The Bee Head Incident

A couple of my friends recently mentioned the so-called “Bee Head Incident” that occurred at the WSB Radio studios in the 1980’s, and remains to this day my most memorable, yet my biggest failure at workplace humor. There have been requests to recall this story in all of its red-faced, tail between the legs, damn-near got me in deep trouble glory.

Some background is required to lay the foundation of the story: WSB Radio had a long and distinguished record of participation in public affairs. Our professionals constantly had ideas to put the call letters in front of the public. There were numerous charity events, parades, and fairs where the stations would either represent itself, or have staff members show up to meet the public. There was a huge radio-television open house, and an Independence Day Parade.

Radio Station WQXI was a cross-town competitor. And, that station also found numerous ways to participate in events, and have fun with the public.
But WQXI had the Quixie Quacker… a fun looking characterization in a plus outfit. It was a great way to entertain the children and amuse the adults. WSB Radio had…. nothing. Cox Broadcasting had no outfits that humans could wear in public events.

So, after some deliberation WSB Radio went to the people who make such things, and said “We want you to make some W-S-Bees.” Two plush outfits, and a couple of gigantic bee heads were delivered to the station. The heads had smiles and huge surprised-looking eyes. The bodies were brown, with …well… bee butts. WSB had finally upped the ante’ in the costume race.

But, there was a problem. You can see, rather, feel it to this day in Atlanta. It’s called Georgia heat and humidity. I forget who the station employed to walk around in those suits in summertime. Whatever they were paid, it wasn’t enough. The suits were like wearing overcoats, and the bee heads kept in heat and moisture better than a sauna. Worse, there was really no good way to clean the sweat-soaked suits. Within a few months, the plush suits were so ripe, that it was harder to find people willing to wear a Bee Suit. It was also becoming easier to appreciate The WSBees when you were upwind.

Hang on, I’m about to personally enter this saga, with one last piece of history to tell.

The station abandoned the use of the Bees. The fate of the plush suits is not clear, but they were either thrown in the dumpster, burned, or buried, although I believe the possums, skunks, and raccoons behind the station would have dug ’em up and moved them to another neighborhood. The big Bee heads were a different story. For some reason, the station kept them. They wound up in an area of the station that had become the kind of “attic”…where the company kept some furniture, but mostly radio station stuff that was too crummy to keep, but also too sentimental to throw out. Witness one Beaver. I mean a real, stuffed beaver mounted on a wooden slab. See, WSB once used the Beaver as its mascot, even giving away a nightly WSBeaver Award to a member of the community who was doing good. Those awards are another story for another day…back to the Bee heads.

This storage room was right behind the huge radio newsroom. The light in the big room was a little dim, and it was quiet. It was located in an alcove of the station where a lot of “stuff” ended up.

Now, the newsroom had scanners listening to at least twenty frequencies at times, there were two editing stations in the open at the slot desks, the entry point for all news copy, and the place where sometimes, two people would be within 8 feet of each other…both listening to, and editing audio tape and writing. Computer data terminals send the copy to chattering typewriters in the open room with a high ceiling.

To preserve my sanity, once in a while I would take a walk… up and down the long hallway, downstairs to the TV weather office or mail room, or across the building to see what WSB Television News was doing, and talk to some of my friends and colleagues there. On one of my broadcasting walkabouts, I wandered into that storage room.

And there they were. Two large bee heads, their eyes locked in a permanent gaze….just waiting for action.

Now, I’ve never tried to cover my sense of humor over with some self-important, sanctimonious posing as a “journalist’. Heck, I’ve always just been a newsman…a man… a hu-man…and I like to have fun. I can’t remember whether I was on a break, at lunch, or before or after my shift. Program manager Rick Shaw probably could tell the date and time…for reasons that will be stated in a second.

Right across from the newsroom was a big glass-walled suite for managers and programmers for the radio division. The Vice President and general manager had a office there, along with the program manager and assistant manager for AM Radio, and the program manager and assistant for WSB-FM.

Somewhere, in the depths of my bad judgement, I donned one of the big bee heads. There I was… a starched shirt and tie, kaki pants and loafered oaf…who was on the prowl for a laugh. My first goal was managing to walk around without banging my bee head or getting it caught in something. I wobbled out into the newsroom….and the folks there seemed pretty amused, and a couple laughed. But I wanted more. I set out for the management suite.

My expectation was the managers (a normally relaxed and affable lot) would also get a chuckle…as much over the memory of the stinking suits… as the visage of an Edward R. Murrow Award winning journalist in a giant bee head.
I managed to make it into the hallway and into the glass suite. I was ready for a big laugh-along.

The first indication that I had chosen unwisely was the look on Assistant Programmer Rick Shaw’s face. Rick is one of those guys who never showed panic or fear. He was a combat veteran, a weapons officer on an F-4 Phantom fighter in the U.S. Navy. Rick knew how to face bad things with calm. But that day, when Rick saw me, he had a look on his face like he had been force-fed a live chicken with a side of uncooked green beans.
About a millisecond after he laid eyes on those two big eyes…a voice came from beyond the Vice President and general managers office… “FOULK! This is not the time.”

