Baltimore: A Story From My Time In TV News

The trip to Baltimore came as a dull story, but it was travel. And it guaranteed that I wasn’t going to be shooting a story about a big pot hole in the left lane of Pleasantburg Drive combined with a rain-laden 11pm live shot all because of random caller to the news room.

For example purposes, here it a quick look into everyday TV news.

Assignment Editor:
WYFF. News room.

Caller: Yeah, is this WYFF?
Assignment Editor: Yes sir. How can we help you?
Caller: Hey, ya’ll know there is a big pot hole on Pleasantburg. Ya’ll ought to do a story about that and tell some people.
Assignment Editor: Thank you sir. I’ll pass that along.

Now, everyone in TV news knows what “I’ll pass that along” actually means. However, on this one particular rainy evening, there I was with my reporter doing exactly as describe in the paragraph above. This is why we live for the big story….or the travel.

Back to the Baltimore story. The story basically involved city and county leaders making a trip to Baltimore in order to take note of city planning and all that comes with such things. Yeah.

I’d been on such a trip before except the city and county leaders did their “research” in Portland, Oregon. Now that was a fun trip. Cool city Portland. However, my reporter had a tenancy to come out of the shower completely naked, put one leg up on a chair and then wanted to talk about the agenda for that day. Remember that Seinfeld episode about good naked and bad naked. Yeah, this was the bad kind.

Again, back to Baltimore. The best part of the trip came on a day when we had little to do. So while my reporter logged tape, I walked down to Camden Yards see what the hell was up with all the protesters and cops. To my wonderful surprise, it just so happened to be THE day when the Cuban National Baseball Team was in town to play the Orioles. How flippin’ cool is that? Talk about a nat sound piece waiting to happen. But alas, I shot just enough for a little flavor in the piece above. I had no interest at that particular time to shoot a nat sound piece.

My only concern was getting into the game. Tickets, of course, were sold out. So I did what any good journalist would do. I looked for the affiliate sat truck. Once found, I simply walked in. To say serendipity was on my side that day would be an understatement. Who do I find in the NBC sat truck but an engineer who used to work at WYFF. Mike Laboone was a quite kinda guy, but nice as could be. He was a great TV news engineer.

“Hey Mike, got a press pass for me?”

With a flick of his wrist he handed me an all-access golden ticket to history in the making.

I sat in the press box, along the first-base line, behind home plate, and along the third-base line. I even had the opportunity to get Cal Ripkin’s autograph. I didn’t because I’m not one of those media people, but it was cool to see him up close and in the flesh. Here and here for more about that game.

That’s really about all. I know it’s a boring story with too many tangents. I don’t care. It was one of those I-worked-in-TV-news moments that I’ll never forget.


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The Sax Man Cometh

I shot this story around the same time I shot the Cootie Stark story. The Sax Man Cometh was part of a local musician series that I dreamed up in my head simply because I wanted to go shoot the Cootie Stark story, and I needed a reason.

My reporter, Kimber Lohman (now Suiters), found Todd living in an assisted living facility around Greenvegas. I wasn’t thrilled about the shoot because I hate assisted living facilities. I know, I know, it almost seems like blasphemy to speak of an ALF in such a way. But hey, I’m big and I sweat a lot. It’s always so damn hot in those places.

The ALF manager had set up a concert of sorts. Hearing that the Sorts were going to be in concert thrilled me to know end. You know the sorts, don’t you?

What I hear coming my way as my next assignment is an old man playing sax for a bunch of old people in a hot box the likes of which haven’t been seen since Nam. Sounds like an Emmy winner to me! (Big thumbs up)

What I actually got was an old man playing sax for a bunch of old people in a hot box the likes of which haven’t been seen since Nam. However, the story that we found and some of the images that were captured dripped with the realities of a long and experienced life.


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Cootie Stark: The King of Piedmont Blues

When I read about Mr. Johnny Miller in a local Greenville, S.C. newspaper, I had to go meet him. I was really into playing the blues guitar during that time, and I had no idea that a Piedmont Blues legend lived no more than a mile from my home.

The projects where Johnny lived weren’t far from city condemnation at that time. I pulled up in unit four, my WYFF-TV news vehicle, during a lunch break and knocked on the door. A humble yet cigar-thick voice greeted my call with hello as he opened the door.

There he was, Cootie Stark, right in front of me. Cootie was his stage name.

He invited me in before I could finish explaining my purpose.

The dark four room dwelling had painted concrete block for walls and no decoration. I guess it made sense; he’s a guy and he’s blind. I probably wouldn’t decorate, either.

Cootie started telling me the story of his life and included things like growing up in Laurens, S.C. and pickin’ peas as a child. He spoke of traveling all the way to Greenville (about 20 miles) during the summer, and how he came to play guitar. He made mention of his relationships with Baby Tate, the Rev. Gary Davis and several other Piedmont Blues legends living in the area around the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

He also talked a lot about the Music Maker Relief Foundation, and the MMRF president, Tim Duffy. He called him Timmy. He told me how the organization has helped him survive, travel the world and feel as though he again had purpose. The stories captivated me.

My lunch hour almost gone, I asked if I could come back some time and shoot a story about his life. He agreed, and I stood to leave.

