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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Tribute To John Hambrick (1940-2013), Miami Broadcasting Legend

From Texas, to Cincinnati, to Cleveland, to Los Angeles, to San Francisco, to New York, to Miami.

Only one man can claim to have served as an anchorman in all of those places:  a man who ended his anchoring career right here in South Florida.

It's two decades since John Hambrick has been seen or heard on South Florida's news broadcasts, but few anchors ever made more of an impression.    Hambrick was hired by WTVJ in 1985 to replace another legend, Ralph Renick.   It was clear from the start Hambrick was more than just an anchor:  he also was an actor, not just reading the news, but delivering it as only a thespian could.    

Hambrick loved to talk about his days as an actor.   The native Texan was influenced by Western stars such as Rory Calhoun and Audie Murphy, and appeared on the TV program "Playhouse 90" alongside actor Richard Boone.   This was a real source of pride for Hambrick, who could (and would) tell story after story about his acting career... as well as the record album that he cut in 1972 alongside some of the best musicians in Nashville.   It was not unusual for Hambrick to break out into song, any place at any time.   After all, you cannot spell Hambrick without Ham!

(John Hambrick's 1972 album on Terry Knight's Brown Bag label.   Terry Knight is best-remembered as the long-time manager of Grand Funk Railroad.)

After making a name for himself at WTVJ alongside co-anchor Susan Lichtman, Hambrick moved over to WCIX Channel 6, which was looking to boost its profile in the community after being acquired by CBS a year earlier.   John was paired with anchors Barbara Sloan and Giselle Fernandez, and without a doubt did much to boost the station's visibility throughout South Florida.  He was tested, as were we all, when Hurricane Andrew devastated parts of South Florida.   One night John was out in the field, when he confronted a looter who was taking advantage of the chaos that followed Andrew.   John put the guy in his place, a memorable moment that showed a side of John that many in the public had not seen before.

While at Channel 6, John was honored with an Emmy award for his work on a special titled "Florida's Obscenity Showdown".   He was also honored with a Silver Circle Award for his many years of broadcasting, in South Florida and in some of the largest markets in the nation.

John's time on the South Florida airwaves ended in 1993.   He returned to his ranch in Texas, which he called "The Little House".   (He talked about it so much, we all felt we knew every square inch of the place.)   John and his son Jack would go on to co-produce a documentary for PBS in 2002.   In recent years, he'd returned to acting, and could be heard doing commercial voice-overs up until his recent bout with cancer.

On John's final night at WCIX, we producers pooled our video and helped Barbara Sloan and Ralph Murciano come up with a farewell to a man that played such a big role in giving our station a personality boost.  Barbara's words, and the images we came up with, paint a picture of a man who was a true original.   I was proud that several of the pieces I produced -- from our series "When The Doo Wop Stops", to the riding-off-into-the-sunset ambience of "Myths and Mavericks"-- played so prominently into the tribute, and to John's body of work that we'd come to respect.   John, though, takes most of the credit.   He could get away with things that other reporters could not, so when we pushed the envelope, so to speak, it was John's character and charisma that made it such compelling TV.   

                                 (Click on the arrow to view the 1993 farewell to John Hambrick) 

John Hambrick had a long and distinguished career in broadcast journalism, with eight of those years spent in South Florida.   No one who worked with him could ever forget him, and the same could be said about his many viewers.   Many things come and go in South Florida, with most making little impression, but that could never be said about John Hambrick.   He's a man who always did things his way, be it acting, singing, or performing in front of TV cameras.   As John liked to say, "Thank you for having us in for news".   We will miss you, John.

Here's John Hambrick, "earning his reputation one story at a time." 

Now that you're here, check out the other posts in the SAY SIX! blog.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Remembering Dave Game: A Man Of Insight

WFOR Photo

The old Channel 6 was trying to compete in a rapidly-changing world, with hopelessly outdated technology. We were the last station in town to switch from film (which needed developing) to tape (instantaneous!) Some at the station were resistant to change, be it word processors replacing typewriters, or NewStar computers replacing the soon-outdated word processors.
Fortunately there were journalists who could see into the future, and wanted to help others do the same. Leading the way was Dave Game, who convinced us that there was a better way to keep track of our news tape archive than hand-typed index cards. So in came our first Macintosh computer -- a slow, bulky machine (this was the late '80s, after all), but a vast improvement over those silly cards. Welcome to the future, TV-6'ers.
Dave's love of computers would lead him to new frontiers, after WCIX morphed into WFOR. Up until his death on February 5, 2013, Dave was the Internet Operations Manager for the station. Before that he was one of the top reporters in town, a journalist who believed in getting a story right and expected others to do the same. TV news needs more Dave Games, now more than ever.
After learning of his death, I went through my archives to see what I could find. I stumbled upon an episode of Insight, the public affairs program that I produced for several years. For this particular show, Dave asked that I step out of the producer's chair, and be a guest on the program -- talking about my then newly-released book, Savage Lost: Florida Garage Bands of the '60s. We worked together on the taped inserts, and I booked our second guest for the show -- John Doyle, of the infamous Miami '60s garage band EVIL -- who, coincidentally, passed away just a week after Game. The show came together well, and for once I didn't cringe at seeing myself on camera. (There's a reason I worked behind the scenes all those years.) WCIX'ers will enjoy seeing the credits at the end, with some names you've probably forgotten. Thanks, Dave, for letting me be a part of this program -- and a part of your life. You were one of the good guys.

(Note: The program is in three segments, presented here in order)

Now that you're here, check out the other posts on the SAY SIX! blog.