It turns out that my hilarity had invaded a very tense exchange in which another radio staff member was being read the worst riot act since Bill Sherman’s bunch moved through the city.

Later in the day, I learned that some colleagues at the station had interceded on my behalf…and kept me from facing some serious consequences for my blunder. I don’t believe I would have been fired. But I’m still not absolutely sure.

After all of these years, the Bee Head Incident stands as number one on my failed attempts at humor.

I’m just glad I decided not to carry the stuffed beaver in my hands.. That might have sealed my fate.

First Day Jitters, A Lifetime Of Memories

The last day of May has some very special meaning for me. I purposefully waited until the sun went down on our Memorial Day to mention it, because I would never want to do anything to take away from our day of memory for our war dead. May 30th, 1977… my professional life took a very important turn. That was my start date for employment at WSB Radio in Atlanta. Forty-four years ago, this date was exhilarating, terrifying, mind-numbing, and the biggest mental challenge since Constitutional Law, or worse….third quarter Geology at UT.


My first medical exam for Cox Communications was delayed a couple of days.. and I hit the ground running. Bob Ketchersid, one of the nicest, most principled broadcasters I’ve ever known, was a news bulldog beneath that still water. He kept track of a large staff, and made sure we were never short on assignments, or ideas.. even on someone’s first day on the job.
Governor George Busbee was scheduled to return to Atlanta after a business relations trip to Asia. I was assigned to cover his arrival at Hartsfield Airport, and get his comments. This was before the current concourses were built.


There were no computer boards or cute people movers to haul folks where they needed to be. I had never driven to the airport, much less figured out where news vehicles were to be parked. But more concerning than finding my way, was finding the governor, and recognizing him when I did. I was afraid I might approach a girdle salesman and ask him just how tight he thought things might be over there.


One thing I knew for sure: No matter how hapless you might be, never act like anything is your first time out. Fortunately, the radio station kept a stack of old newspapers. They were used for reference on news stories, specifically, a way to glean dates for meetings, hearings, and future events.
I took a short pile of newspapers, furiously turning pages and scanning… and then I found what I was looking for. There he was in all of his Governorship… a picture of Gov. Busbee. And it was just the right size. I took a pair of scissors, excised the photo, and taped it inside my reporter’s notebook, that ubiquitous brown wide-lined and ringed notebook that WSB bought in large boxes…along with teletype paper, and six-carbon news script paper.


It worked… I tracked down the Governor, introduced myself, and asked my questions. If I was a doofus, the governor was gracious and never acted like it. It wasn’t the last of my “firsts” at WSB. But it did prompt many, many Sunday drives were I would haul the family into the nether regions of metro Atlanta. I took a cue from fire departments, and made sure I took “familiarization” drives.
There were a lot of other things I had to learn, and un-learn. Listening to a police scanner was one thing, but the newsroom where I worked, and even the cars we drove had two scanners. Indoors, the Fire Department even had a speaker of its own, mounted high on the wall.


Instead of two teletype machines, there was a half dozen, and they were kept behind sliding glass doors so we could hear our selves think, edit audio, and write. You had to pay attention to the bells… three was an “urgent”, five was a “bulletin”, and anything more than that could make the hair on your arm stand at attention.


The Ford Crown Victoria newscars were “police specials” with two batteries and an alternator that was much more powerful than stock. The cars had their own radios, and matching walkie-talkies. The hand held radios could be used straight to the station, or if reception was poor, we could flip a few switches and turn the car radios into powerful repeaters. Those gizmos were so new, their last three serial numbers ended in “001, 002, and 003.” Learning to use that feature was essential in the days before cell phones.


The Legedary Mike Kavanagh was a great tutor, advisor, and teacher of “the ropes” early on. And that brings me to both the hardest, and easiest part of indoctrination of how to do things right. The people, like Bob K., and Aubrey Morris were generous in taking time to edit and advise. General Manager and Cox Vice President Elmo Ellis was a strong leader, and I swear he had a brain implant so he could listen to the station every hour of every day. He did not cut corners in listener and community service. He made sure the standards did not droop, the benchmarks didn’t slip, and the goal was excellence. We didn’t need a mission statement in a wall frame. We were all supposed to -be- the mission statement.


Crime stories by the stack, including serial killings, huge fires, airline hijackings, and stories for Christmas Day that told what special meal the jail would feed its prisoners. A ride in The Goodyear Blimp, another beneath an enormous Sikorsky Sky Crane, and three thousand hours in a Hughes Helicopter monitoring traffic and breaking news.


A White House luncheon with President Reagan, where Colin Powell sat at my right, and a hot cup of Salvation Army coffee outside Atlanta Federal Prison where a days-long riot was underway.
From racist J.B.Stoner, to Civil Rights icons like Andrew Young and Hosea Williams…and from a very hateful Madlyn Murray O’Hare, to Evangelist Dr. Billy Graham, I talked to just about everybody who was anybody on this side of the grass. And I even covered the grass, from five tons of the illegal kind inside a truck, to trucked-in feed during a brutal drought.

