A common sense public policy overview from David in South Florida, offering a critical perspective on the current events, politics, govt./public policy, sports and pop culture of the U.S., #SoFL and Europe, esp. the #UK, #Sweden and #France, via my life in #Texas, #Memphis, #Miami, #IU, #Chicago, #WashingtonDC & #SoFL. In particular, #Broward & #MiamiDade County, and the cities of #HallandaleBeach, #HollywoodFL & #Aventura. Trust me when I tell you, this part of Florida is NOT the Land of Lincoln.

Photo in upper-left is Hallandale Beach's iconic beachball-colored Water Tower on State Road A1A, September 2008; March 2018 photo below of HB's North Beach and southern Hollywood Beach, looking left-to-right, looking north, HYDE Condominium, Etaru Japanese Robatayaki restaurant, and Hollywood Beach in the distance, with umbrellas. All photos by me, © Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved.

Monday, July 9, 2018

A wish not a question: May the good news be yours - Ralph Renick's South Florida TV news scene 27 years later. Where's the serious local investigative news reporting anywhere that meets the expectations of today's concerned and well-informed citizen in South Florida?

A wish not a question: May the good news be yours - Ralph Renick's South Florida TV news scene 27 years later. Where's the serious local investigative news reporting anywhere that meets the expectations of today's concerned and well-informed citizen in South Florida?

Above, a Local10/WPLG-TV News van I snapped earlier this year while I was on the way to work. It was working the scene on Pembroke Road near the CSX train tracks in Hollywood following a serious train and vehicle collision that created a serious traffic bottleneck there, just two blocks west of I-95.
I got there about 25 minutes after the accident that had a very large FHP and CSX presence. Result was a few damaged vehicles that seemed to be missing entire parts of their car that were thrown 50-yards-plus away from the impact of the train. In talking to the folks on the scene, the vehicle's drivers and passengers were injured but seem to have somehow escaped death despite their egregious stupidity. Somehow, thr fact that trains always win is lost on some people.
I know from experience that northbound Tri-Rail commuter trains start slowing down there because the very next interesection less than a mile north is even-busier Hollywood Boulevard, where the Hollywood Tri-Rail and Amtrak train station is located, and hence, a place that I am at pretty familiar with.

Ths coming Thursday, July 12th, 2009, will mark 27 years since the death of South Florida TV news pioneer and journalism icon Ralph Renick.

I was already living up in Arlington County, Virginia when I received a phone call 27 years ago this week from my Mom back in Miami -if I recall correctly, probably from an area now called Cutler Bay- relaying the news that Ralph Renick had died, and she made a point of mentioning that everyone she knew seemed rather out-of-sorts after getting the news.
I could actually imagine that whole scene.

As I was quick to remind her, for lots of people my age or slightly older or younger who'd grown up in South Florida, Ralph Renick was the FDR of Miami - always there.
Always there in the background -immovable.
Just like Don Shula.

Ralph Renick Reports that Scareface will film in Miami, 1982 WTVJ https://youtu.be/fyuJGHrjbRY

WTVJ / Miami News Open - November, 1970 - Ralph Renick 

WTVJ/Miami July 12, 1991 'The Day Ralph Renick Died' 
When legendary News Anchor Ralph Renick Died in July, 1991, it was the lead story on EVERY local newscast. This clip covers about the first 10 minutes of WTVJ's 6PM News on that day, including reporter/anchor Bob Mayer's full obit on Renick and his career.

Ralph Renick was always there when something big or important or, as was frequently the case in South Florida then, something that was all those things, plus something awful and completely inexplicable.
Lots and lots of things that were going on in South Florida in those days were awful and inexplicable.
Just like today, but before we were quite so numb to the release of the initial facts and context.

Ralph Renick was the pre-cable TV personality that South Florida homes and families knew and trusted who tried to make sense of things that often didn't: ethical government outrages and betrayals of public trust, genuine criminal evil running amok in South Florida and pious moralizers caught up in old fashioned hypococrisy and trying to save themselves by blaming others for their downfall.

