12 July 2007

'And wherever you go....'

Recently I was taking a little cyber-joyride, doing some Google'ing of a handful of long-retired television personalities in Huntsville. My screwy-wired brain can recall a lot of the market's names, although it's been age 6 since I've last seen any of 'em.

Out of them, one name really stands out. H.D. Bagley was his name. He was the main weathercaster for WHNT-TV channel 19 (CBS) from the day they signed on (Thanksgiving day 1963) until 1979. A nice tribute to Mr. Bagley's television career can be found here.

I found this site, and when I saw the above picture I cannot describe the goosebumps I got. (I color-corrected the pic; the map was in shades of blue, not green - another thing I remember) It almost perfectly matches the mental jpeg image I've had of Bagley for more than 36 years. (Oh, and that camera. RCA TK-42, the second-generation color TV camera ... first model for many local TV stations upon converting to color in the late '60s)

One of my memories of being in the hospital for a tonsillectomy back in early '71 was watching H.D. doing the weather on the B/W television in the room.

Reading the NOAA Huntsville tribute, I learned something very cool about Mr. Bagley. In my last post, I mentioned Huntsville had a lot of firsts. Add one more: first TV METEOROLOGIST in Alabama (and perhaps one of the nation's first)! In 1963. Most stations didn't go for such substance until the late '70s. Birmingham, in fact, didn't get its first on-camera AMS-certified weathercaster until 1978, when the iconic James Spann came to town.

That's right, while the 'Ham had its competing "weather girls", Huntsville had H.D. Bagley and his years of meteorological experience. He wasn't long on the flash, and certainly didn't have the photogenic charisma of Pat Gray or Rosemary ... but The Rocket City was glad to have him and a clunky old piece of salvage he had in his possession. It was an archaic weather radar apparatus, and it was taken from an old ship. He had that radar set up and was using it on-air during the tragic evening of April 3, 1974, the day of the infamous "super outbreak" of tornadoes. The last twister of the night had Huntsville's name on it, and did great amounts of damage to the city, destroying a large shopping center and many homes.

And H.D. was on the air all evening with his old Navy surplus radar. This was 1974 - long before most TV stations had any kind of access to weather radars. The hook echo showed up on Bagley's radar-scope, and Madison County viewers knew in no uncertain terms to take cover. Lives were no doubt saved because of Channel 19 having the incredible vision to bring a real weather expert on board.

Huntsville -- it's as I've liked to joke for years, there ought to be a sign posted on each outbound roadway: "Leaving Huntsville, Now Entering Alabama." Y'know, what I find so fascinating about the city, as a media geek, is that it's one of but a small handful of all-UHF television markets. No VHFs here; reference my earlier post about Huntsville's size ... when the VHF assignments were doled out, the city was barely 15,000 in size - not large enough to warrant even one TV station, much less the full network plate it would have by 1963.

What's more, Huntsville didn't have all of its own network stations until long after viewing habits were beginning to gel .... a simple external antenna in the Tennessee Valley can bring in the VHF stations from Nashville, Tenn. and Birmingham, and that's what most people had. Plus, "Huntsvegas" had a cable system beginning in the '50s, bringing clear pictures of Nashville, Birmingham and Chattanooga TV stations. This before Huntsville's first TV station came on the air in 1959. And, of course, most TV sets made before 1964 did not tune UHF - just VHF 2-13!

Against those steep odds, Huntsville managed to incubate three (3) successful UHF television stations!! And H.D. Bagley's presence forced the other stations to have top-notch weathercasts of their own ... all serving to rise their collective fortunes.

The item in the article about Mr. Bagley which really tugged at my memory was his traditional weekend closing. After his weather segment on Friday evenings, his last words would always be, "Have a good weekend, and wherever you go, go to church on Sunday."

Goosebumps begat more goosebumps. Suddenly I was 5 years old again, and beginning a wonderful weekend with Gran Lera. I remember that closing. Or, more accurately, a single brain cell had it in memory because it all came back when I read it. It meant Friday. It meant looking forward to another weekend at my grandmother's.

Back then, things were different. Politics and religion still had several firewalls between them. Baptists were moderate churchgoing folk. Baptists like my paternal grandparents (my grandfather helped design what is now the "old" sanctuary of Madison's First Baptist Church). It was another time in our history. A better time.

Thank you, ciao for niao, and wherever you go, be true to your God in your own way (ain't "freedom of religion" dandy?).

--Talmadge "The Best is Seen on Channel 19" Gleck

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