I’m trying to recall as many of the people and the inside stories as I can these days. Maybe someday, they will be noted in some sepia-weathered book of memories and photos. I wish I still had that notebook with Governor Busbee’s newspaper photo taped inside. That was the day it started.

Don’t Say What You Don’t Know

I have to believe some of those great information officers I’ve worked with cringe when they hear “news briefings” that are neither. They carry no definite information pertaining to the story. And, the “briefings” often carry an obvious political aspect, as a waiting line of government officials come to the mic, and say what a bad day it is. Sure it’s a bad day. Your parking lot wouldn’t be full of reporters if it was an ordinary day.

Don’t call a news conference until you have some information. Don’t bait reporters into a “I don’t have that information” fest. Set a definite time for a news conference where some information can be offered, then promise more when you can. Even better, set a schedule for updates, and tell reporters you will meet with them at those times, and will offer any new information. If there is no new information, you can either say so, and walk away, or review what -is- known for possible late comers.

To their great credit, the PIO’s I’ve depended on were always good to tell “what we know right now.” This happy hint from an outdated geezer: Reporters have to develop an eyeball to eyeball relationship with a PIO before the “big story” happens. Otherwise, you have no more advantage than a reporter from the other side of the world.

I’ve worked with information officers to what I believed was in the best interest of the community, decency and privacy of grieving family members, or respect for the dead. The trust has to be mutual.

This isn’t a story specifically involving a PIO, but it speaks to trust that you develop BEFORE something big happens. An Atlanta Police Officer was shot to death during a holdup. I was listening to the scanner in the newsroom when I heard the suspect was cornered at a house. I called the homicide commander, and his answer was ” I’ll give you the information first, I’ll call you first. But if I hear it before it happens, I’ll kick your ass up and down Peachtree Street. Yes, we have him inside a house, but we haven’t moved in, I’ll call you in a little bit” And he did.

Bottom line: Be as prepared as you can to provide information. Don’t gather reporters to say what you don’t know. Reporters: plan, plan, plan.

What’s Out There….Really?

This is an opinion piece and  a bit of chewing gum for the mind… a break from politics and violence.
Your opinion is always welcome. 

The Pentagon is nearing a deadline.  America’s military has been ordered by our elected representatives to issue information about UFO’s… those “things” observed going at fantastic speeds, and cutting turns that would rip apart anything man could manufacture. 
We could be on the eve of information only surpassed by The Resurrection Of Christ.  Or…we might be in for the biggest let-down since…well…a lot of things, including Geraldo’s safecracking, New Coke,  and Pepsi Clear.  

There’s lots of speculation.  I have some ideas on what our Pentagon will say, and even more on what you likely will not hear. 

Number one on my list:  Nothing much.   Military leaders might ‘fess-up and admit that they’re as stumped as the rest of us.   Radar has tracked objects that dropped from the staggering altitude of 80 thousand feet to the sea in seconds.   Such a drop far exceeds our equipment limit even with Pirelli P Zero tires..and human survivability margins.   And the right and left hand turns are so abrupt they would leave pilots’ eyeballs plastered to the wall.  It might be that, even though we cannot ignore them, we are stumped as to what they are.

Number two on the countdown:  Somebody has developed technology that could make it appear there are unidentified objects.   I can’t think of a better way to confuse a military opponent.   But this theory has one huge hole.  It might be possible to generate those illusions now… but….hold on…this begs the question:

How were similar illusions created decades before.. from our fliers in World War II…fliers who called them “foo fighters”

The big number three:  It’s simple… our military has a pretty good idea these are craft from somewhere else.  But, what are they doing here?   Just going around the block for a spin?   Or are they exploring?  Or, are they looking at other possibilities for our planet..such as settlements?
Let’s take that last one first.  The presumption is that there is some intelligence on board the craft.   We have computers that can operate vending machines and coffee makers with some reliability.  And we can go for trips to the moon and near space.  Drones and machines go long distances for us.  If explorers from another spot on our 3-D map wanted to check us out, why not send a drone.  If they are nearby, say.. 10 light years that would be the distance covered by something moving at roughly 186,000 miles per second for ten years.   Talk about a lot of pee stops!  So why not send unoccupied craft, and wait a while for results. 

I believe it was Stephen Hawking who suggested that we should not initiate contact with other civilizations.  They might not share our higher moral norms…little things like not eating each other, or taking what is not yours, or even taking your hat off in an elevator.
Or, these beings watched CNN and Fox, and Russel Biven (before he split)  and Lori Tucker…they observed our planet…and how we treat each other… and decided to go on to the next interplanetary Stuckey’s for apraline shake. 

One idea you might want to consider:  The possibility that these sightings have occurred since Biblical times.  Ezekiel clearly describes some kind of occupied craft.  Read the Book and you will understand what I’m describing.   I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting on anybody in government making the case for good versus evil phenomena across the planet.  

