Here's Johnny - Ha-ha's in the news biz
I've had a lot of laughs in this business, and on the rainy morning I'm writing this, it seems like fun to try to inflict a few on Dear Readers: Mr. Perot and an earthquake In 1992, just out of the Navy, I was doing a morning news-talk show at WOMI-AM in Owensboro and working in the afternoon for the Messenger-Inquirer, the owner of which also owned WOMI. We'd just installed a new something or other to make it easier to alter copy from the Associated Press. As a test, I tweaked a story about a major earthquake, adding a fictional comment from presidential candidate Ross Perot in which he said that while what happened was bad, at least the victims were foreigners. Then I printed it. I never read it on WOMI, but to get a laugh from a DJ at our sister station (the 100,000-watt country powerhouse WBKR-FM), I showed him the article. He was amazed and amused and walked off with the copy to amaze and amuse someone else. The next morning, after our news-talk show was finished, my co-anchor Lee Denney (now a member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame despite working with me) walked up wearing a concerned look. He was holding a note from the station's general manager which said that Perot's Kentucky campaign was very angry about a story that aired on WBKR. His national campaign was pretty upset, too, the note said. Lee asked me if I knew anything about it. "Well, I know I may be about to get fired, Lee," I said. I explained what had happened, saying I didn't dream the DJ - who doesn't read the news - might do just that or leave it around for someone else to read. A minute later, the GM himself walked into the newsroom. I began to explain and apologize, but before I could reach the begging stage, the GM said, "What's next, McGary? 'War of the Worlds?'" (Some Dear Readers may not recall the news-type broadcast of that play that scared the heck out of much of America in 1938.) The GM then told me that no one had read the story on the air, but he (and maybe my co-anchor, too) thought it appropriate to teach me a lesson. Lesson learned. However, there were others to be imparted. 32 Fan Club Six or seven years later, I was subbing for a weekend morning anchor at Louisville's WLKY-TV in the middle of a very hot summer. For years, the station had run a promotion asking viewers to become members of the "32 Fan Club." Folks with new or gently used fans were asked to call the station, and we'd get them to people with no air conditioning. That particular morning, many of the local ad spots weren't sold, and when that happens, stations fill the spots with promos or public service announcements. We ran a pre-recorded spot for the 32 Fan Club asking viewers to donate a "new or gently used fan" again and again before the second hour was up. Then it was time to do the weather - but not until after they had me read a promo over a full-screen graphic (FSG) for the 32 Fan Club. Once again, the phrase "new or gently used fan" was heard. The shot dissolved from the FSG to one of my co-anchors, Susan, and Bob, our new, semi-wacky weekend meteorologist. Before we could introduce him, though, Bob blurted out, "Hey, I've got a fan I don't need: my sister! She's so useless ." Bob and my co-anchor chuckled. I smiled and inquired, "Is she gently used?" That got a bigger laugh from Susan and a slightly smaller one from Bob. What's in a name? One Saturday night at WLKY-TV, I was subbing for anchor Steve Burgin, who was attending the Midwest Regional Emmy Awards with the station's long-time chief photographer, Mr. Dinh. Mr. Dinh was from Vietnam, a country in which, like many Asian lands, men are addressed with a "Mister" before their first name. I don't recall if I knew Mr. Dinh's last name (Lee) and I certainly didn't know his middle name. I was having a great show and was already planning to use it to update the anchor portion of my résumé tape, so I didn't bother to read the script for the final story of the show, which I knew was about Mr. Dinh. Hey, I knew Mr. Dinh. How tough could it be? Plenty tough, actually. After the final ad aired, my mug popped up on the screen and I said something like, "Finally tonight: an honor for one of our own ." We began showing the video of Mr. Dinh walking to the podium, and viewers heard me say, "A proud Dinh Phuc Lee received a Lifetime Achievement award in Cincinnati tonight ." Yes, Dear Readers, his middle name was pronounced "Fook." Unfortunately, that's not the way I pronounced it. I don't know how I didn't get fired for that one. My alibi would have been that I didn't drop the "F" bomb - I dropped the "Ph" bomb. Fortunately, I never had to employ that excuse, which by itself, would probably have been enough to get me fired. These days Wow, those three anecdotes just about ate up all my space. Rest assured that there were plenty more laughs and hijinks since then, including this: A couple of months ago during a Versailles City Council meeting, I looked at the cell phone of Public Works Director Bart Miller, who sits next to me at most meetings. I saw that Bart had been exchanging texts with Mayor Brian Traugott, and that Traugott had sent the last one. I grabbed Bart's phone, typed "I love you," and sent it. Unfortunately, Miller saw me set his phone down with a grin on my face, and he saw what I'd written. Still, a few seconds later, I was rewarded with a quizzical look from Traugott. I'll grow up one of these days, I promise.