Buster DeBrunner, a photographer on the Humboldt Times back in Eureka, talked me into it. He had left the paper to cast his lot with KVIQ, the second TV station to start up in town. Now he urged me to do the same.
He knew of my eagerness to perform. “You’d be a natural on the tube,” he said, like Edward R. Murrow, a radio journalist I’d admired.
Murrow brought the Nazi blitz of Britain in 1940 into our living room when I was a kid. Morrow would begin, “This is London,” and then he would add the local time, “ten minutes before five in the morning,” and so on.
“Bombs have been reported from more than fifty districts. Raiders have been over Wales in the west, the Midlands, Liverpool, the southwest and northeast. So far as London is concerned, the outskirts appear to have suffered the heaviest pounding. The attack has decreased in intensity since the morning faded from the sky…”
World War Two broke out the year before in 1939 when Hitler and Stalin invaded Poland. Pearl Harbor came two years later. “Where’s Pearl Harbor,” people began asking after the news of the surprise Japanese attack.
I was sure I would succeed in TV by imitating masters like Murrow.
By the time I’d left the paper and slipped into the anchor chair at KVIQ, I was ready. In Murrow’s grave style, I reported a stormy city council meeting, rancor at the school board, a fiery exchange at the planning commission, not to mention fires, fatalities and floods.
I was free to do it my way, in the Murrow-style. The station gave me a free hand. Too free. But the ratings rose. We were number one at times. The older station, scoffed.
They said we were putting on a show – a performance. It wasn’t for real. Their news, however, was believable. Our station manager was not unhappy. He liked the attention we were getting. We were being talked about. “Keep it up, kid,” he said.
In time, I got to New York and landed a job as a writer with NBC News. At the same time, I tried to get an on-air job. After a few tryouts, I gave it up. The bosses were right. Now, so many years later, I’m grateful.