A TV news Christmas story: a life-changing experience

December 20, 2014 at 4:00 am

(I’m proud to bring you a guest column from my friend Steve Beverly, an outstanding broadcaster, writer and professor at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. This is excerpted from his weekly newspaper column.)

Often, in the days leading to Christmas, television newscasts are filled with crowds making final purchases, holiday travel, and charitable community efforts. On December 22, 1977, in Columbus, Ga., what started as a routine story became a game changer for me.

Shortly after our WTVM evening newscast ended, I was preparing to head out for dinner. Then I heard a fire was in progress at a home near the station. I headed out with a young news intern from Auburn University for what would surely be our top story on the late news.

When we arrived, the intern grabbed the camera and began shooting. The firefighters were unsuccessful in saving the house. My first question for the fire captain was whether anyone was inside. Thankfully, no one was. The homeowners were away.  It was three days before Christmas and they would find a gutted home when they returned.

After about 20 minutes, the intern and I were about to return to the newsroom. A station wagon approached the scene, and a father, mother and three small children emerged. They surveyed the rubble of what was left of their home. Afterward, I asked the father if he would do a brief interview. He kindly agreed to talk.

He said. “I believe God will get us through this and take care of us. But right now, I’m thinking about our three boys. All of their Christmas presents were in the house and they’re gone.” The home was a modest one. I learned the father worked at a textile mill. He toiled hard at the blue collar job to make ends meet for his family.

My intern and I had to dash back to get the story on the 11 o’clock news.  As we were about to drive away, my intern said, “Hold on a second.” I thought he had forgotten a piece of equipment. “I’ve got to do something,” he said. Interns in television newsrooms are unpaid. Their compensation is college credit for their internships. I knew this young man was not rolling in money.

“I’ll be right back,” he said. About 30 seconds later, he returned. We drove away. Curious, I asked, “What did you have to go back for?” He said, “I couldn’t leave without donating something for those kids’ Christmas. I left a twenty-dollar bill on the front seat of his car. I knew he wouldn’t take it if I offered it to him face to face.”

Immediately, I had an empty feeling. I had been raised in a family where helping others was important. But I was so focused on doing the story, I forgot one of my most important life lessons. I felt like a failure in a variety of ways.

The fire was our big story on the late news. During the first commercial break, my producer entered the studio. He said, “Steve, when the news is over, call the captain of The Salvation Army. He wants to talk to you.” At 11:32, I made that call. The captain and his wife were on the phone. “Can you connect us with the family?” the captain’s wife asked. “We can help them with temporary housing, and we want to make sure those children have a full Christmas.”

As promised, a short-term furnished home was provided for the family. The day after Christmas, we visited the family. Thanks to The Salvation Army, the three boys all awoke on Christmas morning to find bicycles under their tree. Both parents were grateful beyond words. However, the father left me with a closing thought.

“Everybody has been wonderful to us,” he said. “And you know, when I went back to my car that night, someone had left a twenty-dollar bill on the front seat of my car. I wonder who did that?” He never learned the identity of his benefactor. My young intern didn’t do his good deed for the recognition.

Honestly, at that time in his life, he did not have much money to spare, but it was an unforgettable act of kindness.  You may be wondering, whatever became of that young man.  I can tell you that twenty years later, he became executive vice president of CNN International. Today, he continues as a highly- respected news executive in Atlanta. His name is Eric Ludgood.  On a December night 37 years ago, Eric taught me a lesson I never forgot.  If you are to become a good person as well as a good journalist, you need to have a soul, as well as a nose for a news story.

(Used with permission of Steve Beverly)

She said “YES” on the ice!

December 15, 2014 at 12:28 pm
Bradley Christopher and Felicia Atterton, Dec. 12, 2014

Bradley Christopher and Felicia Atterton, Dec. 12, 2014

I knew something good would come from that ice rink.  For years, I’ve badgered every politician I know, asking “Why can’t we get an ice skating rink in Chattanooga?”  Well, we got one, even for just a few weeks.  Yes, some say it’s too small.  But I say, it’s a start.  “Ice on the Landing” has been wildly successful, so maybe it will lead to a larger, permanent rink in the future.  One thing’s for sure: it has already produced at least one marriage proposal.