And, there is this possibility:  The Pentagon leadership could be deeply divided on the theory of the nature of UFO’s and will say-so.     Maybe The Navy sees them as intelligent occupied craft, while the Air Force maintains they are simply unexplained natural occurrences, while The Army believes them to be some kind of cloaking device or a  replacement for the Humvee. 
And this “long awaited” (banned phrase on my script list) report could wind up being a multiple choice question for you, rather than a revelation.  

Working The Four Square Deal On SRO’s

Let’s cut through the smoke and mirrors about the Knoxville Police Withdrawal from the School Resource Officer program (SRO’s). And, apparently…there is a big misconception concerning both money, how some school police problems will be handled, and that effect on policing in the community.

First, look at the money. I am not sure of the exact sum, but back when I was working in news, the Knoxville Police Department’s budget allowed well more than $10 million dollars a year to the SRO program. Let’s be conservative about the cost now, and leave it at 10-12 million dollars a year. When Knoxville Police pulls officers from schools, that city money won’t be ‘gifted’ to the Sheriffs Department.

If I had to guess, the money will probably be diverted into social programs within the community in some kind of non-police department effort.
So Knoxville Police Officers currently working as SRO’s will be absorbed into the streets on patrol. That looks good on paper, much like wetting your pants in a blue suit gives you a warm feeling.

Here’s why:
*City police officers will be on patrol, but-

*Since there will be no city officers inside city schools, some kind of law enforcement will have to take calls for service inside the schools.
*That means calls that routinely happen in schools, such as thefts, altercations, suspicious persons, domestic incidents…. all calls for service.. will have to be answered by an officer on the beat.
*So, officers will be added to patrol, to take care of the exact same problems SRO’s were utilized in the school in the first place.

Have you ever heard of the “four square” method of selling you a car? The sales person effectively makes a chart of -four squares: One is the down payment, the second is the trade-in allowance, third is the price of the car, and the fourth square is the cash invested. When you change the amount inside one square… it automatically changes the amount in another.
The City Of Knoxville is apparently getting the old “four square” treatment, and a warm feeling.

I believe the net result will be a reduction in response time to the rest of the city, while beat patrol officers are answering calls that were once handled by SRO’s.
Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler says his deputies will continue to serve as SRO’s in schools. Move another square on the deal sheet, if deputies are re-assigned to city schools.

And my cynical self ads another square on the deal sheet, and that is political currency. Like just about any other news story like this… follow the money, and ask who stands to gain.

I hope I have illustrated how the removal of city SRO’s will create a sum of money to be used in other places. One of the hackneyed words in news and public relations is “stakeholders”…. and I refuse to use it. Instead, look at the dollars, and see what the mayor’s administration will propose to replace the school resource officers.
Note if any political allies might want to propel the decision on city SRO’s in order to possibly win some money for themselves. That will “bear watching” as the city approaches a new fiscal year.

Get to the right square on that deal sheet…see where the money goes, and ask questions about who -really- benefits.

Your comments and criticisms are welcome, my friends.

Look at who stands to gain in service, money, effective law enforcement, and, sadly but again cynically, political currency.

I hope this isn’t a sunshine blowing expedition to make citizens feel good while they get nothing for something.

HERE’S A POST-SCRIPT-

It’s nearly midnight, and I have been reading some of the comments on the SRO piece. Again, it’s only my opinion. I am relying what I know for sure… Folks…. follow the money.
My memory was jogged tonight, that I wrote a story about how an upper East Tennessee law enforcement agency had received a federal grant to start SRO’s,but after a period of time, the federal money dries up and the department is supposed to support the program on its own.
I’ll try to do some more research on SRO’s.
I believe this is a vital service. I know schools have sworn, armed security guards, but resource officers, I believe, have an opportunity to be proactive in the school, and make a difference… possibly be a change agent in some kids’ lives, and at least, let them see a law enforcement officer in a different setting other than when they are answering a call for service, or arresting someone.
And when seconds count…a patrol officer could be minutes away. And that is an equation nobody should want.
Now… I’ll Osteo-Biflex myself on to bed. !!!
.

