Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Remembering Susan Farmer

Susan Farmer was one of the few people I’ve known who could simultaneously project a sense of shrewdness, great wit, and understanding.  She was attractive, bright, and articulate.  She was tenacious…and she had a wonderful sense of humor.

Susan was a public broadcasting colleague.  From the late 1980’s until 2004, she was president of WSBE-TV in Providence, Rhode Island.  She died one month ago – on Monday, September 16, following a long battle with cancer.  She was 71.

Like many who knew her, my initial and abiding reaction to the news of her death was one of loss – even though it’s been years since I talked or corresponded with Susan.  So I’m left to revel in the memories of some good times we shared over the years.  From a Corporation for Public Broadcasting leadership workshop where we first got to know each another – to the many years we worked together within OSBE, the Organization of State Broadcast Executives.

OSBE is comprised of public broadcasting executives from some 25 states that are each served by a statewide network of public broadcasting outlets.  Many are in the wide open spaces, like Wyoming, Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Oklahoma.  But a single station, WSBE-TV in Providence, dominates the entire – if diminutive – state.   And so it was at OSBE that I got to know Susan.

Did I say she was shrewd?  Witty?  Articulate?

Absolutely.  But most of the memories I carry of Susan are of a dedicated professional with a mischievous smile and an infectious sense of humor. 

A pair of scissors and Jack McBride’s necktie were key ingredients for a bit of legendary laughter at several of our OSBE meetings.  And I still chuckle when I recall one starlit night in Virginia when Susan and I, along with Rod Bates and a small cadre of other OSBE golfers, rushed to finish our game before dark….unsuccessfully.  

Our laughter in the darkness left little possibility of ever actually hearing where our golf shots were landing.  We couldn’t see.  But we could laugh…..and we did.

Susan Farmer was passionate about her work.   Rhode Islanders identify her as the one person who saved Rhode Island public television in the early 1990’s when funding for the network had been yanked.

She was a joy to know and work with.  I think you’ll understand why, if you take a few moments to sort through portions of this online tribute to Susan Farmer:  If You Knew Susie.

Some of her colleagues shared their thoughts and memories of Susan in the following excerpt from the WSBE-TV program A Lively Experiment (below), which Susan had created many years ago.   It's a fitting tribute to a classy lady.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Charles Rook retires from a career in broadcasting

