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Spokane newscasters blanch at memory of on-screen slip-ups

October 15, 1987

By Tom Sowa
The Spokesman-Review
and Spokane Chronicle

For Rob Daugherty, calling the city “SPO-CAINE” was the biggest sin a TV journalist could commit on his first day at work in a new city.

The next day Daugherty suffered through a dozen calls from viewers who phoned the station to correct his pronunciation.

For comfort, TV broadcasters tell themselves bloopers, fluffs and howlers happen to everyone. “Sooner or later, we all make mistakes,” Daugherty says.

It comes with the business of doing the news live, he says. “The risk is you can make those mistakes and thousands of people will see it. There’s nothing else you can do but keep going. If it’s really bad, you have to acknowledge it.”

Blowing the pronunciation of Spokane hardly qualifies, however, for the city’s top TV gaffes. That list – something station personnel would rather forget about than remember – would have to include a mess-up that took place in 1985 at KXLY.

One night, Daugherty and co-anchor Elaine Murphy were preparing to “tease” viewers with a description of a report that would follow the next commercial break.

“After this break, we’ll look at the problems and stresses faced by interracial couples in mixed marriages,” said Murphy, reading from a script. Typically one anchor reads the tease while viewers see a short videotape segment from the coming report.

Instead of a couple on screen, viewers saw two apes sitting inside a zoo cage.

Daugherty looked around the KXLY set and saw horror on the crew’s faces. “Oh God,” he said to himself.

Matching the wrong video with a story happens at every TV station, Daugherty knows. This moment was worse than usual. “There was no graceful way out,” he says. The tease went straight into a commercial break and left the newscasters no opportunity to tell viewers “Oops, that’s obviously not right.”

The next day a reporter from KXLY called the couple and apologized for the accident. Daugherty doesn’t remember hearing what viewers thought about the mistake. “We may have got calls, but I didn’t hear about them.”

Daugherty observes the time-honored rule among people in broadcasting, which requires admitting one’s own mistakes, but also includes offering examples of great bloopers that left egg on other faces.

His own moment of infamy – “the one that follows me around” – occurred while Daugherty worked as a news anchor for a station in Rockford, Ill., the night Beatle John Lennon was shot to death.

He remembers the station got the news of Lennon’s death late in the night, just as the newscast began.

“I was reading the story off prompters but I wasn’t familiar with the name Yoko Ono.”

Daugherty read the line, “Beatle John Lennon was killed tonight while walking outside his New York City apartment with his wife…”

He stopped and tried to get past the unfamiliar name.

“I just kept going and stumbled over the name. I just murdered it, coming up with something that sounded like Topo Gigio.”

Later, during a commercial break, he relaxed and started laughing. “It was kind of hilarious,” he admits.

Since that episode has haunted him ever since, he feels comfortable talking about an embarrassed weathercaster in Eau Claire, Wis., another station where Daugherty worked before moving to Spokane.

The weather reporter at their station began reading a major story one night about severe thunderstorms hitting the area.

“And then, the part of the set behind him collapsed with a huge bang.”

Not all on-camera miscues land as loudly as a collapsing set. For instance, Debra Wilde of KHQ-TV recalls one gaffe that may or may not have been hilarious to viewers at home, depending on how closely they were listening to her weathercast.

This blooper occurred five years back, before she became the station’s late-night news anchor. During the evening weather report, she went to a studio map and pointed to weather conditions, sometimes represented by small magnetic pieces on the map.

“I noticed that a few of the magnetic pieces were slipping. While still looking at the board, with my back to the camera, I said, ‘Oh, my front’s sagging.'”

She paused a second and realized the phrase might be interpreted another way. She had to make a do-I-or-don’t-I choice: either acknowledge the humor in the moment or keep going.

Wilde made a careful compromise. She turned to the camera, flashed a brisk half-smile, lifted her eyebrows a tad higher than normal and went on with the weather.

Accidents always happen at the least opportune moments, as Elaine Murphy learned more than a year ago at KXLY.

Murphy and then co-anchor Daugherty had paused for a commercial break. A few seconds to go before returning live, an overhead studio light exploded above the news set. Shards of glass came sprinkling down on the newscasters below.

With less than 30 seconds before going live, Daugherty and Murphy both realized her dress was smoking where a hot piece of glass had landed.

“We could have had the hottest woman anchor in town that night,” Daugherty says. The two anchors doused the smoldering dress just in time.

On-air disasters tend to happen to everyone in the business. At the same time, some newscasters ward off trouble by seeming to live charmed lives.

Charles Rowe, who recently moved to Spokane to become weekday co-anchor at KREM-2, says he’s been lucky for nearly 20 years. Having worked for stations in Chicago, Los Angeles and Portland, he’s managed to miss taking part in a monumental howler.

The clue to evading those disasters is “defensive broadcasting,” as Rowe says.

Rowe’s approach is to anticipate mistakes that can occur during the cast. “You learn that any number of things can go wrong, and usually something will.

“I try to ferret those errors out. If you have questions in your mind about something, there’s a good reason for them. So I try to be as prepared as possible, so if something goes wrong, we can smoothly go on to something else.”

Adds Rowe: “It’s surprising it doesn’t happen more often, with as many cooks as are involved in the product. People who watch don’t realize how much work it takes to do the news every night.”

Spokane’s other broadcast newcomer, KXLY’s Rick Douglas, confesses making one notable gaffe in his career prior to joining Channel 4 this week.

As a reporter in Tucson, Ariz., Douglas was asked to provide a live news break one night, telling viewers to stay tuned for the late-night newscast.

Almost every station in the country now tapes news teasers, party to avoid possible slip-ups during live readings.

That time, though, Douglas had no choice; he read the lines, then messed up by telling viewers to watch “News 10 at 9” when he meant to say “News 9 at 10.”

He realized the mistake instantly, got mad and watched as the studio director counted him down to zero – a station hand-signal system for telling the anchor when he’s off camera. “I saw him count me down to zero, and I then made this grimace, snapped my fingers and looked like I was saying ‘Oh shucks.’

“Then I realized the red light was still on and everyone could still see me,” Douglas says. “Every FM radio jock in town the next day had fun talking about what happened to me the night before.”

And his own favorite blooper, a mistake that befell a former colleague:

“In Phoenix, an anchor named Bill Kloss was reading a story about the pope, who was visiting a cathedral. There was another priest, next to the pope, waving that thing that has incense in it, whatever you call it.”

The anchor let viewers watch the solemn moment, with the music of the church service adding the right mood of reverence.

“And then Kloss blurts out, over the air: ‘Boy, look at that sucker go.'”

Thursday, October 15, 1987


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