WFMY reunion brought back friends, memories

by Jim Longworth

I’m not much on going to parties, but when I heard that WFMY was hosting a reunion of former employees, I couldn’t wait to attend. Organized by longtime TV Tech Lee Wimbs and hosted by current WFMY General Manager Larry Audas, the gathering was a huge success. More than 180 WFMY alum and their family members showed up to celebrate the good old days, and marvel at the changes to our beloved station.

Current News2 anchor persons served as our tour guides, giving us a peek at new technologies and innovations, including a complex, computerized weather department. Back when I was doing the 11 p.m. weather at WFMY, all I had to work with was a huge, Velcro map of the United States, and a black and white radar scope which had been purchased from a local army surplus store by Chief Engineer Doyle Thompson. It was Thompson who put WFMY on the air back in 1949, and who, decades later would help launch the Weather Channel. He and his wife Betty flew in from Florida just to attend the reunion.

Truth is, I probably wasn’t a very good weatherman, but I had fun. Like the time in 1977 when CBS anchor Charles Kuralt and artist Bob Timberlake stopped by to give me a hard time. Bob had just published a magnificent book of his prints, which were accompanied by prose from Kuralt. The three of us taped a segment together in which I asked both men to critique my artwork, and they told me what they thought of it in no uncertain terms.

In the old days, News was shot in Studio Two, while the much larger Studio One was home to “The Good Morning Show,” “The Old Rebel Show,” “Sandra and Friends” and a host of other local productions. Today, all local news programs originate from Studio One, which is also now equipped with a full kitchen set. It was in that studio that I learned how to run camera on “The Old Rebel Show” in front of a hundred screaming kids. It was also my job to mop up under the bleachers after each show. I won’t tell you what I mopped up, but it always involved some kind of liquid that the children either drank or expelled.

Studio One was also where we once produced a telethon for the soon-to-be NC Zoo. Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” animal handler Jim Fowler asked me to babysit a cougar for him overnight. The next day the cougar was well rested, but my best sweater was ripped to shreds. And it was in Studio One where I had gathered WFMY staff together to serve as the live audience for a primetime special which I moderated with the legendary Red Skelton. All of those memories, and more, came back to me as my wife Pam and I strolled through the building. Speaking of whom, Pam is also a News2 alum, so we both got to see a lot of our friends that day.

WFMY gave me my start in commercial television, and then allowed me the freedom and the support system to explore and grow. Thanks to News2, I learned how to shoot and edit film. I was able to snag interviews with Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor and a host of other celebrities. I got to play basketball (sort of) with the old-time Harlem Globetrotters. And I was allowed to produce documentaries and specials. Best of all, I was part of a TV family who nurtured my budding career and tolerated my learning curve. That family included folks like long time director Jack Hilliard, audio guru Dick May and talk- show host (later, news anchor) Sandra Hughes. They all showed up on Aug. 18, and I’m glad they did. Special kudos, though, go to Larry Audas, News Director Bob Clinkingbeard, Tanya Rivera, Frank Mickens, Grant Gilmore, Ed Matthews and other current WFMY staff, who gave up their Saturday to welcome us old fogies back home and listen to us reminisce.

It has been nearly 40 years since I first went to work for WFMY, and well over 30 years since I had seen some of the old gang. I suppose that 30 years from now, a new group of staffers will host a reunion for Frank, Tanya, Ed, and Grant. I’ll be about 90 years old by then, but I plan to show up so I can wax philosophic and, of course, regale them with stories about mopping up under the bleachers.

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15).