It was probably 1967, maybe 1968. I had just spent almost four years under the influence of alcohol as a Communications Technician in the U.S. Navy. I had joined the service right after graduation, hoping I would learn something that would be my ticket out of the panhandle. Being a CT in the Navy means I know the Morse Code way better than anyone should. Thanks a lot. Even way back in the late 60's, that form of communication was obsolete in the civilian world.
I was doing hard labor at a farm implement manufacturing plant when the call came, offering me a job at the local radio station. The General Manager foolishly thought my job in the Navy must've included some fine training in electronics. I was blessed with a decent voice and I had the ability to read 6th grade level English fairly well, so I was a prime candidate to be a "news reader" and a disk jockey. Fine. I did that for several months and was offered a job at the regional tv station. KGLD. That stands for Garden City, Liberal and Dodge City.
I took the job because the guy offered me keys to a brand new Pontiac and told me it was mine if I did. I was to go to Wichita, KARD-TV, and learn how to use this antique twist turrent Bell & Howell film camera, process and edit film, and how to process the 35 mm slides from the still camera. Armed with those tools, I returned to Garden City, prepared to start the climb to Walter Cronikite's seat.
The film I shot was, or course, silent movie type stuff, so if I wanted to use something I later learned to know and love - sound bites - I had to capture those on a tape recorder and play them back while the audience stared at a still photo of the person doing the talking. I did that several times with the young Congressman named Bob Dole. I'm sure he has fond memories of it all.
I had about 5 minutes to report all the news worth reporting each evening. It was a very interesting, though rather stressful operation. I would move a portable podium in front of a piece of blue cloth on a wall in the garage of the tv station and the engineer on duty would yell at me from the control room if I needed to adjust to the left or right. We "inserted" our Western Kansas news into KARD's evening newscast. When they got into their weather segment, I had to start watching closely because when the weatherman held up a product to do his pitch to a commercial break, that meant I was up next. Our engineer would put me on the air and I would do my little news report while watching for the news anchor in Wichita to hold up another product 'cause that was my cue to wrap up and rejoin the Wichita newscast. What a blast.
I had the pleasure of being at that little station when the company invested in whatever equipment was needed to begin broadcasting in color. I had the Mayors of Garden City, Liberal and Dodge City on my little news program that evening and they got to do an odd-man-out sort of coin toss to see which of them got to push the magic button on my podium, instantly switching our signal from b&w to color! Truly an historical evening in the history of Western Kansas and one I'm sure is still talked about in rest homes all around that region.
I had no one who could take my place if I was sick or just wanted a break. Nobody to blame for all my beginner's mistakes. Nobody to turn to for help if anything went wrong. It sucked. It was also the greatest way to start a career that anyone could ever want. I stayed in the tv news business for 32 years and I did very well. I made it all the way to Washington, D.C. and in every station along the way, Wichita, Ft. Smith, Little Rock, Santa Maria, Ok City and DC, I got along well with the directors, photographers, studio crews and engineers because I understood the importance of their roles and the problems they had to face on a regular basis. Since that time, I've encouraged young people to spend a little time at some tiny little place where they have to work their asses off because it'll all pay off someday. Unfortunately, most of the people coming out of the journalism classes today can't write a complete sentence and think their little diploma qualified them for the main anchor's seat or the News Director's job.