Ex-Chadronite reflects on excellent broadcasting career

Charley Rook says he was “very, very lucky” during his career as a radio and television news director and anchorman.  But he also credits his upbringing in Chadron with helping him make the most of the opportunities that were afforded to him.
                Rook is a 1954 graduate of Chadron Prep.  He was back “home” during Fur Trade Days in July, renewing acquaintances with friends and also taking stock of the town that he said he’s come to appreciate more and more while working and living in much larger cities.
                “A lot can be said for growing up in a place like Chadron,” Rook said while sipping on iced tea at the Country Kitchen. “This is a place where God and Country are important, where honesty and fairness are appreciated and where a strong work ethic is learned and carried out.  I tried to live by those values because I really never knew any other way.”
                Charley and his brother Johnny were born in Ohio, but their family moved to Chadron when they were in junior high. Their father, Gordon, was a Chadron native who was a diesel locomotive-electrician for the Chicago and North Western Railroad.  Their mother, Della, was a native of Kentucky. Johnny graduated from Prep in 1955, one year after Charley.
                Charley notes that he wasn’t a good enough basketball player to get much playing time on any of the three Class C state championship teams that Archie Conn coached during the 1950s, but he liked football and believes he received all-Northwest Nebraska Conference honors as an end on the Junior Eagles’ football team his senior year. 
                Both brothers made it big in broadcasting—Johnny in radio while Charley switched to television and was an anchorman at major stations in both Chicago and Los Angeles before spending 20 years at a station in Spokane-Coeur d' Alene, where he is now retired.
Early in their careers, both worked at KOBH Radio in Hot Springs where they “did about everything.”  While Charley made his mark as a radio and TV news anchor, Johnny had a knack for picking hot tunes before they were hits and he became a renowned radio programmer and station consultant.  Wikipedia has three pages on Johnny’s career. He lives in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, only about 20 miles from Spokane. (See separate story).
                Charley has no regrets about how things turned out for him, and while he was being  interviewed, mentioned two things that he feels helped put him on the  road to success.
                One, he said, was at the District 6 Declamatory and One-Act Play Contest that Chadron State College hosted when he was a junior at Chadron Prep.  The competition included radio newscasting and Charley won first place, sparking his interest in broadcasting and boosting his confidence. 
                The second was being able to work for his uncle Claude (Bud) Rook, the founder and owner of ABC Electric in Chadron during the summers and at other times when an extra helper was needed.
                “I’m sure there are some people in Chadron who remember him,” Charley said. “He was a good mentor for me. He was a taskmaster who had that work ethic which I so much admire to this day. Bud also believed if you worked harder than the competition  you could succeed in America, the greatest country the world has ever seen.
“Quite a bit of this rubbed off on me and I still believe it, even though things about this country have really changed over the years and in my estimation, not always for the better.  The nanny state and political correctness come to mind."
                Charley said some of “Uncle Bud’s training” helped him excel while he spent four years in the Navy immediately after graduating from Prep.  First of all, because of his experience as an electrician in the ABC Electric shop, Charley became a shipboard electrician on destroyer escorts in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. By the time he was discharged, he had an E-6 rating, something few sailors accomplish during a four-year hitch.
                “I made E-6 because I studied hard for the tests that we took.  I was told that if I stayed in the Navy I could probably become an officer. It was tempting, but I decided if I could do well in the Navy, I could probably also do well in the outside world so I got out.”
                After his discharge, Charley enrolled at Chadron State College in the fall of 1958, but stayed just one semester and part of the spring term. Johnny was working at KOBH and the Hot Springs station needed a weekend announcer.  Charley took the job and was soon hooked on radio broadcasting.
                Since the name Johnny Rook was already well-known to KOBH listeners when Charley went to work there, it was decided he should use a different last name.  Thus during the rest of his career—nearly 50 years—he was Charles Rowe to his listeners and viewers.   
                After only a few months at KOBH, he accepted a radio position  in Cheyenne. He said he definitely got lots of experience there.  He put the station on the air in the mornings, was often still there to give the noon news and then spent the afternoons selling spots, or ads.
                His stint in Cheyenne was cut short when some "high rollers" from San Francisco hired him to help build and set up programming for four new Northwest radio stations in Boise, Idaho, and Salem, Eugene and Medford, Ore.

                His next stop, still in the early-1960s, was at KYMN, a 50,000-watt station in Portland, Ore., where he was strictly a newsman. He was there a couple of years and enjoyed his work but realized television people were making more money.
                    Rook took a chance and in 1966 accepted a newscaster job at a tiny TV station in Coos Bay, Ore.  Within six months, he was promoted to the company's flagship station in Eugene as news director and anchor.
                Then just a few months later in 1967, he received a big break in his career.  He was offered a news anchor and capitol correspondent position at KXTV in Sacramento. That was shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California.
“It was my pleasure to interview him three times in the two years I was at that station,” Charlie said. “He was great to interview and I was one of his admirers long before he became president.”

