January 2016

I have a confession to make.

Back when I was a rather young and ignorant intern at WLBT in Jackson, the only things I was trusted with besides eating donuts was writing the simple, one-line teasers before the commercials and an occasional filler-story summarizing a national news piece from the “wire” (love saying that). Well, there was that one or two times they trusted me in the control room to “produce” the noon news, i.e., make sure all the segments ended on time and that the commercials got their fair share of air time. The commercials did not get all their time when I was in control. I’m not sure how much money was lost due to my ineptness in all things broadcasting. I blamed a lot of it on Bert Case for talking so darn slow all the time. However, I must have been doing something wrong, because my supervisor could handle the clock just fine, accounting for Bert Time, which is about three minutes slower than regular voice time.1

Well, needless to say, I’m not sure they should’ve trusted me even with teasers. You think it would be simple, right? You look at the “grid” (the show script, basically), read the story coming up after each segment of commercials, then write a teaser for the up-coming story right before the commercial segments. Not a lot to it, really.

They probably didn’t need me there just to do that, but I gotta say, it was really fun. For one whole summer, every morning, I got to sit amongst fame in the “morning meeting” and be star-struck by TV personalities I grew up watching my whole life: Bert Case, Stephanie Bell Flynt, Wilson Stribling, Roslyn Anderson, Rob Jay, Paul Williams, Barbie Bassett, and occasionally, Walt Greyson. Bert Case was at just about every meeting, and although I never was brave enough to speak to him much, and although it’s doubtful if he knew anything about what I did at the place, he nonetheless read the teasers I wrote on live air! I wrote it, and Bert Case said it. How cool is that!

He was truly dedicated to his profession. He was present and ready every morning, and would share memories with everyone of the glory days of old, especially his rows with dogs and Kirk Fordice. TV reporters follow a tough schedule and work harder than mules, in my opinion. Bert and everyone else I saw at WLBT, on camera or not, were for me sources of inspiration, not because of their fame, but because I grew to respect the tremendous amount of work required for just one 30-minute broadcast.

I’ll never forget, for instance, the time my supervisor was running production, and a horse that a guest was showing on Midday Mississippi took a gigantic crap right on stage. My supervisor had enough deftness and calm to tell the cameraman to pan away from the dumpage, call the cleaning crew and resume the show. All in time for the ever-sacred commercials!2

Anyway, like I said, I was fairly ignorant. I was only 18, so cut me some slack. You’d think teasers would be easy to write. But I was able to screw that up too, and Bert would pay the price.

One morning, I misunderstood a story on the grid about a Jackson State basketball player who failed to get drafted into the NBA. Specifically, the story said, “He didn’t hear his name called.” Well … and promise not to laugh at me, OK? … I thought his name was called and that he just didn’t hear it.

I don’t know! Stop laughing. Maybe he was in the bathroom and just didn’t hear his name called. Just stop laughing. I screwed up. Whatever.

When Bert Case read my teaser to all of Jackson — “A Jackson State basketball star has been drafted to the NBA. More when we return.” — my supervisor tapped her finger and looked at me repeating the word “accuracy” over and over. I didn’t know what the heck she was talking about at first nor what everyone else’s problem was. I looked at the story again. I had to think about it really hard for a couple of seconds, but it suddenly dawned on me that I was an idiot who couldn’t understand plain English. I didn’t admit to that, though. I just mumbled, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t read it carefully.” The truth was, I read it carefully — I sweated in fear over every dang teaser I wrote that summer — but I was too dumb to understand what I read. Better for everyone to think I was simply lazy and careless.

I don’t know if Bert knew it was me, but I sweated it for a long, long time. Now that it’s all in the past, I just look back on those days with fondness, happy to be able to tell the story of how I accidentally humiliated Bert Case on live television. My little 15 minutes of fame, I guess.

Rest in Peace, Bert. Sorry about that thing.

May my Mississippi State instructor for this internship also rest in peace. Lora Defore had a great influence on me during the short time I got to know her. She battled health problems with much stoicism, and she was always supportive even though I was clearly not cut out for broadcast journalism. Good memories …

Matt
January 29, 2016, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

  1. Technically, I might be exaggerating. Midway through my internship, we got this new computer program used to put the shows together. It was called AP ENPS, and the miracle was that it could be programmed to predict how long it would take for which anchor to read which parts of the script. Bert was the slowest, but it was probably only by, like, a minute and a half. 

  2. Looking over my report I turned in for college credit after the internship, I see that I wrote of my supervisor what was probably the most dramatic understatement of the century: “She let me do things she probably could have done better herself to let me experience it.” Probably. Haha.