Potpourri: Learning From the “Iron Man” of Local TV: Self-help
Talent plus hard work equals achievement. Look no further for a good example than the retired news anchor and former colleague, Lee Kinard of WFMY-TV – the “iron man” of local television news in central North Carolina. After 43 years at the same station – astonishing endurance for any company, unthinkable in broadcasting – Lee’s distinctive voice now only graces friends and family. His quietly dogged off-screen professionalism set a success standard for broadcasting or any career.
Through much of the 1970’s on the Channel 2 Evening News at 6pm, Lee forecast weather, Woody Durham called sports, and I – a fledgling anchor/reporter – read and reported the news. Most viewers did not appreciate that Lee’s appearance every night came 14 hours – 14 hours – after he first reported to work. About 4am Lee arrived to prepare and host – alone – two hours of news, weather, sports, and live interviews on the Good Morning Show. He did all of it! Believe me, just doing that morning show alone was a bear. I know because I was Lee’s vacation relief on a few heart-stopping occasions. While everyone else slept, you – alone – labored to grind out sufficient scripts, maps, visuals, and interview questions to fill two hours of live television which you hosted – alone. My mouth still goes dry at the thought of the stress. I don’t know how Lee managed it all those years. Later, he got much more assistance, but in the 70’s and earlier, he was a one-man show. Managing that program and the awesome 6am – 6pm split shift for decades is just one reason why I call him TV’s iron man. There are others.
One awful day in the pre-dawn darkness Lee accidentally slammed his hand in the iron exterior door leading into the station. He was painfully hurt. Rather than call for a replacement and go to the doctor, Lee bandaged his throbbing fingers, put in two hours of show prep, anchored for two more hours, and left for medical help only after he was done. Think about it! Live television – especially when you are the whole show – demands mental agility, organization, concentration, and incredible cool. Imagine shouldering two hours of it with smashed fingers. Lee never complained.
During an early morning blizzard a snowdrift snared Lee’s car while he was driving to the station. He simply locked the door and stepped out into the storm on foot, walking more than a mile in the dark to reach the station and prepare and host the Good Morning Show – alone. Again, he did not complain. He just did it.
When I was a spanking new anchor making the typical silly mistakes of a novice, Lee supported and encouraged me without condescension. My inexperience and naivete never seemed to threaten him – remarkable in the ego-sensitive world of TV news. He did not judge and treated you as equal. It is wondrous for your self-esteem to learn alongside a veteran who will catch you when you fall and not be embarrassed by your stumbles. He also made you look good. On one newscast, Lee engaged me in a discussion of the southern breakfast delight of eggs, grits, ham, and red-eye gravy. Our conversation was so genuine that viewers sent us grits and ham for days.
After I left WFMY-TV for other TV stations I would occasionally ask Lee for advice. Once, some managers and consultants irritated me with dictums and proscriptions on what I could wear on the news. I asked Lee what he would do. He laughed and dismissed the incident as typical of the “clothing police” who work or consult at most stations. He gently suggested that I get over it.
As Lee logged his forty-plus years at News 2, I shifted from television to consulting and the crisis and media relations firm I now run. In the 1980’s, I asked him over lunch how he felt about staying in one place while many of us moved on. He seemed somewhat wistful about not pursuing challenges elsewhere. It mattered little because Lee, not being content to simply run in place, always found ways to challenge himself while staying right where he was. In yet another feat of resolve, he earned his doctorate while still anchoring that staggering split shift. For years he circled the globe to prepare travel pieces for the Good Morning Show that I thought were some of local television’s most enlightening moments. (In typical Kinard fashion, Lee would churn out so many stories per day overseas that his photographers should have earned combat pay.)
So, now the iron man is gone from the microphone and retired. He deserved it. God knows he earned it. Lee Kinard left behind the gold standard for all who want to succeed on camera or off. At the station, new people will sit in his seat, but they will never fill his shoes.