KPD Resource Officers Withdrawn

Knoxville City Police officers will likely -not- be serving as school resource officers after this year. You can see a previous post that has quotes and copies of memos. Here’s my take on it, and it’s my own opinion.. you are entitled to yours:
The withdrawal comes after a shooting inside Austin East High School, where a Knoxville Police officer stopped an attack by an armed student. That police officer ended a threat of life or serious injury to others. We will never know the true intent of the teenager who was shot dead inside a school toilet that officials indicated was a place described as a “hang out” for him. Not only was his Glock pistol loaded, there was more ammunition in a magazine in his backpack.
There was a string of student deaths before the police shooting of a student inside Austin East. The only thing that changed was where the violence took place. This time, the kid with a gun was inside a school. The previous times, the killings took place in the same general area of town… just not in a school.
Nothing changed, except police were inside a school the same time as a perpetrator, who at the least was carrying a pistol, and at worst was planning a shooting inside the school… in the same area.
The Los Angeles Times reported the police involved shooting happened in a school on what the newspaper called in these exact words, “the black side of town.” That kind of description is inflammatory to those who might not realize the incidents of black-on-black violent crime. On its face, it implies that law officers recognize they are on “the black side of town” either investigating a death, or preventing another one. It also ignores the fact that in the A. E. shooting, the police officer who fired the fatal shot was black.
School resource officers are an important tool in not only keeping the peace e but also keeping a relationship with the students. It’s that mutual bond of trust that helps maintain a safe environment, even in, as the L.A. Times called it” the black side of town.”
Bullets do not have eyes. They are an extension of intent. Bullets are the business end of either evil doers, or those who are trying to stop it. The chunk of heavy metal traveling at 12 hundred feet per second is no picker of people. Look at the trajectory of the round, trace it back to the eyes, and into the mindset of who fired it.
Death has no eyesight. I have looked at the eyes of people who have been shot to death, both white people, and people of color. The eyes are vacant, staring at nothing, with no recognition of anything except that the life is gone. Mothers of gunshot victims, young and old, grieve the same way. And when the ghastly news is told to loved ones … a law officer and a chaplain at the doorstep…dead is dead.
To be sure, schools need resource officers who can adapt to the neighborhood. You can’t be blind as to what a community is like beyond the boundaries of the campus. A successful resource officer knows the school, like a patrol officer knows the beat. That knowledge can derail problems before they develop.
But there’s no time to cultivate a relationship when a kid comes to a school armed. Video does not lie, it shows the student at A.E., hand in a pocket, and there’s a hole in that jacket where one slug ripped through on its way to the side of a trash can.
There have already been demonstrations. But you haven’t seen anything like what is about to happen to Knoxville when lawsuits are filed, and the words like “the black side of town” are slung against any medium that will listen.
But bullets and guns don’t recognize “the black side of town”, nor will the presence, or the absence of a law officer change their trajectory. The recipe to prevention and life saving includes school resource officers as a bridge…but it cannot include an express lane for political consideration, nor can it include tolerance of what is happening in our community.
Young people have died. Forget which “side of town”. Dead. Is. Dead. We cannot fix what put those young people already in the ground. We can only use every tool in the box to try to prevent more deaths. And one important tool … the knowledge and training of a school resource officer is about to be discarded.
And I warn you, we had better address the mental health, and domestic situations of students years before the point where they pull the trigger… the little bulge on a Glock trigger that is a safety… then the larger trigger that sends a bullet from the muzzle… into a trash can… or into another kid.

What Blankety-Blank Wrote That ?!?

Many years ago, my boss and friend Lee Hall hired a writer by the name of Mervin Block to look over several examples of writing produced by WSB News.   Block had been a writer for CBS News with Walter Cronkite, and a list of other top notch credentials.  

Many years ago, my boss and friend Lee Hall hired a writer by the name of Mervin Block to look over several examples of writing produced by WSB News.   Block had been a writer for CBS News with Walter Cronkite, and a list of other top notch credentials.  

His book, “Writing For Broadcast News” should be a mandatory read for communicators,  and it wouldn’t hurt to be a summer book list read for students from about 9th grade to college.  When I took over the news staff here in Knoxville, I ordered a copy of the book for each member of the team.

Perfection is the enemy of excellence.

Albert Einstein

We gathered in an auditorium at Emory University, as Mr. Block put example after example of our writing on an overhead projector.  He pulled no punches as he went from page-to-page, leveling a sharp editor’s eyes to what we thought was some pretty fair writing.

I’m no Mark Hemingway, or Ernest Twain, but I get by. And in my mind, I’d done a pretty good writing job on my recent copy. I thought “this is going to be easy for me, but some of my colleagues might suffer.”

Just when you think you’ve got the knack, someone comes along with an overhead projector

Dave Foulk, edite, edil…editor

I was enjoying the presentation, mainly because none of my copy had flipped onto to the screen.   Then, it was my turn in the bucket.  

There were very few nice things Mr. Block had to say about my copy.  Okay, he had nothing good to say.  

I spoke up with the only thing I could think of at the time: 

“Well, what dumb a#%@ wrote that one?”

Even Mr. Block grinned.   For about a nanosecond. 

Lessons Learned From The Best

The story begins with Harold Sprayberry and 126 Peachtree Street, downtown Atlanta. And it begins December 7th, one year after the end of World War II. He was a young firefighter at the Winecoff Hotel Fire in downtown Atlanta.

It remains the most deadly fire in the modern history of Atlanta, and one of the worst ever in America. The 5-story Winecoff Hotel was advertised as “completely fireproof” because of its steel construction. But the furnishings could still burn, and the fire quickly spread out of control. There was a common stairway that compounded the efforts to escape.

