Tragedy visited the Benedict family when Ray died during a departmental raid:  "My Mom tells me my Dad and some other Beverage Department officers were preparing to bust an illegal still in the Miami area when he had his third and fatal heart attack."  Thirteen at the time, Jim was at an age when boys need a male role model more than ever.  Jim's independent character served him well at this critical juncture.   He showed an uncanny maturity in accepting his father's death and moving forward.  Verna Benedict continued her nursing career and never remarried

Jim was now growing up in a single-parent household


Television came to the Tampa Bay area on Memorial Day weekend in 1953 and Jim was there to witness it.  "The first TV I saw was the day WSUN came on the air," he recalls.  "I got an apple box and sat outside an appliance store on the corner of Albany and Grand Central.  They had a TV on display in the window and I sat there for two hours watching the test pattern."  Jim's family didn't get a TV until 1954 so he enjoyed watching Channel 38 programs like Capt. Mac on his best friend's set.   

WSUN-TV...for two years the only game in town!
(WSUN logo courtesy Bob Shields)

In January of 1955, WFLA-TV, channel 8, signed on the air with NBC programming while another station, WTVT, was on track to start broadcasting as a CBS affiliate over channel 13 soon after.  Six blocks to the west of Jim's house WTVT personnel were transforming an abandoned restaurant at 1113 Memorial Highway into their new offices and studio.  Channel 13's debut was April 1st, 1955. 



With three Tampa Bay television stations on the air Jim was entertained but not yet entranced by the new medium.  "I had no contact at all with television production," he states. "I only enjoyed watching TV.  I had no thought about it as a career through junior high and high school.  I was a so-so student and knew that I couldn't afford to go to college.  I didn't know what I wanted to do…and that was the scary part for me." 


Although he didn't know it at the time, Jim got a brief "peak" into his future life when he spotted the Channel 13 remote unit at the Florida State Fair.  "The Fair was held at that time downtown next to the University of Tampa," explains Jim.  "Channel 13 was there at the Electrical Pavilion doing The Ernie Lee Show with a camera mounted on a big Sanner crane.  I remember seeing a guy (Joe Wiezycki) running the camera on the crane and thought to myself 'gee it would be cool to be doing that.'"  After that initial exposure to Channel 13's production team, Jim went about his business and continued to vex over the future and his upcoming graduation from Plant High.