When it comes to news, the 'Big 3' in central Florida were Hugh Smith, Andy Hardy, and Roy Leep. A lineup made in heaven, and made for heavenly ratings. They may not have been the first, but they were the best, and here's how they got there!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
WTVT was committed to covering the news in a professional, responsible manner. This attitude was a constant for the years that the station was a CBS affiliate. Walter Cronkite, the 'most trusted man in America' and anchor of the CBS Evening News, would have felt right at home in the WTVT newsroom.
The quantity of WTVT's news operation is also worth noting. By the mid-70's, Channel 13 offered an hour of local news at 6 pm, and hour-long programs at 6 am and noon. 3 hours each weekday of local news, sports, and weather, was more than twice what the competition offered.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When Walter Tison's Tampa Television Company launched WTVT in 1955, there was no news department to speak of. Teletypes and facsimile machines feed a non-stop stream of headlines and stories, which were read by Channel 13's first 'anchor,' attorney Landis Wilkinson.
Channel 13's first anchor, Landis Wilkinson, plans a newscast with director Bill Rennie
Wayne Fariss was hired by Walter Tison several weeks prior to Channel 13's debut. Fariss, an experienced radio and television broadcaster, facilitated the setup of the newsroom and was assigned to deliver the 11 p.m. news. Sports were covered by former WSUN reporter Guy Bagli, and a "Legislative Report" delivered by Howard Hartley. There was no weatherman on staff until several months later when Bill Stokes joined the station. He was succeeded later by Charles Stump.
Early Montage photo of the original WTVT News, Sports, and Weather staff
(Upper Left) Guy Bagli, Howard Hartley
(Lower Left) Wayne Fariss, Charlie Stump, Landis Wilkinson
Channel 13's news was only 15 minutes long at the time. With a small staff, limited use of the mobile unit, and no sound-on-film interviews, Wilkinson and Fariss' newscasts were pretty simple. "We did the crime beat, spot news, anything that happened like a bad accident, fires, and city hall or county commission news," explains Fariss, who is retired now and living in South Florida. "We subscribed to a film service that came in twice a day. They provided national news which we would unspool, screen, and edit the segments we needed. All the local news was read live to silent film. We also had teletypes to the UPI and AP., which is known as 'rip and read.' Marvin Scott came towards the end of 1955, and was our main news photographer. We developed the 16mm newsfilm on racks with prongs sticking out that you put the sprocket holes on. A typical newscast would be a combination of slides, film, and live."
(To learn more about Wayne Fariss and the early days of WTVT news, CLICK HERE)
Channel 13's position as the local leader in news coverage began when the station was purchased by Gaylord Broadcasting in July of 1956. Gaylord added a fleet of station wagons equipped with police-style shortwave radios. 16mm Auricon sound on film cameras were purchased, and a more sophisticated film processor was brought down from the home station, WKY-TV, in Oklahoma City.
Dick John, WTVT News Director and Anchor (1956-58)
(Courtesy Dick John)
Another import from WKY-TV, news director Dick John, was charged with hiring reporters and seeing that they were trained as television journalists. John replaced Landis Wilkinson as anchor for the 6p.m. "Newsroom,", and Wayne Fariss continued to anchor the 11p.m. version.
Dick John has kindly written about his days at Channel 13. Click here to read "Newsroom 1956"
The news fleet in 1956.
Standard equipment for the time was the 16mm camera, a microphone, tripod, and small floodlight.
See 'More News Photos' for details on this reporter's gear
Reporters such as John Evans, the St. Petersburg bureau chief, had to gauge their time very carefully, since there was no I-275 to whisk them across the Howard Frankland bridge to Tampa. In fact, there was no Howard Frankland bridge...just Gandy Bridge. Surface streets were much slower and a reporter had to allow for travel time. During the day, Evans used a scheduled Greyhound bus to send freshly shot newsfilm from downtown St. Petersburg to Tampa, where it would be picked up and brought back to the station for processing.
