If you want to make a guy feel old, you don’t need to direct his attention to his gray hair, his wrinkled skin, or his inability to appreciate the entertainment value of Fortnight and Migos.
All you have to do is show him a picture of the fashion trends from his high school or college days when athletic socks were worn to the knees, afros blocked the sun, and neckties were as wide as I-285.
There’s a photograph of me in my early days working in 11Alive’s Athens bureau. The camera on my shoulder is the size of a Samsonite. I’m wearing eyeglasses that could double as the Hubble telescope. There is a battery belt slung over my shoulder (used to power the light atop the camera) that looks like something Adam West wore as he climbed out of the Batmobile.
I seriously doubt that the young reporter seen in that photograph was thinking that he’d remain at 11Alive for thirty years.
When I started my job with WXIA, my first child was less than a month old. My wife and I bought our first house and moved to a new city with our baby boy so I could start my new job. Looking back, that seems as crazy as swimming the English Channel with a piano strapped to your back while playing the harmonica and writing a novel with your toes. I was much younger then. The onslaught of new responsibility barely phased me. Now, it’s difficult for me to walk a flight of stairs and remember my name at the same time.
Oh, that child I brought to Georgia in a car seat is now married and about to have a child of his own.
My first day at 11Alive was December 5, 1988. Vince Dooley was the football coach at the University of Georgia, but only for another few weeks. Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, but only for another month. Michael Jordan had just won his first NBA Most Valuable Player award.
In those days, we relied on microwave trucks for live shots around the city and satellite trucks the size of Greyhounds for remotes anywhere around the country. Today, we can go live just about anywhere using cellphone signals sent from a device carried in a bag roughly the size of a purse.
My initial role with 11Alive required me to shoot all of my own video, write, edit, and shoot my own live shots. Thirty years later, I’m still shooting (with a camera that is a quarter of the weight and size) still writing, still editing, along with the additional duties of writing web stories and contributing news to our social media accounts. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
During my time with 11Alive, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing many people with names you would easily recognize. They were no more impressive than the many, many people I’ve encountered who are famous only in my heart.
There’s the elderly widow who was the victim of a scam artist. The thief emptied her purse and pantry. She was already living on the bare minimum, and yet she offered to feed me with the few morsels of food the bad guy left behind.
There’s the man who walked into a Georgia Power office just before Christmas and paid the bills of everyone in the room.
I’ve seen kindness emerge from despair. There’s the tornado victim who continued to live in his home despite a series of trees that landed in his living room. His guardian angels, two complete strangers, drove from Dahlonega to Woodstock to deliver an RV, a temporary replacement home, free of charge. They didn’t want their names or faces to appear in my news story. They wanted their act of generosity to stand on its own.
I joined 11Alive in the days when John Pruitt, Chuck Moore, Johnny Beckman, and Guy Sharpe manned the anchor desk. They are the faces on Atlanta television’s Mt. Rushmore.
“The day comes when you turn gray and wrinkled, and you’re just not as popular as you once were,” Sharpe once told me.
Gentleman Guy was approaching his 40th year on Atlanta television the day we chatted about his long career and the possibility of retirement.
“I told myself a long time ago that the day would come when this business wouldn’t need me anymore,” he told me. “There are young, talented, more energetic people just chomping at the bit to take the limelight. I have no problem with that. I understand people want to see new faces. I’ve prepared myself for the day when it’s time to step aside.”
Guy retired in 1996. He passed away in 2004. I’ve never forgotten his humble words. He kept his ego in check even as his popularity soared. The world needs more like him.
I worked 6 years before 11Alive hired me, so that’s a total of 36 years in television news. The day is coming when I’ll need to step aside, but it’s not here quite yet. I got into this business because I love telling stories, and that love is still burning. I love my co-workers. I work side by side with some of those younger, more talented reporters who are entering the business. We trade energy and ideas. When I do retire, our newsroom will not miss a beat.
Many years ago, when I was a toiling away at the University of Georgia’s school of journalism, the idea of working at WXIA-TV was a dream.
I’ve had the blessing of living that dream for 30 years.
The pictures prove it.