|Larry’s first months at WFLA
were spent in awe, learning everything he could about television and it’s
potential. It was there that he
honed his photography, voice and general story-telling abilities with the
direction of some station veterans, including Tony Hamilton, Emmett Mattes, and
“My days at Channel 8 were filled with many indelible memories,” Larry says. “At the top
of the list was the chance to interview every major
Democratic candidate in the 1972 presidential race. Since I was virtually the
entire weekend news staff, there were plenty of political rallies to cover. Just me, my 16 mm Bell
& Howell and my
“Humphrey, McGovern, Jackson, Muskie, Lindsay, Chisholm, Wallace…it was quite an experience for a 21-year-old news rookie to talk to people of that stature. Those were the presidential hopefuls who zoomed through town campaigning during the summer and fall of 1972 when I was one of the few Channel 8 reporters on the weekend. That was back in the days of the 'one man band' when you were both the cameraman and the reporter. It was very exciting."
An example of Elliston’s independent style came during a 1972 visit by NBC News anchor David Brinkley, who had been sponsored by the University of Tampa to make a public talk at the old Curtis Hixon Convention Center. At a pre-program news conference, Elliston asked Brinkley if he had “always talked funny like you do on the evening news?” Brinkley was not offended, took the question seriously and explained in his usual broken, staccato North Carolina dialect that he had always talked the same way and didn’t think he sounded much different than anybody else.
“I’ll never forget the time I had to hitchhike to the studio early one morning in order to make my first news cut-in during the Today Show. My tire blew out as I was turning onto Bayshore Boulevard from Bay-to-Bay, it was 6 a.m., pitch dark and I was running late. So I just stuck out my thumb and it wasn’t long before one kind soul gave me a lift….right to the front door of 905 E. Jackson Street.”
According to Elliston, the most unusual story he ever covered for Channel 8 News involved the St Petersburg City Council, whose meetings were normally “of the boring, predictable variety.” In 1975, Hugh Ruckdeschel, a plain spoken city councilman, came up with a solution to the city’s overcrowding woes.
Ruckdeschel proposed an ordinance that stipulated new city residents would only be allowed to move to St Petersburg based on vacancies created by the deaths of existing residents.
Larry Elliston (with camera in white
shirt) covers the St. Petersburg City Council meeting for WFLA.
“Needless to say if you want
to stir things up in Florida, try and legislate a population cap,” Elliston
states. “Overnight, reporters
from all the national media crammed into city council chambers for a hearing on
the idea. They were all there for the fireworks including the NY Times, Wall
Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, CBS, NBC, ABC and, of course, all the
“By the end of the day Councilman Ruckdeschel realized his political hot potato was just a bit too steamy for his constituency. He withdrew his proposal. I don’t know if I’ll ever see anything like it again. Actually, I thought it was a good idea at the time.”
Larry’s creativity grew with each day he worked in television. Both Elliston and his newsroom buddy Phil Dean had been teamed at WFLA, riding the same news car in St. Petersburg and switching back and forth as camera operator and reporter.
Phil Dean and Larry celebrate the holidays
In 1977, unbeknownst to each
other, both had interviewed for a job with WTVT's News Director Hugh Smith. “A week or so after our interviews, we were out in the
field," recalls Elliston. "I
told Phil, ‘Uh, I’ve got something to tell you…and immediately after he
says to me…’Uh, I’ve got something to tell you too.’
That’s when we learned we were both going to be working at Channel