Posts Tagged ‘WRBL’

WRBL News Investigates MCSD “No-bid Deal”

November 22, 2013

WRBL’s 11 p.m. News did not lead with a predictable list of wrecks, fires, and crimes last night. It led with a solid piece of investigative journalism, something that I am afraid gets little attention by a lot of local stations, not just in Columbus, but around the country.

Sydney Cameron’s digging paid off with a very informative report, “The No-bid Deal.”  It was a look at the controversial Muscogee County School Board’s practice of not using the bidding process in hiring a law firm.

It was a well-balanced report, giving time to both sides of the controversy.  To me, it is a very important controversy, because it involves the issues of  the way our tax dollars are being spent and transparency in government.

Last night’s report is one of the best investigative reports I have seen on local TV in a long time.  And it’s not over. More reports on this issue are promised.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see this series win some broadcast journalism awards.

What Jim Woodruff, Jr. and James “Alley Pat” Patrick Have in Common

October 21, 2013

They received two coveted awards at  the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame Induction Awards Ceremony Saturday night in Marietta, Georgia.

James W. Woodruff, Jr.

James W. Woodruff, Jr.

Jim Woodruff, Jr., President and General Manager of WRBL Radio and TV, was my friend and boss for more than 20 years.  He was honored posthumously with the Elmo Ellis Spirit Award.  I worked for Elmo Ellis at WSB Radio for four years.  Both of the men were Georgia broadcasting giants.  I learned a lot from both of  them.

James "Alley Pat" Patrick

James “Alley Pat” Patrick

James “Alley Pat” Patrick received the Georgia Radio  Hall of Fame Founders and Directors Award.  He, at age 94, was there to personally accept the award.  He brought the house down with his outrageously insulting humor.  I could not believe that someone 94 years old could have the energy to be as funny as he was.  As the video about his life told us, he started his radio career in the ’40s on Atlanta’s first black-owned radio station WERD-AM.  He left radio for a while to become Atlanta’s first black bail-bondsman, actively working with civil rights leaders to bail protestors out of jail during civil rights struggles.  A theatrical documenarty film has been made about him. It calls him the “Real Mouth of  the South.”

No doubt that is a take-off on the old WSB “50,000-watt Voice of the  South” slogan.  I have to admit the  first time I announced that station break on the 50,000-watt Voice of the South in 1957 I felt very special, because that station was and is a broadcasting giant.  More so then, I think, than it is now.  I once asked Elmo Ellis about the ratings.  Knowing I was doing the morning news, he said the station had more viewers in the morning than all other Atlanta stations combined.  I don’t think anyone in Atlanta can claim that now.

Dina Woodruff,  Jim Woodruff, III, and Janet Beerman

Dina Woodruff, Jim Woodruff, III, and Janet Beerman

Janet Beerman, Ellis’ daughter, who made the Elmo Ellis Spirit Award presentation, introduced the short video about Jim Woodruff, Jr.’s life.  It was my honor to narrate that video, especially when I saw that the Woodruff family – some 20 of his progeny were there – was pleased that I did it.  The video only ran for two  minutes so a lot had to be left out.  For instance, I wasn’t able to tell that Woodruff was instrumental  in launching the University of Georgia Football Radio Network, with WRBL Radio feeding play-by-ply of Georgia games to stations all over Georgia for a number of years.  Also, I had to leave out that he was instrumental in putting Georgia’s first  commercial FM station , WRBL-FM,  on the air right after World  War II.  At one  time Woodruff was involved administratively in four family owned stations in Georgia, including WATL in Atlanta, and WGPC in Albany. 

What a great night it was, filled with historic images of Georgia’s many radio stations, and with laughs aplenty supplied by  still-living radio personalities.  Thanks so much to Debbie and Jim Woodruff, III, for inviting former WRBL co-workers Don Nahley, Al Fleming, and me to the event.  All of us had a marvelous time.

The Microphone that Made it to the Columbus Museum

March 5, 2012

The inspiration for this post comes from my PIC QUIZ feature on Facebook. I asked folks to tell me the significance and type of this antique microphone.

