Sunday, November 25, 2012

Recalling old times through new connections ...

In the local media this past month, some attention devoted to the 25th anniversary of the rescue of Jessica McClure from a well in southwest Midland where she was trapped for three days. That attention also provided for me an opportunity to connect with a one-time co-worker of mine - someone I have not seen for many, many years - and gain a renewed appreciation for how much smaller our world has become through the world wide web.

It was for me, a singular and - I hope - a defining moment in Midland's history. I found it to be one that illustrated so well what a community - and the individuals who comprise that community - can accomplish.

We can better appreciate those individual and community efforts from that time because of people like Phil Huber. Phil was a photographer back then for KMID-TV, Big 2, which made him something of a point-man for what was West Texas' dominant #1 television news department of that decade. Me, I was a writer and assistant producer in Big 2's creative services department, as well as a public service director and umpteen other things. That's how we did it back then ... everybody did a thing or two, or three. But that flexibility and that willingness would serve us well in the days that followed a call that brought a a reporter from Big 2 News and his photog (Phil) to a home on Tanner Street.

Phil's job was just to shoot the video, then take it back to the station for editing, and presentation on the evening news. But this time around, there would be more to it than that. A couple of officers peering down the well hole, trying to see/hear something of the little girl who had fallen in. The solution was a shotgun mic mounted on the top of Phil's camera ... was it detachable? It was, and Phil had additional cable that allowed the microphone to be lowered to where the girl was trapped, and the earphones that would allow the officers to listen. That was the first contact between the girl and her rescuers, and Phil was part of it.

You have to remember the technology of the day. This was 1987, and we were a small television market to boot. Those of us who who have grown accustomed to instant, total coverage of breaking news from almost anywhere, might forget what technology was available for news coverage in those days, especially for those of us who were yet to equip with what was new and developing in our nation's larger television markets. When I think of what coverage of that rescue might have been like back then, with just the cell phone technology we have now? Wow.

It was a long three days and nights that followed. And most of the staff at our station spent much of that time awake. Even those in the front office (accounting, ad sales and so on) did their part by keeping our switchboard open around the clock, and providing updates to callers from around the world ... or shuttling back and forth between the rescue site with freshly-recharged batteries for the cameras, gasoline for the generator in our live unit, and food for the news crews on the scene. But those news crew were on point ... for us, and for the world ... and IMHO, they did a damn good job.

It all came to an end Friday night, when the little girl emerged from the well in the arms of a rescuer ... hurt, frightened, but alive.

The rescue effort was over, but the effects of those three days would be felt in the months and years to come. And that included the effect it had on the careers of local news personnel. Like I said before, ours is a small market ... many refer to it as a 'teaching' market where youngsters fresh out of school can get some experience, some seasoning, filling their resum—ź tapes and looking for opportunities to move up and out. Phil was one of many, many young men and women who moved on to pursue their careers in markets around the United States.

I have not kept in touch with them as I should have ... but I did reconnect with Phil by chance earlier this year ... through Facebook. Apparently one of my co-workers at the college was a classmate of Phil's ... Midland High School Class of '76 ... On, ye Bulldogs! Through her, I connected with Phil's Facebook page. And at the same time, I have also renewed acquaintances from other Big 2 News alumni. As for Phil, he's living in Alabama now ... but his health hasn't been good, and there are days when his communication is limited to reading 'liking' posts that friends have made on his Facebook page.

An amazing thing, really ... how we can connect (or re-connect) through the world wide web, and how we can communicate ... even in circumstances where, in the past, connecting and communicating would have been difficult at best.

An awfully long digression, really, to get to my initial point ... appreciation for a renewed connection, best wishes to former co-worker, and a prayer of wholeness and healing for him.

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