A worthy rival
departs with enough fanfare
to gag a maggot.
You’re here today? They told me you only come here on weekends.
The speaker was a woman working at a warehouse store. I had stopped in one day last week on the way home from work, a weeknight. I hadn’t seen her before. But she knew me. Apparently, she watches TV.
Good to see you. Now I’m gonna go tell my friend I saw Richard Belcher in here on a weekday. Have a blessed day!
“You too!” I said cheerily, and walked off.
As you probably know, Belcher is an enterprising hard-news animal who breaks stories on WSB. Like me, he’s got the grey maned, middle-aged / old guy thing going. Belcher is a distinctive looking guy.
I’m the guy who just sort of looks like him at first glance, pretty much everywhere I go.
“Hey. Hey!” A stranger is smiling and pointing in recognition. “You’re that newsman. What’s your name again?”
“Richards.” I go with the last name because I know that’s what they want to hear.
“Yessir! Richards Belcher. Great to meet you.”
At first glance, I’m frequently also Jeff Dore, Dale Russell and Randy Travis. I kinda get Dore, another grey-haired guy. Russell and I have the same initials, so I get that. But Travis and I don’t look anything alike.
“Hey! Randy Travis!”
“No, but I know Randy. I’ll tell him you said hi.”
It’s not just from a distance. A couple of years ago, I met a friend for a beer at the Grove, a pub in my neighborhood. A fortyish woman sitting next to me interjected in our conversation. “Soon as I heard your voice, I knew who you were. You do a great job on the news.”
She began complaining about local news, one of my favorite topics. “So much blood and guts. But you do a great job.” As she drank, her level of friendliness increased. I put my my ring-bearing left hand on prominent display, and diverted the conversation back toward the amused man I’d originally met there.
She finally paid her tab and started to stagger out.
“It was great talking with you,” she said. “Can’t wait to tell my girlfriends I shared a barstool with Richard Belcher.”
In today’s post, the blogger answers composite questions regarding his July 4 assignment.
Q: You got paid to run the Peachtree Road Race?
A: I did. We called it “runner cam.” WXIA did live coverage of the Peachtree. Julie Wolfe, who does ultra marathons and whatnot, was the runner-cam talent. I was there to schlep gear and be a kind-of backstage sidekick.
Q: Carried a backpack for 6.2 miles, did ya?
A: That was the idea. The Live U unit is a backpack full of gear which amalgamates multiple cell phone signals into a live TV picture. It weighs 25 pounds. I’d trained several times during the previous three weeks by carrying a backpack with barbell weights. But I spent most of the race carrying a seven pound camera instead.
Q: So who carried the Live U unit?
A: My friend Bo Bancroft. Bo and I have known each other almost 20 years. In 2011, I told him about the scheme to schlep a backpack for WXIA’s live coverage of the PTRR. He asked if we needed help. We got him a credential and he toted the backpack for half the race.
He volunteered again this year. Because we knew Julie Wolfe would be doing a live shot shortly after the start of the race, he volunteered to carry the backpack while I deployed the camera (deferring to me as the TV News Professional arguably versed in the proper use of TV cameras and the proper framing of talent during live shots). I ended up using the camera quite a bit to record material for a piece Julie produced for a special that evening. Every time I told Bo to give me the backpack, he said “what, so I can use the camera? I’d rather carry the backpack.”
Incidentally, Bo made a lasting contribution to Atlanta history by making the following suggestion about 15 years ago late one evening: You should rent a Cadillac and get Hosea Williams to give you his tour of Atlanta. The result is embedded below.
Q: Why would any civilian volunteer for such punishment?
A: Bo requested an 11Alive hat.
After he’d carried the backpack five miles, I finally wrested it from him. By then, the batteries had died in the Live U, and Julie was done shooting video for her taped coverage. Julie’s piece is here.
Q: Any challenges shooting and running at the same time?
A: Shouldering the camera isn’t really an option. Two hands are required to try to steady the shot and compensate for the naturally-occurring bumpiness caused by running. During interviews, I had to lean forward to look into the viewfinder, which faced sideways in front of me. Thankfully, Julie’s interviews were pretty brief.
Even when you’re not shooting, carrying the camera is awkward. It’s attached via coaxial cable to the Live U unit, so Bo and I had to run in tandem. Intern Copeland flanked our rear to dissuade runners from getting between us. Intern Anna ran ahead of us, and shot material with a flipcam, which Julie used in her taped piece.
Q: What’s the deal with your attire?
A: I’m a sweaty guy. I always run with a bandana. The batting gloves were essential to keep the camera from slipping the grasp of my sweaty hands.
The high socks are an ongoing fashion faux pas that started in the 60s and never really stopped.
When I showed up at WAGA in 1986, Sandra Davenport held a position in the newsroom called “tape coordinator.” When I left 21 years later, she’d been upgraded to something like “senior tape coordinator.” Even though WAGA stopped using tape in 2008, I suspect her title hadn’t changed much by the time Sandra retired last week.
Sandra didn’t shoot videotape. She rarely edited. But Sandra sweated every piece of video that aired in any newscast during her shift. Sandra kept track of which stories were edited in-house, which video was fed from the field, which file video came from where, and which video came from network or other outside sources.
When crunch time hit, Sandra was the person who made sure every piece of video would appear in its proper slot in the newscast. If the video wasn’t going to be there, she was the one on the phone to the control room, giving the bad news and recommending adjustments.
When reporters left the building at 11am for a noon live shot on a story they’d never covered or even heard about before, Sandra would make sure they had video in-hand from WAGA’s previous coverage, giving them a fighting chance to at least look like they knew what they were talking about by 12:01pm. Aside from the station’s institutional archive, Sandra also created informal archives of big ongoing stories. It gave the staff the ability to quickly grab large chunks of relevant file video before leaving the building in a live truck.
It was the type of job that could make a person crazy, day in and day out. Yet Sandra was one of the sanest people I’d ever worked with. Even when she was juggling crises, I never saw her lose control. Likewise, she was unfailingly and cheerfully at the service of her often frazzled coworkers. If she told you she didn’t have time to help, you never questioned that Sandra was clearing an avalanche of deadline work.
When, in my early thirties, the first few grey hairs popped through my TV haircut, Sandra was the first non-family member to notice. She took girlish delight in pointing them out.
“How will WAGA function without you?” was the dominant line of well-wishes delivered to Sandra upon her retirement.
Conversely, the question could be: Will WAGA even replace Sandra?
When I showed up at WXIA in 2009, I asked to meet the tape coordinator. I learned there was no tape coordinator. There was one years earlier, but that position was eliminated after newscasts started showing video planted in servers, rather than rolled from a console of tape players.
Deadlines are now sweated by managers and producers wearing multiple hats. File video is a grab-bag of material pulled from computers or — God forbid — the tape archive kept in a darkened second-floor room.
Sandra’s system got crews out the door much more quickly. Sandra’s presence eliminated mistakes. Sandra was personally accountable for material that we now rely on computers to process on deadline.
TV newsrooms are more austere now. Video coordinators, associate producers, video editors, even photographers — these days, they seem like luxuries.
Yet how do we function without them?
Sandra Davenport’s departure at WAGA prompted a newsroom party and numerous tributes. The most eloquent was posted on her Facebook page by Don Smith, who worked with Sandra on WAGA’s PM Magazine show in the eighties:
Nobody deserves a loving and thankful sendoff more than you, Sandra June. You improved everything in which you had a part, and in a swirling world of petty tyrants and major league buttholes, you sailed serenely and sweetly above them all, a constant delight to know and work with. You were better than we deserved.