South Florida had more than its share of that long before smart and clever people like Miami film director and Social media Pied Piper Billy Corben, whom I like and admire even when we disagree, could add the hashtag #BecauseFlorida or #BecauseMiami to his very popular Twitter feed and make people or situations famous around the world, because we'd already long since realized how many south Forida-based stories seem to amuse or outrage the rest of the nation or the world, usually with South Florida's non-Melting Pot stew of warring and divisive nationalities, cultures, religions and beliefs and vastly different economic stratas living cheek-by-jowl, at least partly to blame for whatever happened, besides good old-fashioned individual stupidity, greed, ego or evil.

And then, while I was trying my best to make a life for myself up in Washington, D.C., the place I had always wanted to work and live since I was an Elementary School age kid who knew and fully understood more American history backwards and forwards than most of the adults I ever knew or met in South Florida.

To me, one of the most unpleasant of all the many changes I've observed in South Florida over the years, both while living here and on visits of a few weeks from Chicago or Washington, has been the dramatic loosening of journalism standards from the era when I was growing up down here in the 1970's & early '80's, with local Miami TV anchors like then-WTVJ Channel Four's Renick and Ann Bishop of Channel 10, or sharp folks like Gene Miller at The Miami Herald.

Renick, while perhaps considered cool and imperious to some viewers, to me, always seemed to convey a real sense that they DID have the TV viewers on the other side of the camera's best long-term best interests at heart.

For me, that meant reporting the news straight-up and letting the facts guide the story, rather than cover stories with hidden agendas in order to appease the myriad business/ethnic/cultural interest groups in the area who, even now, are STILL hyper-sensitive to even the slightest sign of public criticism, constructive or otherwise. We all can name the groups.

I know that if Ralph Renick was around today making his nightly editorials, something unique to him in this area, compared to having Station General managers occasionally making appearnces at the end of newscasts, he would definitely have zeroed-in on about 1,001 different stories involving ethics and core competency in municipal and county government that in my opinion, since my return to the area in 2003, have never gotten all the public attention and shame they richly deserved.

Whether Frank Nero's salary at The Beacon Council or ex-Mayor Joy Cooper of Hallandale Beach taking money from wired FBI agents posing at real estate developers eager to play Let's Make A Deal with the woman that you regular readers of this blog know by now I consider to be the poster girl for all the ethical evil in South Florida government, who finally got caught doing what I and many of my well-informed friends long thought she was doing.

Confusing her self interests with the public's and putting it first, second and third in line whenever decisions had to be made. In Cooper's case, she was arrested on multiple felong counts by the FBI in December and removed from office by Governor Scott, though the broward States Attorney knew five years ago what she was doing and already had evidence of her horse-trading.

But in my opinion, Ralph Renick would have taken after her and the collective "them" with a sober mocking tone that would have been far worse than anything I could think of or adminsiter since he had the power to make his feelings felt, and knew how to get to a local politician's worst fear. 
Not being found out, but being found out and made to suffer public humiliation in front of their political pals and supporters.

In Renick's case, done so with a specificity, delight and deft touch that would have caused that
specific story to become much better known than it currently is, and used it as a jumping-off point to discuss other examples of so-called South Florida leaders, who so often talk-the-talk but who seem hard-pressed to point to any positive tangible results of there being in charge, instead of someone else.

Renick and Bishop's success in achieving that goal was reflected by both their enduring popularity, and, I suppose, by the simple fact that people like me who grew-up here, STILL bring their names up at the drop of a hat to suggest a sense of contrast and proportionality with the present sad state of affairs with local South Florida journalism.

Back then, savvy reporters with a nose for news and an eye for uncovering corruption and hypocrisy, especially at City Halls and County Halls, like Ike Seamans, Brian Ross, Fred Francis, Bernard Goldberg, Susan Candiotti, Richard Schlesinger, Steve Kroft, Wyatt Andrews and many other names most of you will recognize were among the consistently enterprising types -so many of whom went national- would see the amazing menu of stories they were presented with on a daily basis because of South Florida's special circumstances and geography, cultural diversity and inherent tension among its population, unique weather problems and omnipresent criminal element, and take full advantage of it, instead of merely being a robotic drone doing a LIVE stand-up for the 11 p.m. newscast for
something that was over and done with at 4 p.m., as is so often the case now.