           Charley said he was not planning to leave Sacramento, but he went to Chicago in 1969 to visit his brother and his mother, who had moved with Johnny to the Windy City.
                “By then, Johnny was programming WLS Radio, a top Chicago station, and really making a name for himself.  While I was there, he lined up an interview for me with WLS-TV, which was owned by ABC. They offered me the job of anchoring their first-ever weekend newscast and filling in for their weekday anchors.  The pay was very good, so I left Sacramento and moved to Chicago.”
                Charley remained at WLS-TV for four years.  During two of those years, he also wrote and delivered three newscasts a day for the ABC radio network nationwide.
                One of his most memorable experiences in Chicago was working in the same office area as Paul Harvey, one of the nation’s preeminent newscasters for nearly five decades.
                “He would sometimes walk by my glass door, see me inside, open it and say ‘Hi Charles’ as he was leaving from work. 
“Sometimes, I’d go down the hall and watch him do his newscasts. He had the darnedest system. He had papers scattered all over his desk and would randomly pick one up and read it with that great voice of his. I never could figure out how he decided which story to use next.  It never seemed that he had the stories in any kind of an order, but it worked for him.”
                Charley said he was “never enamored” with Chicago, calling it “a corrupt city that’s still that way.” So when his contract ended he moved to KTTV, a major independent station in Los Angeles, and soon became its sole news anchor. KTTV is now owned by FOX.
                “I was there for eight years and had a great time,” he said. “I guess this was the ‘biggest job’ I ever had when it came to audience size.  But after a while, I began dreaming about having my own radio station, so in 1980 I moved again.  While in LA, I worked hard to obtain a permit to put a new FM station on the air in Lincoln City/Newport, Ore., right on the coast.
                “Building and managing the station was probably the most fun thing I have ever done and we put a superior product on the air. We won more than a dozen Associated Press statewide awards and a couple of national awards for our news coverage.  But I realized while I was having great fun, I wasn't making much money.   So I sold it and began looking for a television news position in the Northwest.”
                Charley didn’t get much time off after selling the station.  Within a few weeks he was hired as an anchor at KREM-TV in Spokane, Wash., and spent the last 20 years of his career there.
                “Our ratings were top notch and I enjoyed the staff at the station, even though I had a constant battle with some of the activist-liberals in the newsroom to make sure we were telling both sides of the story. Maybe that's why the 5 p.m. news at KREM, which I co-anchored for the full 20-years, was constantly number one. I finally retired when I reached 72 and that was five years ago.
                “I had a good career and I don’t have any complaints. I always enjoyed preparing myself for the job on a daily basis and then getting it done.” he added.
                He remains in Spokane after retiring and calls himself “a neighborhood volunteer" who is heavy into the Tea Party, Heritage Foundation and the National Rifle Association.
                He said he’s dismayed that the national media is so biased to the left and he tries to do what he can to maintain and promote the conservative viewpoint.
                Along the same lines, he said he greatly enjoyed his visit to Chadron and the chance to meet up with a number of his high school friends again.  Most of them, he noted, seem to be holding on to what he describes as “this country’s traditional values of honesty and hard work.”

(Thanks to good friend Con Marshall for sharing this story, originally written for the Chadron (Nebr) Record)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Remembering the tenacious Helen Thomas….and KLRN-TV

The death earlier today (7/20/13) of veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas at age 92 caused me to reflect a bit on her remarkable career.  And especially her tenacity, something I had asked her about some 40 years ago when she visited KLRN-TV in Austin/San Antonio.  I was News Director at the station, and she was in the studio for to be interviewed on our Newsroom 9 newscast.  

I don't remember why she was had come to Austin, but between the allure of the Johnson family name and the robust political activity that seemed to emanate and swirl around the University of Texas campus, we often had lots of media folks visit us.  Former NBC newsman Ron Nessen, who'd taken the job as Press Secretary for President Gerald Ford, was also in town at about that same time.  Lots of media figures came and went.

Helen Thomas in her earlier days
Helen Thomas, who worked for United Press International (UPI) for 57 years,  chalked up many firsts in her career.  She worked her way up to manage the UPI Washington bureau -- the first woman to hold the job.  She was the first female member of the "good ol' boy" Gridiron Club, and she also was the first woman to serve as president of the White House Correspondents' Association.

I asked her if her colleagues in Washington thought she was a bit aggressive…..perhaps too pushy, when interviewing folks.

"If I were a man, they'd just say I was tenacious," she retorted.

Of course, she was exactly right, and I've never forgotten her response.

Born in Kentucky and raised in Detroit, Helen Thomas apparently caught the journalism bug in high school and went on to graduate from Wayne University there before moving to Washington, D.C. to seek her fortune.  In 1943 she took a job as a copy girl with a local paper, but soon thereafter joined UPI as a reporter.  She ended up covering 10 different presidents over some five decades.   She died this morning in her Washington apartment.  Interestingly, the funeral for Helen Thomas is planned for Detroit, which seems itself to be on an economic deathbed, having declared bankruptcy last Thursday.

As I pondered the Helen Thomas interview, it brought back memories about KLRN-TV and KUT-FM radio.  Back in those days, KLRN-TV served both Austin and San Antonio.  It was a owned by a nonprofit corporation (Southwest Texas Educational Television Council), while the radio station, KUT-FM, was licensed to the University of Texas.

In the mid-1970's, when we unveiled our new weekly KLRN-TV public affairs program called This Week, the late Bob Schenkkan,  who was our General Manager, sought feedback about the program from his friend, Texas native Bill Moyers.  Moyers had already made a name for himself in politics and journalism and was well entrenched at WNET in New York.   Bob had sent Moyers a videocassette of the program, and Moyers responded by saying "I looked at THIS WEEK and liked it.  It's a good concept.  With the right budget for film, it could be the format for an exciting an informative weekly program."