Felicia Atterton said Bradley Christopher talked her into a Friday date night on the ice.  Felicia, 28, is from Bryant, Alabama, and Bradley, 27, is from Trenton, Georgia.  Felicia will pick up the story from here:

We’ve been together for six months, and have been inseparable since we met. Friday night we went to the mall to finish up our Christmas shopping. We didn’t even get to the rink until 10:30.  We skated for 30 minutes, until their closing time.   I didn’t know Bradley had told  the skating rink staff to let us stay for a bit after everyone else left.  After the rink cleared out we skated a couple laps and he got down on one knee and asked if he could marry me!”

The ring

The ring

Of course, she said “Yes!” (Otherwise, this would have been a different, much sadder story!)  Anyway, back to Felicia.  Why did Bradley choose the skating rink for a proposal?

“I had asked him over and over about going ice skating. I was super excited about it coming because I used to ice skate every time I visited my mom in Birmingham. That’s why he chose the ice rink. 
One of my favorite songs is a Brantley Gilbert song and there is a line where he says “She’ll have you on your knee saying can I marry you?” He remembered the first night we met, me talking about that line to my best friend. He literally slid down on one knee on the ice, and said “Can I Marry you?” I couldn’t have smiled any bigger! I knew he would propose at some point but I didn’t know when or how.  It was a great surprise.”
(By the way Brantley Gilbert himself got engaged in October, a few months after that song sold a million copies, and went to number one on the country charts)
Felicia Atterton and Bradley Christopher

Felicia Atterton and Bradley Christopher

Felicia and Bradley will say their vows, presumably off the ice somewhere, on June 28, 2015, one year and one day from the date they met. Congratulations, and thanks for sharing your story!

Found: 1964 Channel 3 Christmas Show!

December 14, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Fifty years ago today, chestnuts were roasting on an open fire at Channel 3′s original studio on McCallie Avenue.  It was 9:00 a.m., and the daily Roy Morris variety show was on the air.

Roy Morris Christmas Show, 1964 WRCB

Roy Morris Christmas Show, 1964 WRCB

Roy could do it all.  He was a decorated World War II veteran, wounded twice in battle, and was a Purple Heart recipient.  While recovering from his injuries, he and two other servicemen put together an act to entertain other wounded soldiers in hospitals.

He became one of Chattanooga’s best-known radio personalities in the 1940s, hosting music shows on WDOD, WAPO and WAGC.  When Channel 3 signed on in 1956, Roy proved he was just as good on TV, doing everything from news to commercials.  Along the way, he owned and operated several radio stations, acted and sang in local theater, emceed dozens of charity shows and beauty pageants, anchored the news, did the weather, and managed radio stations in and out of Chattanooga.  In his later years, he hosted a weekend oldies show on WDOD, almost until the day he died in 2006 at the age of 84.

Between 1962 and 1965, he hosted a live variety show each morning after the “Today Show” on Channel 3.  O.J. Bailey was his bandleader, Barbara Molloy and Gaye Martin were the vocalists, and Wayne Abercrombie was calling the shots in the control room.

Christmas time on the Morris show was always special, with toy giveaways, and an annual party with kids of Channel 3 employees in the studio.  It was pure, live, local black-and-white TV.

Unfortunately, none of it was recorded on videotape, which didn’t become commonplace until the 1970s.  To this day, our local channels have only a few snippets of 1960s programs that were preserved on tape.  I have however, found an audio treasure of a December 1964 Roy Morris Show, thanks to my friend Earl Freudenberg.  While looking through his audio tapes, Earl found the show you’ll hear on the YouTube video at the end of this story.  I have excerpted it into a six-minute segment with photos, featuring a full version of “The Christmas Song” by the beautiful Barbara Molloy.

“One morning Roy’s wife Margaret asked him to put a tape recorder by the speakers, just so they would have a show to keep,” Earl said.  “They didn’t have a way to record video back then, so this is all we have from the Roy Morris Show.”

Earl was kind enough to share this with me, and I think you’ll enjoy it.  There’s the easy back-and-forth bantering Roy was so good at, instrumental music from O.J. Bailey and Jimmy Wilson, and of course Barbara Molloy.

Barbara Molloy, 1964

Barbara Molloy, 1964

I met Barbara a few years ago, and fell in love immediately.  She began singing on WDOD radio when she was a child, and when TV came along, she was on every channel at one time or another as a featured vocalist.  You may not know this, but when Channel 9 came on the air in 1958, they brought Johnny Carson to town to host a telethon (he was the star of “Who Do You Trust” on ABC at the time).  Barbara was Johnny’s singing co-star during the Chattanooga show, and Johnny, well-known as a ladies man, was quite smitten with her.   Let’s just say he flirted a bit, and our Barbara, who was married, let him know she was taken.

