Relics

Are we not men?

I’m a relic, and it would be easy to bemoan my ancient status.  The biggest problem with relics is that they / we remember the news business as it once was:  An industry rolling in cash, that employed gazillions of people in reasonably well-paying and somewhat-secure jobs.  Our employers spent ridiculous money to cover news and to be competitive.  And if they went over budget, they’d make noises about cutting overtime and helicopter hours, then continue to spend anyway.

Those times — the eighties and early nineties, mostly — seem like the glory days of television news.  At the time, they didn’t really seem particularly glorious.  It just seemed like work in a career that was more interesting than not.

Fred Tokars

The video below provides an interesting snapshot of those times.  It was shot in the old WXIA newsroom on August 25, 1993 — the night Fred Tokars was arrested by federal agents for hiring two men to murder his wife Sara in Cobb County.  The story was huge, the culmination of a drama that had started nine months earlier when Sara Tokars was shot to death, in front of her young sons, in Cobb County.  Fred Tokars was a former judge.  He had emerged as a genuine embodiment of evil who cried about the loss of his “lifestyle” the only time he faced cameras in a press conference setting.

At more than nine minutes, the video is too long and a bit of editing would have helped.  Yet as an unedited document, it’s still a compelling reflection of what newsrooms were like then.  You see producers and assignment editors hunched over green-background computers.  You see David Brooks making last-minute tape-to-tape edits. You see people dependent on land-line phones and the human voice to communicate.  You see John Pruitt before he jumped ship to WSB.  They all ignore the camera — they’re too busy.

The most striking thing about it:  It took armies of people to put a newscast on the air in the early 90s, exemplified by images of production folks ripping ten-pack scripts to be taken to the talent, the director, the floor director, the audio tech, the ‘prompter operator, the producer, the chyron operator and whomever else.

Many of those jobs are phasing out now.  In 1993, those folks were essential to getting a clean newscast on TV.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

14 thoughts on “Relics

  1. Mr. Bear

    Absolutely fascinating. What’s really impressive is the operation of the collective knowledge of all those people working together on a specific project. Now, fewer people, less collective knowledge onsite, but maybe there are others out there that can contribute.

    Paper, lots of paper. People flipping through pages of yellow second sheets, looking for something. And others, manually searching computer files for something. Better search functions speed up the process.

    But to me, the biggest difference is that there was someone there to tape all of this for our benefit 17 years later. Would it happen today?

    Thanks LAF.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Atlanta Blogs Today: Adios, AJC | Fresh Loaf

  3. DMA82

    I was a small market (Chattanooga) grunt and producer from ’92 to ’96 and that brought a smile to my face. I miss it terribly at times especially when something is breaking. Just to hear the noise of the scanners, the sound of the editing equipment pre-rolling and locking up….it sorta floods back.

    Although we didn’t know it at the time, it was a good era. We had a SNG truck that we could send anywhere, no questions asked. Beth Galvin (Now on WAGA) even did a sweeps series out of Somalia….and this was Chattanooga. Only thing I can sense that was missing was the ever-present “F-bomb” dropping like it was Dunkirk. Maybe XIA was just a more professional newsroom than we had. 🙂

    Reply
  4. arky

    I remember taking enormous stacks of 3/4″ U-Matic tapes back to our control room before a show and thinking, “One day we won’t need somebody just to sit here and cue up tapes.” It didn’t occur to me that we also wouldn’t have a director, a Chyron operator, an audio engineer, AP’s, field photogs…

    Reply
  5. formerphotog

    This looks like it was shot for use in promos. The repetition of some of the movements reminds me of someone who has been told to get certain angles. That explains why, on such an obviously busy afternoon, a photographer was spared the time to document this slice of life we are enjoying here. Thanks for unearthing this gem for us.

    Reply
  6. Cynthia

    I started in broadcasting in 1976 and was there for 30 years until I was “downsized”. There were frequently a lot of terrible times, but there were also many great times. I now work for really terrific people who truly care about each other, but how I miss the excitement and action that occurs in a television station. Be oh so thankful if you’re working in a good place; there aren’t so many of them out there, especially now.

    Reply
  7. yuk!

    Is this why we have to listen to wsb go neener neener neener we were there first we’re the first to report this story nobody else was there but us our reporter was there by himself with no other reporters in sight no one but us was in the vicinity when this happened… ugh.

    Reply
  8. Russjam

    Boy… this brings back fond memories (and I didn’t even work for WXIA) of when news was sometimes fun and exciting… hard work, long hours… but when the **** hit the fan and everyone was clicking, working at a major market station (and network) was great.
    I miss those times… I don’t miss the drudgery and the stupidity of some the things that went on… but when it was a BIG STORY, I enjoyed the hell out of it..

    Reply
  9. Newman

    Wow…Fred Tokars…..there’s a name I hadn’t thought about in years. I remember everyone did extended post verdict reaction live during mid-afternoon soaps, because, after all, this was a real live Atlanta soap opera.

    I’m glad I was there….and I’m glad I’m not there today!

    And seeing all of those paper scripts makes me think there are forests that exist today, thanks to the “paperless newsrooms” of the 21st century.

    Reply
  10. scott hedeen

    ha.. love the WXIA vid. I showed up there in 97.. .and well.. scanning the vid.. i only saw one face i knew… Cal Callaway. ha.

    Reply

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