Thursday, April 01, 2010

Remembering Roy Hardee

The Late Great Roy HardeeRoy Hardee, a journalist who chronicled the news of eastern North Carolina for more than 50 years through words, pictures and film, died in his wife's arms Thursday. He was 79... From his early stint as a one-man news operation to his storied career managing newsrooms, Hardee was a local television pioneer who always called his shot. In the beginning, Roy photographed, filmed, wrote, edited and anchored countless newscasts. After a successful sojourn into print, he returned to his broadcasting roots as WNCT-TV News Director and helped launch a thousand careers. One notable protege is CBS Chief National Correspondent Byron Pitts - who remembers Roy fondly in his recent book Step Out On Nothing.

was my college, then Roy Hardee was its Professor Emeritus. Legendary, gruff and unapologetically old school, he probably didn't think much of the new production punk with the goofy 'do. But then fate intervened in the form of an unlikely hostage stand-off and I found myself manning the lead camera on the Story of the Year. This apparently impressed Roy, for a few days later he whisked me into the General Manager's office and offered me a job I didn't yet know I was applying for.

"I'll hire you as a news photog, " he said with a huff, "IF you cut that hair."

The fact that I did proves how seriously I took his offer, and in making me get a haircut, Roy Hardee added to his already long list of accomplishments: He mercy-killed a very bad mullet.

From there, my training began - all of it on the clock. A photographer at heart with scanner codes embedded in his DNA, Roy encouraged my burgeoning spot news skills. He also insisted I 'act like I had some sense', a new found skill which enabled me to fill my new Rolodex with the phone numbers of cops, politicians and crackpots. I didn't know it then, but I was being taught by The Master - for Roy Hardee seemed to know everyone important (or notorious) in the state and they him. For the first few years of my career, I found his name alone could get me into places my camera couldn't. When after a few months of shooting for reporters filled me with an urge to try it myself, Roy flatly challenged me to prove I could do it. Then he put me On-Air, long before I had any business darkening local TV sets around dinner time. Though never one to shower his people with praise, I got the distinct feeling Roy liked me. Once he arranged for me and my lens to ride along on a CH-53 SuperStallion attack helicopter - then teased me all week that I'd have a great story IF I made back down alive. Well, I did and no one made a bigger deal over the footage I brought back than my suddenly avuncular boss. Looking back I realize it wasn't so much me; Roy just loved the art of the grab.

I was 22 and full of myself. He was pushing 60 and had documented more of life than I'd yet to experience. Still, he treated me with begrudging respect - especially as I proved news was in my blood as well. I can still picture him sidling up to me in the newsroom. He'd jam his hands in his pockets and jingle his change, grumble something under his breath, clear his throat and apply some more ChapStick. I learned to read his mood by the condition of that ever present black and white tube. Not that he ever got too upset. In fact, I remember being regularly dumbfounded by his implacable demeanor. My home phone would ring in the middle of the night and a dead calm voice would intone, "There's a bunch of folks trapped in a burning warehouse downtown. Need you to go check it out." If he told me Martians had landed on the Town Commons and were demanding to be interviewed, I'd head there without question - figuring the aliens were like everyone else in town - somehow indebted to Roy Hardee.

It should be noted that I eventually quit my job at WNCT. Angry that others were getting better shifts than me, I left Roy a pissy note one night and walked out never to return. It was a punk move and I sure did regret it the next day. But Roy never held it against me - even when I showed up on the competition's newscast a few months later. I didn't yet know that equity was hard to come by in a newsroom and that constantly working nights and weekends were the price of admission. Roy surely did, but he never used his considerable influence to punish me for my youthful insolence. When I caught up with him at an alumni luncheon a few years back we had a laugh and it felt good almost being his equal.

You know, chasing the news of the day - and catching it - was the first thing I was ever good at and Roy Hardee told me so. Of course, he never pulled me into his office and raved about my latest collection of close-ups and cliches. But he did keep his eye on me and subtly let me know whenever I managed to do something right. Early one one summer evening around nine o clock, the scanners erupted with talk of a small plane crash on the Wayne-Greene County line. Having grown up not very far from there, I knew the remote location well - so I grabbed reporter Amy Burkette and jumped into whatever white Chevy Blazer I'd finagled the keys for that day. To make a short journey even shorter, let's just say I beat some of the firefighters there. Amy and I grabbed just enough sight and sound to tell the sad story before jumping back into our news unit and racing back to the station. That night, our story of the still smoking plane crash led the 11 o clock news.

