I believe I was destined to be a journalist. Some of my earliest memories are hanging out at the Harlan Daily Enterprise or sitting on the studio floor at WHLN Radio listening to “True Doug Stallard” spin records.
I often tell people I missed my very first deadline in this business by more than one hour. Surprisingly, that’s how I landed my first job in broadcasting. It was 1978; I was a senior at Harlan High School. Some of my friends talked me into entering a DJ for a Day contest at WFSR. I walked in an hour after the deadline, but walked out with a part-time job as a disc jockey.
That was where I first met Tony Turner. He taught me how to run the board and later how to cover news. That chance meeting turned into a 22-year friendship. I still remember the very first news story I covered for radio. The Superintendent and Elementary Principal at my Alma matter drowned in a boating accident on Norris Lake. It was a difficult story to cover since I knew the victims personally. But that’s also when I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My wife calls it my incessant “Need to Know”.
I worked weekends and summers while I attended the University of Kentucky. In 1982, I accepted a full-time position at WFSR as a disc jockey and news reporter. I went by “John Harrison”; the name is a combination of John Lennon and George Harrison from the Beatles. Those early days in radio were invaluable. Long hours and little pay, but the experience was priceless. It was an opportunity to do everything and learn from the very best, Tony Turner.
I was Assistant News Director, Program Director, Music Director, Sports Play-By-Play and DJ. Then Tony left for WYMT in 1986. I went across the street to work with Jim Morgan at WHLN. I learned even more about covering news from one of the most professional people I’ve ever met. Jim Morgan won a Peabody Award for his coverage of the 1977 flood. I still remember listening to him as the flood waters inched closer and closer to my grandparent’s home.
Seven months later the call came from WYMT and Tony and I were working together again, this time in the Cumberland Valley Bureau. One year later Tony moved to the anchor desk and I took over as Bureau Chief where I would remain until 1997. That’s when I became Assistant News Director and producer of the 6:00 news.
For the next three years Tony and I traveled daily across U.S. 421 from Harlan to Hazard. Sometimes I think this is where I learned the most from Tony, wonderful discussions on those long drives across the mountain.
Along the way, I’ve had the honor to receive numerous awards for investigative reporting and was named Best Reporter by the Associated Press. In 2000, I left WYMT to work at our sister station WVLT in Knoxville. I didn’t leave for more money, but instead to follow my best friend who would later become my wife. I returned in August 2002 after Tony’s untimely death.
I can’t tell you what it means to me, sitting here today as WYMT-TV’s News Director. It is a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. I can’t replace Tony, but I look forward to not only walking in my friend’s footsteps, but continuing his legacy. Everyday, my goal for WYMT is to not only cover the news, but to find solutions to our problems, to promote the region and build a better place for future generations to live. Eastern Kentucky is one of the most beautiful places on earth and I’m proud to call it home. Again, thanks for watching WYMT-TV and making me a part of your mountain family.