Paul  Pierce, artistic director of the Springer Opera House, was the winner of the ATTABOY AWARD because he knew that it is a carbon microphone, and suggested that  it is from the Jim Woodruff era at WRBL. I said that was close enough if he was referring to Jim Woodruff, Sr., not Jim Woodruff, Jr. Jim Woodruff, Jr. ended up running and owning the largest share of the station,  but it was Sr.who bought WRBL in the  early 1930’s and, this mic was being used then. It could even have been used when WRBL went on the air in 1928 in a dressing room of the now gone Royal Theater.  The Royal became the Three Arts Theater before the building became victim of the wrecking ball.

Roy Martin, the man who built  the Royal, a 2,700-seat movie and vaudeville theater, was the first owner of WRBL radio, which went on the air with a 50-watt transmitter built by “Radio” Bill Lewis – hence the call letters WRBL – who continued working as an engineer at WRBL long after Roy Martin sold it. Legend has it that he sold it because he thought it couldn’t be profitable because “you have to pay all those people to be on the radio.”  Over the years it went from a 50-watt independent to a 250-watt, and, finally, a 5,000-watt CBS affiliate that made a lot of profit, and gave birth to WRBL-FM, and, finally WRBL-TV which has made tons of profits over the years. Martin’s theater chain was quite profitable, too. And it got back into the broadcasting business when it became part owner of WDAK-TV, which morphed into WTVM. It became sole owner of WTVM. It’s been sold a number of times since then, as has WRBL-TV.

So you can see that the old carbon mic is an important historical artifact.  It now belongs to the Columbus Museum.  Don Nahley, who was given the mic when he left WRBL-TV as manager, asked me and former broadcast journalist Al Fleming to  join him in presenting the mic to the museum.  Don and I worked together at  WRBL-TV for many years, and we worked with Al there for a short while. Museum Executive Director Tom Butler accepted the microphone for the museum’s collection of historical artifacts. Don, Al, and I are all glad it’s now the property of the museum. We think that is where it  should be.

Business Leader and Philanthropist J. Barnett Woodruff Dies

January 18, 2011

J. Barnett Woodruff at the dedication ceremony of the replica of the Civil War ship the Water Witch at the National Civil War Naval Museum (Photo by Jim Cawthorne, Camera1)

  The last member of the Woodruff family who participated in pioneering broadcasting in Columbus died at the age of 87 last night. Columbus native J. Barnett Woodruff, the son of Jim Woodruff, Senior and brother of the late Jim Woodruff, Jr. and late sister Emily Woodruff, was a part owner of WRBL Radio and TV before it was sold  in 1978.  Their father, Jim Woodruff, Sr., bought WRBL Radio back in the early 1930’s, a few years after it went on the air in a dressing room of the Royal Theater in 1928.  He turned it over to Jim in the late thirties. It grew and grew and ended up a very profitable radio and, eventually, television station. Barnett had a financial interest in the company, but left it up to Jim to run the stations. He had told me he was more interested in the family real estate business.

However, circumstances caused him to become very involved.  Jim died in an automobile accident  in Athens causing his majority ownership of Columbus Broadcasting Company to go into a family trust managed by the First National Bank.  Barnett owned  a minority interest in the company and became president.

The station was sold about two years after Jim Woodruff, Jr. died. Barnett did an extraordinary thing on his last day there.  He personally walked around the building and shook hands, thanked employees for their good work and handed them an envelope containing one-hundred-dollar bills.  I felt so expansive that when I got home that night I handed a couple of them to my teenage son. Teenagers just love cash.

He was a kind, generous man, supporting a number of charities including the Boys and Girls Clubs, Springer Opera House, and the National Civil War Naval Museum. His brother Jim had been instrumental in raising the ironclad Jackson from the Chattahoochee River and starting the naval museum, and his sister Emily was a generous supporter of the Springer.

He was a member of the Rotary Club of Columbus and First Presbyterian Church. He is survived by a daughter, two sons, and 9 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.  A memorial service will be held Friday at 2 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church.

Al, Don and I Dine at 79

October 4, 2009

My old broadcasting days co-worker and friend Don Nahley called me recently to asked me to lunch.  The occasion was his birthday. 

 “It’s your birthday.  Well, in that case, I’m paying for it.”

“No.  I’m going to call Al and see if he wants to come, too.”

He did, and the three of us had lunch at a Chinese restaurant.  Don wouldn’t accept my nor Al’s offer to pick up the check.  “I’m not going you invite you to lunch and then let you pay for it.”

“Well, all right,” I said, “but we’ll do the same thing on my birthday. You and Al can come and I’ll pick up the check.”