Barbara Molloy and Jim Nabors, 1958 at Channel 3

Barbara Molloy and Jim Nabors, 1958 at Channel 3

When I was putting together my Chattanooga radio-TV book, Barbara was quite generous, sharing her photos and memories.  She and Jim Nabors worked together often, and became good friends.  During the 1950s and 60s, Barbara was a busy housewife and mother, but enjoyed her hobby of singing, especially the live TV days.  A petite woman with a husky voice, her rendition of “The Christmas Song,” is as good as any you’ll hear.  Click the link below, and watch:

Speaking of the book, it has blessed me in many ways, but this is at the top of the list:  when Barbara and I met to go through pictures, she was quite depressed.  Her beloved husband Bill had died, and for the first time in sixty years, she felt alone and lonely.  A few months later, the book came out, and some of Barbara’s friends, old and new, saw her pictures in the book.  “Is that you, Barbara?” they’d say.  “We didn’t know you were a singer.  Can you still sing?”  Still feeling down, she’d reply, “No, I really don’t feel like singing any more.”  However, with all that encouragement, she began to perk up, and started singing again, often accompanied by a combo.  She has given me credit for putting a smile back on her face, and while that’s way too generous, I’m glad I played a small part in Barbara’s singing comeback.  Thankfully, she still lives in Chattanooga, among friends, and yes she is still singing for churches and clubs today.  She’s a local treasure, and I love her very much.  I’m happy to honor Barbara, Wayne Abercrombie, and the memory of Roy Morris and his crew with this newly found show.

 

Wayne Abercrombie, Barbara Molloy and David Carroll, 2006

Wayne Abercrombie, Barbara Molloy and David Carroll, 2006

East Ridge officer’s good deed goes viral!

December 9, 2014 at 3:23 am

A simple photograph is all it takes.

erpd1

We are in the mood to see and hear something good about police officers.  Yes, they make mistakes.  When they do, they usually get on the news.  Then they get raked over the coals on Facebook and everywhere else people gather to complain.

Many of us are tired of hearing about it, though.  We know that these underpaid, under-appreciated officers put up with a lot.  They go places we don’t want to go.  They deal with people we don’t want to get near.

Nicholas Martin is the man who took the photo you see above.  Nicholas, 27, works for Groome Transportation in East Ridge, and was on the road around lunchtime December 8. (Nicholas was stopped at a red light, so he was not breaking any laws.) He first saw the lady and her dog.  Then he saw the East Ridge police car pull up, lights flashing.  Candidly, Nicholas admits he thought the officer might be stopping to harass the woman.  Then he saw it.  “I misjudged the officer,” he said.  “When he emerged from his vehicle he had a bag of dog food,  and food for (the woman) in his hand. Her smile was heartwarming.”

Nicholas was touched by the good deed, so he shared the photo on Facebook.  His friends shared it with their friends, and within a few hours, several thousand people had seen it.

Some of my friends asked me to share it as well, but there was one thing missing: the rest of the story.  Who is this officer?  I had to find out.

Sgt. Scott Butcher

Sgt. Scott Butcher

He is Sgt. Scott Butcher, who joined the East Ridge Police Department in 2002.  I asked if I could tell the world his name, and exactly what he was doing when the photo was snapped.  “Sure,” he said. “But please emphasize this is something my fellow officers do every day.  I didn’t know anyone was taking a picture. But I didn’t do anything my fellow officers don’t do every day of the year.”

Here’s what happened, in Sgt. Butcher’s words: “I saw a woman on the side of the road with her dog.  I asked her if she needed help, and she said no, she was just hoping to get a ride.  She said she had friends in Georgia, and she was trying to get to their place.  I asked her if she was hungry, and she said no, but her dog was.  I told her if she’d stay there a few minutes,  I’d go get some dog food.  So I did, and I got a little something for her too, and dropped it off.  I guess that’s when the guy took the picture.  She had a great disposition, and when I left, she thanked me and said, ‘You have a Merry Christmas.’”