Those awful extraneous LIVE shots, long the bane of my existence and many of my friends, who wonder why the reporters involved hadn't already gone on to the next story.

As a person who regularly attends events and functions around South Florida that are often the subject of print and electronic news coverage, certainly much more than the average newspaper reader or TV viewer, it's really quite shocking to me how many local reporters -excepting the exceptional few- who now can't seem to even be bothered to pretend to do even the most basic of
research that the pre-Internet era required.

Daily they show up woefully prepared and expect Public Information Officers or the like, as with friendly and able Raelin Storey, 
to brief them and brng them up to speed. 

Raelin is the Communications, Marketing & Economic Development Director for the City of Hollywood, and someone who has always been thoughtful and professional with me over many years.

It's almost as if the reporters I'm complaining about here fail to understand or appreciate that those noted reporters mentioned earlier, got to that respected status locally by developing a solid reputation for returning phone calls promptly, which is part of why they always received so many tips in the first place.

I can't begin to tell you how many times over the past few eleven years that i've had my blog that I've personally tipped-off individual reporters to a developing story that they ignored at their peril, with the logical result being that their tardiness and indifference led to someone else beating them to it.
Or nobody reporting the story at all

For whatever reason, there seems to be a much steeper learning-curve for many current TV reporters here than there used to be, reporters who, in my opinion, really ought to be in much-smaller TV markets than ours if they are going to continue to be so smug and self-important.

These are the very reporters whose email addresses I've deleted the past few years, even as other reporters I deal with somewhat regularly are smart enough to know to either email or call back promptly to see what I've got to share with them, like Channel 10's ace investigative reporter Bob Norman..

I'm also regularly shocked by the number of TV stations who routinely only send a cameraman to an event or hearing of some importance, rather than send along a reporter as well.

That was the case ten years ago when I attended the final public meeting of the Broward County Charter Review Commission at the County HQ on Andrews Avenue.
That afternoon, the most publicized issue -though by no means only important issue- was whether or not Broward County voters should be able to vote in the upcoming November election for a County mayor, rather than continue with the absurd and meaningless charade now where the County Commission votes amongst themselves and appoints a member mayor.

That's 'mayor' lower-case as far as I'm concerned, since if a citizen didn't vote for that position, it's a
completely meaningless appelation. I say that despite personally knowing and liking current mayor Beam Furr, a former City of Hollywood City Commissioner who replaced another favorite of mine on the Broward County commission when she retired, Sue Gunzburger, whom I was standing right next to in November of 2016 when we both found out Donald Trump had been elected President. 

(I had preducted it in early 2015, and was pleased, Comm. Gunzburger quite the opposite.)

Beam Furr is a model public official, and someone whom we could use a few hundred clones of down here, but I still thingk the public should be voting for someone who is called Mayor, as many blog posts in my archive can verify

As I recall it, Channel 10 sent veteran reporter and TWISF co-host Michael Putney and a cameraman, Channel 4 sent a reporter and cameraman, Channel 6 sent a lone cameraman. Channel 7 sent nobody, as did the various Spanish language TV stations, which seems to be par for the course for the latter in Broward County, since they are rarely if ever on the scene of an important govt. hearing in my personal experience, which explains a lot, if you care to think about the logical results of such civic short-sightedness.

The stories that appeared in the newspaper the next day and on local TV that night about that critical CRC meeting, the most important one in their two years of meeting, and the votes that took place there, which could've gone a long way in giving Broward voters a means of making Broward County government more accountable, in the form of a single person directly voted into power by the entire
county, not just one slice of it, all had one thing in common.
As it happens, bad things as far as I was concerned.

The news stories 
a.) didn't identify how the individual members of the Broward CRC voted on the proposal -which failed- and
b.) neglected to mention that ALL the elected city mayors appointed to the CRC voted to NOT ALLOW voters to vote on the issue and decide it themselves.

As it happens, all those mayors saying "nyet" to Broward voters were women. I mention that here just in case you think that women are inherently more democratically-inclined by nature. Maybe in other parts of the country, but certainly not here in Broward County.