Al Fleming, Dick McMichael, Don Nahley celebrating Dick's birthday at Fudruckers.

Al Fleming, Dick McMichael, and Don Nahley celebrating Dick's birthday at Fuddruckers. (Photo taken by busboy at Fuddruckers using Don's camera)

And that’s exactly what we did Friday.  Al said he was going to do the same for his next birthday, if he’s still alive next March.  All three of us are 79 years old.  Wonder if Don and Al wanted me to tell you that. Oh, well, too late now.

“I think we ought to put it in our wills that we will pick up the check for our next birthday in case one of us doesn’t live that long,”  he said.

Nobody ever said the three of us are normal and conventional, probably because we’re not.  That’s no fun.

One time when the three of us gathered for lunch at the Mediterranean Cafe (no longer in business), a lady, who was with a group of other ladies leaving the restaurant, stopped at our table and grabbed the check.  I tried to grab it back because it was my turn to pay. She wouldn’t hear of it.  She said, “It’s for all that you guys did for us over the years.” Now, that was special.  I have to confess that I was moved. 

All of us worked in at least two Columbus TV stations, and, at one time, all three of us worked for the same station, WRBL, at the same time.  Al worked at WTVM, WRBL, and WLTZ. (He still does commentaries on WLTZ’s Rise n’ Shine Show with Calvin Floyd.)  Don worked at WRBL for about 29 years, then worked for WXTX for a short period. I worked at WRBL, off and on, from 1953 to 1986, when I switched to WTVM, where I worked until retirement in 2000.

The three of us have personally experienced the evolution of television broadcasting in Columbus.  What’s the difference between then and now?  Stay tuned.

Walter Cronkite and Me

July 18, 2009

I learned of the death of Walter Cronkite when Phil Scoggins called me to ask if I would give him an interview to run on the 11p.m. news on WRBL.  I immediately said, “Yes.”  I was honored to do the interview.

As I told Phil in the interview, my television news career and Walter Cronkite’s started about the same time. He took Douglas Edwards’ place on CBS-TV and I took Glenn Broughman’s place on WRBL-TV, the station that carried the CBS Evening News. 

At that time,  television news reporting was not entertainment oriented.  Dignity and style prevailed.  News was, and still should be, a serious business.  He built a tremendous amount of trust over the years nationally, and I did my best to do the same thing locally. 

I only saw him in person once.  All of the network big guns converged on the Radio and Television News Director’s Association Convention at Miami in the early 1970’s.   I was WRBL Radio and Television news director, as well as anchor of the evening news, at the time.   The network news anchors came to rally America’s news directors in the fight to show President Nixon and Vice President Agnew that they could not harness and intimidate the media.  Their attacks failed as both of them were forced to resign for other reasons.

I was actually on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite only once. A Fort Benning soldier refused to wear his uniform as a protest against the Vietnam War.  I interviewed him and CBS ran that interview.  The CBS News Southern Bureau chief told me Cronkite said he liked the interview.  Coming from Walter Cronkite, that meant a lot.  

People are saying that he was the “gold standard of broadcast journalism,” and that he was “the most trusted man in America.”  They are also saying that no one today can match the credibility he achieved.  I agree. He was not flashy. He was not Hollywood handsome. He was avuncular, and apparently that’s what America wanted because many millions of them watched him for 19 years on CBS.  When he said, “And that’s the way it is, ” they believed him

Answer the Phone, Darn It!

March 26, 2009

I couldn’t beleive my ears when I called the Ledger-Enquirer, WTVM and WRBL  newsrooms and got an answering machine.  An answering machine in a newsroom for crying out loud!  I could have been calling in a hot tip about a disaster that was happening at that moment, and by the time someone got around to listening to the call, the action could have been over.

Crystal Johnston,  who served as a receptionist at WTVM for more than 18 years,  wrote in a comment on the post about Dee Armstrong’s take on the state of local news about the time she called in a hot tip: 

“I will give you a prime example of an experience of mine. That is, when the two homeless guys fought under the bridge in Phenix City about a year and half ago. One of them was killed. I tried to call the station several times, but no one answered. All I got was a voice mail. Yes, voice mail. That is what is taking over these days. I remember that an assignment editor used to always be at the desk all the time. It wasn’t until after the fact that they did a blurb on the story. If someone had answered my phone call, the station would of been on top of it as it was going on. I placed that call around 7:45 p.m. that night.”