Sgt. Butcher said, “I’m not trying to get some recognition for me.  I’m glad to shine the light on my department, though.  I can’t tell you how many times our officers have paid for motel rooms for people to stay in overnight, or they’ve bought groceries, or diapers, or meals.  We don’t talk about it, but we see things most people don’t see.  I don’t even tell my wife, until sometime she’ll wonder where the money went,” he said with a laugh.

Nicholas Martin says he can’t believe the number of people who have seen his photograph, but he’s glad it has spread.  He said, “We must acknowledge the good as much as the bad. Our country has fallen, but we are not broken. We will get through this rough time. We have good police officers. The man I saw today was an angel to someone in need. That was God’s work.”

Sgt. Butcher’s supervisor,  Chief J.R. Reed said, “This doesn’t surprise me a bit.  Scott’s a great officer, but this is not uncommon, and not just in our department.  We try to help people out as much as we can.  I’m glad the public is hearing something good about police officers.  They’ve heard enough of the other stuff.”

The great basketball coach John Wooden was quoted as saying, ““The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”  Sgt. Scott Butcher did his good deed in full public view, but he didn’t know it would be seen by thousands of people.  To put it in news terms, he was caught in the act.  He said, “Yes, that’s me in the picture, but it could have been any other officer.  And that lady could have been any number of people who is close to being homeless.  I hope people will remember our officers, and these folks on the street who just need some help to get through the day.”

Nicholas Martin told me, “I caught a cop being a hero.”  Thank you Nicholas.  You captured a moment in time, that deserves to be seen and shared.

To read my recent stories about heroic local police officers Eddie Mansell and Nathan Brooks, click here, and click here.  Feel free to share!

erpd1

 

34 years ago today: John Lennon died

December 8, 2014 at 2:24 pm

john-lennonIt was one of the most surreal moments I’d ever seen on television.  It was late (after 11:00) Monday night, December 8, 1980, and the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins were locked in a 14-14 tie on ABC’s Monday Night Football.  And then, Howard Cosell shocked the nation with this news bulletin:

John Lennon was 40 years old.  I was born a little too late to truly experience the British Invasion.  When I was a kid, the Beatles were cute mop-tops, and I learned most of their early hits not from the radio, but from an animated Saturday morning cartoon series on ABC.  My 3rd grade girlfriend and I would sing along with “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Help” on the phone while the cartoon show was on.  By the time I got into radio, the Beatles had long ago broken up.  As a disc jockey, that wasn’t such a bad thing, because all four of them were cranking out solo hits.

Throughout the 1970s, Paul McCartney had a high profile, first on his own, and then with his wife Linda and his group Wings.  I wore out the “Band on the Run” album, and still listen to it often to this day.  George Harrison (then, and now my wife’s favorite Beatle) was a little too deep and serious for me to embrace.  I enjoyed several of his records, and admired his charitable work, but his ties to religious gurus from India just seemed a little “out there” to me.  Ringo Starr, to everyone’s surprise, scored more radio hits than the more serious Beatles early on.

John sort of mysteriously disappeared for a while in the late 1970s, but in late 1980 returned in a big way.  His “Double Fantasy” album was much-anticipated, and he delivered the goods.  At KZ-106. we had just started playing the first single, “Starting Over,” and it was getting great response.  That’s when Mark David Chapman, a deranged Lennon “fan,” gunned him down outside his New York City apartment.

The morning after, I put aside the show I usually did, which included several attempts at humor.  It’s hard to be funny, or try to be funny, just hours after a music icon has been murdered.  Many had lost a friend or  idol, for sure.  But also, a family had lost its husband and father.  And selfishly, many music fans like myself had always harbored the hope that there really would be a Beatles reunion one day.  Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels had famously offered $300 to the Fab Four if they would reunite on his show, but we all thought they would somehow put aside their differences and appear on stage, or on record again in the future.  Now it could never happen.

In 2001, we lost George Harrison to cancer.  Thankfully Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are still going strong in their 70s.  Paul, an admitted workaholic, still produces new music and performs lengthy concerts, including a highly-praised set at  Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee last year.   Ringo and his All-Starr Band travel the globe doing an energetic oldies show (they’re scheduled to appear in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday Feb. 15, 2o15).

Here’s a brief clip I have saved from December 9, 1980.  For some reason there’s a few seconds of WDEF’s weather forecast, but then it gets into the end of WRCB’s 11 p.m. news, and the beginning of an NBC special report on Lennon’s death.  The next video is a longer clip from the NBC special, and more of it can be found on YouTube.

