I’ve just finished reading Terry Ann Knopf’s “The Golden Age of Boston Television”. Terry was a long time TV critic for a prominent Boston-area newspaper. It’s an interesting read, covering a special time in Boston television news. I’m in it, briefly.
You would think a local legend like me would get more space. Just kidding, Terry. I’m flattered you included me.
Boston, indeed, experienced a wonderful period of TV news excellence. It was the envy of the nation at one point. I know because many reporters from network to major local stations shared their feelings with me. I knew because I had worked at a network (ABC News) before my career landed me in Boston. I could do the comparison without bias. Sadly, the excellence in TV journalism is now history with a few exceptions. Terry deals with that in her book.
I’m sure there will be a mixed response to “The Golden Age of Boston Television” from those who worked at the various television stations during the period. As for me, I enjoyed the journey through time. I logged 31 years on Boston television. I have a treasure chest of memories.
One of the things missing from Terry’s book is an acknowledgement of the excellent work done by people from all the competing TV stations. This was a time when reporters received five to ten minutes to deliver stories in complete depth. Facts were double and triple-checked. Words mattered. Our editors were old-school and verbally spanked us for purple prose or improper use of grammar. We cared more about the quality of our stories than how good we looked in live shots.
Reporters, competing for a scoop on the same story, often shared information to be sure we were accurate. We wanted to be first — but we wanted to be right. There was no joy in seeing a competitor embarrassed by bad information. We had a bond — unlike any other major news market. Writing came first for most of us. Our words were supposed to complement the video — not be redundant.
There was a false belief among outsiders that we didn’t like each other. We’d back stab one another for a “beat.” Sure, there were a few who were better suited to modelling, chasing ambulances, or selling insurance, but that was not true for most of us. For a few precious years, Boston boasted an all-star lineup of reporters who graced the lineups for its TV stations.
Charlie “Chuck” Austin, Jack Harper, Jorge Quiroga, Dan Rea, Kirby Perkins, Walt Sanders, Sarah Ann Shaw, Ron Gollobin, Marty Sender, Shelby “Storm Queen” Scott, David Roepik, Ron Sanders, Paul Reece, Victoria Block, Rehema Ellis, Maurice Lewis, Byron Barnett, Greg Wayland, Gary Gillis (a multi-threat in hard news and sports), Mark Wile, Jack Borden, Chet Curtis (all-star reporter and anchor).
I know I’m forgetting some people and I apologize. Age is catching up.
Clark Booth is special. He’s a hero. Clark’s way with words often meant “we don’t need no stinkin’ video”. Clark’s catch phrase “good stuff” has been stolen here myriad times.
I’ve stayed away from the news anchors because they are a different story and deserve separate space. News anchors, local and network, are a special breed. Terry Ann Knopf deals with many of Boston’s star anchors in her book. I’ve also not mentioned the “behind the camera” people who were so integral to our success. I will have a special piece on them. Stay tuned.
One of my former colleagues epitomizes my feelings about Boston’s television news reporters. Ask anyone of a certain age about Joe Day and they will smile. Your political persuasion or news preferences don’t matter. We lost Joe two years ago and our world is poorer for his absence.
I’ll wrap this up with memories of the day we remembered one of Boston’s finest TV news reporters.
The Golden Age of Boston Television
Terry Ann Knopf
University Press of New England, Hanover and London
243 pages including appendix
In August 2015, we gathered as a group to celebrate the life of a friend who passed away earlier that year.
Our friend was Joe Day. Joe’s name should be familiar to those who’ve lived in New England during the past forty years. He was a highly respected TV news reporter for four of Boston’s major television stations (WHDH, WCVB, WGBH, WBZ). Joe specialized in politics. He covered presidents, governors, senators, congressmen and local elective officials.
Many of us fondly remember Joe’s “people” stories, his vignettes about everyday folks living their lives in relative obscurity. That was Joe at his best. On and off camera, he was a modest, plain-spoken guy despite the richly deserved awards he received which recognized his career. There were smiles and tears as people shared stories about Joe. We were mostly the generation of “old fart” journalists, recalling the days when news wasn’t just a business.
Joe Day was at the core of all those memories.
It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces. We have drifted apart geographically and socially in many cases. Sometimes we paused before hugging because we no longer look the way we did in our “head shot” days.
Joe Day’s family marveled at the size of the gathering. It’s one thing to send an email or video tribute. But to turn out in impressive numbers on a hot August Saturday, that says so much about how Joe touched the lives of people around him.
Fame is fleeting and transitory in TV news. Friendship is another thing. Usually it fades quickly after changing jobs, states and retirement. You always mean to stay in touch but it rarely happens. That’s what makes the celebratory gathering so special. All those folks bonding in their memories of yesterday when our world was young and Joe Day touched our lives, making each one of us a little better just for knowing him.
Such good friends.