In fact, it's been the exact opposite, as ex-Hallandale Beach mayor Joy Cooper proved rather convincingly, year-after-year, by continually having the City Commission vote on items that
AREN'T on the public printed agenda, and for years that were held in a small room at City Hall different than the Commission Chambers, which just happens to have no TV cameras to record their
votes. Because that's that's the way she wants things to be.

No matter how long I had been back here, the egregious nature of it all still managed to shock me.

I was scared-straight back in 2007 when I penned an email to then-Daily Business Review reporter Julie Kay, of which this is but an excerpt:

Subject: re your 6-29-2007 DBR story; illegal disclosure/sale of arrest data by FDLE;
Thursday January 18th, 2007

Dear Ms. Kay:

My letter to you today is actually long overdue, as I had planned on congratulating you earlier, before the end of the year, on the consistently great job you did last year of covering what passes for the South Florida legal system in the Daily Business Review, and imbuing your stories with the proper amount of anger, enthusiasm and curiosity -and incredulity- for the peculiar way things have of sorting themselves out here, regardless of any actual law, statute or precedent.
Or, of course, common sense.

While much attention was paid to your recent stories on the 'missing' court records of judges/elected officials -and what passes around here for celebrities and VIPs- who surely must've preferred those records of theirs existing in some parallel universe, where the curious public couldn't discern their content, the story you wrote that most impressed me was actually your June 29th DBR story titled, "Legal Boomerang," on Broward County and the state of Florida continuing to sell expunged legal case data to private firms for their own databases, though they're not supposed to do so.

Perhaps you've already heard about it by this late date, but on the chance that you haven't, the day your story ran, CBS-4 led it's 6 p.m. Local News with that same exact story, down to the point of interviewing the very same person you interviewed for the majority of your insightful anecdotes, without reporter Mike Kirsch ever giving you or the Daily Business Review proper credit/attribution for the story.

I wrote a draft of a note to you about that slight that night on my computer, but I regret to say that I never finished it, much less mailed it, and for that I'm sorry, since I really hate seeing a reporter, esp. a TV reporter, get credit for hard journalistic leg-work they didn't actually perform.

That feeling became particularly ingrained in me during the 15 years I lived in D.C. from 1988-2003, because so many media friends of mine, esp. at the Washington bureau of the New York Times, who'd regale me at ballgames, movies or over hot dogs across the street from their office at a favorite hot dog stand of ours during breaks, with instances of having discovered, after-the-fact, clear-cut examples of out-of-town reporters using their stories as a paint-by-numbers primer for stories that small town reporters couldn't previously get a handle on.
Clearly, that's not the smartest move to make in the era of the Internet and searchable databases.

For what it's worth, Kirsch added absolutely zero to your original story, not even bothering to supplement his version of your story with additional interviews with other parties, just to cover his bases. Nope, it was strictly paint-by-numbers; your numbers.
Since that initial report back in June, I haven't taken anything Kirsch says seriously, since I now have a clear sense of what he's capable of.
Maybe he should stick to doing stories on 'hot' new celeb-filled boutiques or trendy restaurants on South Beach, that way, there's no real public harm or misrepresentation.

In the three years since I returned to South Florida from DC, I've had to reconcile myself to lots of changes to this area, many of them for the good, of course, but just as many for the bad I'm afraid.
Not that things before in local/state govt. or local legal circles were so rosy and on the level, of course, since I know that clearly wasn't the case.

Starting roughly around 1979, when I'd return to South Florida from school or work in Bloomington, Evanston, and DC, for visits during Christmas and spring break, or even Baltimore Oriole spring training trips or weekend weddings, I could still see that Miami had the kind of scrappy and innately curious reporters who make a real difference in a community.
Frankly, the sorts of reporters that so many of my friends at the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism at IU and Medill at Northwestern University aspired to emulate - making a positive contribution.

Reporters who had the talent & ability to convey to the waves and waves of newcomers to the area, who were without a sense of South Florida's very mixed past, the proper amount of perspective and sense of disbelief, before dropping the hammer on whichever corrupt/incompetent/miscreant elected pol or agency hack was the target zone, for attempting to perpetrate something of a dubious nature.

