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WPIX RADIO NEWS
- a historical perspective from 1978 -
November 27, 1998 - WPIX news director John Parsons is a burly,
sagacious, all-round colorful fellow who believes in asking his own questions
and doing news his own way.
WPIX's coffee machine is on the fritz, so while most news writers
are working diligently on their 7:30-8:00 A.M. newscasts, Parsons prepares
to take a few minutes for a stroll down 42nd street, in search of a story
"I'd kinda like to see what it's like out there," says Parsons as
we descend the 28 floors to the lobby, and then out the doors of the
historic New York Daily News Building where WPIX-FM is housed.
After a week's worth of commentary and analysis, the story of the
cult mass suicide in Guyana has become stale. The big news in New York
this November 27th is the season's first respectable snow flurry (or "snowstorm,"
depending on your outlook).
John Parsons is an intriguing mix of thorough independence blended
with New York hipness and old school news ethic: "I used to work at channel
5 [WNEW-TV]," he recounts, while surveying a pile of jelly doughnuts strewn
across an aluminum tray. "We called it the 'ugly news' 'cause everybody
we had was ugly. But now they've given in," he laments. "They just
hired a new lady to do the weather."
Back at the station now, he gives a cup of coffee to disc jockey
Jim Kerr before crumpling up a paper bag and throwing it at him. Parsons'
aim is true; he hits both Kerr and the open microphone, creating an
audible "bump" on ther air. And presently Parsons sets about preparing
his 7:30 newscast.
Up in a corner of the tiny WPIX newsroom, a television set presents
WNBC's version of the local news. The big story is the snow "storm."
Parsons frowns slightly as he looks over the copy of one of his
reporters (see the script). But his
expressions brightens considerably when he hears the accompanying actuality
["sound bite"]. It's with city snow clearer Joe Vitta, describing his department's
readiness. Vitta's accent betrays a likely Brooklyn lineage.
"That's great!!!" Parsons is beaming. "Wow! You can almost see
There is precious little on the wire to supplement the snow story.
As the Rolling Stones slam into the last few notes of the song
"Shattered," our our WPIX news director informs us that
what follows will be a "very rough newscast."
While WNBC-TV is billing the falling flakes outside as the "first
snowstorm of the season," John Parsons prefers a more reserved
All Parsons has in front of him now is a set of tattered wire copy,
and a few notes. He hasn't touched a typewriter since before 7 AM.
Yet the rest of the newscast goes off without a hitch.
WPIX Takes A Simple Approach to News
As sources, Parsons relies on UPI Greater New York and National
Broadcast wires. He also pulls information from local television news
Then, of course, there are WOR and WCBS. Both have helicopters,
a fact which WPIX uses to no small advantage in preparing traffic reports.
"You're probably look at the smallest news operation in the city,"
he points out with a smile. WPIX has only four reporters, one of them
a part-timer. The approach to news, as Parsons sees it, is simple and
"If anybody is looking for the news in the morning, we tell them
what's going on, in a way that is easy to understand. Since it's radio,
the notion, it seems to me, is that you are talking to people. You
ought not to be formal and you ought not to be announcing. You oughtta
be direct, and honest, and truthful."
Persons holds a particular disdain for wire service writing, and
the kind of thinking that goes along with it. And, even, sometimes,
for the stiff approach of the city's all-news stations:
"That's just like 'CBS," be comments, listening with disparagement
to the all-news operations snow story sound bite. "They call up the sanitation
commissioner at his apartment. We get the guy right off the truck!"
Eye Witness Resourcefulness
story..." explains Russomanno (off air) starting into a description
of the events surrounding the discovery of some half-million dollars,
all destined for the Soviet embassy.
"STOP!! I don't wanna hear any more," interrupts Parsons. "Save
it for the air."
The tale is everything Russomanno claims, and more:
To document this otherwise fanciful sounding account, Russomanno
came prepared with natural sound of the steel band playing Jingle
Bells, which he plays through his Superscope TC-142 into the microphone.
Parsons is visibly delighted.
"I think the job of a broadcast journalist is to tell people what's
going on," he says later. "I think as a general listener through the
years, I have felt shortchanged. I have felt that I did not hear enough
from people who actually see and experience events. It seems to me that
a lot of reporters -- [or people] who are called reporters -- are removed
from events. I sort of thirst for first-hand information, and
to the degree that I don't get it, I don't feel that we're doing our
An observer soon gets the impression that there is very little writing
involved in a John Parsons newscast. "This newsroom functions out of
my head. The first thing I do when I get in is read everything.