Evans recalled that on more than a few occasions when "breaking" news was involved, he would hit the station about the time "Newsroom" was starting. After processing, a few seconds of unedited film would be shown towards the end of the news program.
"Yeah, Chief...I'm in St. Pete. If I leave right now, I'll be back to the studio in 2 hours!"
JACK COSGROVE POSES FOR A PUBLICITY SHOT. THE RADIOPHONE WAS A PROP, AND NOT OPERATING AT THE TIME
Daily reporting usually concluded in the early to mid-afternoon. Once a story was on film, the reporter had to return to the station, and have the film processed. It would then be edited on a 16mm moviola, using a hot splicer and glue to join the clips together. A script would be written, checked for accuracy, and the completed film spliced onto a larger reel with other stories scheduled for the evening's news cast. If all went well, the story went out on the air, and the process begun again the next day.
Channel 13's news director and 6pm anchorman, Dick John, confers with 11pm anchor Wayne Fariss
Florida's state capitol, Tallahassee, is 277 miles from Tampa, and in the mid-50's, a challenging drive in the pre-interstate road era. Getting television news from the Tallahassee in the days before satellites proved very difficult, but not insurmountable. A Tallahassee bureau was established by Dick John, with film brought in on a daily basis by commercial airliner. John Evans was Channel 13's first Tallahassee bureau chief, and he described for BIG 13 the early days of reporting from the state capitol. To read John Evan's story, CLICK HERE
In mid-1958, Dick John was offered a position with WNBC-TV in New York, so Gaylord summoned Crawford Rice, their young news director from the Montgomery station, to take over as news director in Tampa. Rice, who doubled as anchor on the 6 o'clock news, hired Joe Loughlin, Ed Herbert, and Earl Wells. The other newsroom regulars of that era were photographer Marvin Scott, announcer and reporter Don Harris, and assignment editor Cy Smith, who joined WTVT in October, 1958.
To learn more about Crawford Rice, link to "A Conversation With Crawford Rice."
Ch. 13 newsroom in 1958. Ed Herbert sits at left, Al Moffat in center
Stories of that era tended to be more on the soft side, compared with our current newscasts. The goings-on in city hall, crime (a gangland slaying once in a while), human interest, and news from 'back home' for the tourist population. Rice was always on the lookout for feature-type stories to use as filler on slow news days.
Crawford Rice, News Director and Anchor for 6pm News
Channel 13's news program had been titled "Newsroom," and for good reason. Windows were placed between the studio and the actual working area that the reporters and news director used to assemble their reports. A camera shot through a window directly into the newsroom where anchor Rice or Loughlin would deliver the news. Scripts were hand-typed and read directly off the paper...no teleprompter. In fact, the director had only a format sheet and would rely upon the newscaster to cue a film roll using a foot pedal concealed under his desk. When a film cue was called for, the pedal would be pressed and a bell would ring in the control room and the film projection room.
At a time when the CBS network news (with Douglas Edwards) was running a paltry 15 minutes per evening, WTVT shook the broadcast industry by producing a 45 minute local news, sports, and weather block. Combining it with the Edward's 15 minutes allowed WTVT to become the first station in Florida to run an hour-long news block, starting in November, 1958. Bob Olson, Channel 13's Operations Supervisor, coined the name "Pulse" as the new moniker for WTVT's news program.
"This is Pulse...the heartbeat of a changing world.."
That spectacular announcement signaled the beginning of WTVT's 60 minute news block. A 16mm film showing a globe of Earth was fronted by the waveform of the announcer's voice, "pulse-ating" as he spoke. This familiar icon was updated several times in the 60's and 70's, and Pulse remained the title of WTVT's news program until the 1980's, when it became "Eyewitness News."
