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Friday, June 19, 2009

The Lyle File, Part 1

They say it’s not nice to say bad things about the dead. Yet I can’t talk about Larry #2 without presenting both sides of his highly-complex personality.

What a nice guy, with a big, big smile.

What a two-faced, divisive #@&*!

This is not going to be an easy post to write.

It will probably be best to break this down into more than one part. In this installment, I want to concentrate on Larry Lyle’s good points. I want to tell you how he was the first manager at the station to see my potential. How he moved the station forward. How he cared about both our content and presentation. How he made some really good hires.

But I warn you: the other side has to come out, too. Not because bashing the man gives me any pleasure, but because of things that happened under his watch, things that played a big role in WCIX’s history.

First, a little background. Long-time Channel 6 news director Dick Descutner was fired on July 22, 1983. News directors generally get shown the door when new owners come in, and in this case it was Taft Broadcasting that decided to inject some new blood into the operation.

Station management had been planning the move for a while. Lyle, who was the assistant news director at WTSP in Tampa, had made a couple of trips to Miami to meet with general manager Harvey Cohen. Six candidates vied for the job, but Lyle had the inside track. He’d already served as assistant news director at the Taft station in Birmingham, so he was a known quantity. Lyle also spent time at the pre-WSVN Channel 7 in Miami, so he knew this unique market. Sort of. South Florida had changed radically in the nine years since Lyle’s Miami days, something it took him a long, long time to realize. Lyle accepted the WCIX news director job on July 21, 1983, and began his 2 ½ year reign on August 10. He started off with a bang.

“Taft is committed to do news, and wants to improve the quality substantially,” Lyle told the Miami Herald. “They’re prepared to spend the money. A lot of changes are going to happen.”

One of those changes involved my role at the station. It took Lyle just one week to see what Descutner missed in more than three years: that I had potential beyond just being a Chyron operator and film archivist. Just one week into Lyle’s regime, he gave me a new title: associate producer. Well, it sounded good, but I still had to run the Chyron every night. Two weeks later (September 5) I started writing news cut-ins, and by October I was also producing the Community Close-Up news segments. In November the challenge was to produce a live debate between Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre and challenger Xavier Suarez. (Mayor Ferre lost his Rolex watch that night, and we turned the station upside down, trying to find it!) In December I worked with Mayco Villafana in putting some news shows together, and when Villafana went on vacation on January 2, 1984 (the night the University Of Miami won the national championship, at the Orange Bowl), I made my solo producing debut. Air Florida’s troubles dominated the news that week, which gave me several easy-to-decide leads. That first week went well, and in short time, I had made the leap to “producer”. There to offer support and congratulations was Larry Lyle. I thought he was a great guy. I thought I was going to love producing the news. Yeah, right.

(Click image to view full screen)

I don’t know a lot of what went on behind the scenes. I don’t know what pressures Lyle faced or why he went on do some of the things he later did. I do know the way I viewed producing the news was being shaped by his words, his memos, his critiques, and his actions. I watched him slowly torpedo the improved morale around the newsroom, for reasons that I’ll probably never understand. The man with the big smile who seemed to really care about The Ten O’Clock News was living a secret life, and bringing those demons to the office with him. I would truly love to tell his story without recalling any of those demons, but I can’t honestly tell his story… or mine… without presenting some of the rough stuff. So bear with me. There is more to come.

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