Working in the news industry in markets like Waycross, Columbus, Montgomery and Rome for the past 43 years has given me the opportunity to tell stories about people and places that have, for the most part, been fascinating and fun. I thought I’d take a few minutes in this space today to recall some of those memories.
Back in the late 1970s I was working at WAYX radio in Waycross. We heard the sheriff’s office dispatch a call one evening to the skating rink, which was on U.S. 1 just south of town, on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp. It seems an alligator had crawled out of the swamp and up onto the dirt parking lot and was blocking the main entrance, and exit, of the rink.
It just sat there, and sat there, and sat there forever. The sheriff’s office folks called the DNR but their lone gator getter at the time was up in Long County, near Ludowici and couldn’t get to Waycross for a while.
I was out there in the parking lot in the radio station news vehicle, doing play-by-play of a gator just sitting in front of the doors to a skating rink. Not exactly scintillating but it sure was fun. The radio station provided proof of what was happening for all the kids inside who were calling home on the pay phone to tell mom and dad they couldn’t be home on time because of an alligator.
To this day I’m wondering what the initial reaction of some of those parents was!
In 1983 I moved to Columbus in November, just in time for one of the coldest periods ever in Georgia between Christmas and New Year’s Day. We had an ice storm and I don’t think the thermometer ever got above freezing the whole week. I thank God I lived less than a half mile from the radio station there, WDAK.
The big story while I was there was the arrest of Carlton Gary, the Stocking Strangler, on May 4, 1984. It was one of the last stories I covered before moving to Rome later that month. I remember the hallway inside the police station being flooded with reporters from all over the state when Columbus police brought Gary in. That may have been my first big news zoo! There were reporters everywhere.
I was in Montgomery for a while, at WHHY, when Tuskegee Institute revealed it was changing its name to Tuskegee University. That was not real popular among some rank and file alumni and a pretty big story at the time. I also got to interview Gov. George Wallace.
I will confess to you that I was scared to death waiting to talk with him. The man, like him or hate him, was the ultimate politician. His hearing was so poor that his aide had to repeat my questions directly into his ear and my emotions changed from fright almost to pity. His mind was as sharp as it ever was, and though the voice was not as powerful, it was still evident that he was in control in spite of his physical problems. Remember, that was after he had been shot and was paralyzed.
For the last 37 years, Rome has been home. I will hang up my hat here someday.
There have been lots of intriguing stories in Rome.
The East Rome Domino’s hostage incident in 1984 was a big one. Tony McIntosh and I were having potato skins at Schroeder’s (almost a nightly meal) when we got the call. We took the news vehicle over and parked as close as police would allow us.
I was broadcasting live when the gunshot went off and the man fell to the floor inside the building. At that point we couldn’t tell whether the SWAT team had fired or the man had shot himself. My voice went up about four octaves when police rushed the building to get everyone out.
There was the night in Shannon when a teenager went on a rampage with guns. The late Don Hatcher I were there when police wounded the youth in a leg and were able to subdue him without anyone else getting hurt.
I’ll never forget, years later, when the police showed me a letter the teenager had written thanking them for not killing him that night.
There was the Ellison’s Cave incident on Pigeon Mountain in the late 1980s when I and two other reporters were doing a play-by-play of the effort to rescue young spelunkers who had fallen in one of the deepest pits in the U.S. We alligator clipped a two-way radio into the phone at the DNR check station to be able to get information back to Rome as the rescue efforts were taking place.
Then there was the Blizzard of ‘93. ‘Nuff said.
Since I’ve been here with the paper, I’ve gotten to fly with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources twice on aerial bald eagle nest surveys. Talk about cool. Taking aerial photographs from a helicopter down into eagles’ nests is just about the top of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
A story I did in 2012 was about a crop duster academy over in Cherokee County, Alabama. I was fortunate enough to win a Georgia Press Association award for that, and it was a whole lot of fun just talking with the good ol’ boys.
I’ve been blessed and I hope I’ve been able to make it interesting for you as well.