We have seen it in our time with The World Trade Center attack on September 11th. The desperation was so great, that many people chose to take a chance on surviving the jump from a window, or… worse yet, decided to end their life in a jump to spare them a death from fire or choking smoke. A graduate student at Georgia Tech caught the horrific image of a woman mid-fall in a that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism (note- graphic content- df . Some firefighters were injured by falling victims of the inferno.

Harold Sprayberry told me about efforts to create a kind of “ladder bridge” across a gap in two buildings so allow some to take a chance on crawling across the chasm to safety across the ten foot gap. Others tried to jump, and fatally underestimated the distance. The namesake of the hotel was among the dead

After that horrific fire, and two more high casualty fires in America, building codes started the evolution that brings sprinklers, escape routes, and safer construction today.

Aubrey Morris was a young newspaper reporter who worked the police beat in Atlanta. Word quickly spread that The Winecoff was burning, and it was bad. Aubrey told me that he jumped into a car and rushed to 176 Peachtree.

Aubrey’s world revolved around deadlines, and hard-and-fast deadlines they were. In order to get a morning newspaper typeset and ready for the “Bulldog Edition” of very early morning, there was a deadline. And, if the newspaper wanted to break the news with an “extra” edition, that deadline was as soon as possible.

Incidentally, an Atlanta Journal photographer was being treated for pleurisy at Grady Hospital downtown. That man got up from his hospital bed, dressed, and went to work.

I saw that same look in Aubrey’s eyes as I did in those of the then-young fireman..as they recounted his story from that night. Aubrey cared about people, and he saw the same horrors witnessed by Harold Sprayberry. But both men had a job to do. Aubrey absolutely had to get on the telephone with the newspaper’s city desk and describe what was happening.

It’s Aubrey’s tenacity as a reporter that made him think fast. This was way before two-way radios, and car and handheld cell phones were only in the reality of Flash Gordon, and Commander Cody. But, it would take too long for him to run down the street to find a pay phone booth that was not being used, or even worked. Atlanta would want to know the story, and Aubrey could not leave his post as a witness and an interviewer He told me he knew there was a telephone he could use in a drug store that was close by. I forget how Aubrey broke the glass door of the pharmacy to get to a phone. But, he figured the business owner would know the newspaper would cover the cost.

Aubrey would eventually move from newspaper to WSB Radio, where he also rose in responsibility to eventually become news director. He would be honored with all kinds of awards during his career. His reputation and reliability were so advanced, that in 1962, when several prominent Atlantans and arts patrons died in a plane crash in Paris, the mayor asked Aubrey to travel with him to document the sad round-trip that brought back to Atlanta the remains of many large patrons of the arts.

So, by now you might be ready to say these stories diary one day in the lives of two men who were plunged into both compassion and professionalism. Chief Sprayberry was one of the finest public servants I could imagine. And Aubrey Morris was a friend and mentor who was willing to share a lifetime of experience with a new reporter from Knoxville.

Fast forward to 1989. I was inside the newsroom that was always filled with the chatter of two-way radios. We didn’t just have a scanner, we had several, and they were turned up so we could hear the emergency calls. As a matter of fact, my last day of work at WSB, we had a small gathering that was videotaped. You can clearly hear the radios in the background. And, any cop beat reporter will agree, that on some calls… you can hear the emergency in the voice of the dispatcher.

The first alarm, commercial assignment sent several fire companies to the Peachtree-26th building. I heard something, maybe a report that smoke was showing… something that did not sound right. I grabbed two cassette recorders already in my gear bag, and a huge Panasonic “briefcase” cell phone, and beat it to, literally just up the street from the radio station.

It looked bad from the beginning. The first-due ladder companies were already working to get extended on the south side of the building. People were hanging in the windows, hoping for rescue from choking smoke. The fire was electrical in origin.

I was able to get my car very close to the building.. because most of the equipment was close to the building. In the early days of cellular phones, coverage was hit-and-miss, even in the city. To increase my odds, I carried a cell phone antenna that had about 20 feet of cable that fit the Panasonic set. The business end, the antenna was a full wavelength stick, and on the base, a magnet strong enough to lift a cement block. My general routine covering “spot” news was to first, try to park near some kind of street sign.
I would take my antenna and literally toss it up to the steel sign. With a “whang” the antenna would secure itself, and I had better coverage. I thought of Aubrey that day, and how he had done what he needed to get the story out…. in another age. As it was, I was live, and the solo reporter for the station for at least an hour. I remember on the Ludlow Porch show, having the venerable talk show genius allow me to completely take-over the station, commercial free, as I interviewed witnesses.

Five people died in that fire. The death toll could have been ten times that or more, had firefighters used every skill they possessed to get people out, and in good shape. Many people were rescued from choking smoke that day. Technology in fire fighting was light years beyond what young Harold Sprayberry and his brother firefighters had at hand during the WInecoff. Equipment was updated, and the department had some highly trained personnel.

As soon as we could, I worked with Aubrey Morris to pay for a banquet for every firefighter who worked the Peachtree-26th alarm. There were many donors, small and large, who wanted to make sure the city said “thank you” for averting another Winecoff Fire.

