Ira Joe climbs another rung on success ladder
By Beverly Vorpahl
When Ira Joe Fisher turned in his Plexiglas weather board at KHQ-TV two summers ago and headed East (by train since he refuses to fly) to Cincinnati, his co-workers here said they fully expected to see him on national television one day.
That day is one day closer.
On Aug. 1, Ira Joe began working at WABC in New York City, ABC’s flagship station. WABC officials said the station is the largest in the country and its 5 o’clock news is the city’s top-rated program for that hour.
He “weathered” his first two weeks in the big city on the station’s morning show before amazing even more New Yorkers with his unique writing ability on the 5 o’clock news. Ira Joe Fisher is making his mark in television by writing and cartooning weather news backwards.
During a brief telephone interview, just moments before going on the air with his first evening broadcast, Ira Joe’s voice sounded as bright and perky as ever. It was easy to conjure up an image of his smiling face – the face that became so familiar to Q-6 viewers during the 10 years he was with the station.
It was not just for his ability to write backwards, however, that WABC hired him, he said. In fact, the deciding factor to move to New York came from the paragraph in his contract that calls him a “roving essayist.” That contract, by the way, is a $1 million deal that will appear in his pay envelopes over a three-year period, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
While in Cincinnati, Fisher won two regional Emmys for his essays. They were mood pieces, one about summer changing to autumn and another about New Year’s Eve.
“It gave me a chance to flex my puny writing muscles,” he said of his position as essayist.
“I wax humorous or philosophical or whimsical – or all three – in the form of essays,” he said. “It’s simply talking about, musing on, subjects of your own choosing.”
He’s already mused about New York’s street musicians and being a brand new employee. “The subject matter is as varied as the world around us,” he said.
Ira Joe began his love affair with writing as a freelancer with the former Spokane Magazine, a talent he transposed to Cincinnati Magazine.
In true Ira Joe fashion, he “waxed understatement” in describing his invitation to move to New York.
“They called me,” he said simply. “I really never actively sought anything.” Neither did he seek the job in Cincinnati which gave him so much greater exposure than Spokane; nor did he go looking for the offers that came in from Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, Cleveland – as well as one from another Spokane station trying to woo him back form Cincinnati.
To hear Fisher tell it, WABC officials merely said, “Would you like to work here?”
“I said, ‘O.K., fine.’
“So, this is another chapter.”
It is, to say the least, a tremendously exciting chapter, Fisher said.
What he didn’t say during the interview, but what was reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer, was that his bosses at the city’s Channel 12 station did just about everything they could to entice him to say. There were offers and counter-offers to confuse the decision of Ira Joe and his wife, Shelly (a Spokane native), and their two sons, Josh and Shelby.
For Ira Joe, the move to New York City is almost as good as moving home. He was reared in western New York State – Little Valley – where members of his family still live.
Shelly is guaranteed at least one trip home each year, since during contract negotiations he made sure there was a clause that allows him to return annually to Spokane to appear on KHQ’s telethon, as well as Cincinnati’s. He likes it when television as an industry “opens its heart” with telethons to help others, he said.
He’s been asked, he said, why he reports weather news. His answer to that question: “It keeps me busy between telethons.”
It may well have been the gimmick of his weather reporting that made him attractive first to KHQ, then to Cincinnati and now to WABC, but he’s happy that wasn’t the sole factor of his latest move.
“They were very interested in my essays,” he said, “and that’s pleasing to me. We all want acknowledgment that our dimensions are more than one.”
Asked if he were being groomed for national television, he replied, “I’m difficult to groom. I’m ungroomable.”
That’s nice. And that’s exactly what is so refreshing about Ira Joe. It is his individuality – his personality – that makes Ira Joe Fisher so special, not because he happens to write funny.
Sunday, August 21, 1983