UT has the coolest university president ever: Here’s proof!

December 8, 2014 at 12:51 am

Full disclosure: my wife works in the University of Tennessee system (University Relations at UTC), and has done so for a long time.  Having said that, I grew up (and remain) an Alabama fan, while also cheering mightily for my beloved UTC Mocs.

I was checking out Twitter and saw several critics lashing out at UT President Joe DiPietro for posting a YouTube video of himself dancing to Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy.”  The video is celebrating the Vols date with Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville on January 2nd.  I would imagine it was filmed in advance, intended to celebrate wherever the Vols landed. Click the link below, and check it out:

I guess some fans weren’t happy with the bowl choice, expecting a higher-profile game, so evidently they’re picking on DiPietro for his unabashed joy.  Maybe they would have been happier if he had issued a terse statement that would have gone unnoticed.  Me, I think it’s fabulous.  And I think he’s fabulous too.

 

Dr. Joe DiPietro

Dr. Joe DiPietro

Now, one thing is for sure: Dr. Joe DiPietro knows UTC is here, and he loves it.  He makes no secret of it.  In fact, he tells the world.  He visits the campus often, even donning the blue and gold.  In 2011, during his first visit, he admired the new Aquatic and Recreation Center (ARC), and promised then-SGA president Bradley Bell that he would join Bradley in a trip down the water slide during a future visit.  Bradley is now a UTC employee, and a few weeks ago, he learned the president is a man of his word.  Dr. DiPietro and Bradley took the plunge not once, but twice into the “lazy river.”  Click and watch:

So, haters are gonna hate.  You can say he’s corny, silly, that he’s celebrating a bowl game you didn’t want to be in, or whatever.  “Dr. D” loves the University of Tennessee (and all the schools in its system), and isn’t afraid to show it.  He’s a friend of the Chattanooga campus, and who knows? He might even show up in New Hampshire on Friday to watch the Mocs in the FCS playoffs.  If he does, no one would be surprised.

It’s a great time to be at UTC.  The school has its third-ever Rhodes Scholar (the incredible Robert Fisher), a beautiful new library opening later this month, strong academics, and a resurgent athletic program.  UTK is back in the bowl business after a four-year absence, and spirits are high.  So don’t fault Joe DiPietro for being happy, and not being afraid to show it.  I hope his enthusiasm is contagious!

 

UTC football Mocs on national TV this Friday night!

December 7, 2014 at 4:32 am

utcfb1

Congratulations to the UTC football Mocs on their first 10-win season ever, leading to a national showcase in the quarterfinals of the FCS championship playoffs!  This Friday night (Dec. 12) at 8:00 p.m. you can see the Mocs play the University of New Hampshire Wildcats on ESPN2.  Jefferson’s on Georgia Avenue in downtown Chattanooga will host a watch party for Mocs fans.

I can’t say enough about Coach Russ Huesman (who graduated from UTC in 1983), who has single-handedly rescued UTC’s football program, which some say was endangered when he took the job in 2009.  The team is now 41-28 under his leadership, a huge turnaround.  UTC had won only 22 games in 8 years prior to Huesman’s arrival.  Our Southern Conference champs are the winningest college team in the state of Tennessee.  Attendance is up, morale is up, and the future of Mocs football looks bright.

On a rainy, overcast Saturday, the Mocs drew more than 8,000 people for their playoff victory over Indiana State.  Compare that to the 4,021 who saw New Hampshire’s home victory over Fordham.  But the Wildcats are the #1 seed, so they get the home advantage this Friday.

Spread the word! For those who are unable to make the 1,100 mile trek to New Hampshire, gather your friends and enjoy UTC football on the national stage this Friday night: 8:00 p.m. on ESPN2.  It is the ONLY Division I college football game on national TV Friday night! Play-by-play announcer Adam Amin has assured me (via Twitter) that he will pronounce “Chattanooga” correctly, with all four wonderful syllables (as opposed to “Chatt-Nooga,” the longtime ESPN mispronunciation)!  By the way, the updated forecast for Durham, New Hampshire on Friday: Cloudy, with a high of 37.  Game time temperature should be around 30 degrees.

Go Mocs, and thank you Coach Huesman for Restoring the Glory!

