Tuesday, September 11, 2007
My Broadcast Alma Mater
Sure it may look like a dumpy little station, but WNCT-TV will always be my broadcast birthplace. It was here in 1990 that one Lori Scott took pity on a rookie car salesman who thought he might like to work in Tee-Vee. My wholesale lack of skills didn't seem to bother her, a fact which amazed me at first. Then I got my first paycheck and realized why. At minimum wage my newfound special purpose wasn't gonna buy me any summer homes - or a grocery cart full of food for that matter. What it would do is introduce me to a world I at once loved, grew to despise and to this very day, begrudgingly relish. It was as close to college as I would ever come, and like alot of grads facing middle age, I sometimes wish I could go back. That's impossible, however as the Channel 9 of today bears little resemblance to the chintzy CBS affiliate of yesteryear.
It may have been the dawn of the Nineties, but the equipment smacked of 1971. So did much of the staff. Jim Woods, John Spence, Slim Short and others had pioneered Eastern Carolina newscasting since before I could even spell T-V. To them I was another bleary-eyed studio tech with a budding mullet. To me they were the Mount Rushmore of Downeast television, worn-out ambassadors of a medium that had already peaked. Even then, I knew I was blessed to study at the foot of the Masters - even I did have to do it while operating the very finest in twenty year old technology. What I didn't know at the time is the act of committing television would never again feel so free, so important, so new. Very often it was damn hard to watch - but it was always, always a blast to make. Much like in high school, I never let sound judgement get in the way of a good time. It was a philosophy many in this two story brick temple eagerly embraced.
These days, WNCT is owned by Media General and the product they put on the air is a good bit slicker than the days of yore. But with the new administration came irrevocable change. Channel 9 belatedly joined the nineties and benefitted immensely from their new corporate owners. But gone was the aging talent pool, the antiquated gear, the freedom to eff up and still win the hearts and minds of rural viewers. I dare say it's a far better place these days, but I'm so very glad I got a chance to learn my craft at the Roy Park School of Broadcasting. Where else could a young shyster with an utter lack of pedigree be allowed to learn the business on the fly? Those folk put a TV camera in my hand and station car keys in my pocket l-o-n-g before I had any business possessing either. I'm certain they were just trying to fill a slot but in doing so they enriched my twenties beyond compare and helped give birth to this thing called 'lenslinger'. Frankly, I'm not sure whether to thank them or sue the pants off anyone who encouraged me down this path.
Earlier tonight, during my weekly phone call with a lady we'll call 'Madam Editor', she asked me if I had any interesting anecdotes from my time at Channel Nine. I'm still wiping coffee off my computer screen.