||“It was like I had died and gone to heaven,” Elliston says. “I was immediately turned over to Ray Blush to work on Project 13, a highly regarded weekly documentary/public affairs program. We had an unheard-of 60 share of the market from 6:30 to 7 p.m. each Sunday. The first thing that was different about working on Project 13 was we were not in the newsroom; we were in a completely different building. It enabled us to really focus in on our subject for any particular week.”|
Other members of the Project 13 team were host/reporter Ray Blush, who was also the program’s coordinator and producer, and chief cameraman Jule McGee. When Larry was out producing or reporting a story, Ray would remain back at the office putting together his own work. Hugh Smith oversaw the program and met with its staff each week to get progress reports on stories and to give his own input.
Elliston learned early on the power he had as a Project 13 reporter. His first reporting gig took him to Tampa’s Hyde Park where he did a show called “The Recycling of Elegance” about early efforts to revive the historic Tampa neighborhood by restoration of the deteriorating residential structures. Weeks later, building permits started turning up all over Hyde Park as contractors and investors converged on the area. Speculators cashed in on the Project 13-induced rehab gold rush that ultimately saw home values soar 400 percent and more.
Larry was raised in the Hyde Park area of Tampa so it was no wonder he was happy to sink his teeth into this particular story. As a child he lived off South Howard Avenue, near the Bayshore. Later, the Elliston family moved to the Palma Ceia area where he lived just a few houses away from then Channel 13 news director Tom Wright. A neighborhood playmate was Wright’s son, Tommy.
“I was always a story
teller,” Elliston says of himself.
“At Project 13, it was a luxury and a challenge to tell
television stories in a long format situation.
You had the whole half-hour to deal with one subject rather than
the minute or two we got doing the regular newscasts. I really learned a
lot working with Ray and Jule. It was a great time.”
“Hugh (Smith) was always up to speed on what we were doing but we were pretty much left to our own devices on deciding what topics were of community interest. Some shows were more informational, others a bit light-hearted, etc. If you were to look at the stories that we got into, we did some important stuff.”
His work on Project 13 made Elliston realize that many of the natural parts of Florida were being destroyed due to the population explosion and overbuilding.
He recalls doing a Project 13 program entitled “Where Have All The Beaches Gone?” which dealt with the erosion of the Florida coastline:
“That show really brought home a story I did back at Channel 8 on nesting Loggerhead turtles,” Larry remembers. “The endless construction of seawalls along the Gulf shoreline had created a perilous situation for the endangered creatures. Loggerheads could no longer lay their eggs in the safety of the dunes. What dunes? The momma turtles could go no further than the seawalls. And at high tide, the precious eggs were drowned.”
Larry had been on the Project 13
team about two years when high production costs forced Channel 13's management
to end the program. McGee shifted
over to chief photographer duties, Blush was appointed special projects director
and later, assistant news director, while Larry went back to doing what he had
done for WFLA: general assignment reporting.