Coach Russ Huesman

Coach Russ Huesman

James Gregory: Chattanooga’s favorite funnyman

December 6, 2014 at 3:39 am

jamesgregory3

James Gregory is billed as “The Funniest Man In America,” and after you leave his show, sore from an hour of nonstop laughter, you’ll probably agree.  The Georgia native is a frequent performer at the Comedy Catch in Chattanooga, and having been a longtime fan, I invited him for a lunchtime chat.  Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

You say you didn’t start out in comedy the “normal” way:  No sir.  I was well into my thirties before I became a comedian.  I had all kinds of jobs.  I was a salesman for ten years.  Encyclopedias, cookware, you name it.  I wasn’t a funny salesman.  I was on commission, I was trying to sell stuff!

So then fate intervened?  Fate, luck, no doubt about it.  I picked up a free newspaper on the street one day, because the rack with real newspapers was empty.  There was an ad to participate in a comedy workshop on Sunday nights, so I figured, why not?  I did that every week for about nine months.  This was in 1982, and a guy who was starting a comedy club saw my picture in the paper, and managed to track me down.

And then you became a big star?  Not quite.  He hired me and another guy, and told us one would be the opening act, and the other would be the headliner.  He flipped a coin, and the other guy won.  So I was an opening act for quite a while.

What turned you into a headliner?  Well, mainly I got funnier over time.  But I was motivated.  One night after my act, I was watching the headliner from the side of the room, and the club owner said, “What do you think of this guy?” I said, “He’s pretty good.”  The owner said, “He’s not good enough to be making four times what you do!”  I thought, what?  I need to be making that kind of money!  So I went for it, and I’m still around, thanks to the fans.

If it hadn’t worked out?  When I first got into comedy, I was trying to get a franchise to be a log home dealer.  Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

How does it feel to be welcomed by cheers and applause every time you’re introduced?  I appreciate it every night, because that didn’t happen in the early days.  I was nervous, I didn’t know how people would react.  But they didn’t know me then, and I think I’m a lot funnier now than I was thirty years ago.

How do you write your jokes? (He takes my pen, and yellow legal pad)  If you told me right now that I had to write a joke, and checked back with me in five hours, this yellow paper would still be blank.  I can’t write a joke.  I admire people who can write jokes, and especially the ones who can write funny TV shows.

What do you consider a funny show?  “Everybody Loves Raymond” always makes me laugh.  The character of Raymond’s dad, Frank, played by Peter Boyle has some great lines in every episode.

So if you don’t write jokes, where does your material come from?  Just everyday life.  I’m just me, it’s the way I talk, it’s the way I look.  I can get laughs with my eyes, and my reactions.  I get stories in odd places.  I was out getting the mail, and my neighbor was talking about his crazy uncle who was scared of those modern calculators. “They don’t have wires, they’re not connected to anything!”  He was convinced it was some evil object.  The next time I was on the radio, I just started in on that story.  I changed things around a little, and I made it my uncle, and it turned out funny.  That’s how stories like that get in my act.  Sometimes on stage, I’ll just think of something funny, and see where it goes from there.

You’ve been playing Chattanooga for more than thirty years.  What do you love about us?  The audiences are great, and it’s like working at home for me.  It’s less than a two-hour drive from my home.  Cities like Chattanooga and Birmingham, for me, are like you driving to work each day.  It’s a nice break from long drives or flying somewhere.

What’s the best advice you ever got?  Minnie Pearl saw me a couple of times, and you know in real life, she was a wealthy, classy lady.  She’d call me “Funnyman.”  She’d say, “Good job Funnyman, now don’t forget to save your money!” I think she’d known a lot of entertainers who didn’t save their money.

Did you follow her advice?  I’m still working on it, somewhere between 150-200 shows a year.

And you’d better say, “It could be a law, I don’t know” at least once in your show.  Well, it does come up.  People like it.

jamesgregory4

My favorite is your Sunday after-dinner routine, and those relatives who had too much to eat, but keep going back for more.  That’s my closer, I end my shows with that.  It’ll probably be my closer for a long time.

Your show is very clean, compared to most comedy club performers.  That’s unusual these days.  It’s very simple.  To me comedy is a business.  It’s my business.  I don’t have anything against comedians who talk dirty, in fact I think a lot of them are funny.  And I’ll drop a few familiar “southern cuss words” in now and then, that’s just how we talk.  But if you look at my audience, you’ll see three generations out there.  Some people bring their teenage kids, some bring their parents.  And they keep coming back for more.  It’s just good business to me.