The next day, Roy passed me in the hallway and just as he drew beside me he looked over and said two words I can still hear today: "Nice hustle." ...Understand I was a bit of a buffoon back then, often ignoring sound advice for fear I'd miss whatever smart-ass remark was about to burble up from my own lips. But Roy's brief praise left me thunderstruck, for something in his voice told me he KNEW what the word "Hustle" really meant.

So thanks, Roy. Thanks for granting me the chance to prove myself. Thanks for not firing me when I found exciting new ways to mess up. Thanks for all the tips on composition, glass and decorum. Thanks for not holding it against me when I let my young man's anger get the better of me. Thanks for giving me the best four years of my professional life. I've been using what you taught me ever since...


A 'Press Conference' celebrating the life of Roy Hardee will be held at 2:00 pm on Saturday April 24th at the Hilton Hotel in Greenville, North Carolina. See you there...


Wayne covil said...

Roy was a class act. Gruff is right. But I'm lucky to have been hired and worked for him st the beginning if my career. The scanner and two-way radio , I can still hear him answer "Gord Head" as a sort of personal inside joke he enjoyed when he picked up the mic. Like life when you are young, you often don't realize just how lucky you are or how much you are learning from someone til years later. I have come to realize how I do my job everyday is a reflection of my time spent with Roy! I didn't always appreciate it back then, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm blessed I spent 4 and a half years as a "Bureau Chief" for Roy Hardee. Those just entering the HD world of News with Twitter & Facebook & the Web, will never understand just how much they missed not knowing Roy Hardee! They just dint make News Directors like him anymore! Wayne Covil 1989-1992 Jacksonville Bureau Chief WNCT Newscenter 9

in-gun-ear said...

Even those of in radio in those years knew of Roy Hardee. When you are a serial award winner like he was, you can't help but be known. Those of us who never knew him but know of him, mourn along with you.

The 4th Estate has lost a true master of the art and another one like him will not be passing this way again.

jimgrey said...

What a great remembrance. Few people are so privileged as to learn from the best.

Thom Berry said...

Anyone who worked with Roy Hardee will have great memories and stories to tell.
I was fortunate to work with Roy on a number of projects in the old Radio-Television News Directors Association of the Carolinas while I was an ND in Columbia. The organization's board honored me with their first President's Award. I was doubly honored to have Roy present me with the award.
Anyone aspiring to be an ND can look to Roy Hardee as a great role model to follow.
May God welcome you home Roy, and my condolences to his family.

Anonymous said...

Now many may know this but Roy spent many years as a part-paid member of Greenville Fire Dept. also.

Anonymous said...

Roy Hardee, cared about news and the people who covered it. He wasn't about sensationalizing the issue. He just wanted to be first with it on the air and he wanted his reporters to send it to the the AP. His calm straight forward no mess attitude was a joy to work for. He loved a good spot news story and you knew he loved you, if he assigned it to you.

I spent three awesome years at WNCT and I consider it a blessing and an honor to have served in ROY's newsroom. He was a man of integrity and unfortunately in this business that is a rare ingredient. It was a joy to have worked with the other people ROY brought to his newsroom as well. Stewart Pittman your talent was impressive even then and it's wonderful to see how you've grown.

Wayne Covil to this day you have ROY's skill at being a news hound.

Johnna Miller your love of storytelling was great to watch develop.

My respect for Roy and all of those I worked alongside in Greenville remains to this day.

Our industry would be in a lot better shape if there were more ROY HARDEES in newsrooms across America. BUT upon further thought there is a lot of ROY living in each of us. NOW it's our job to keep our industry's credibility alive. We'll do it because we know the baton has been passed and we'll do it to make ROY proud.

Amy Burkett
(WNCT noon anchor/reporter 93-95)
Sr VP of Production
PBS 39
Bethlehem, PA