Pulse Midday brought a half-hour of news, weather, and information designed for the female viewer. Al Moffatt was newsman, Roy Leep handled the weather, and features on fashion, cooking, and home management were the realm of Jean Phillips.
Channel 13 was the second station in the country to introduce daily editorials on October 20, 1958. Originally written and delivered by Crawford Rice and lasting about one minute, the editorial was researched and co-written by Cy Smith.
Don Harris was a booth announcer who longed to get into the news arena. Harris was offered the chance to be a correspondent for 'Pulse Extra', a nightly feature story scheduled during the news program's final moments. Directed by Bob Gilbert and filmed by Chief Photographer Jack Cosgrove, 'Pulse Extra' was sometimes a hard-news look at local problems such as poorly run hospitals and segregation. Other times, it was a 'Charles Kuralt' kind of soft feature that eased the viewer into the network news. To read an interview with 'Pulse Extra' cameraman Jack Cosgrove, CLICK HERE. In the 70's, Harris gained prominence for his earthquake reports from South America, and later joined NBC network news. Harris died in 1978 while filming a story on cult leader Jim Jones in Jonestown, Guyana.
WTVT scored a national scoop in 1959, when Earl Wells traveled to Cuba with photographer Marvin Scott to cover Castro's overthrow of the Batista government. Wells, who got Castro's first interview after the coup, later returned there to report on the trials and executions that followed. It was Wells who first uncovered and reported on Castro's "School For Guerillas."
WTVT Reporter Earl Wells face-to-face with Fidel Castro (1959)
Channel 13's efforts did not go unnoticed. In March, 1960, Pulse was selected by TV Radio Mirror Magazine as the 'best TV news program in the Southern United States.'
"The home audience gets a sense of immediacy and participation because of the excellent pacing of the show," stated TV Radio Mirror. "There is a sparkle of spontaneity, and there is cohesion of all the parts."
General Manager Gene Dodson and News Director Crawford Rice with
TV Radio Mirror's award for "Best TV News Program in the Southern States"
In 1960, Rice elected to join management and the position of News Director was assumed by Joe Loughlin. Rice continued to deliver the daily editorial until he left two years later for a position as Assistant General Manager at Gaylord's new station in Ft. Worth, KTVT. When Loughlin was hired by WCBS to become News Director in August of 1963, Tom S. Wright assumed the post of News Director, with Tom Dunn as anchor for the 11pm edition of Pulse. In September, 1963, PULSE was to expand from 60 minutes per weekday to a 90 minute format.
Ray Dantzler, a newscaster, editor, and writer from WFGA in Jacksonville, joined the news staff in February, 1963. A recent graduate of the University of Missouri, Tim Moran, and Bob Mackey, ex-news director of WDAE radio, also came on board at the same time as Dantzler. When Wright left his position in March of 1966, Dantzler was promoted to News Director and Hugh Smith became Assistant News Director.
WTVT's News, Sports, and Weather Staff (1963)
I've identified most of the staff. If you recognize someone I can't name...please Email!
In the background we can see a fleet of Buick automobiles, and the large WTVT mobile unit with support trucks. Two RCA TK-30 field cameras stand amidst the setup. This photo was staged outside the WTVT studios on the east lawn and appeared in the Tampa Tribune in February, 1963
Hugh Smith, News Director and
Anchor from the 60's to the 90's
Hugh Smith, the most visible WTVT newsman for three decades, joined the station as an anchor on September 2, 1963. Smith became news director in 1968 and anchored Pulse News news until 1991. Smith's on-air persona echoed that of his CBS news counterparts...no kidding around...get the story straight...and provide context so that Mr. and Mrs. Viewing public understood the relevance of the story to their own lives. With a 5,000 square mile coverage area, Smith and his news team could always be counted on to be first and best.