That sounds like job security.  I’ll never go out of business, unless I retire, and why would I do that? People need a good laugh, and that’s why I’m here.

 

 

 

 

A Chattanooga family tragedy: Angels among us

December 2, 2014 at 3:22 am

I’m supposed to be immune to this.  Every night I’m on TV, talking about tragedies.  Fatal accidents, serious injuries, life-changing catastrophes.  But this one…this one has been on my mind since last Wednesday.

I was driving to the TV station Wednesday morning after meeting with some friends in Hixson.  The parking lot was full, and a delivery truck had me blocked.  I needed to go to the bank anyway, so I turned around and headed for the drive-thru on Cherokee Boulevard.  That took about five minutes, and I headed back to the station.  I saw black smoke in the distance, to my left.  Probably a tire fire, I thought.  Within seconds, it was obvious this was a big fire.  Emergency vehicles were whizzing by me in every direction.  I got out of the way, and when it was safe, I turned left.  I thought at the very least, I could grab a quick pic, or some video in case it was newsworthy.  After all, many times, it’s an abandoned building: a lot of smoke, but no physical harm.

I snapped a couple of photos, and as I was walking back to my car, I heard a man say, “We couldn’t get  ‘em out.”  I asked him, “Are there people in there?”  He fought back tears and said, “Yes sir.” I got back in my car, and was about to call the newsroom, when our crew arrived to film the scene.  Throughout the day, I heard bits and pieces from our reporters.  There was a family in the house.  The three children got out safely, but the parents were seriously injured.  They might not make it.  They were severely burned, and had been in that house for a long, long time.  Eyewitnesses shared frightening, graphic details.

I sat down in the studio to read the 5:00 p.m. news.  Some of our stories had been written several hours earlier.  This one was changing frequently, as new details came in.  As I read the fire story, live on the air, I saw their names for the first time.  I saw the photo of them for the first time.  My heart sank.  I know this man.  It’s Randall Lockhart.  A few minutes later, my producer told me in my earpiece, “We have an update on the fire.  David, you’ll be reading it.”  The script said, “We have just learned Candy Lockhart has died from injuries she suffered in the North Chattanooga house fire this morning.  Her husband Randall is being flown to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, and is in very critical condition.”

Randall and Candy Lockhart with Haley, Mark and Rebecca

Randall and Candy Lockhart with Haley, Mark and Rebecca

Now Randall, too, has passed away.  Close friends and family members had said quietly for days that he didn’t have much of a chance.  The doctors did everything they could, at one of the finest medical centers in the world, but his injuries were too severe to overcome.

I would see Randall two or three times a year.  I first met him at the Bi-Lo on Signal Mountain Road, where he worked in the deli department.  He had told me via Twitter earlier this year that he had landed a job at the new Publix store.  I congratulated him, saying their team would be even better with him on board.  The last time I saw him, he was with his family buying groceries at Bi-Lo, and we would always talk about the Atlanta Braves, a shared passion of his and mine.  He would frequently respond to my social media posts, just recently commenting on our Celebration of Life for Luther Masingill.  In July, he asked my advice on the best way to get to Turner Field.  He got there, for the first time, seeing the game with his son Mark.  He tweeted this picture:

Randall Lockhart with his son Mark, July 2014

Randall Lockhart with his son Mark, July 2014

Thanks to loving grandparents and caring neighbors, Randall and Candy’s children are in good hands.  I saw Rebecca, Haley and Mark at their grandparents’ home on Friday.  They are beautiful, sweet kids.  I can only imagine the horrible sights and sounds they experienced that day.  The cause of the fire is still being investigated, but it is likely that Candy and Randall sacrificed their own lives to ensure their children made it out safely.  The children escaped with minor, almost unnoticeable injuries.  In a story reported by Matt Barbour on WRCB, we know that Haley was rescued by “an angel,” a young lady who was truly just passing through.

Friends tell me Randall had struggled with serious illness recently, and his mobility was limited.  He was a working man, a loving husband, a devoted dad.  He and his wife tried very hard, and in the end, they did what parents are supposed to do.  They did everything humanly possible to keep their children safe.

