KWCH – Runners Photo Essay 1984
I’m posting this as an historical artifact. It isn’t great television, in fact, it’s the kind of story that I don’t think anyone does anymore. This story is significant for one major thing in my life, however. It’s the first time my name was mentioned on TV.
First off about this type of story. In today’s TV news climate many people could say that this is not fitting for TV news. “This isn’t news. This is a music video. You’ve taken a news event and reduced it to MTV.” “This is a feature and we don’t have a minute and forty seconds for a feature.” And in today’s news world I totally agree. This wouldn’t work for TV these days. And I don’t think I’ve done any stories similar to this in well over two decades. And that’s the point.
This story was not created in today’s journalistic landscape. It is over two and a half decades old. By comparison, if this story were being done two and a half decades earlier, in 1958, it would have been shot on a spring-wound 16mm Bolex with a three-lens turret (before the days of affordable zoom lenses) in black & white and no sound. Instead, this was shot on an industrial broadcast camera, recording at 400 scan lines, with an industrial 10-1 zoom lens, connected to a Sony 3/4″ recording deck, and edited machine-to-machine. The popular computer of the day was the Commodore 64, called the “64” because it held a whopping 64k memory.
It could be argued, however, that there isn’t much new to tell about a charity run. Any information to be transmitted would be told by the sports anchor in the sports segment. A piece like this would be a different take that wouldn’t focus on the pro-runners and the athletes. This would make the average people participating in the run and their families and friends cheering them on the stars of the story. Does something like this really need words? Why not just some pictures put to complimentary music? At least, that was the concensus thinking at the time.
This story ran on a Saturday. This was in the day where every newscast ended with a feature, also called a “kicker” — a positive, upbeat story to send the audience off on a high note. It was also a time when “photo essays,” as this was considered in video terms, were popular. MTV was brand new and everybody was making them. And TV news, being always malleable and wanting to be in popular step with the times, was encouraging photographers to enterprise, initiate and contribute.
This particular story was about the Pepsi Challenge 4k Run, which took place at 8AM on a drizzly autumn Saturday morning. Wichita was the home of Pizza Hut, which had been bought by Pepsi a few years before. My assignment was to cover the race and get the winners crossing the finish line and some interviews for the sports department.
KWCH-TV was my first station as a TV news cameraman. They’d given me my break when many, many others wouldn’t, hiring me a year before in October 1983. In the spring of 1984 they sent me to the N.P.P.A. TV News Video Workshop in Norman, Oklahoma. A one-week instructional and inspirational boot camp. It was my master class and the only formal education I’d ever had. In short, it changed my life.
In the months following the workshop I’d been actively applying everything they taught me that I was able to retain into my daily news work with the reporters at KWCH. I was longing, though, to do something on my own, with my own stamp. The rival station across town, KAKE-TV, ran a photographer’s photo essay at the end of every Saturday’s 10 o’clock newscast. This inspired me to take a stab at this.
Once I returned to the station in the early afternoon I went to the engineering to have my 10 minutes of action running footage on 3/4″ tape transferred to 1″ production tape, which I then had played back at 25-30% and dubbed back down to 3/4″ to edit. This was how we created slow-motion back in those days. Everything was quite an elaborate effort.
I then spent the next few hours editing the story, shuttling back and forth through the now 35 minutes of slow motion footage. I then turned it in and headed to Hutchinson to cover a boxing match. (I worked a 9AM-10:30PM shift during my first year at Channel 12.) I didn’t get to hear KWCH weekend anchor Julia Rockler say my name as she introduced my story. But I watched the aircheck and played the intro over a couple times. It marked the first entry of my one-man efforts. It was a small first step, but once you’ve made the first step the next one is easier, and more emboldening. I also discovered my own vanity. I loved hearing my name spoken on the news. And I couldn’t wait to get another story on the air so I could hear my name again.