Tampa Bay viewers always tuned to Channel 13 first for breaking news
"Big 13" recently conducted an interview with Hugh Smith regarding his tenure at Channel 13. Click here to read "Hugh Smith: A View From the Anchor Desk"
Jerry Krumbholtz, in addition to being a staff announcer on Big 13, also anchored a 5-minute Pulse newscast Saturdays at 6.45 am. This was followed by a pre-recorded 'Florida Fishing with Salty Sol', and Pulse Weather with Bill Kowal. Ray Blush was also a frequent substitute Pulse Anchor.
Color Communications Center (1966)
When Channel 13 added color to its programming in 1966, the news segments were moved from a plain desk and wall in Studio A back to the newsroom, located towards the front of the building. A fiberglass TV-shaped screen was placed over the window connecting Studio B to the newsroom, allowing the color camera to shoot the anchor against a new background consisting of a plastic-relief world map.
Color Communications Center (1966).
News Director Ray Dantzler with Assistant News Director Hugh Smith
Years later, Pulse news would return to Studio A with a modern, 70's style set.
WTVT'S EARLY TO MID-70'S SET (Circa 1974)
A sleek new set for the 1970s. Located in Studio A, the Pulse News set featured separate desks for sports (LEFT), an interview area (ORANGE CHAIRS), the anchor desk, and weather. Roy Leep's radar viewing station and controls can be seen to left of the old fashioned printed maps. At the far right, floorman Richard Bozeman keeps track of studio activities. The blue background is actually vacuum-formed plastic panels that repeat the word "Pulse 13". By the mid 70's, the two desks were joined together and covered by a thick layer of plaster. Repainted brown with large yellow "Pulse" letters, it resembled the front of a large ship. (See Below)
Ship Ahoy!! H.M.S. Pulse sails into Studio A.
Besides the plaster covering with yellow Styrofoam letters, the background border was changed from off-white to yellow.
Maybe color TV wasn't such a great idea...
Three cameras were used to cover a news cast, with a fourth camera in Studio B shooting the Pulse I.D. and miniature globe, or visuals when Chroma Key was used to combine the anchor with a graphic background. The set ran about the entire length of studio A, with only 3 feet of room left for technicians to walk between the director's control room and master control. Behind the the news set was a wall that separated studio A from master control. Somewhere in this wall is the small serving window left over from the building's early days as a restaurant.
Pulse News bumper (1975). This miniature globe and digital clock were shot by camera 4 in Studio B, and continued the style originated in the 1950's
By 1977, the ACR-25 VTR made it possible to play back the Pulse globe from video tape. This also freed a camera.
Preparations for a 1980 newscast. Pinellas bureau chief Tim Smith is at left; Reporter/Anchor Ray Blush is at right
Smith's team in the 1970's included 11pm anchor Paul Hoffman, reporter Bob Fellows (often assisted by Bob Walker and Walter "Flash" Jarocki), reporter/anchors Scott Shuster, Leslie Schissell, Rod Challenger, Deanna Lawrence, Jim West, Larry Elliston, Neil Vacino, Frank Ahern, and John Nicholson. John Ferrugia was on the Tampa beat, while the Clearwater bureau chief was Tim Smith (no relation to Hugh). Tim was noted for his comprehensive Pinellas and Polk county coverage.
John Hayes was 13's Tallahassee bureau chief, leading with many important stories on affairs in the state capital. Hayes' investigative reporting included the one that lead to a vote of impeachment against Lt. Governor Tom Adams. Hayes eventually was appointed Assistant News Director and became part of the team producing Pulse News.
Chip Collins manned the always busy assignment desk, and editorials were delivered by Ray Dantzler.
At left, we see the vacuum-formed plastic Pulse background.
It's painted a certain shade of blue to allow a Chroma Key effect, as seen on the right. This is a textbook example of news oriented special effects, which allows any image to be placed behind the anchor.
When Pulse's noon time report expanded to an hour and became know as Pulse Plus! in 1973, the station appointed its first female anchor, Leslie Spencer, who held the position for almost 25 years.