Even while watching the local TV news out of Indianapolis or Washington, D.C., while clearly recognizing that there were a handful of TV reporters of the sort who'd be good no matter what city they were based in, I always had the sense that, in general, the reporter culture in those cities
lacked the kind of focused energy and zeal I'd seen in South Florida, hich was their town's loss.

I even mentioned this particular line of thought, such as it is, to CNN's Larry King once at an American Cancer Society Ball in DC, around '89, that I was involved with as a member of the Board of Directors of the DC ACS branch's Young Professional division, with Larry being honored as the guest of honor. 

While I know that many people often laugh at Larry's own unique brand of infotainment and news, and I'm quick to admit that I've heard the reels of crank calls at his expense, that night at the Hilton Towers, while his then-wife was being photographed with friends and various DC celebs like Al Haig and former FBI Director William Webster, Larry and I stood in a corner for about ten minutes, just the two of us, reminiscing about life in Miami, mostly about local radio and TV personalities we'd known and liked and wondered about every so often.

I'd grown-up as a kid watching Larry's interviews on Channel 4, and was a daily listener to his late night nationally-syndicated radio show out of D.C. on Mutual, starting while I was in school at Indiana University, making cassette audio tapes of individual shows with interesting guests or topics.
After moving to Chicago my collection of tapes, as I got to know his routine and came to recognize his little idiosyncracies, as well as the names of the people who did the news breaks, as well as got to know his substitute, Jim Bohannon.

In fact, I was driving from Chicago to Florida and first got word of the passing of the great Jackie Gleason while Larry read the news bulletin, and I stayed at a Florida Turnpike rest stop early in the morning for a bit to compose myself, while he poured out one great Jackie Gleason story after another.
I knew most of them by heart, but that didn't make them less precious or make me laugh any less. It only made me so much sadder.
Which I made a point of telling Larry in person when I finally had the chance.

Larry and I also talked back and forth about the great sense of competition that once existed among the Miami TV stations, and between the Herald and the late, great Miami News, where I spent a lot of time while in high school, and got to know and make a number of friends over the years in their news, sports and entertainment departments.
We lamented that the kind of rough but honest competition we both knew of down here, which really pushed reporters, often seemed lacking now, despite how counter-intuitive that  seemed with all the new technology that was making reporting easier. 
And that was 20 years ago.

But now?
Well, it seems that the low TV standards that I saw elsewhere and have read about and followed for years in myriad media journals, blogs and newspapers, have found a home-sweet-home right here.

And as for my my own clearly antiquated and sentimental notions of what journalism is, based on years of Renick and his successors, and being part of Walter Mondale's advance team in '76, and accompanying him to the old Channel 4 studio downtown, for an interview with Joe
Abrell, host of Montage, a place where I recognized nearly every single reporter's face I saw in the hallway -and actually knew their assigned beats?

Well, I guess I thought the news management at local stations would have done a better job of insisting on keeping higher standards for what's considered news, and what passes for journalistic ethics than what appears to be the case.
More than ever, this area seems to be on the losing side of a journalism slippery slope.
C'est la vie.

Personally, among many other things, I think this area would be much better served if there were tons more criticism in the local newspapers at what local TV news churns out, and a corresponding series of frequent jabs at the Herald and the Sun-Sentinel for what they are
-or are not- doing with their resources, which in too many cases, is appeasing elements of the local population, at the risk of only further corroding their connection to the local populace.

I mean as you all know by now by my repetition, the Miami Herald hasn't covered a meeting in Hallandale Beach in over 13 months.

There are still so many local people and organizations down here who've heretofore escaped both accountability and brickbats for their years of unsatisfactory results, despite receiving city, county or state taxpayer funds, that in other parts of the country, with the current
technology available, would've put them front-and-center, and certainly under the microscope.
But here, because of cronyism and back-scratching, or something, they aren't.
I'd call them sacred cows, of course, but we don't live in India quite yet.

In the past, an enterprising local TV reporter might've addressed these matters of concern to me, which while affecting public policy or the lives of thousands of people on a daily basis, currently go unexamined.
Nowadays, that same reporter is assigned to go to a Mall and report on either holiday shopping tips or trends/fads among the seemingly endless armies of affluent teens of our area.

