Thursday, December 29, 2005

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.

12 Comments:

Blogger bishop said...

I would give it a 6. It started off good but got boring toward the end. It should have been an hour long. It was so good to see Pam Crittedon. It's been years since I've seen her and boy has she changed. I often wondered what happened to her. Joe, I would have loved to see you, Jamey and Pam Mckelvy on there. I am still upset with Channel 3 about pam. There was no goodbye or anything. She was just gone. I do not appreciate that at all. Pam was one of the main glues that held the station together. I wish they would have intervied Todd Demers, a little more of Mary Beth and Alex, Markova, Tim SImpson and a little more of the news oens like Chris or Omari. I even forgot about April who has been with the company for a hwile.

1:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I had a complaint, it was that they talked about things too much instead of SHOWING us: The David Duke interview, Elvis death coverage, etc. It almost felt like they didn't have a lot of things they referred to in their archives. However, the show was very well shot and edited. Very good stuff in that regard.

4:44 PM  
Blogger Joe Larkins said...

Actually, according to what I was told when I first arrived at the studio down on the river, they don't have a lot of the old stuff from the old days.
I'm told that when they were converting from film to videotape in the newsroom, the ND or someone high in the food chain told them to toss the old film as they would never need it again. No copies were made of any of that old stuff. It went into the dumspter. Much of the old archive footage was stuff they had sent to CBS and had to ask for a copy of it later. As bizarre as that sounds, it is supposed to be true. No one ever made a copy of any of the old film but some of the staffers did grab some of it to keep for personal reasons. That's the only film from the good old days at 3.
As for the David Duke interview, since it occurred on a live show, I doubt if they rolled tape on that show. I think they used to only keep script from the old shows for legal and archive purposes. If they did, it may have been two inch video or perhaps one inch or 3/4 tape and I doubt if it was kept for long. I'm not sure they even have a tape machine in town to play such old video.

5:02 PM  
Blogger newsboyarizona said...

I also recall hearing that about the old WREG film. Apparently WMC donated much of its film to the University of Memphis. That's why MLK's "I've been to the mountaintop" speech, from the night before he was killed, still exists. During my days at Magid, someone told me that during the film-to-video conversion days, one station used its old film as landfill for a new parking lot.

However, there was a lot of stuff that still existed that I didn't see on the special, and I was surprised. There was a WREC newscast from the night Hoyt died, a Good Morning from Memphis with Hoyt, Kitty and Olin. There was a broadcast of former TN guv Frank Clement dedicating an expansion of the WREC studios in the late 50s-early 60s. I also remember seeing tape of Hoyt personally showing Gardner Cowles and the gentlemen of Cowles Communications around the Peabody studios. All that stuff surfaced around the time they were phasing out the old 2-inch video tape machine and the film chain. I'd bet that WREG was probably the only station to still have that kind of equipment in its station in the early 1990s.

They have some film from when Elvis died, but it was only stuff that they had transferred to 3/4 tape at the time for stories.

Another thing, what about some of the behind-the-scenes folks? I think a few moments with guys like Lee Joyner and Eddie Goss would've provided a lot of illumination on what it takes to put those shows on the air.

And that guy who did the overnight cut-ins back in 1992-1995? He was the only guy on the air during the beginnings of the 1994 Ice Storm. Boy, did he end up on the cutting room floor!!!!

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Joan Carr said...

I also think the special started out on a high note and kind of fizzled toward the end. The interviews with old-timers were great, and Mike did a great job digging up old photographs to cover some of those soundbites. Those old guys have great stories to tell, and I'm sure it was hard to choose which to include and which to cut.
The coverage on MLK's assassination and Elvis's death could have been more extensive. Obviously those were HUGE stories in Memphis and the world and they were given just cursory treatment in the special.
There were so many other events that could have been included, as someone mentioned, the 1994 ice storm and of course "Hurricane Elvis" in 2003. Although the station has a generator, it could only power the computers and other essentials, so we all worked in the dark for days until power was restored. I doubt many Memphians even know about that, since so many were without power themselves. So it would be entertaining (since everyone was touched by the storm) as well as an accolade to the station to tell of NC3 people persevering despite great difficulty to get the news on the air. Of course, it would have been difficult to include those stories in the half hour. Like some others have said, I think the show should have been a full hour.
The last 5 or 10 minutes of the show were an unabashed promo for the station. While you've got to expect that, it was still boring rather than entertaining.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was terribly disappointed with the anniversary program. There were too many interviews and far too few clips -- products, I assume, of the fact that WREG has such a small archive and that Jerry Tate had only 30 minutes to tell the story.

I also got turned off when the program morphed into what amounted to a promo for News Channel 3. Stop telling my why the station is so wonderful already!

Show me some vintage clips. Where was that memorable "Hello, Memphis, We Love You!" song? I know that was used all over the country, but I bet a bunch of the viewers that night would have been humming right along without even realizing it. That would have been a connection!

I also thought it was pitiful that more time was spent on the Sunset Symphony than on King's and Presley's deaths -- COMBINED! Now that's out of whack, don't you think?

I am glad that the station even chose to mark the anniversary (many do not, simply because current managers know nothing about the station's past, and they've fired all the old-timers who remember), but I was left wanting more.

Enjoy your blog, Joe!

10:15 AM  
Blogger Eric Lipford said...

When I heard the show was on the web, I couldn't wait to watch it.

It was well edited and shot, but I was expecting more! They breezed past events and skipped a lot of things. They didn't even really mention weather, and that's been shoved down everyone's throats by 3 for years! Joe, I remember them sending you to Jackson back in '99 to do live shots for the Noon... I think you may have field anchored at least the storm part of the show from there. They didn't mention ANY of the major events... like the ice storm, Hurricane Elvis, the 1987 West Memphis tornado, the 1994 Germantown tornado, and the 3 kids murdered in West Memphis in 1993. The special should have been an hour.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was expecting to hear more about the ice storm of 94 and Hurricane Elvis.

4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is Pam Mckelvey? Did she get the boot because of Jerry Tate leaving? I realize they were a good team but why not get someone for her instead of a whole new team? Now we have Richard and former "13" co anchor. Well, they should be fine. I repeat, where is Pam Mckelvey?

8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm wondering the same thing. Where is Pam? Why did they have to create a whole new team. I stopped watching the evening news on Channel 3 when they brought Claudia Barr over.

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The showed was taped and sent to me by a friend I worked with at WREC/WREG. I would love to have been included in the show, but I guess they did not know I was still alive and living in East Tennessee. But memories of the station are great and enjoyed reading your blog. I'm the Kitty that repaced Barbara Touliatus and was Kitty for 14 years.

Kitty Kelly (1959-1972)



































































Kitty Kelly

7:41 AM  
Anonymous Hugh Jeffreys said...

You forgot to mention Cowboy Buck 'Stuffy' Turner who was on early radio (6:am) for many years; his EMCEE was the one and only Louis Fossee--a great guy with a great voice. Also Sam Phillips who got his start there with the Saturday Afternoon Tea Dance Show. He was a station engineer there many years before that. Dr. Hugh Jeffreys

10:16 AM  

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