That way, you know what's going on."
Parsons admits to using raw wire copy extensively, but claims he
ad-libs around it on the air. Analysis of air check versus original
copy shows this is true (see an example
in the script and transcript fo the snow story).
Riding the Mother Ship
Being the news director of the New York Daily News' own station
has its advantages. With his passionate hatred of wire service 'daybook
reporting,' Parsons can afford not to dispatch his people to the day's
"bigger" stories. The News will always have the facts, and WPIX-TV (Channel
11) will more often than not provide the audio. Parsons considers rigid
adherence to daybooks a trap into which far too many stations have fallen.
"A lot of reporters are assigned to 'non-events' and spend a lot
of their time doing these, and not checking out and running down stories
that require enterprise. I think there are some good individual reporters
who have enterprise, and good instincts, and will follow up stores
and dig for stories. But I think that's limited because of the pressure
of this business to get out newscasts all the time."
Sports with Steve the Bartender
It would probably come as no great surprise that WPIX-FM also does
its sports differently from most other New York stations. Three times a
week, listeners are presented with the 'working guy' commentaries of Steve
"the bartender" McPartlin. A practicing bartender in real life, Steve admits
he's not a favorite among the city's more polished sportswriters.
"I've had a running battle with a lot of the sportswriters in New
York. They don't like me, and I don't like them either."
McPartlin says his frequently irreverent observations even prompted
the New York Daily News' own sportswriter Dick Young to pose
the question "What's a 'Steve the Bartender'?"
Steve McPartlin says he never set out to become a sportscasters,
or commentator. But one evening, he and WPIX disk jockey Jim Kerr got
to talking. For weather, Kerr has been featuring "Howard the Cabdriver"
on his morning shift at ABC O&O WPLJ-FM, reasoning that a cab driver
just off the night shift would know more about the weather than anyone.
"We were all watching the world's series," recants McPartlin, "so
Jim decided 'who would know more about sports than a bartender?'"
McPartlin professes to know little more about sports than the average
fan. "I say what they'd like to say," he offers. I pretty
much consider myself a spokesman for the guy who isn't an expert and doesn't
necessarily have the opportunity to sit in a dining room with a bunch
of athletes like some other sportscasters. I just know what I see, I
know what I hear, and I know what I read."
Steve went on the air once a week for the first nine months, before
beginning to come in every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. When Jim
Kerr left WPLJ for WPIX, Steve the Bartender and Howard the Cabdriver
came with him.
With two solid years in the world's largest market under his belt,
Steve can still be found tending bar at Second Avenue's "Court Street"
bar and restaurant, four nights a week. He says there are two reasons
why he hasn't relinquished his first job. First, he admits, "I do make
a lot of money here. Tending bar in New York is entirely different from
tending bar anywhere else in the country. But also, I like doing it,
because I get the opportunity to meet people -- to be in front of people
all the time. It's a lot easier than sitting there and saying 'write me a
letter' or 'call me.' People who listen to the radio station know where they
can find me if they have a beer."
"Since I've been doing radio here for the last two years, I've realized
exactly how important my (radio) job is... to a lot of people. It's
almost scary how people rely on me."
- 30 -
See Also:WPIX Sample Format - The newscast format, from a selected morning newscast, 1978.
WPIX News Schedules - Schedule of news from a selected Fall morning, 1978.
WPIX Scripts - An example news script from WPIX, with a comparison to what was read on air.
WPIX On-air Transcripts - Transcripts of sample on-air broadcasts.
WPIX Datasheet - Station stats on staffing, wires, cart machines, and much more!
An NYC 'Daybook' - What Parsons hates most: A Daybook from the wire service.
Visit more stations - Back to the home page to visit more stations' news departments.
WPIX-FM Elsewhere on the Internet:
References to WPIX-FM on the Internet are extremely sparse. If you have good references for this section, send them to martin @ hardee.net.
About this report
This research documentary is Copyright 1979, 2002 Martin Hardee - All Rights Reserved. (read more...) Material may be quoted or excerpted for non-profit research purposes without additional special permission. For additional information email martin @ hardee.net.