I realize  it’s all about economics.  Answering machines are a lot cheaper than a real live human being, but using one to anwser calls to a newsroom seems penny wise and pound foolish to me.

At least you get a real live person at the TV stations if you call the main number during business hours,  but not the Ledger-Enquirer.  I called the other day on a subscription matter and I got a person in the Philippines.  When I told that person what I wanted,  she said she couldn’t handle it, but gave me another number for someone who could.

“Is that person actually in Columbus, or am I going to get another person in the Phillipines?”

“Oh, it’ll be in Columbus.”

I called the number. You guessed it,  a Philpino answered the phone.  However, she did take my message, and I did get get a call today, two days later, from someone actually in Columbus.  It took a little while to get to the right person, but once I did she took care of the problem.  

Oh for the days when people just answered the darn phone!

My answering machine

My answering machine

Dee Armstrong on the State of Local Television News

March 23, 2009

Speaking, at my invitation, to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus,  former Columbus TV news anchor Dee  Armstrong drew sharp contrast to the way news was reported in years past and the way it is reported now.

She doesn’t think experience counts for much any more,  decrying the way young reporters,  she believes,  have no respect for veterans who have decades of experience, veterans who could help them become  effective, mature  reporters.  

She said that when she was a young reporter she revered the veterans who had proven themselves in the business,  citing her formative years working for Ed Wilson and me.  Ed,  who was news director at WDAK at one time,  taught her how to be a radio reporter when she was still in Columbus High School.  She learned how to think in terms of telling stories with pictures when I hired her away from Ed – sorry Ed – to report for WRBL-TV.  I was news director at WRBL-TV at the time.

That background and her talent enabled her to become a very successful anchor at WTVM.  She and I co-anhored the news on WTVM from about 1987 to 2000 when I retired.  We had impressive ratings.  After I retired she continued at WTVM, co-anchoring with Wayne Bennett,  who will retire in May.  They also had good ratings. 

She pointed out that in years past news departments came up with enterprise reports,  digging into issues that affect people.  I can remember those days.  In Columbus, it appears that they are gone.

Dee’s leaving television news,  and Wayne’s leaving,  as well as mine,  represents, I beleive,  the end of an era.  The torch has been passed,  but it could be that it has been rejected.

Mick Walsh and “The Newsman”, Me

July 5, 2008

Retiring Ledger-Enquirer reporter Mick Walsh was quoted in Thursday’s paper as saying, “I met great people like Doug Wallace, Bill Bowick and Dick McMichael. I really enjoyed it.”  He was referring to his stint as a media columnist covering local TV and radio. Well, we all got to meet a great guy from the paper who reported on us. 


  Actually, Mick reported on me before he started his broadcast media column in 1988. When I switched from WRBL to WTVM in 1986, Mick reported on that. Did a fine job, too. Not wanting to sound a bitter or angry note, I didn’t give him the whole story on why I switched. What I told him was true, but what I left out would have probably made a juicier story. I indicated that to Mick and, with a smile, he said, “You can tell about it in your book.”  


  And, after I retired in 2000, I did just that, though it was only a small part of my autobiography, The Newsman. In the book, I told of how I really got hacked off when the out-of-town owners of WRBL-TV decided to take me off the early evening news, let Al Fleming anchor it, have me do special reports for it and co-anchor the eleven p.m.  They had also said male anchors must always wear navy blue blazers, but decided later to let Al wear whatever color he wanted, but told me I still had to wear navy blue. I had lunch with then WTVM manager Gary Anderson, got hired to do both the 6 and 11 on WTVM and turned in my two-week notice to WRBL, letting management know in no uncertain terms how I felt. They tried to get me to stay, asking what it would take. “Nothing. I have signed a contract. I’m going.” After six months on WTVM, both the 6 and 11 p.m. took a healthy lead in the ratings, and over time, the gap got wider and wider. Do I harbor ill feelings toward WRBL? Of course not. It is owned by a different company now. Its manager Otis Picket is a fine man, and Phil Scoggins and I have been friends for a very long time. I brought him to the Columbus market when I hired him to do sports for WRBL back in the 1970’s. I was news director as well 7 p.m. anchor then


. You can get a copy of the The Newsman at Barnes and Noble in Columbus, or order one from Xlibris online