The 'Ernie' was created by Mike Clark as a way of conveying the appreciation
of BIG 13 visitors have for the alumni's efforts in broadcasting at WTVT.
He explained how the 'Ernie' name
"TV has its Emmy…movies have the Oscar, and our new
honor, which I hope will become an annual tradition, needed a name as
well," said Mike. "I
thought of calling it the 'The Hughy' after Hugh Smith…but 'Hughy' sounded too
much like a helicopter. Jim
Benedict's nickname is 'Peaker,' but that name would take too much
explanation….and 'The McGee' didn't sound right either.
I started watching the video tape of WTVT's 25th Anniversary broadcast
for inspiration, and when a clip of Ernie Lee came on, it became obvious that
the man who spent 33 years at Channel 13 and was universally loved and
respected, should be the inspiration for the 'Ernie.' And
besides, 'Ernie' sounds a little like 'Emmy.'"
Mike presented the first 'Ernie' to Ernie Lee's son Gordon
Cornelison, who accepted on behalf of his family. The Ernie inscription read "The Ernie, presented
to Ernie Lee in appreciation of his musical talents, considerable charm, and
lifetime achievements in radio and television and 33 years at WTVT, Tampa,
Florida." Gordon told the
audience how "Ernie was so popular that people would stop us everywhere we
went…the grocery store…the movies…the gas station," and that his mother Jean had burnt up "a lot of pots of
coffee" waiting for Ernie to get past his fans and come home on time."
Gordon brought along tapes of Ernie's music and it was announced that the
tunes would be digitally cleaned up and remastered onto a new CD…to be offered
to Ernie's fans through the BIG 13 web site with proceeds going to Ernie's
|Arch Deal was presenter for the next 'Ernie' …to "someone I referred to as 'the enemy'," the former Channel 8 anchorman joked. "He was a formidable opponent in news…ran a wonderful news department, and it's a great honor to present this Ernie to Hugh Smith, who served WTVT for 29 years." Smith accepted the honor gracefully and Deal told the story of how Channel 13 had covered his near-fatal parachute accident in 1975.|
WTVT sports reporter and anchor Pete Johnson was up to present the next 'Ernie' for the
bigger-than-life 'Salty Sol' Fleischman. "Sol
was exactly the same as life as he was on the air," said Pete, adding that
"Sol and Andy were great guys to work for…they let you go out and try
ideas and go wild." Fleishman's
'Ernie' carried the inscription "to 'Salty Sol' Fleischman, in appreciation
of his contribution to Sports Broadcasting and to the history of WTVT".
Accepting the 'Ernie' for Fleischman's family was Sol's nephew (and a
former production department employee) Dave Rosenblatt. (Dave is married to
former Creative Services employee Merrily Miller).