Teachers from Red Bank Elementary have been visiting the Lockhart kids ever since the fire.  There’s no doubt in my mind those children will continue to be guided and loved, as they have been all their lives.  Certainly no one can take the place of their parents.  But with the help of a caring community, they will grow into adulthood knowing they were loved and protected by the angels among us.

One Accord Community Church,  343 Sweetland Drive in Red Bank is still accepting donations for the family. No clothing items are needed at this time. However,  other household items are needed.  Gift cards are also welcomed.

The Chattanooga Fire Department Local 820 has also set up an account at all First Tennessee Banks. You can donate to the “Lockhart Relief Fund.”

 

Beard today, gone tomorrow

November 29, 2014 at 5:39 am

A few weeks ago, the NBC “Today Show” guys signed on for “NoShave November,” agreeing to let their beards grow in an effort to raise awareness of men’s health issues. The network encouraged local NBC news guys to do the same, and I jumped at the chance.

The Beard, 1989

The Beard, 1989

The Beard, 2014

The Beard, 2014

I had a beard from 1979 to 1992.  I grew it in my radio days, and kept it well into my TV career.  When I met the woman who would become my wife, I had the beard.  When my children were born, I had the beard.  For the first nine years I was on TV, my face was furry.

My wife Cindy liked the beard.  My sons, although little at the time, were certainly accustomed to it in their early years.  Two different TV stations must have been okay with it, because they offered jobs to me, both of which I accepted.

So, all was well with my bearded face, with one notable exception: my mother.

dcruthFor 13 years, my bearded self would make the weekly drive to Bryant, Alabama, to visit my parents.  My sweet mother would feed me well, give me a hug, and study my face.  “When are you going to shave that old beard?” she would ask.  “I want to see your baby face again!”  I’d shrug it off, then say, “Oh, one of these days,” then promptly return to stroking my beard.  It’s what guys with beards do.  Especially when we’re reading a book, watching TV, or just contemplating life.  It makes us look smarter.

Then one day in 1992, my wife and sons were on a trip to visit her parents, and I woke up one morning with a plan: I would suddenly, quietly shave the beard, with no warning to anyone.  I would surprise my family when they returned from their trip, I would surprise the people who had watched me on TV, and most important, I would finally make my mother happy.  She would get her “baby-faced” son back.  I could hardly wait for her elated reaction.

When my wife and sons returned, there was a great sense of puzzlement.  Cindy saw me clean-shaven for the first time, and realized she was in too deep to turn back now.  Chris, then 6, was amused by his new-look dad.  Vince, at the age of 3, eyed me up and down, very suspiciously.  “Are you my father?” his eyes seemed to say.

My co-workers and TV viewers had a similarly mixed reaction.  Some said, “Now you look younger.”  Others said, “Gee, you look fatter now.”  And there was my personal favorite, “Oh, now I see why you grew the beard.” (Thanks for the ego boost!)  As for my mother, she studied my clean-shaven face for the first time in 13 years and said, “You ought to grow that beard back!” (Sigh)

I didn’t make much of a fuss about my recent beard facial hair growth, because frankly, there were more important things going on in the world.  There were a few social media posts, and the reaction was about half-and-half, which is kind of scary.  Half the folks who commented liked the beard, half definitely didn’t (“it looks ratty”), and I figured those who didn’t say anything at all either didn’t care, or were following the old adage, “If you can’t say something nice…”

In person, the responses were also mixed, and that’s understandable.  I mean, what do you say?  If you tell a guy with a new beard, “You know, that beard makes you look better (younger, thinner, etc.),” isn’t that the same as saying, “Gee, you really should cover your face with hair more often!”  At the same time, it’s awfully awkward to look someone in the eye and say, “Um, about that beard.  I like you better without it.”

It seems beards are among the few appearance-changers that provoke such conversations.  Do you ever walk up to a lady friend and say, “Wow, that new hairstyle really shows off your double chin!”  Or have you ever broken the ice at a party by saying, “Nice to meet you, sir.  You do realize that comb-over isn’t fooling anyone, right?”

Now that NoShave November is ending, it’s time to say goodbye to the beard.  No more puzzled looks, no more polite compliments, no more grooming tips from Facebook friends (well, to be fair, I guess it’s called FACEbook for a reason).

dc-bilo
I must confess, I enjoyed the limited-time beard.  After all, I work on TV, so I enjoy the attention. Besides, it could have been worse. At least it wasn’t NoShirt September, NoPants October, or NoDeodorant December!