“Hey, uh, I seem to be havin’ a bit of trouble with my CD player,” Cootie said. “You any good at that kinda stuff? Could you look at it for me?”

I was honored with the thought of helping such a such a legend. I reached over and picked up the CD player. My keen sense of electronictechnogeek kicked in quickly and I determined without a doubt that the CD was in upside down. Yes, I know. My brilliance continually amazes me, too.

I flipped it and hit play. Out comes this great Piedmont Blues. “This is great,” I said. “Who is it?”

“That’s me,” he said in his polite southern gruff.

I shook his hand, set up a time to do a feature story* and departed to the nearest music story to pick up a copy of Sugar Man. I was late getting back.

I had a few more conversations with Mr. Miller before he died in April 2005. I again honored one evening at the Handlebar when I was able to thank him for helping me achieve my goal of winning an Emmy. I was also able to thank him for allowing me to preserve a dying form of true Americana.

I shook his hand and gave him a copy of the story.

“Thank you young man, you gonna to do just fine with your life,” was that last thing he said to me.

Listen to Cootie Stark:

* Kudos to my reporter and friend, Kimbery Lohman, for an doing such an excellent job on this story.


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Saving Light To Sea – The Morris Island Lighthouse

This story profiles a group of people struggling to save to save a part of american history, the Morris Island Lighthouse located off the shores of Folly Island, S.C. I shot this story as a series feature during my tenure at WYFF. It’s full of color characters and solid NPAA photojournalism. This is one of several stories I shot* that allowed me to earn an Emmy Award for Best Photography. Additional Videos

A Brief History of the Morris Island Lighthouse:
Morris Island lighthouse stands all alone about 300 yards off shore from the island of Folly Beach. It can be viewed from the northeast end of Folly Island and from the bridge coming on to Folly Beach.

The Morris Island lighthouse is now completely surrounded by water but was once sitting on a good sized island with numerous buildings around it. The lighthouse was completed in 1876 and was the second lighthouse to be built on the island.

In the 1700s there were three islands that stretched for four miles between Folly Island and Sullivan’s Island. They were named Middle Bay Island, Morrison Island, and Cummings Point. The first Charleston lighthouse was built on Middle Bay Island in 1767. The lighthouse was designed by Samuel Cardy and built by Adam Miller and Thomas Young. The tower was cylindrical and stood 102 feet tall. The lantern room had a revolving lamp that had a range of about 12 miles. In 1858 a Fresnel lens was installed.

In the early 1800s the channel leading to Charleston began to shift causing a change in the tidal currents. Sand began to build up between the islands and this resulted in the three islands merging into a single island. Since Morrison Island was the central of the three earlier islands, the now single island was called Morrison Island. Later the name was shortened to Morris Island.

The first Charleston lighthouse continued to provide service up to the Civil War. In 1861 the fleeing Confederate soldiers blew up the lighthouse so northern troops could not use it.

Folly Beach, Folly Island, Folly Island Lighthouse, Photojournalism, TV News, Video blogFollowing the civil war, in 1873, Congress appropriated money for the rebuilding of the Morris Island Lighthouse (then referred to as the Charleston Main Light). The lighthouse was completed in 1876 approximately 400 yards from the earlier tower. It stood 161 feet tall and was patterned after the Bodie Light of the Outer Banks in North Carolina. It even used the same paint scheme as a day mark – black and white horizontal stripes. There were a total of 15 buildings on the island besides the lighthouse tower. Included in these were the keeper’s quarters, various outbuildings, and a one-room schoolhouse (the school teacher came over from the mainland on Monday, taught the children during the week and returned to the mainland on Friday).

Toward the end of the 1800s the channel had again shifted, but this time the change threatened the Charleston Harbor. In order to keep the channel open several jetties had to be built. These were completed in 1889. Although the channel into Charleston was saved, the changing tidal currents resulting from the jetties caused severe erosion on Morris Island. The island began to shrink. By 1938 many of the buildings were destroyed and others moved. The light was automated in 1938 and the Fresnel lens was removed.

Since 1938 over 1600 feet of land surrounding the tower has been lost. Today it stands alone, completely surrounded by water. In 1962 the Sullivan’s Island lighthouse was built to replace the Morris Island Light, which was decommissioned. The U.S. Coast Guard had plans to demolish the tower but petitions from local residents saved the structure. The Coast Guard built an underground steel wall around the tower to protect it from further erosion damage. The lighthouse is now
privately owned and efforts are underway to preserve the Morris Island Light.

The Morris Island Coalition is working hard to protect Morris Island. The Morris Island Lighthouse Project is working to preserve and restore the lighthouse. Please visit their sites and learn much more about the rich history of Morris Island. [Source – FollyBeach.Com]

* Kudos to my reporter and friend, Stephanie Trotter, for writing a great story and for allowing me to white balance when there was nothing white at hand.


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Cows Escape Truck, Town Rallies City Police, Cowboys, & Mop-Toting Grandma

Cops, EMS, Firefighters, Lasso-toting Cowboys, Children and a Grandma rallied to track down a heard of cattle that escaped their captivity.

The assignment was to investigate a report of a hand grenade found by children in the a backyard. The hand grenade report turned out to be bogus, but serendipity of that moment led me to a much better – and much more fun – spot news story.

Cowgone is one of several in a series of stories that allowed me to win an Emmy for best TV News Photography.


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