KALX-TV stood before me like the proverbial gleaming city on the hill: a sprawling, single story building of sparkling steel and glass. A massive orange and white broadcast tower, like an erector set on steroids, grew from the center of the building. Fifteen American flags waved down the long gated driveway to the front doors. Below each flag, a second flag bearing the KALX-TV 5 logo announced, “This is KALX Kountry.”
I cranked down my window and pressed the button on the speaker box. “Nicholas Brock, here to see Jim Weaver.”
“Yes, Mr. Brock, I’ll buzz you in.”
The receptionist buzzed me through the front gate, and my rusty Dodge Charger sputtered to a parking place near the tinted glass. I shook my head as I headed for the door. Was I dreaming? Was I still drunk from last night? I was about to start my second job at my second television station in two days. Another buzz and I was inside.
“I’ve told Mr. Weaver that you are here. He’ll be with you shortly.”
Mister Weaver? I squinted in the dim light waiting for my eyes to adjust, “Thank you, Miss, uh,” I searched for the name plate on marble half-wall that hid everything but the receptionist’s head, “Johnston.”
“Call me Jeanne,” she said with all the perkiness of Katie Couric, while she fished for something inside her desk. “Mr. Weaver asks that you please have a seat and fill out this application.”
So this was how the other half lived? No ragged out carpet. No leak-stained ceiling, no crappy RCA cabinet television from the 50’s. Unlike my former digs, the KALX reception area shined of polished marble and glass. My sneakers squeaked against the marble tile floor as I crossed the room to a leather and chrome arm chair. I dropped the application on an asymmetrical glass coffee table. Across the room, on a large television screen, sand drained through an hourglass as the announcer introduced the next soap opera, “. . . so are the Days of Our Lives.”
Then I saw it. I could feel my eyes getting wider. My pulse quickened. I stood and took a few tentative steps. The orange glow in the corner called to me like a siren’s song. Plaques and statuettes with names like Murrow, Peabody, and DuPont stared back at me from the chrome and glass trophy case. There must have been a dozen of them. And standing tall in a beam of white light atop the case, a gold-plated, winged woman in a flowing robe, her back arched, stretched her arms toward the ceiling. She lifted a gilded, wire-frame globe for all to see. The inscription read, “EMMY, Excellence in Television News Photography, Jim Weaver.”
I felt someone watching me stare. I jerked my head around to see Weaver grinning like a mule eating briars. “Just admiring the hardware.” I said, checking my chin for spittle.
“It’s just a regional,” Weaver apologized.
“It’s a freakin’ Emmy.”
“Just a shiny hunk of tin that says I did good work two years ago.”
I stammered at a few words in protest, but Weaver cut me off.
“Rule number one, yesterday’s story, no matter how good or bad, is gone. Nobody remembers it. Nothing matters but the story you shoot today. You hang on to that attitude and you’ll have your own shiny dolls to play with. Now, let’s get you signed in.”
I followed Weaver into the cavernous main hallway. Larger than life-sized photos of anchors and reporters smiled at me we I drifted past.
“That’s the Gripper,” Weaver explained as we passed the first head shot, “Bob Grip. He anchors the five, six, and ten. The blonde next to him is his co-anchor Darla Darling – cheesy name. Consultants picked it – but she knows her shit.” And so it went all the way down the hallway, “That’s Sarge; she’s an institution. Dick Hicks, nicest guy you’ll ever meet. Lou James, he does the weekend show. Watch out for him. Hammy, sports guy extraordinaire, and his side-kick Bump. And that’s Boyd Leffingwell. He’s a fuck-up. But he’s our fuck-up.”
The newsroom was as opulent and immense as my previous digs were ratty and cramped. Framed prints by Manet or Monet, or some other long-dead, famous foreign artist graced the walls. The assignment desk stood as mountain of granite in the center of the room. The news director and assistant news director holed-up inside glassed offices at the back of the room.
Weaver just stood there and let me take it all in. “It’s like the Taj Mahal of newsrooms,” I finally sputtered.
“Nah, that’s in Baton Rouge, but it’s comfortable. It’s time to get you signed in, Ass Man has an assignment for you, and you still need to meet Icky.”
“Assignment Manager, never met one who wasn’t an asshole. You would be to if you had to direct whining reporters and grumpy photogs all day.”
Weaver steered me to the back hallway and into the equipment room, where he opened the last locker and pulled out something big and orange. “This is Icky, the Ikegami 730. Nothing makes a prettier picture. And it’s a whole lot lighter than that TK you were driving.”
“You’ll forget about the color when you get it on your shoulder.”
Weaver handed me Icky like it was made of gold. I threw it on my shoulder. He was right. Icky was light, well-balanced, and comfortable, almost like it belonged there.
“Now gear-up. The judge is waiting.” He tossed me a set of car keys. “Unit 7, it’s the Taurus sedan in the back lot. Oh, and you’ll need this.” Weaver pulled a silver cube the size of a matchbox off his belt.
“What is it?”
“It’s the latest thing in beepers, a voice pager. If the desk needs you, they call the number, leave a message, and it comes out of this little speaker. No need to fumble with buttons or fight to read a phone number while you drive. It just spits it out. It’s great.”
I put the beeper on my belt, loaded the Taurus and radioed the desk.
Hey new guy, the radio crackled back. Head to The Bentley Hotel, the Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court is speaking to the Louisiana Bar Association. Just shoot the speech; a producer will pick out the sound when you get back.
And I was on my way to my first real story.
to be continued