9 SEP 09: Old Nueve
Since we're away for a few days, we can only assume what Columbus's biggest TV station is doing today. It's probably marking 9/9/09 the same way it marked 9/9/99 ten years ago - giving away prize packs to viewers, and perhaps enjoying a nice staff cake. But I'm not sure it can afford to give 99-dollar bonuses to the employees right now.
We can tell all sorts of stories about our years with WTVM. But some of the most memorable ones involve ordinary viewers who called the station. Some had complaints. Some claimed to have great discoveries or revelations. And one decided if a TV station can have freedom of speech, he has the freedom to say whatever he pleases to that station.
One of the first calls I took was from a woman who thought she noticed something curious. She said almost all the TV news anchors were left-handed. But when I asked around, I discovered exactly the opposite was true. They were right-handed - but as you watch TV, the right hand is on the left side of the screen. This does NOT help the reputation that some viewers are backwards-thinking.
Another woman years ago complained about the "mug shots" of criminal suspects shown on the air. She apparently had kept score, and determined almost all of the suspects were African-American. Then I began my own private score -- and when the woman called again, I reported the racial mix was about 50-50. Imagine if I'd told her about the racial mix of civil rights leaders.
This woman contended Euro-American corporate criminals had their mug shots kept off the air. In many cases, this was because the charges were in federal court - and federal courts don't tend to release mug shots. TV stations have to surround the suspect with photographers as they walk outside court, and hope they don't trip over each other.
For a while, the complaints led to a station policy that ALL mug shots were banned from the air. But that didn't last long. For one thing, what if a suspect is wanted by police and still on the loose? And for another thing, those web sites offering to "cartoonify" photos hadn't come along yet.
A few callers to the TV station became infamous for phoning so often. One young man I'll call Waldo still makes a habit of calling the newsroom within five seconds of an attractive reporter going off the screen. I know, because I counted it down at 11:00 p.m. several times....
Waldo would butter up the female reporters, seemingly with dreams of winning a date with them. Trouble is, Waldo has a very recognizable voice - and when you admit you work at fast-food restaurants, most TV journalists simply are not impressed.
Many times a female reporter would want nothing to do with Waldo - and since I answered the phone, it was left for me to say: "She refuses to talk to you." Yes, I could be that blunt. He didn't seem to care. He didn't even get it when I quoted the reporter verbatim: "She says she's left for the evening."
Then there was the older woman, who sounded like a European immigrant. She called one Sunday morning to complain about the sermon being broadcast from First Baptist Church. I suggested she call the church, if she disagreed with the message. She doubted that would do any good. And you know, with most Baptists that might be true....
The woman apparently wanted the other side of some doctrinal point put on the air, to answer the Baptist minister's sermon. Yet to my knowledge, the woman never bought any TV time to present her viewpoint. You'll notice no atheist groups seem to do that, either. Once again, tithing makes a difference....
One last memorable example was a man who lived outside Columbus. He called after a 6:00 p.m. newscast because Dee Armstrong said during a health story, "If you're black, you need to...." do something. The man objected to the use of the word "if" - proving it truly is the biggest two-letter word in the English language.
"If implies doubt," the man told me -- claiming we were asking viewers to double-check whether or not they're African-American. I should have asked him if he pulls out his driver's license every time a reporter says, "If you live in Georgia...."
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