Maybe it's me, but I keep thinking of Jane Fonda's character in the film, The China Syndrome, Kimberly Wells, forever banished to covering cute human interest stories before stumbling upon a great story by accident.
(Steve Bousquet is now a political reporter with the Tampa Bay Times and a must-read for me.)

Miami Herald
By STEVE BOUSQUET Herald Staff Writer
July 31, 1998
Steve Bousquet was a Broward-based news reporter for WPLG-Channel 10 from 1981-84, before joining The Herald.

For 50 years, history and geography conspired to deprive Broward of an electronic identity: a hometown TV station. But that became old news Thursday as WTVJ-Channel 6, Florida's first TV station, announced plans to relocate to Miramar.

The same station that gave South Florida its first news anchorman, Ralph Renick -- on a different channel and different network -- will be broadcasting from Broward in two years.

To appreciate the historic significance of Channel 6's decision to move to Miramar, it helps to remember when Broward TV news consisted of film cans being shuttled down Interstate 95 at rush hour or snippets of news delivered from ``the Broward bureau'' -- a small studio in the Yankee Clipper Hotel on Fort Lauderdale beach.

Stations pay more attention to Broward than ever before. But there are still some nights when Broward TV coverage is little more than a crime newsreel sandwiched between longer Dade stories, and Miami-based meteorologists still warn us about those thunderstorms ``up'' in Broward.

By moving its studios, satellite TV trucks and anchors to Miramar, NBC-owned Channel 6 is moving closer to the region's population center. But the TV station is making a public-relations commitment to Broward that no amount of promotion can buy.

Station executives described the decision as a move to the center of the region's booming population. Don Browne, WTVJ's vice president and general manager, said the ``artificial'' county line is meaningless in today's society.

``We're making a natural response to the population growth and shift,'' Browne said. ``We look at this as one community. . . . This is a decision based on an understanding of the dynamics and growth of our entire community.''

Effects on coverage 

The questions are whether a Broward location will mean better Broward coverage on Channel 6 -- and whether Channel 6's rivals will feel pressured to beef up coverage because a competitor is headquartered there.

``There will be more coverage of Broward. We're talking about two broadcast facilities,'' said Ramon Escobar, WTVJ's news director. ``Covering South Florida is more about preparation and strategy than it is about position. Having a Miramar location does help us have more Broward [coverage].''

Station executives spoke of a ``dual studio'' in Miami and South Broward, with an indoor-outdoor studio on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami. It is important that in moving north, WTVJ not appear to be abandoning Miami-Dade.

The move is the second half of a positive civic 1-2 punch, coming after the Florida Panthers agreed to move to a new arena in western Sunrise.

A television station, like a newspaper or a sports team, gives an area a sense of place, an identity -- and not having a hometown station has been one reason why Broward lacks a stronger identity.

Stepchild perception

Even in an age of cable and satellite receivers, South Florida TV news reinforces a perception that Broward is Miami's suburban stepchild.

``You turn the TV stations on here, and it's mostly Miami news, so you do not have that daily confirmation of where you are,'' said Jack Latona, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who grew up watching three hometown TV stations in Buffalo.

In a modern age of media saturation, Latona said, the boundaries of communities are not municipal lines, but the circulation of a newspaper or the reach of a TV signal.

As a city commissioner in Fort Lauderdale, Broward's largest city, Latona can count on one hand the number of times a TV crew has been inside City Hall -- but that may change when WTVJ moves to its new six-acre site near Interstate 75 and Miramar Parkway.

``It stands to reason the news is going to be skewed more toward Broward, and I'm not so sure that's a bad thing,'' said Joe Angotti, a Miami TV consultant and former NBC News senior vice president and former dean of the University of Miami communications school. ``I know a lot of people who think Dade is losing an important media outlet, but I'm not so sure that Broward doesn't deserve a little more on newscasts than it's been receiving up to now. It's not going to happen overnight, but there will be a gradual tendency to have more Broward news on the newscast.''

Beyond local cable 

That would be good news for people in Broward, who have to drive out of the county to get on network-affiliated television. Top politicians must settle for what exposure they can get on cable TV, or go to Miami's WPLG to appear on This Week in South Florida with Michael Putney.

