A Legacy of Excellence
(...and How a Nice Guy Finished First)
By Mike Clark
Will Rogers once said he never met a man he didn’t like. That phrase could be turned around and applied to Jim Benedict. I don’t think there was anyone who met Jim who didn’t like him. It was very hard not to!
If anyone personifies the ‘can do’ spirit of WTVT, it’s Jim Benedict, who started at the station in 1964 and became as ubiquitous there as the studio’s tower. With his trademark Banlon shirt, brown polyester pants and the nickname ‘Peaker’, Jim ruled the studios and directing booths from the days of black and white to color to high definition. When Jim was in the booth all was well and the crew could focus on their own jobs knowing that they were in good hands.
But his technical genius is only part of the picture. Jim inspired loyalty from hundreds of production people who passed through Channel 13’s doors with his firmly-grounded ego AND a Type A personality. You wouldn’t think that’s possible but Jim’s many co-workers and friends know it’s true. Television is an industry full of artistic temperaments and self-serving agendas. Jim Benedict’s only agenda was to do the best job possible. He did it by putting in the hard time to learn television production, then quietly but firmly guiding his crews to do the same.
never seen Jim petulant, lose his cool or humiliate a crew member when things
went awry… and that’s amazing when you consider the pressure that television is
produced under and the often wild personalities of Channel 13 crew members. Jim’s not only personable -- he’s a team player… the kind of guy
you wanted with you in the trenches when things got rough during a live
program. Off the air Jim was one of the guys and could shoot the bull with the
best of them.
Jim served WTVT forty-three years as cameraman, director and production manager. That’s almost a half-century of service and he didn’t slack off for one moment. Incredibly long hours were his norm with a stamina that could not be matched. I remember running Vidifont as we tagged commercials on a late shift session that ran into the wee hours of the morning. While the rest of us wilted, Jim’s voice on the squawk box was as energetic at the end of the session as it was at the beginning.
Ken Smith...a talent for finding talent!
The fellow who hired Jim at WTVT, Ken Smith, is the former production manager who had a knack for bringing talented people to the station….whether they realized working in television was their destiny or not. “When Jim came in for an interview I spoke with him to get a sense of where his interests might be in television,” says Smith from his home outside Orlando. “My first impression of him was the phrase ‘a nice young man.’ We’re lucky to have guys like that come to be a broadcaster. Later on he became known as ‘The Six Million Dollar Man,’ which is very apropos. He grew in that job and he set the standard. Jim’s work ethic was unbelievable and he could have been a success at anything he applied himself. You don’t see that kind of hustle often.”
Jim’s an unassuming guy. It was a challenge to find good photographs of him at WTVT because he's not only humble but camera-shy. Jim never tooted his own horn and certainly wouldn’t have approved of this preface. In fact, I didn’t show it to him prior to publication figuring that he would say, “aw, c’mon…leave that out.” If you have met Jim Benedict the profile of his character should ring true.
If you never had the pleasure of being in his company, you might wonder how someone like Jim Benedict navigated his way through forty years at Tampa's top television station, WTVT. Here’s his story.