hutchinson, Ray Pohlman, Pam Crittendon and Tom Stocker.
The program looked back on the station’s first broadcast, which featured the 11th Gator Bowl with Vanderbilt taking on Auburn. My wife beamed with pride knowing her beloved Commodores were part of this historic event.
It was interesting to hear the comments from the “old timers” as I call them who helped shape television in the MidSouth. I was glad to see they had an interview with Paul Barnett who used to stop by the newsroom well after he retired. He used to stop by and offer news tips and story ideas to the news director and then would stop by my desk to chat with me. He said he liked me and thought I was a level headed young man. Okay, maybe he wasn’t a good judge of character. It broke my heart when one of the news directors basically had him barred from the newsroom because the ND found him to be annoying and out of touch with the current view of what passes for news. Paul died a few years ago.
We got to see groundbreaking events such as the first stereo broadcast in Memphis. (It was the Sunset Symphony) and to hear from those who covered the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel.
It showed Pam Crittendon, who is now at FedEx. She was the first black woman to anchor evening news at 3. I remember I had just started anchoring in Jackson, Tn and I saw her on a Sunday night broadcast that was just 15-minutes long. She was moved to 6 and 10 weekdays not long after that. Later, I would work with Pam at 3 for several years before she left the station.
I saw Ray Pohlman who served many roles in the newsroom including ND. He’s now a honcho at Autozone. I interviewed with him once. He didn’t hire me.
I also have a quick story about former sports anchor Tom Stocker which I will relate at the end of this posting.
But getting back to the special. By the time we got 19 minutes into the commercial free show, I remember wondering, how are they going to get everything into this since they’ve spent 2/3rds of the show just getting us to the mid-80s. I found out in the last ten minutes. They kicked it into high gear and raced through the 90s and early part of this decade. I was disappointed. I got the impression that this project was originally going to run an hour and someone high up on the food chain said cut it and shoe horn this puppy into a half hour slot because we don’t want to lose money by pre-empting a network show. I also speculate that some editing had to be done close to the end to remove those in news who no longer work there. (Pam McKelvy, Jennifer Van Vrancken). You can’t tell me they weren’t in the original wrap-up.
I ended up on the cutting room floor (the original host of the News Channel 3 Outdoors show which is the only locally produced outdoor show) but then that doesn’t surprise me. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people ended up on the cutting room floor.
All in all, I give the show a 7 on a scale of ten as entertaining and informative. It started a strong 9 and then in my opinion, dropped off a bit. Still, if you can tear yourself away from a silly sitcom and catch a re-run of this, it will be worth your while. You may be able to see it on-line at 3’s website.
Now, back to Tom Stocker, local sports announcer and former sports guy at 3. I first met Tom back in 1982 at the State Basketball Championships in Murfreesboro, TN. I was anchoring at WBBJ back then and the sports guy at 7 was Jack Church, who is still one of my best friends. He was going to cover the championships on a Saturday night and wanted to know if I would like to go along and help him. He would shoot the games and I would shoot the interviews for him in the locker rooms. We were up in the press box with crews from around the state shooting the games and there was this guy right next to us, complaining about something that had happened at the station. He was saying they wouldn’t give him a shooter for this or that and managers didn’t appreciate this or that. I thought he looked familiar and Jack Church was almost beside himself. Jack turned and whispered to me, “Do you know who that is, that’s Tom Stocker. He works at Channel 3 in Memphis.” We were both quite impressed since he worked at a place that reflected the pinnacle of achievement. We introduced ourselves and later remarked how we couldn’t believe he wasn’t thanking his lucky stars he worked at that station in Memphis.
Almost ten years later, after Tom had left the business and I was working weekend nights at 3, he filled in for somebody for a few weeks on sports. I asked him if he recalled our meeting back in Murfreesboro. He didn’t. But he was flattered that I could recall the event in such detail.
Oh, the TV news business.