Sunday, January 4, 2015

Somewhere In Kentucky

After the KSN opportunity fissles in January of 1997, I learn I might have an opportunity to move up in my own workplace, perhaps take over the 10pm newscast and get off of weekends. But I don't know when, and I'm keeping my options open.

A station in Lexington, Kentucky -- WTVQ -- gets a tape from me in the spring, but it goes nowhere until October, when I get a call from their Executive Producer, who wants to see more. I send off another tape, along with scripts and a critique. It's enough to move me to the interview stage, but it's at a crucial time: the first week of the November ratings period. Again I play it straight with Mr. D, and again he's understanding. I'm off to Lexington, chasing another ticket out of the Rio Grande Valley.

It's a two-cushion shot to get there: McAllen to Houston, Houston to Cleveland, Cleveland to Lexington. The second leg goes fine until the very end, when the plane get stuck in a holding pattern for who knows what reason. We don't have snow; we don't have ice -- just a bunch of planes stuck in the air. Again, my arrival and departure gates are miles apart, so I'm running again to make the connection to a Beechcraft commuter plane. Rainy weather and winds toss the plane around, and I don't think I can make it without using the airsick bag. I'm nearly sick to my stomach as I land in Lexington under an overcast sky. Not having eaten, I only have gas and Dr. Pepper inside of me.

Fortunately, I have it all together as Mr. EP meets me right at the gate. We spot each other immediately, and we are off to the station.

WTVQ NewsChannel 36 is expanding its newsroom under new ownership. I'm told the previous owner looked as news as more of a community service project than a money-making enterprise. The new owners of the ABC affiliate want to win, and they have the task of bringing the number-three station up over WLEX and long-time leader WKYT (who has also contacted me, but didn't pursue me). I'm aiming for a weekend producing gig, but Mr. EP advises I might end up with a weekday job as they consider whether they want to move people around.

I expect some heavy-duty grilling and hardball after I met Mrs. News Director. But in fact, I end up grilling myself. I expose my news philosophy and beliefs to them: "Relevance and interest.” I think I go a little too deep, but my prospective boss doesn't see it that way.

"You’ve really done your homework on us," she marvels. "I think you’re the kind of person that would fit in here."

I sit in on a 3:00 producers’ meeting, watch part of the 5 and all of the 6 from the control room — and meet the General Manager. He seems very curious about the market I'm working in, and he gets out his little white market guide, perusing it as I talk. He thinks he knows the KRGV general manager from somewhere — probably from the affiliate meeting. He said he doesn’t have a position open "for now" — but that could change very soon.

The newsroom uses a computer system I’ve heard about but never seen. It’s BASYS, and to me, it’s a throwback to the Stone Age. Nearly all the computers are green-screen WYSE terminals run off a mainframe. Mr. EP and Mrs. ND tell me the system is very powerful despite looking low-tech compared to an off-the-shelf copy of Microsoft Windows. I learn one of the photographers has actually written some add-ons to the system.

The shows? They’re very fast-paced and very graphical. My graphics-trained eagle eyes spot a misspelled graphic on the 5:00: A story on bus service had "fair" instead of "fare," and I quietly mention it to the bosses. The camera operators also have trouble getting some shots on the six, and a producer forgets to kill a page out of the rundown, which leads to a foul-up on a liveshot. I’m amazed the director gets out of it without going to black. She's under a lot of pressure.

After the early newscasts, Mr. EP takes me over to the Carriage House — a highbrow restaurant populated by horse owners and other high rollers. A gentleman takes my coat. We almost look out of place.

"Let's check out the bar!" he half-exclaims.

I'm not much for drinking, but I order a rum and Coke, thinking the ration will be 50/50. It's more like 70/30, and with nothing in my stomach to slow it down, my head starts spinning. Some fellow producers and an assignment editor, all young ladies, soon join us at the dinner table. We share a lot of stories, a lot of shop talk, and loads of laughs. Somehow I manage to appear uninebriated. All five of us seem so young. It’s the best power dinner I’ve ever had. The station may be in third place and trying to rebuild, but the people love their jobs. Maybe I will fit in here.

At the morning meeting the next day, fully sober and better fed, I actually pitch a story during the morning meeting and get to fool around on one of the BASYS terminals while looking over the shoulder of producers and reporters. Before too long, Mr. EP and I are on the way back to the airport.

He tells me the money is comparable to what I’m making already on wage, which surprises me. But I guess it shouldn’t. Mr. EP can tell I'm mulling over my options.

"Got a lot on your mind, I guess," he says.

"Yes," I reply. "It’s hard to make a move sometimes."

A few weeks later, WTVQ sends me a contract offer for $500 less than I'm making with KRGV, soon to be $1500 less because of a merit raise my current bosses are set to give me. Again, the Jenny rule comes into effect: everything must move up. Wise counsel from my deal-making Royal Father advises me to at least make a counter-offer.

After some phone tag I get back to Mrs. News director. She can only go $500 higher. They're still $1000 short. Regretfully, I have to pass. It's business, not personal, but it still leaves me in the dumps. I wanted the job, wanted to work with that team, wanted to be a part of a rebuilding phase.

Some time later, however, my regrets are tempered when I learn the news director who wanted to hire me is no longer there. I'm not sure about Mr. EP. I wonder what would have happened if I had stepped into the mix.

I take my merit raise at KRGV and the news watch goes on.

And then Florida comes calling.


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