There are no coincidences in life. I met the right people at the right time. They taught me how to tell a story, to care about the people involved, and to follow up after the story leaves the top of the stack. I will forever be in debt to those fine folks, men and women who spanned my whole career. Men and woman who could get there quickly, tell the story, then follow up with a sense of community. If I started to name them all, I would surely leave someone out. So, I’ll let the two men I’ve told you about be the representatives for all who would accept no less than to “get it right”.


Evil You Cannot Un-See

This is going to be an unsettling piece for some of you. It’s commentary, my opinion, my viewpoint and my own observations. You see, I am a Christ Follower, not believing in religiosity, and what the Bible calls “vain repetitions”, in other words, going through the motions. I’m about as imperfect as they can come, but ordained as a deacon, and was a Sunday School teacher who even got a thumbtack from the bulletin board … in the seat of my chair. So, with that preamble said, let’s get down to some brass tacks.

Over on Facebook, a friend talked about something being very real. Real, indeed.

In my career as a newsman, most of the time I was the ‘cop’ reporter. And much to the determent of my family, I worked on call for when bad stuff happened, and the station needed to cover it. I was pretty fair at covering breaking news like big fires, plane crashes, standoffs… the stories that might even break into regular programming for a live report (back when many radio stations did such a thing). I would take a breaking news story any day over sitting in some interminable government meeting, or some speaker at a rubber chicken luncheon. I was the guy who loved to be out in bad weather, in hurricanes, ice storms, and floods. I was the geek who pre-planned where to go and who to call when bad things happened.

Unlike law enforcement or fire rescue, my work spanned not cities or districts, but entire metro areas. That exposed me to a lot of news. I’ve seen stuff I cannot un-see, smelled odors I can’t undo in my memory, and I can say I witnessed life and death with an other-worldly tang.

It’s something that is very hard to describe. You get to thinking about it, and it’ll be a dark, wet blanket that won’t leave your bedroom when you’re trying to sleep. Memories of stuff that will make you shake your head in disbelief when you thing about it decades later.

It’s evil.

I’ll give you an example.. one that I have used in some of my public appearances in the past.

It was a call of a person killed in Southwest Atlanta, in some apartments off Campbelton Road. When I got to the scene, I learned that a child had been stabbed to death. He was a little guy…around eight or nine years-old. He had been viciously attacked. Police say he was repeatedly stabbed, with ghastly wounds on his body. And… his body had been tossed into a garbage container…and, police say they had a suspect.

His mother, in some kind of rage had chased the boy through the house, cutting him with a large knife. In addition to the child’s body, she had thrown some other things into the Dumpster. The head of the homicide squad at the time was a seasoned supervisor. He had been decorated by the department for his valor in a gun battle with an armed robber. And, that afternoon, he was as grim in countenance as I’ve ever seen anybody.

There was the usual meeting with reporters to explain as much as they could about what had happened, and that the mother was the only suspect. I had a pretty good relationship with officers, and they somehow let me look into the dumpster where the body was tossed.

It looked like a can of red paint..deep red paint had been dropped into the receptacle. You could easily tell what the mother had tossed in along with her dead son. All of it was bloodied, smeared with the life of that child. His heroes had apparently been ripped from the wall, or at least from his room. There was a picture of Stevie Wonder, another of Martin Luther King Junior, and one more framed image...

That of Jesus Christ. It was one of those iconic images that has lasted through the ages. It was that image of Christ as he is looking toward the sky, his somber, illuminated face.

And one more thing. That picture of Christ had a bloody hand smear on His face. It wasn’t the kind of vulgarity of some murders. The body had been removed. They were just things thrown out in some kind of rage against a kid that couldn’t possibly have earned a sentence of death…especially death at the hands of his own mother. It wasn’t the picture that creeped me out.. it was the imagination of how the child had lived the last moments of his life.

It wasn’t a crime of passion like the one I saw years before in a house in Concord, now Farragut. A man had been shot several times and died where he fell inside a house, because of some kind of dispute. It was like a double killing in West Knox County, where a husband and father killed his wife and daughter, loaded their bodies down and tossed them into Fort Loudon Lake… for strangers to see those sights, and experience those odors.

I don’t know whether I even considered the existence of palpable evil on this planet until I started covering police and fire stories.

The anguish of a mother and father whose daughter went missing. I sat in their living room and interviewed them, wishing I could say something of hope or encouragement… but I knew the odds that they would ever see her again were not good. Instead of a. half-lie, I thanked them for their time, and did the best I could to tell their story.

The ugly smear of red on a storm door, where a crazed husband nearly bisected his wife during some kind of frenzy. There were things like that ..I could not photograph, or even describe in the PG world I tried to maintain in my reporting.

I was on the scene of many of the Atlanta Child Murders, and talked to mothers of some of the victims. Mothers who, to this day, have no peace about what really happened to their child, or why. One young woman disappeared from the “nice” section of town…kidnapped and murdered with her body dumped in woods near a remote street often heaped with trash. She was discarded there, too.

