Sunday, December 28, 2014

Remembering Rich White

She was the new girl in Joplin and her background was in sports, not hard news.

And now she was sitting across the anchor desk from an experienced veteran who had worked in a large market setting, someone whose long list of interview subjects had included President Bill Clinton, Muhammad Ali, Yoko Ono, Dan Quayle and Bill Bradley.

"I was scared to death of Rich White," Heather Turco said, remembering that time nearly two decades ago as if it were yesterday.

"I had interned on sports in Tulsa and Rich was my first co-anchor. He talked me through those first few months of uncertainty. I was intimidated by him at first, but I learned a lot from him," said Turco, who is an anchor at WBBH, NBC2 in Fort Myers, Florida.

Turco was one of several former colleagues of former KODE anchor Rich White, who died yesterday after a long battle with multiple sclerosis, who shared memories with the Turner Report.

White served two stints as KODE anchor, first coming to the station in 1983.

Evan Rosen, who made his name with some strong investigative reporting during that era, shared his memories.

A well-groomed guy with a thick helmet of dark brown hair and a broad smile opened the door to the editing room and extended his hand. "I'm Rich White." It was my first day reporting at KODE-TV in October of 1983. I had graduated from the University of Michigan the previous spring, and I had worked behind the scenes at WABC-TV in New York and at WXYZ-TV in Detroit while in school. Rich engaged me about the television business, told me about his background attending Kent State University and working as an intern at WKYC-TV in Cleveland. He also mentioned his goal of returning to the Cleveland television market as an anchor.

A couple of days later, Rich invited me to join him, sports anchor Tony Debo and sports anchor/reporter Russ Riesinger at his apartment for a gathering after the 10 o’clock news. Rich and Tony had met at Kent State. Out of school, Tony began reporting at KHBS-TV in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Tony recommended Rich for a job at the same station where the producer was Morris Emison. Within months, Rich was anchoring the evening newscasts in Fort Smith.

Early in 1983, KODE-TV hired Rich as main anchor. He put in a good word for Tony and Mo, and the troika headed to Joplin. Tony would be the sports director and anchor. Mo would have responsibility for the newsroom as the news director. That was a Rich White move: hire your buddy as your boss! A couple of months later, Tony and Mo hired Russ Riesinger as weekend sports anchor and weekday sports reporter.

In the other television stations where I had worked, the main anchor was a distant figure who might waive or smile at people in the corridor. I quickly realized that Rich was an entirely accessible guy who enjoyed camaraderie. And the Park Apartments on Campbell Parkway in Joplin became ground zero for this nightly bonding. Rich, Tony and Russ all lived at the Park. I lived on west 20th street in Iron Gates.

At twenty-five, Rich was our elder statesman and leader. Tony was twenty-four, and Russ and I were both twenty-two. Each night after work, we would gather in Rich’s living room for a newscast post mortem. Then our posse would head out to Joplin night spots including Beefmaster’s, Out of Character’s and the Red Lion. Rich, a creature of habit, would always order rum-and-coke.

I had discovered the Red Lion my first night in town. My impression was that the somewhat retro Red Lion reflected a distinct southwest Missouri culture. The Lion had a small stage and hosted nostalgia acts from the Motown era and classic rock bands. My colleagues informed me that the bar had a reputation for wild men and loose women. Rich and the others felt that the Lion might sully their reputations, and they avoided the place. I finally convinced them to check out the Lion.

One weekend night, Rich was dancing at the Lion when somebody stole his white Monte Carlo from the parking lot. When he arrived at work Monday afternoon, assignment editor Marilyn Babb smirked as she handed him a clip from the Joplin Globe with the details about the incident. Rich’s co-anchor Lisa Richardson rolled her eyes. Apparently, Rich’s otherwise stellar reputation had taken a slight hit. He later agreed that the fun and memories were worth it.

Former KODE sports anchor Steve Edgerley also remembers sharing good times with White in non-work situations:

Rich was a good friend, one who I enjoyed working with for about ten years. I have a lot of good memories of playing golf with Rich and Terry Weimer former Oklahoma State wide receiver) at Schifferdecker. I 'll miss Rich.

Golf was a much easier outside interest for Rich White than another one he tried during one of the annual Blast from the Past fundraising events.

The women dressed and performed as the Rolling Stones, Heather Turco recalled. For the men, it was something entirely different.

