Upon stumbling into my very first TV station, I dropped to my knees and bowed at the feet of Slim Short. How couldn't I? I'd grown up watching this elfin, vested elder clown his way through two hours of live television every morning. The show was Carolina Today and it was as hokey as they come. As a snotty teenager, I often rolled my bloodshot eyes at the cornball humor of Slim and his hillbilly gang. But the day I gained entry to WNCT-TV, I quickly realized I was in the presence of giants. To Slim, I was just the latest in a l-o-n-g line of half-asleep cameramen. That didn't stop him however, from showing me kindness at every turn. Sunday, Slim - born Robert Allen - went to that great studio in the sky and I post this note through a curtain of tears. But since Slim never took himself too seriously, I'll try not to either. A few memories, however, do come to mind:
Every morning, Slim would do a number of live commercials. This entailed him sitting on the set with an art card on his knee. One camera would zoom in on the card while the other camera centered up on Slim. What followed was usually a rambling screed about the merits of said advertiser. It was supposed to last 30 seconds. It often exceeded two minutes. Director Walter Hearne would invariably come over the headsets and tell us to show Slim the 'wrap it up' sign. I never did. Would you rush Elvis off the stage?
Slim taught me volumes about celebrity and Southern grace. Whether in the studio, at various bar-be-cue dives or at the 30th anniversary of Carolina Today, his legion of fans pretty much genuflected in his presence. Slim no doubt enjoyed the adoration, but I never once saw him be anything but gracious, often deflecting the attention back on his supplicants. Sure, he didn't pay for too many meals back then (his money was no good in most local restaurants) but his goofball humour and trademark vests always made him a pleasure to be around - even when the bluehairs bum-rushed his table.
Slim lived to be 80. He was an avid bow hunter and a walking encyclopedia of all things Eastern North Carolina. But he was no health nut - at least when I knew him. Back then, he'd regularly slip behind the latticework set during commercial breaks and join his long-haired cameraman for a morning cigarette. He'd wolf down the massive cheese-laden biscuits that mysteriously appeared in the studio every morning - courtesy of some sponsor or another. One of my favorite memories of Slim is from a company pool party - in which I knocked back hefty swigs of Old GrandDad with this local, living legend.
I could go on, and as the scenarios reappear in my consciousness, I just might. I often refer to WNCT as the Roy Park School of Broadcasting and for good reason. I learned so much from Slim, John Spence, Jim Woods and others. They were all in the twilight of their careers and I was but the latest punk-ass to show up on set. But they took me under their wings nonetheless, taught me how local TV was formed and how it would never be again. I've benefitted from their tutelage ever since and hope to one day return the favor to those still struggling to fill Slim Short's shoes. Howdy Up, indeed...