I’ve been on TV for a long time, so I get some unusual greetings when people see me out in public. The most common one is, “Hey, you’re that news man!” I also get, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” and “Do you play that news guy on TV?” I also hear this one: “Hey David, where’s Cindy Sexton?”
That’s understandable, since Cindy and I are now (drum roll please) the longest-running news anchor team in the state of Tennessee. We are both very proud of that achievement, for a number of reasons.
First, TV news is a fickle business. News directors come, news directors go. Ratings go up, then ratings go down, and when they go down, you start seeing new faces. Thankfully both my aging face, and Cindy’s never-changing, still-youthful face are still on the screen.
When I was offered a TV news job, I called Cindy, who had been hired at the station two years earlier. “I’ve never done news,” I told her, “and I’m not sure I can do it. What do you think?”
“Of course you can do it,” she said. “You’ll love it.” That was good enough for me. I figured if Cindy Sexton was encouraging me to make the jump, I would be in good hands.
Still, this was TV! Having a friend at your new job is no guarantee of success. You see, in radio, you’re in total control. You push the buttons, and you speak into the microphone. If things go well, you get the credit. If things go wrong, you get the blame.
I quickly learned in TV, there are about twenty people behind the scenes who control your fate. If the guy at the transmitter fouls up, nobody gets the signal. If the folks in the control room fall asleep, we don’t get on the air. If the newscast director plays the wrong video, you see a circus when I’m talking about a traffic jam. If the audio operator fails to turn on my microphone, you hear no words when my lips move. If the camera guy trips over his tripod, you might only see the top of my head.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I am also quite capable of making my own mistakes. When there’s breaking news, the producer will slip a piece of paper in front of me, often with a name or word I’ve never said out loud. I’ll give it my best shot, only to be told later by a viewer, “Hey dummy, it’s not Spo-KANE. It’s Spo-KAN. I used to live there!” Lesson learned, until ten years from now, when I’ll probably mangle it again.
I struggled through the first few years, working near Cindy, but not by her side. In 1992, my co-anchor resigned, and Cindy was tapped to join me on the 5:30 p.m. newscast, adding to her other duties.
Ever since then, we’ve continuously co-hosted various newscasts including the 5 and 6 p.m. editions, as we do today. A newscaster in Nashville recently retired, leaving Cindy and me as the state’s longest-running current news anchor team, at 25 years and counting.
We’ve never had any issues or arguments, which is very rare in the pressure-cooker TV news environment. I’ve read horror stories about anchors who feuded, on camera and off. One anchor duo was doomed because the female insisted on sitting on her “best side,” which happened to be the side her male cohort was deaf in one ear. Every time she spoke to him, he’d say, “Beg your pardon?” It wasn’t exactly must-see TV.
I’ve also seen anchors who kept track of the number of stories, and even words, making sure their co-worker didn’t get even a slight advantage in face time. One of my former colleagues famously played a joke on his co-anchor one holiday season. Seated next to her in the newsroom, he opened his Christmas bonus envelope, loudly exclaiming, “Wow! I can’t wait to spend this three-hundred-dollar gift card!” She hurriedly opened hers, revealing a fifty-dollar card. (He had gotten the same amount, but he knew how to get under her skin.) She promptly marched to the boss’s office, demanding to know why “that man” got a bigger bonus. Everybody laughed, except her. That anchor team didn’t last very long.
There’s been no such drama with Cindy. She’s my grammar expert, she loves bad 1980s pop songs like I do, and makes me look good each evening. We’ve done dozens of food drives, dream home giveaways, and even tried to keep Richard Simmons under control when he threw our scripts in the air.
When people ask me, “Where’s Cindy?” I often reply, “She has back problems. She’s been carrying me for 25 years.” They’ll laugh and say, “You sure are lucky!” Yes, I am.