BECON TV, the Broward school system's television network, airs a weekly Broward public affairs show called Countyline, but not all cable systems pick it up.

Two dueling state Senate candidates, Mandy Dawson-White and Matt Meadows, squared off Thursday in their only TV debate so far -- in the West Palm Beach studios of WPTV-Channel 5.

``Broward doesn't have its own TV station, and yet there are little towns in Montana with TV stations,'' Latona said.

It was not by accident. 

When the first VHF television licenses were issued in the late 1940s, Miami already was a big city. Broward was still largely swampland. A half million people lived in Dade in 1950, compared to 84,000 in all of Broward -- fewer people than live in Pembroke Pines today.

Smaller West Palm Beach, just out of range of the Miami TV stations' signals, also qualified for licenses. Broward got a couple of UHF station licenses instead.

Broward's current population is estimated at 1.4 million. It consistently ranks among the top 10 fastest-growing counties in the United States. It is the 16th most-populous county in America, larger than Riverside County, Calif.; Montgomery County (Philadelphia), Pa.; Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), Ohio; and Alameda County (Oakland), Calif.

Herald staff writers Jane Bussey and Neil Reisner and researcher Harriett Tupler contributed to this report.
Miami Herald

August 18, 2002

Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You and 2 Yanks in Trinidad, starring Pat O'Brien, were rolling on the big screen. Pocket change got you into the double feature playing at the Capitol Theater in downtown Miami.

But that night - March 21, 1949 - what was debuting on the small screen in the theater's backroom would make history. Television.

More than half a century later, it's curtains for the site of Florida's first television broadcast and home to the only station south of Atlanta in those early days. In the coming weeks, the historic but crumbling Capitol Theater and former WTVJ-NBC 6 studios will be reduced to rubble. In its place: a new $120 million U.S. courthouse, one of the largest in the Southeast, which federal officials hope will be majestic enough to bring back life to the once animated area.

Designed by Arquitectonica, the local architecture firm that designed AmericanAirlines Arena, the massive court building will house about 16 courtrooms, 16 judges' chambers, detention cells, U.S. Marshals Service offices and other facilities.

The 316 N. Miami Ave. site once lured throngs of South Floridians to the theater, then dubbed Wometco's ``first-run'' premier movie house. It was built in 1926 as the Capitol Theater and converted into WTVJ in 1949 by Miami pioneer Mitchell Wolfson as an outgrowth of his Wometco theater chain.


``I remember going to the Capitol Theater even before it was WTVJ. It had the most dramatic theater front in Miami with running lights,'' said Miami historian Arva Moore Parks. ``Everybody went downtown to see the movies.''

Among them: a young and mischievous Howard Kleinberg.

Kleinberg, a newspaperman and long-time Miami resident, was a teenager in high school when he went to see a rerun of The Four Feathers, a 1939 colonial-India epic.

As the film's thirsty hero made his way across sun-scorched land, Kleinberg jumped from his seat in the balcony, screaming ``Water! Water!''

His friends got a kick out of it. Kleinberg got a kick, too - out of the place.

In 1952, WTVJ remodeled the building. It added to the three-story structure 200 spectator seats for its 68-by-100-foot studio on the second floor. The ground floor housed the executive offices, programming and sales departments. The control and projection rooms were on the third floor.


The building's demolition marks the end of an era, said Parks, who remembers that Monday evening in March 1949 when she walked to a store on Northeast 97th Street and Second Avenue to watch the first broadcast on a set in the shop's front window.

``I stood in front of an appliance store with most of the rest of Miami Shores to catch it. It was only an eight- or 10-inch screen, but most of us had never seen television before and it was very exciting,'' Parks said. ``They were having a lot of technical difficulties that first night. The test pattern and signs that said `Please Stand By' were probably on more than the programming.''

Only about 1,000 homes in the Miami area had sets that night to tune into WTVJ, which was then Channel 4.

The station had but 21 employees and two cameras. The 16th television station in the country, WTVJ would be South Florida's sole station for the next seven years.

From behind an office-like wooden desk, 21-year-old Ralph Renick - ``a skinny, little kid,'' Parks said - delivered the station's first news broadcast in July 1950.