Who does this stuff? A mother who barricades the door of her apartment bedroom, throws gasoline around the rom and immolates herself and her children. A woman who is stabbed so severely that her body was pinned to the floor. A man who dispassionately describes how he trussed up, and butchered his victim because he was too heavy to carry to the trash in one piece. All of those are real stories from my time both on the street, and at the news desk anchoring live events.

You write these stories and you shake your head. And if there was any doubt of the existence of an evil force in this world… it was chased away when I heard myself reading the stories out loud.

There are those of us who are not ashamed to tell of the power of prayer, or a belief in something beyond ourselves. We might be afraid that we would be thought of as too orthodox, old fashioned, or maybe just.dead.wrong. I have no doubt experienced the power of Faith in many people…. many people who have embodied what it means to believe.

I’ve seen good, and I know It exists.

And… I have seen evil. It is powerful. Innocents die. Lives are ruined. Families are left in perpetual mourning, and as for one reporter… it sometimes creeps back into my dreams to show me things I cannot un-see.



A Set-to With Broadcast News

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seriously cut back in my consumption of the very product I used to make. It’s because I have a snoot full of substandard reporting and downright bias.

I won’t lump all reporters in one basket. But, for consideration today, I’d like you to stir broadcast news into one soup.. one entity.. that I could call to the table in my imaginary office, and put it “on notice”.

I haven’t called accounting to cut a severance check and draw up a non-compete paper for you to sign. But I have the contract folder on my desktop, and I’ve reviewed the terms. Let’s say I am facing some hard decisions on whether I’ll have to let you go

(I know reader’s attention spans are short. You want a two minute read on blogs like mine, But this time, the meeting will take a few more minutes.-df)

During my career in broadcast news, I had my share of ‘meetings’ with my bosses. Many times it was over a mistake I made operating the control board. It seems my talent in that department is a notch or two lower than a chimpanzee. But I can’t remember a time when management had to meet with me because of a complaint that I was biased. Covering stories, and showing different viewpoints is hard, and it’s also hard to explain alternate viewpoints in a limited amount of time. But you have to find a way, or your reporting misses the mark. Let me explain by some examples-

During media broadcasts of police videos, reporters say a person was holding “what appears to be a knife” , or “what appears to be a gun”. Why don’t you write it to explain the video showed what appeared to be something..a knife, a gun, or a gesture, and then tell whether or not an object was found near where a person fell. You might have to press departments to say what was found, but I believe in most cases, that part of the video would be easily clarified. And, I know you have incredible slow motion capability, but you need to emphasize that things in slo-mo can reveal things that cannot be seen in real-time.

There is a difference in reporting a public meeting or demonstration, and cheerleading for things to happen. Too many times, I see you standing with a background of an empty street..telling what will happen next. Your voice is the opposite of the video…nothing is going on right now, or a demonstration with ten or fifteen people is given the same amount of coverage as much larger gatherings.
I understand the dynamics of reporting on demonstrations and public unrest. I’ve covered everything from anti-war protests during the Vietnam era, Operation Rescue, Rodney King unrest, and a whole list of other events…even people chaining themselves to construction equipment. You’re under pressure. But that is part of the job. You can’t use the demands on you to determine the standards of fairness.

What what you say, and how you say it is as important as what you show. You might not mean to sound biased, but it might appear you are because of inflammatory or hot button words you use in your report. Be careful, and think about what you are saying or showing. I understand the many pressures on you…time considerations, working with a producer who’s talking into your ear on your IFB and changing plans on the fly, and unexpected events. But the paramount consideration should be the connection between your brain, and what comes out of your mouth. Learn the ways you can sound biased by either omission, or commission.

It might be a good idea for your department to pre plan haver an inside-outside strategy to cover particular events. One viewpoint can be extremely myopic. One reporter inside the event, telling what is happening from that perspective, while another reporter might be outside the boundaries, telling what is happening there is one way to do it. For instance, there could be rioting in a particular neighborhood…serious, violent stuff, and only blocks away..nothing could be happening, Point out the scope, size, number, amount, effect of something.

Your personal opinions can be belied by eye rolling, inflection of your voice, and body language. If you want to appear un-biased… you need to work on those things.

And we’re running late in our meeting so I’ll only give one more piece of advice. Decide what you are. If you are a reporter…report and be fair to all involved. Otherwise, get a gig as a commentator. It would be an easier job, because you don’t have to even give an appearance of fairness.

Let’s both think about fairness in our work. We all have biases. Otherwise, we would all be robots, driving the same cars, and same colored clothes, thinking the same way all the time. All I’m asking is for you to leave either your personal bias, or corporate bias next to the umbrella holder and coat rack.

Think about it, and let’s meet again in..say a few days. I’ve already dismissed some of your colleagues today. I believe you are trying to decide what you are both internally and on-the-air.
I need to know what you decide…soon.