Project 13 staff (late 70's) Reporters Larry Elliston, Ray Blush, and Cameraman/Editor Jule McGee
A separate unit headed by reporter Ray Blush and cameraman/editor Jule McGee were established to produce a weekly news magazine program called "Project 13." The topics were mostly of a local nature, and always with a bent towards the human angle of the story. Blush won an Emmy in 1979 for his efforts. To read about Ray, Jule, and their work on Project 13, CLICK HERE
Soon to be obsolete...no, not Pete Johnson...the camera!
This Bell and Howell 16mm windup camera was replaced by
ENG and portable video tape camera equipment.
(PHOTOGRAPHY BY LINDA ROSSI/PHOTO COURTESY PETE JOHNSON/)
The news department was anxious to take advantage of improvements in television technology. In 1975, they experimented with an early video tape camera package. The camera, a consumer-sized color unit with a separate 1/4" video recorder, proved too delicate for day to day operations.
By the late 70's, field reports were being produced and edited
on 3/4" U-Matic video tape
By 1976, professional ENG equipment became more practical. The cameras were similar in size to the 16mm ones used since day one, but the recording unit was a separate, bulky 3/4" U-Matic unit. Still, tape offered instant playback and did not require processing. The changeover meant news could be aired quicker, but it also meant the demise of the huge film lab behind the studio. Such is progress! Eventually, the camera and recorder were combined into one unit that weighed a hefty 25 pounds, but it made the cameraman totally portable and able to cover a fast moving story.
WTVT became the first station in the market to take the portable video equipment and link it with new, smaller microwave units.
To announce the arrival of ENG (Electronic News Gathering) on May 17, 1976, Hugh Smith appeared live at the beginning of Pulse from a helicopter hovering 500 feet over downtown Tampa. </>It was the latest triumph for WTVT news, following a tradition of innovation and professional reporting. Channel 13 soon modified small cargo vans to become ENG trucks, roving the Tampa Bay area and supplying live feeds back to the station. Jule McGee, Duane Martin, and the engineering department supervised the construction of the first ENG vehicles.
E.N.G. News Van...version 1.0. Engineer Bill Napier adjusts microwave unit on top while Harvey Jurin checks readings inside
Technology continued to provide new opportunities in news coverage. 13 invested in a satellite news truck, and became a prime user of the CONUS satellite network. Live reports from Tallahassee and other parts of the state became a regular feature on Pulse News.
For almost 25 years, Pulse News was number one in the ratings. The tabloid reporting style of the 1980's and 1990's made the traditional model of a newscast obsolete, and maintaining a ratings lead for 13's news today is not the slam-dunk it used to be in 60's and 70's.
NEWS LINKS ON THE 'BIG 13' SITE
Wayne Fariss, who signed Channel 13 on the air, is profiled in Wayne Fariss, First With The News
Dick John was news director and anchor from 1956 to 1958, and tells the story of how Gaylord Broadcasting expanded the news department and set the tone for 50 years of excellence. To learn more about the early days of Channel 13 news, see Newsroom, 1956 by Dick John.
The first Tallahassee bureau chief, John Evans, describes the early days of state capitol reporting in "John Evans, Covering the State Capital."
In A Conversation with Crawford Rice. The former news director (1958-60) and general manager (1977-81) of WTVT, Rice shares many personal memories and observations of Pulse and other station-related topics.
Learn about news from the 60's to the 90's in Hugh Smith: A View From the Anchor Desk.
Find out the inside story of Ray Blush and Project 13 in "Ray Blush...Project 13 and Beyond."
He produced some of the most memorable stories about the Tampa Bay area and the state of Florida. Read all about his career in "Larry Elliston, Channel 13's 'Down Home' Feature Man"
To Return to NEWS MENU CLICK HERE
CLICK HERE FOR SPORTS
CLICK HERE FOR WEATHER
For some personal memories of some of the above people, click here.
CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO MAIN MENU