That amateurish 15-minute segment would pave the way for electronic media in South Florida. ``We were pioneering,'' Renick said in a 1991 interview. ``Pioneering is fun because nobody can tell you you're doing it wrong - because it hasn't been done before.''

Renick would go on to be one of the nation's longest-running news anchors before his retirement in 1985. He died six years later from cancer.


Some of the footage from Renick's early newscasts has survived. The Florida Moving Image Archive has four million feet of WTVJ film, with the earliest newscast dating to circa 1951, said Steven Davidson, the archive's director.

Maps and pointers were used, cardboard backdrops were common and advertisements were displayed on the set during Renick's newscast. Commercials were not taped. Instead the camera would pan over to a spot next to Renick where pitchmen would give their spiels live.

From its small studio carved out of the Capitol Theater, WTVJ would broadcast four hours a night except Tuesdays, when the station went dark.

Before the technology to link the station to national networks was developed, the station was dependent on live, locally produced programs.


There were sports trivia and Pictionary-style game shows, gardening segments and children's programming. And then there was Lee Dickens. The stunt woman who walked on the wings of planes for the show ``was my idol,'' Parks recalled.

The station, which moved to Miramar in 2000, produced many heavyweight journalists like CNN's Larry King, NBC's Katie Couric and ESPN's Hank Goldberg and former ESPN Up Close host Roy Firestone. It introduced editorials, black journalists and female sportscasters to South Florida television.

``Many great things happened there. The place is overrun with history,'' said senior correspondent Ike Seamans, who joined WTVJ in 1969.

Still, Seamans said, ``I can't think of a more dumb place to put it than an old movie theater, but as [Wolfson] said at the time he never realized the full impact of what he was starting.''

The Miami building was like ``an old pair of shoes,'' Seamans said.

``It was old and decrepit. You had people jumping on chairs to avoid the mice but it felt comfortable. There was a sense of camaraderie there that has not been duplicated. The [Miramar headquarters], as grandiose as it is, will never be the same.''
Miami Herald
Moving Image Archives show Miami's past

March 30, 2009

South Florida's most prized film and video collection -- millions of feet of footage documenting nine decades of events that shaped Miami-Dade -- has just been been donated to Miami Dade College.

The Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives are made up largely of newscasts aired by the area's first station, WTVJ -- the flagship station of Wometco Enterprises. WTVJ first went on the air in 1949, fronted by pioneer newscaster Ralph Renick. It is now NBC6.

Louis Wolfson II had presided over the television and cable division of Wometco prior to its sale in 1983 and had preserved the station's video collection.

This month, his widow, Lynn Wolfson and MDC President Eduardo Padrón signed an agreement transferring the archive to the college and establishing the new Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives Media Center to be housed in a new building to be constructed in MDC's Wolfson campus complex in downtown Miami.

Through the years, the collection has expanded to include local footage shot as early as 1910. There are also many reels dedicated to the Cuban Revolution, Miami's civil rights era, the McDuffie riots, the Mariel boatlift, Haitian refugees and the Cocaine Cowboys.

Recently, WPLG-Channel 10 donated 5,000 hours of tapes to the archives when it moved out of its longtime Biscayne Boulevard headquarters.

The historic archives are the latest cultural acquisition by the college. MDC already owns the Miami International Film Festival, Miami Book Fair International, the Freedom Tower and the Tower Theater in Little Havana.

Along with the donation of the video library comes $7 million from the Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Foundation to maintain and grow the new media center. And, Lynn Wolfson donated an additional $2 million toward its construction.

"These funds will allow the center to expand its capacity to preserve historically important film and video from around Florida and to preserve our heritage for future generations to better understand their past," Lynn Wolfson said.

Padrón thanked the Wolfson family in a prepared statement:

"On behalf of our nearly 170,000 students, who will benefit immensely from this gift, I thank Lynn Wolfson and family for this extraordinary contribution that will keep giving for years to come."

Lynn Wolfson helped found the Moving Image Archives in 1984, along with newscaster Renick and historian Arva Moore Parks, under the joint sponsorship of the Miami-Dade Public Library System, MDC and the University of Miami.

The archives are presently housed at the main public library.

To learn more about the archives go to: http://www.wolfsonarchive.org

No comments:

Post a Comment