Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Case of the Missing Lips

El  Reno, Oklahoma was more exciting for a newspaper reporter than one might think. There was the bar fight that ended with a guy impaled by a broken pool cue...the wife-swapping/child sex ring...the bank failures...the armed robber we dubbed "The Tenderizer."

But what really got the locals excited in the late '80s was the time Channel 4 came to town to broadcast the news. It's a fairly common ratings stunt today, but I believe Channel 4 was the first Oklahoma City station to do it. For a week, they visited a different small town each day and broadcast the 10 p.m. news (and 6 p.m. too, I think). 
As a self-important young newspaper reporter, I looked down on the so-called journalists who worked in television. We who wrote for daily papers were the real deal, and the TV people were "personalities" and little more.
Let me give you an example of why we thought this way. 
In 1986, the nationwide savings and loan crisis was just budding, and El Reno turned out to be the scene of one of the very early bank failures. One afternoon, we got word in the newsroom that First National Bank of El Reno was about to be closed (the town's S&Ls failed the next year). This was big news - bank failures were the kind of thing we associated with the Great Depression, and now we had one in our own backyard!
I grabbed a camera and a notepad, and headed for the bank, which was only a block away from our office. Sure enough, the doors to the bank were locked, and a letter from the FDIC was posted, saying that the bank had been taken over by regulators.
As the news spread, people came and stood on the sidewalks. They thought they should be there to witness the spectacle (and nobody really knew what would happen). Soon, the TV newspeople from Oklahoma City arrived. No satellite trucks back then, just camera people and the on-air talent.
I stood in the alley behind the bank with the TV people, and a guy from the Oklahoman, for hours waiting for an announcement...or something from inside the bank.
Finally, at nearly 9 p.m., a bank-regulator-guy emerged from First National to make the official announcement. Due to a preponderance of bad loans, First National had failed, and its good assets were being sold to a bank from Lawton, Oklahoma. It would re-open the next day under the new name, blah blah blah. It was an important story, but a boring one.
We asked a few questions, and received canned, non-informative responses. Then, as the bank-regulator-guy was about to go back inside, one of the TV reporters spoke up.
"Uh, I was down the street having dinner and missed your announcement. Could you run through all that again?"
The TV reporter was, truly, a moron. And so I tarred them all with the same brush in my mind.
Fast forward to the next year, and the traveling circus that was Channel 4 came to town. People were very excited. At the newspaper, we chose not to interview the on-air talent. I mean, why would you?
I did, however, take pictures as they broadcast the 10 p.m. news from the Canadian County Historical Society museum. Located in the old train depot, the museum provided a great backdrop for the news - but the stage lights made the place unbearably hot.
In the picture above, co-anchors Jerry Adams and Linda Cavanaugh appear to have shown up on-set without their lips. But they have people for that, so it's OK.
Adams went on to piss away his career and was the subject of a few police mugshots. Cavanaugh is still the co-anchor at Channel 4. Who knows how many sets of lips she's gone through since that night in El Reno?
Postscript: I took this picture using natural lighting. They didn't allow me to use a flash during the broadcast.
Next time: Remembering a real baseball coach.

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