Alas our film budget never increased.  Portable videotape was emerging in local markets, and our slender budget was incapable of making the capital outlay it required.  This Week, which had been a subject of some ridicule because its name wasn't deemed terribly original, didn't last long.

But go tell that to ABC News.  Within a few years after the demise of our local This Week program, ABC latched on to it and has been running with that title for more than three decades.

As I rummaged through other notes from the KLRN years, I also happened across an article and photo about a panel show I moderated with members of the Commission on Critical Choices for Americans --  another political group that found Austin an attractive gathering place.  They were in town to talk about "Man's Nature and Institutions." Panelists included Harvard Professor James Q. Wilson, Dr. Irving Kristol, editor of The Public Interest magazine, University of Northern Illinois professor Martin Diamond, and UCLA professor Dr. Thomas Sowell.

Sowell, Diamond, Miller, Wilson and Kristol are shown above in the KLRN-TV studio (May 1974).  Diamond, Wilson and Kristol are all deceased, but Sowell and Miller are still with us.  Thomas Sowell remains vitally active as a syndicated newspaper columnist.  Miller, when not in front of his computer, regularly reads Sowell's columns in the Rapid City Journal before crawling atop his Trek for a bike ride along Spearfish Creek in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Friend and veteran broadcaster Jack Miller dies at 79

Note:  We lost a good friend recently.  Unfortunately, we neglected promptly posting his obituary.  This posting corrects that oversight.  Earlier stories on this site told a bit about Jack and his achievements at KCSR in Chadron, Nebraska and KCOL in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Now, we offer Jack's obituary as it appeared in numerous publications.

John  J. "Jack" Miller
John “Jack” Joseph Miller, 79, of Fort Collins, Colo. passed away April 14, 2013, at his home with his family by his side.
Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. April 17 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fort Collins with full military honors. Interment will be held later at Roselawn Cemetery.
Jack was born in Randolph on Dec. 6, 1933, to Steven and Genevieve (Abts) Miller. He graduated from Norfolk High School in in 1951 and served in the U.S. Navy as a radarman for nearly four years.
Jack started his career in radio broadcast as a salesman for WJAG Radio in Norfolk in 1956 and was promoted as general manager for KCSR Radio in Chadron in 1959. From there, he was vice president and general manager of KCOL AM/FM Radio in Fort Collins. Once KCOL was sold, Jack became a business development manager for KUAD-FM in Windsor, Colo. and continued to work in the radio broadcast industry until he retired in 2003.
He was a past commander of the American Legion in Norfolk; past president of the Rotary Club in Chadron; served on the Board of Directors for the Community Hospital in Chadron; and was president of the Board of Education for Assumption Academy.
Church was always an important part of Jack's life, keeping active at St. Patrick's Church in Chadron and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fort Collins. He served on St. Joseph's Parish Council and was an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion for many years. Jack was a member of the Knights of Columbus; served on the Board and was past president of the Fort Collins United Way; was active in and assumed leadership positions with the Fort Collins Rotary Club; past president of the Colorado Broadcasters Association; participated in Larimer County Extension Services and the Northern Colorado Better Business Bureau; part of B.P.O. Elks #804; past president and on the board for the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce; and was a well-known member of the Chamber's Red Carpet Committee for many years.
Jack loved woodworking and enjoyed spending time outside in his yard. He was an avid fisherman and received a Master Angler Award.
In 1955, Jack married Constance Palecek in Norfolk and they were blessed with eight children.
Survivors include: his wife, Constance; twin brother and sister Jim Miller and Jeanie (Miller) Sellars of Norfolk; brother Michael Miller of Cushing, Okla.; sister-in-law Liz (Abler) Miller of Norfolk; children Steve (Vicki) Miller, Colo., Julie (Paul) Anderson, Wisc,., Michelene Miller, Colo., Mark (Kristin) Miller, Colo., Jacque Miller, Colo., Kelley (Steve) Spight, Colo., Susan Miller, Colo. and Alison (Max) Rodriguez, Colo.; 15 grandchildren; and five great grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his parents, and nephew Dick Miller.
Condolences may be shared at www.goesfuneralcare.com. Memorials may be made to St. Joseph's School in care of Goes Funeral Care.