"Erik Schrader (former sports anchor and news director) dressed up as ABBA, with blond wigs and did "'Dancing Queen.' "

It was a sight those who were there that night will never forget.

During his time at KODE, White helped many young reporters, most of them working in their first news jobs, including former sports reporter Bruce Vonder Haar:

When I first arrived at KODE in 1994 as a weekend sports anchor, Rich was an established anchor leading our news team. Since my first day there he was very supportive to me and was always willing to offer any advice or suggestions.

Being a longtime news anchor in a small market like Joplin, Rich saw lot of young reporters right out of college come to KODE, he was hard on them at times but also fair and helped them become better at their jobs.

As I became established at KODE, Rich and I became good friends and although we always didn't agree on everything, I always respected his passion for delivering the news in a professional manner to the viewers.

During his time at KODE, Rich was fun to have around. You could talk to Rich about any number of topics. MS is obviously a terrible disease and I am glad that he doesn't t have to live with that anymore. My thoughts are with his family and especially his son Alec.

For most of the 1980s and 1990s, the Joplin market became used to three strong male anchors who remained year after year as the female anchors moved to different markets. The faces of local television were Rich White, Dowe Quick of KOAM, and Jim Jackson of KSNF. Jackson was saddened to hear of White's passing.

Even though I never worked with Rich, he was good competition for many years. He was always professional and cordial when I did have the pleasure to visit with him. He will be missed.

White's final departure from KODE was controversial, with charges of sexual harassment lodged against him. White talked about those accusations to the Turner Report in 2008.

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1997. For anyone with MS, stress is one of your biggest enemies and TV news is STRESSFUL. My departure from KODE was quite public. Sexual Harassment was the reason given, but the truth of the matter was financial. KODE was in the middle of one of its many sales and dumping a big salary made the deal more attractive to potential buyers.

White said the accusations stemmed from a co-anchor who was wanting to get out of her contract to take another job.

After White's second stint at KODE ended, he worked with Evan Rosen at Impact Video, served as a narrator on videos and working with business executives to teach them how to work with the media.

Though it has been many years since Rich White anchored the 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts for KODE, he always maintained an interest in Joplin and in the news business. I received numerous messages from him the past few years, sometimes offering useful background information on posts I had written, sometimes sharing a memory or two.

He contacted me a couple of days after the Joplin Tornado looking for any information about what had happened to the city he called home for nearly two decades.

And he always kept in touch with the reporters who worked with him at KODE, especially those who were with him during those early days, Evan Rosen remembered.

Early in 1984, KODE-TV hired Marny Stanier as a weekend weather anchor and reporter. (Marny Stanier was later an anchor at the Weather Channel.) Marny rented an apartment at, where else? The Park Apartments. She joined the posse as “one of the boys.” But she was really more like our sister. With Marny, our five-member group would convene at Rich’s apartment and then head out to Joplin night spots. After a few hours sleep, the banter continued mornings around the Park Apartments pool before we headed into work on the night shift.

Since those days, Rich, Russ, Tony, Marny and I have stayed close—and we’ve cherished the days and evenings we spent together in Joplin. Maybe it was our youth. Maybe it was the times. Maybe it was the place. But none of us ever experienced that kind of camaraderie in any other job or community. In time, we moved on to bigger markets and other opportunities. Rich left Joplin for a job at KOB-TV Albuquerque and later fulfilled his dream of anchoring in Cleveland at WEWS-TV. He then returned to KODE-TV. It wasn’t the same, he told us.

Our group has had numerous reunions. Rich anchored those reunions with creative humor and unbelievable grace even as his health deteriorated. The last reunion was at Marny’s home outside Atlanta in September of 2013. Rich had difficulty getting there and getting around. But he savored every moment and told us he wanted the reunion to last until Christmas.

(The video features Rich White, Heather (Teter) Turco, Erik Schrader, Kent Shutton, Jeff Welborn, and Bruce Vonder Haar from 1995)


Anonymous said...

i got drunk with Rich at out of Characters a few times he was a real hoot he just said F It and went with the flow

Anonymous said...

He lived at the other end of the block from my grandparents...I once saw him getting food at the grocery store and more than once saw him standing outside smoking at KODE. I kind of feel like part of my childhood died. RIP Rich.