Can you envision doing the job you’re doing right now for fifty years? Imagine outlasting every supervisor except the one you’re working for right now, and you know there’s a good chance you’ll outlast that one. Can you see yourself watching scores of coworkers come and go? It’s likely you endured some low points, and certainly had many high points.
What would it be like to find just the right career and staying with your company for fifty years?
I know someone who reaches that milestone in June of this year.
My friend Don Alhart is the six and eleven o’clock news anchor for WHAM-TV in Rochester, New York. He arrived at the station on June 6, 1966.
First as a reporter, and then soon as an anchorman, Don has enjoyed the work and the station’s newscasts have remained popular in the ratings. Seeing no reason to hang it up at a time when many might retire, Don continues to deliver the nightly newscasts on Channel 13.
My memories of working with him center on a globe that at one time occupied a corner of the newsroom at Channel 13. More on that later.
For eight years of Don’s fifty-year tenure, I was part of the station’s news department. I produced the six o’clock news, helped Don create the station’s noon newscast, and produced special projects including election night coverage and documentaries during my time with the station.
My memories of working with Don include the five years he was paired with the late Dick Burt on the six o’clock news. I enjoyed working with both of these broadcasters. There’s no question in my mind that I learned an awful lot from them.
If as the title of the popular book by Robert Fulghum is true, All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, then I can say with some authority that all I ever needed to know about television news I learned from Don Alhart and Dick Burt.
More to the point, I learned how to write more like how people talked. I learned why striving for accuracy was paramount in a business where trust is highly valued. And I learned Don’s constant refrain that we earned audience loyalty one viewer at a time.
Throughout those eight years I worked alongside Don (1983-1991), another constant in our professional lives was our friend, the late Bill Peterson. As the station’s meteorologist, Bill would offer nightly forecasts and an easy target for Don to express his sense of humor.
At times it seemed that Don, with very little effort, could make Bill laugh on the air. The station’s blooper reel is filled with footage of Bill breaking up after Don planted an image of something funny during his introductions to the weather segments.
The two kept that friendship intact as Bill retired to focus on his declining health. Don delivered the eulogy at Bill’s funeral in 2006.
I was no longer living in the area when Bill lost his final battle with cancer, but Don made sure that a DVD of the services and of the WHAM-TV coverage of Bill’s life was sent to my home in California shortly after.
The years working with Don can be summed up with an image of either of us laughing at what the other had to say. I had a habit of getting a cup of coffee from the newsroom drip coffee maker while it was brewing; I’d remove the pot and let the first drops of liquid flow into my mug.
In later weeks, he’d come by my work area and say, “The coffee is ‘Newvine’ ready,” meaning it had not finishing brewing, but it was coming out just the way I liked it.
And then, there’s the globe. There was an old desktop globe on a corner counter of our newsroom.
I would occasionally place the globe on my shoulder and lament to Don with a smile, “Somedays, I feel as though I have the weight of the world on my shoulders.” My tired bit always brought a smile, sometimes a chuckle.
Two years after leaving the station for a better job at a competing station, someone dropped off a box at my desk saying, “Don has this gift for you.” I opened the box and there was that globe.
My time at Channel 13 was good for my family and me. I sorted out what I really wanted to do with my life.
And as nice as it was working alongside Don for those eight years, considering myself one of his friends in the years since I stopped working with him has brought me a real sense of satisfaction and pride.
I remember the day both Don and Bill showed up to see me sworn in as a member of the Avon (NY) Rotary Club. I remember a sympathy card and note at the time of my mother’s passing.
I can count on annual Christmas photographs, too infrequent telephone calls, and funny emails that arrive whenever either of us find something we think the other might enjoy.
The viewers of Rochester, New York television station WHAM-TV have had a wonderful blessing over the past five decades as Don anchored the news. But I’m sure Don sees it as a blessing to him that viewers have remained so loyal all these years.
He often said you build an audience one viewer at a time, and he should know. It took several years after he joined the station for the news to reach the top of the ratings. Holding on to the top spot is always a challenge.
The competition is tough, and I am certain neither Don nor the news teams at all of Rochester’s television stations, would not have it any other way.
I salute my friend Don on his fiftieth anniversary with WHAM-TV.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced