During the last primary election I drove over to the country seat and to the elections board to vote early, and as I was coming down the sidewalk up from the other direction came my cousin and her husband.
What a coincidence. I had not seen them in a while, not since the funeral of another cousin some time before. My cousins live a ways off now, and since returning to the hometown I don’t get to see them much.
My cousin’s husband, Mike Walker, was an announcer for Elkin radio station WIFM from 1974-77 and again from 1990-98. Mike did a fine job at the station. These days he does free-lance work out of his home studio and produces a syndicated weekly nostalgia radio show, “Saving the ‘70s.”
We reached the front door simultaneously, and the Walkers politely insisted I go in first. You know, that thing about elders go first. Thanks, kids.
So here are the three of us standing in line, saying our names, signing voter forms and waiting to be handed our ballots. (By the way, don’t forget to vote in the upcoming primary election, May 6).
Suddenly, a poll worker looked up at Mike, who was next to me, and piped up: “You’re the guy on the radio, aren’t you? I recognize your voice.”
She paid me no mind.
In fact, I noted pointedly that nobody in that whole place piped up and said to me: You’re the guy in the newspaper, aren’t you? I recognize you from your picture in the ‘paper.
A few strangers around town have come and struck up nice conversations with me about these “Hometown” columns, and folks have been complimentary. I appreciate the encouragement.
But nevertheless I can still confidently walk the streets of Elkin and Jonesville, attend events and have dinner out and such without having to worry about fans following and wanting a piece of me (except for the good folks at Royall’s). There’re no TMZ cameras coming at me and trying to dig up dirt.
That’s all fine by me.
Newspaper people have that advantage over our broadcast brethren. Folks don’t see our faces on TV or hear our voices on the radio. Our names appear in the ‘paper, but folks who don’t know us pay no attention to our bylines.
So newspaper folks by and large get to chase the news around without the distraction.
For instance, the “People” magazine folks would love to splash something about Diane Sawyer, the ABC-TV evening news anchor, all over the cover. She’s not just a journalist, she’s a celebrity.
Meanwhile, folks probably have never heard of, for instance, Nicholas Kristof, the fine news columnist with “The New York Times.”
You’ve probably never heard of Kristof, either. He’s bright, a fine writer and reporter, and a world traveler who’s particularly sharp writing on foreign affairs. Unique. One of my favorite columnists. And I’ve never seen him on television. He’s no celebrity.
Now if given an opportunity to have dinner with Sawyer or Kristof, naturally I’d choose Sawyer. Easy on the eyes. And I bet she could tell some good stories about former President Richard Nixon, for whom she once worked. During dinner I might even get my picture taken with her for “People.”
But if limited to only one phone call to either Sawyer or Kristof to try and grab some quick information or insight on some important news of the day, I’d have to go with Kristof, the newspaper guy. When in doubt always look to the newspaper when things get serious.
One time in another town I took a call at the newspaper office there from someone with a tip that some town workers had walked off the job on strike.
So here I go to the town garage and gather a group of about four men to explain the grievance while a few more milled around not working.
Suddenly here came a van with “WBTV” plastered all over the side. Inside riding shotgun was Steve Ohnesorge, the Charlotte TV station’s fine western news bureau reporter. He’s still in that job, I see.
The striker speaking with me stopped in mid-sentence, turned, and then he and all of his co-worker buddies ran, yes ran, over to the TV guy before Ohnesorge could even get out of the van.
I stood there holding my pen and pad. All alone.
Early on I considered broadcasting after I came back to the hometown following an interesting two weeks Down East attending a summer camp in broadcasting for high school students.
After some thought, and following a brief conversation with Leon Reece when he was running WIFM, I decided to stay the course and pursue print journalism. It was the right choice.
Now that I’m retired from newspapering I have plenty of time to stop, wait to be recognized and talk about columns or career. But I don’t hold my breath.
Feel free to come over some time. Don’t fear having to fight off the crowds.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.