Bob Howell

It was a typical hot and muggy August evening in 1976 when my wife Paula and I rolled into Montgomery. We were driving from Nashville where I had interviewed for a job at a TV station in the Music City.

We were living in Dothan at the time, where I anchored the news at WTVY TV. But after five years in the Circle City, I thought it was time to try and make a move up the TV news ladder and start working in a bigger market.

So, in addition to the stop in Nashville, I had also made an appointment with the news director at WSFA-TV in Montgomery. I knew Channel 12 was looking to hire a primary anchor to host their 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts. The news department at the Montgomery station had a sterling reputation born in the early days of Frank McGee’s coverage of the civil rights movement. I thought I might as well throw my name in the hat for the current anchor job in Montgomery.

Driving from Nashville that summer day, I realized that I had no idea where the station was located. I was flying blind, if you will. There was no GPS to give reliable directions. As I drove into town off 1-65 and then to I-85, for some reason I decided to head south on Court Street. As it turned out, that decision took us right to WSFA. I guess finding the station was a case of “blind luck” or it was simply meant to be.

After finding WSFA’s studios, it was time to look for a motel for the night and later a place to grab a quick bite to eat. The motel was a little on the old side — but clean. The bite to eat turned out to be from the Krystal across the street.

The next morning, I was sufficiently early for my interview with WSFA-TV News Director Clark Edwards. I waited in my car until it was time to meet with Clark. We talked about everything from covering the state legislature to his idea for a slow-motion film camera for shooting football. And, of course, I commented on the “great looking” family photographs on his desk. 

At the conclusion of my hour-long talk, we had an obligatory “meet and greet” with the news staff in the newsroom that morning. As I walked to the parking lot to make the drive home, I felt good about my chances of at least getting to the next level of the interview process. 

Once back at work in Dothan I started playing the waiting game. I was a nervous wreck ... jumping to answer the phone each time it rang. (Caller ID was many years away.)  A couple of days went by before Clark Edwards finally called. My heart jumped into my throat. He asked if I could meet him at the station in Montgomery the following Sunday night to read some news scripts with one of the female anchors ... just to see how we interacted.

The following Sunday I drove to Montgomery and arrived with time to spare. To this day, I still remember the convenience store on Woodley Road where I stopped that night for a Coke and some breath mints. 

Once inside the building, Clark showed me around the place, the studio cameras, the news set, the lighting grid and the rest of the behind-the-scenes equipment that went into producing a newscast. Everything was first class, clean and well-maintained.

But believe it or not, there was no teleprompter for the anchors to read from. Even the station where I was working in Dothan had “prompters.” It shook me for a moment that there was no device that enabled everyone’s reading skills to skyrocket. Apparently, my reading was solid and I passed the test. And my interaction with the other anchor (the weather person) passed the “warm and personable” test, too.

Once the audition was over and after a little small talk, I headed back to Dothan to await the next, all-important, call from Montgomery.

The next afternoon I was sitting at my desk in the cramped news department at Channel 4 when THE call came.  It was Clark Edwards calling with a job offer! I didn’t want to appear overly anxious, but I made my acceptance known right then and there on the phone. According to the offer, I’d be anchoring the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts, Monday through Friday. 

After catching my breath and taking a moment to call Paula with the good news, I walked to the station owner’s office with the news that I was leaving. “I’m surprised it took this long” was his only response to my plans to leave.

And the rest is history.

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