Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Death of an Anchor

Word comes to me today  from my brother of the death of Ron Stone, a T.V, anchor/personality in Houston for many years. My brother had worked with Stone on a number of projects and was quite fond of him.

Stone was in the second generation of television personalities in Houston. He started anchoring in 1962 for KHOU T.V., channel 11 Houston/Galveston. Channel 11 had started in Galveston in the early 1950s and was owned, in part, by the actor Jimmy Stewart. Stewart was on the first broadcast, which was to be a Stewart movie. However, due to technical difficulties the movie would not run. This forced the station to send out a car to wake up and pick up local celebrity “Utah” Carl Beach, a country western singer. Utah performed until the movie got going and was rewarded with a weekly television show which ran throughout my childhood on Saturday and sometimes Sunday afternoons. It was called the Gulf Coast Jamboree and Carl hawked furniture for an outfit  in Alvin called the Gulf Coast Furniture Warehouse. Utah Carl did the commercials between songs and delighted in then introducing his steel guitar player who, according to Carl ,was “totally blind”. But I digress.


The initial Houston anchors were hard bitten old news men and radio reporters. By the time “Stony” came along, the stars of the news had all had television reporting experience. Stone actually started his tenure at 11 just as Channel 13 Ray Conaway was on his way out. Ray had been the anchor for 13 since the days of the 50s, when it was a 15 minute show brought to you by HL&P whose Ready Kilowatt wanted you to know that you really did live better “electrically”. Conaway was eased out of the anchor chair at 13 when some technicians forgot to edit the footage of his report on the 1964 New York World’s Fair, which, unfortunately for Ray still contained the sentence he uttered while putting the piece together at the studio, “God damn it shut off that motherfucking electric saw.” Stone’s predecessors at 11 were guys like Larry Rascoe and hard charging reporter Dan Rather who, the year before Stone’s tenure began, had lashed himself to a tree on Galveston Island so as to better  report the ravages of Hurricane Carla, the primary natural disaster of my youth. Rather rode that wave all the way to Washington where his tormenting of Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal got him Walter Cronkite’s anchor chair, to the chagrin of the colorless Roger Mudd who had waited patiently for it.


Within a couple of years the channel 11 “a” news team consisted of Stone (beloved for his “good night neighbor” at the end of every newscast) Sid Lasher, the weatherman, often referred to by Ed Edwards, later  a bad sportscaster, as “Motzah Ball Sid” and Johnny Temple, a recently retired second baseman for the Colt .45s. who did sports until arrested and convicted in a mysterious burglary and fencing scheme when all the stolen goods were found at his house. Temple was finally replaced by Ron Franklin who is still a star today at ESPN. Franklin stayed until lured away to Channel 2 following the  untimely death of Bill Ennis “Night Beat Sports !”


Only months before the tragic death of Ennis, Sid Lasher had died, at his weather map, just as the news was going on the air on Channel 11. The telecast was canceled except for a brief and heartfelt obituary by Stone who, in part because of that obituary, became as popular as Sid had been. Stone was rewarded with the anchor job at Channel 2, the number one rated station in Houston when their anchor, Steve Smith, decided to go to a big market in Pennsylvania. He flamed out there and came back to Houston a little later, taking Stone’s old job at Channel 11.


From that day, 1972 I think, until today, Stone was much beloved in Houston. He eventually took over a syndicated show which had been run by Ray Miller called “the Eyes of Texas” and Stone became a very respected Texas historian, which is not bad for an Okie. He dropped the “goodnight neighbor”  business and put on a Tux every year for the Jerry Lewis telethon and pretty much ruled the airwaves until about 1976 when Channel 13  hired the recently  fired Deputy Sherriff  for Consumer Affairs, Marvin Zindler and began focusing on shutting down whore houses which were not within 100 miles of Houston. It may have not been local news but it was a hell of a lot more interesting than the usual local drivel and Channel 13’s descent into yellow journalism with their idiot anchor Dave Ward has kept them number one for many, many years. You have got to give the people what they want, and what the want is sex, blood and reports of slime in a restaurant’s ice machine.


But really, for the most part, those that followed Stone in local news were a lot like him. They were better looking, you can’t look like a hardware salesman anymore, like Stone did, and make it on T.V., but they are friendly and respectable and polite, just like Stone was. They convey sincerity, which was Stone’s greatest attribute, probably because he was sincere. In short, they are nothing like Dan Rather, the Houston skyrocket who finally had the very public national crash and burn that he deserved. Stone never lashed himself to a tree, because he knew that when you did that you became the story and the real story faded in significance. He just calmly reported things as factually as he could, for as long as he cared to, and then slipped away. He was an honest fellow, who worked hard and did not offend people. Not a bad legacy.


Blogger Paul said...

Nice tribute to Ron Stone. I liked Houston TV news a lot better back in the '70s than I do now.

Thanks also for the mention of Sid Lasher, someone I hadn't thought about much until Lyle Lovett mentioned him in a song on his latest CD. I remember that the newscast was canceled the day Sid died, but I couldn't find anyone else who remembered that until now.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Quilt52 said...

I did a search on Sid Lasher and came up with you "Death of an Anchor" article. Thank you for the wonderful memories. The local ABC station lost their helicopter today with 2 on board. While thinking of the loss and how the news personalities become part of our lives, it got me thinking of others in years past.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Marilyn said...

My mother worked for KHOU TV in Houston when Ron Stone, Sid Lasher and Dan Rather were there. Her name is Betty Jane Volkmann Williams and is now in Afton Nursing Home by Hobby Airport. I remember going to the station sometimes and watching a news cast and all the antics the cameramen did to make the news casters laugh behind the camera. I, too, remember the day Sid died and it is nice to see such a nice article written. Thanks for the memories!

5:51 PM  
Blogger Marilyn said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Mike Dennis said...

I lived in Houston from 1970-78 and I was watching the news the day Sid Lasher died. Ron Stone gave a brief rundown of the weather in Lasher's place and closed it out by using Lasher's homegrown references to "the friendly folks in Brazosport" and "our good neighbors down Galveston way".

Very touching. After all these years, I still remember that.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Aaaa6666 said...

'Wade' in the original comment distorted & lied about everything in his post. It's sad how gutless cowards speak ill of decent, competent people who knew how to disperse information in a professional manner. I suppose 'Wade' is a right wing loser who is a Faux News addict & listens to right-wing hate radio. It's obvious he's clueless about those he wrote about but no one should be surprised since he's an ignorant right-wing loser.

1:24 PM  

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