Lou Pickney's Online Commentary
May 19, 2012
When I landed a producing gig at WSAZ-TV in late 1999, my first producer job without the words assistant or associate in front of the title, it means that I had to relocate about 315 miles to the east, a rather straight shot down Interstate 64 from Evansville, IN to Huntington, WV. I had been offered both the WSAZ job and a producing job at WWMT television in Kalamazoo, MI, which coincidentally both broadcast on Channel 3. But the Kalamazoo job was a weekend producing and weekday associate producing gig, while the Huntington job was a full-fledged producer position. Plus, Huntington offered me more money.
So, with aspirations of climbing the television news ladder as quickly as I could, I accepted the Huntington job. I was less than four months removed from my 22nd birthday. And, I figured (correctly) that the longer I had a full-fledged producer title on my resume, the quicker I could move to a larger market. I later learned that sometimes larger markets aren't necessarily better places to work.
In high school I had the idea at one point of becoming a television sports anchor. But, after giving it some consideration, I realized that the deck was stacked against me: that's a field that a whole bunch of men try to get into, with the most lucky/talented of the bunch often locking down the main gig at a station and holding it sometimes literally for decades. That doesn't exactly leave much room for opportunity for newcomers. At that point I looked toward radio, which circa 1994 was still a viable career path to consider. I have the voice for it and the business intrigued me, as it does to many who work (or worked) in it.
When it came down to choosing where to go to college, my final two choices were Marquette (in Milwaukee) and the University of Evansville. While ultimately the generous scholarship that Evansville offered me sealed the deal, the fact that they had a full-power radio station with city-grade coverage while Marquette had a low-power outfit based literally out of what looked like a utility closet was a huge boost for the Purple Aces. Those factors, along with Evansville being a roughly three hour drive from Nashville at that point (remember, the federal 55 mph maximum speed limit cap wasn't lifted until November 1995) compared with far-away Milwaukee, all played a part in me deciding to go to UE.
I waited a few months before starting at WUEV in the fall of 1995, wanting to be sure my grades were up to snuff, since my scholarship came with the stipulation that I had to maintain a certain minimum GPA to keep it. So I limited my extracurricular activities to intramural sports until late in that first semester, when I debuted on WUEV during the halftime show of a women's basketball game. Luckily I made a positive impression on the powers that be, which lead to many great opportunities for me at the station.
Not long after that, President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law. That horrible piece of legislation, part of which was later deemed unconstitutional, significantly raising the cap of any one media company owning more than two AM and two FM stations per market to a much higher limit. I saw the handwriting on the wall right away: consolidation leading to fewer jobs leading to more limited opportunities. And, 16+ years later, my prediction held true.
Perhaps it was WUEV station manager Len Clark, who served as a mentor of sorts for me during my time at UE, who first suggested television news producing to me. I'm not sure; I knew do that I was aware of what being a TV news producer entailed (or at least some semblance of it), but I don't specifically recall when the idea of being a producer first took hold in my mind. But it made sense, a combination of writing and news gathering and calling the shots in a given newscast.
As for the rest, it's a bit out of order, but you can read this to see how I finally managed to get into the TV news business 15 years ago this month. Plus it includes a picture of the 2011 redesigned Ace Purple, which is always worthy of a look (and usually followed by nodding approval). I did eventually work in radio, though the way that business is today, voice-tracking and syndication have killed off most of its farm system. Most high-profile hires in radio these days tend to be celebrities with limited (or no) radio experience, which isn't exactly a great combination.
Slowly but surely, I'm learning my way around the Barboursville area of West Virginia. It's a town adjacent to Huntington, and while my current mailing address might say Huntington, it's much closer to Barboursville, so that's where I consider myself to be at the moment.
I finally had the chance to hit up the Penn Station restaurant just down the road yesterday, located very close to Exit 15 on I-64. That was a wonderful treat. Not to get too excited about a sandwich shop, but Penn Station is my favorite. It's real simple: I get a plain cheesesteak plain with just cheese, steak, and bread. No onions or peppers or other nonsense that would invariably be frowned upon by my stomach.
Velvet had never experienced the joy of a Penn Station sub before, so I went there and picked up dinner for us, going with a 12" cheesesteak: half for her, half for me. Mmmm, it makes me smile just thinking about it. I realize that it makes me sound like Homer Simpson to rave so much about a sandwich, but it's really good.
While I was waiting for my cheesesteak, I received a phone call with some very encouraging news. I can't write about it on here just yet, but there's a distinct possibility that, very soon, what's old will be new again. More on that later when I can divulge more information.
Left: The night I met Velvet (2000 Halloween party). Right: The night Velvet shaved my head (January 2001).
But, again, I can't say enough good things about Velvet and how generous she has been during this transition time for me. And, luckily, Stacy and I have managed to remain on friendly terms, with us keeping in touch via email/text and her passing along amusing Clyde stories. It would have been a shame to not keep some of our running jokes going, like always mentioning "Former NBA Coach of the Year" before referencing Lakers head coach Mike Brown.
Our amusement at Brown and his seemingly worthless timeouts (where he spouts cliches) is trumped in NBA coaching circles only by our cheering for the Philadelphia 76ers. That's not because we're Sixers fans (we're not at all) but because we both have such strong disdain for Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins as a color commentator that we want him to be successful in Philly and thus not back in the broadcast booth. Go Sixers! Heh heh...