Flying Blind

Got some funny stories from former WILX anchor Jim Mitchell.

Awhile back I posted a photo of the Action News team from the early 80's.  It prompted a response from Jim Mitchell, an anchor here in 1968.  Jim, just dropped me an email with some great stuff in it I have to share with you.  It's the perfect sort of nostalgia we need around here as we celebrate WILX's 50th Anniversary this year.  Jim also left his contact info, so if anyone wants to get in touch just email me at the station.  Here's the letter:

Jason…  I just saw your posting about trying to hunt down a photo from the 68-69 era of Channel 10 News.   Good luck; I don’t remember that we ever sat for such a photo.  I have a couple old air checks, but they are on two-inch reel/reel video (which was all we had in those days). 

 

I joined WILX in August 68.  I had been program director and morning DJ for WVIC AM/FM in East Lansing .  When I resigned from WVIC, the general manager, Harry Hanson, resigned with me (we were pretty upset with micromanagement by the president of the Board).  As we were leaving the station, I picked up the phone and called Larry Payne, News Director of WILX-TV/WJCO-AM, just to let him know that I was on the loose.  He informed me that Ch-10 news anchor Lee Dorman had just submitted his resignation, and would be leaving in a month. He urged me to come in for an audition the next day.  I did, and they hired me (Bill Affleck was program director).  When I arrived in August, I found that Harry Hanson had joined the WILX sales team at the station in Jackson

 

At the time, while network programming was in color, WILX was awaiting delivery of color studio cameras, so all studio programming was in black & white, except for the news film, which was shot in color.  The cameras arrived in September, but management made the decision to hold off until election night to debut studio color. 

 

 

In addition to me as anchor, the news team in 1968 consisted of news director Payne, Dick Greene (who covered Jackson-area stories), a two-man Capitol bureau (Andy Such and another I can’t remember), Jerry Nordstrom (weather), and a sports guy I only remember as Al (who left for a radio station in Mason, MI some months later).   I produced the two evening newscasts (6 & 11), edited the film and wrote the scripts.  Dan Savick was director and technical director.  In those days, we had no other newscasts, as we shared Channel 10 with Michigan State ’s WMSB, which had the frequency for about a third of the day.  We had early morning and prime time.     

 

 

We had some interesting times at WILX.  One day in October 68, our film processing contractor had a major failure in his processor, so we had no film.  I had to do a “talking head” cast that evening.  As I was in the middle of a story about Gov. George Romney’s comments on the third-party candidacy of Alabama Gov. George Wallace, one of the scores of flies that had awakened in the studio rafters as the lights came on managed to land on my lip.  In an instant, with my next breath, he was inside my mouth.  Thinking that it was all to fast and the fly too small for the audience to have seen, I elected not to spit him out on camera.  I swallowed.  Floor director Denny Fink and two cameramen immediately hung their headsets on the cameras and raced for the studio door.  They didn’t even let the door close before they broke out in laughter.  I knew that the fly had been seen. 

 

 

As the fly grew larger in my throat, I continued on for about four minutes, trying not to laugh or choke.  Denny Fink then ran back into the studio, put on his headset and loudly told director Dan Savick, “Go to a spot, go to a spot!”  He paused while Dan asked why.  “Mitchell swallowed a fly!”  Without much to do with no “A” or “B” roll for this newscast, Dan had been goofing off, balancing on the rear wheels of his chair.  When he heard I’d swallowed a fly, he fell backwards and hit his head on a cement wall.  He was out cold for a few minutes.  Others in the control room rushed to his aid and to take control.  When the camera tally light finally went off, the crew in the studio roared in laughter over.  As they laughed, I looked up at the wall at the “On Air” light and noticed that my mike was still hot, and the laughter ran over the spot.   It turns out, a lot of viewers saw the fly incident (not the kind of fame I was seeking). 

 

 

When I started at WILX, I was a senior at MSU, carrying a full academic load, and working from 3:15-12 midnight.  I finally graduated in March 1969.  Seeking to move on in TV news, I had letters from stations in Seattle and Phoenix requesting an air check from me.  But I received a draft notice, directing me to report for induction into the Army on April 29th.  I managed to enlist in the Navy and was sworn in on April 28th.  I remained at WILX until July, when I had to report for active duty.  I found the door out of the Navy in November 1997, retiring as a captain from the position of Deputy Chief of Navy Information (so much for my broadcasting career).

 

 

Reviewing the list of WILX staff on your Web site, I recognize only one name: Tim Skubick.  “Skubie” and I were both in the MSU Band for a couple years.  He may remember me.    

 

 

So, if you can’t find a photo, at least you have some history (I have more stories). 

 

 

All the best,

 

 

Jim

 

 

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