by Dick John,
former News Director of Channel 13
Dick John, WTVT's first news director under Gaylord Broadcasting
In 1956, I was working as an anchor, writer, reporter, film editor and photographer in the newsroom at WKY-TV in Oklahoma City. I was 25 years old. One evening the newsroom phone rang and on the other end was P.A. “Buddy” Sugg, the station manager. He told me WKY had purchased another television station, in Tampa, that he was going down to run it and would I like to come along as news director?
P.A. "Buddy" Sugg, WTVT's General Manager
I didn’t have to think about it. I didn’t know anything about Tampa, and wasn’t even sure which coast it was on, but I did know Buddy Sugg, and if he wanted me in Tampa, to Tampa I was headed.
Two days later, I was there. Sugg and John Haberlan were waiting for me as I stepped off an old prop-driven airliner into the heaviest blanket of humidity I had ever known. John had worked in sales at WKY, and was to be sales director at our new station. He’d arrived the day before.
I’ll never forget that evening. The three of us sat down for a late dinner and talked about what was ahead. Sugg asked us to spend our first days doing nothing but watching television. Not just any television, but WTVT. At WKY, we had never worried about what the competition was doing. All we cared about was what we were doing .. and doing it well .. the very best we knew how. In Tampa, we were going to do the same thing.
It was a wonderful time in my life. Television news was still in its infancy, but we’d already been at it for five years in Oklahoma City, and we knew as much about doing a television newscast as anybody. From the very beginning, we’d had the kind of support from management and ownership one usually only dreams about. The Oklahoma Publishing Company had always believed in hiring the best people they could find, giving them the tools they needed, challenging them to be better than anybody else and then getting the hell out of the way. That was the kind of mind-set we brought with us to Tampa.
The first days were awkward. Those men and women already working at WTVT when the change in ownership occurred were understandably concerned about what it would mean to them. For most, the change turned out to be a God-send. For the first time, they had an owner-manager ready to rock and roll, ready to provide them the equipment, tools, support and leadership they needed to make Channel 13 a place they were proud of.
Gaylord's improvements at WTVT included a fleet of news vehicles.
Dick John is at far left in front of mobile unit
As time passed, the staff grew. More WKY people arrived, people like Ken Smith and Bob Doty in production and Bob Olsen as program manager. Norm Bagwell and Gene Dodson in management. My news staff grew as well .. I don’t remember how many people were involved in news when we arrived, but very few. I only brought in one other Oklahoman, and he had not been on staff at WKY. Smokey Zatkowski had been a news film stringer for me, and had covered the southwest part of Oklahoma like a blanket. I wanted him in Tampa.
Some of the others who joined the fun were Will Sinclair, an ex-rodeo performer who wanted into television in the worst way. He became an excellent anchor and a good all around hand. He was a little crazy, and we became close friends.
Roger Sharp was a Miami disc jockey who came on board early. Only a few weeks after he joined the staff, Roger wanted to cover the Sam Shepard murder trial* up in Cleveland, Ohio. He kept after me for days. His enthusiasm, his insistence that WTVT covering the "trial of the century" would impress the hell out of our viewers, that WSUN and WFLA were certainly not going to spend the money and make such an effort, sold me. And he was right. People in the bay area were amazed to see their very own Roger Sharp reporting from Cleveland. And they read it the way I hoped - that we were ready to go to any length to bring them the day's news. Roger ended up at ABC News, and died of lung cancer at a relatively young age.
Jeri Bunt and the 16mm Houston Fearless film processor (1957)
Training new employees about television journalism was an on-going function. Anyone who knew something that someone else didn't taught them on the spot. ' How to Shoot Newsfilm' was the title of a book I co-wrote in the early days, and it was pretty basic .. but it represented more than most knew at the time about such things as panning, crossing the line, etc. Will Sinclair, mentioned earlier, is one example - knew nothing about any of it when he walked in .. within months he was shooting good film, writing good script and anchoring. He learned to anchor by watching Wayne and me, and adding a few ideas of his own. Roger Sharp was another. He wanted to learn, and we taught him, and before much time had passed he was headed for New York and ABC News. All the while, those of us with some background in journalism were, at the same time, trying to impart to the new guys the rules and ethics attached to the vocation .. and, frankly, I think we did a very good job of it.
News Reader Roger Sharp is on the air. Bill McInnes is operating camera
Others who were there included Marvin Scott, my number one photographer. Marvin came from a family of fire fighters, and knew Tampa like no one else. Cy Smith ran the news desk and wrote and solved problems and kept me sane at times. Wayne Fariss was anchoring the late news when we arrived .. he was very good and he kept doing what he’d always done. Joe Busciglio was one of the best artists I ever knew.
Marvin Scott, Channel 13's lead news photographer
Other names that I haven’t thought of for years..in and out of the news department .. all guys who had a hand in making
Channel 13 news the best in the business .. include Roy Leep .. Charlie Stump.. Louie Hernandez .. Ed Scott .. Salty Sol .. Bob Taliaferro .. Ned Jay .. Paul
Reynolds .. Joe Tully .. Joe Russo .. Guy Bagli .. Jack Cosgrove .. Bill Witt ..
Murph up in Tallahassee. I know I’m overlooking someone, probably more than one. But it’s been almost fifty
years, and I’m having another senior moment..
Some things I still remember .. my first sight of the orange groves that spread for miles in central Florida .. the 10 hour flight in a B-47 out of MacDill .. using the live mobile unit to cover the state fair .. we did the newscasts from there for a week .. flying with Marvin Scott in my little Aeronca that had the door removed, high above Tampa Bay. He leaned out to shoot aerials of something .. and, Oops! There went the Bell & Howell 16mm camera .. we circled and watched it fall .. and the geyser of water that rose from the bay where it went in.
The drowning of our newscast’s director Ron Stimpson and his wife after the boat they
were guests in sank off the mouth of Tampa Bay. Ron had borrowed a 16mm Bolex camera from me to take on their excursion.
Later, the boat was raised and the Bolex was retrieved. When opened, the film was dry .. it was
processed and we ran it on our news .. scenes of Ron and his wife and another young
couple having a grand time sailing on the Gulf. There was no footage of the disaster that ended the
lives of three of them.
What I remember very well to this day was the evening I learned WTVT had won the Atlantic City Headliner’s Award for having the best local television news department in the United States .. 13 months after we’d arrived in Florida!
In 1958, I left Florida to try my hand at the network, NBC in New York. Shortly before I left, Crawford Rice transferred to Tampa from WKY’s station in Montgomery, Alabama, where he was also news director. Rice immediately began to improve on what we’d been doing, and went on to achieve an outstanding career in station management.
As for me, I stayed in New York for about a year, but my family didn't care for life in the big city and we returned to WKY-TV in Oklahoma City. From there I moved to WIIC in Pittsburgh, then to Los Angeles' KNBC, and finally to KHOU in Houston. I left television in 1975 and became a consultant and media trainer. My wife, Ramona, a lawyer and judge before we retired, has published two books and is working on her third. 'Fun in Europe, a Travel Guide for Grown-ups!', is the result of 30 trips to Europe over the years, and it's a dandy.
A lot of fine folks passed this way over the years, and it's wonderful to read their names and see their pictures
again. I'd love to hear from any of the 1950s guys still above ground .. Email me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dick John, May 2002
*The Sam Shepard murder trial was the inspiration for the TV series "The Fugitive."
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