In my career as a radio newsman, I covered a variety of assignments; courthouse, city hall, anchor, editor… but the one assignment that brought the most satisfaction was my time on the overnight shift at WOAI.
I had been covering the courthouse and doing morning drive spot news, but a new news director decided another employee, who was older, should do mornings. He put me on 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM. I didn’t like it, because I couldn’t seem to get much done, so I traded for the 7:00 PM to 3:00 AM shift with Joe Sandoval.
My instructions were to cover a couple of newscasts, and re-write the stories from afternoon drive. I had better ideas than to re-hash old news.
I’d arrive at 6:00 in time to see what the TV news had. I’d throw out the old wire copy and newspapers, and unless there was something to cover, spend the first hour or two transcribing and dubbing Bud Little’s morning feed from city hall. I had ‘til about 10:00 PM to make calls to get sound on any stories we didn’t have. Sometimes I would go out to a banquet. Those were great opportunities to enterprise. Once I went down the dias and got 9 stories from nine dignitaries. Jackpot!
The real fun began at midnight. I had a routine. I would drive down to the San Antonio Express/News, and get the first edition of the paper hot off the presses. Literally still hot. The press foreman was used to seeing me, and always gave me a stack of papers, no questions asked.
For a while, I would also go to the San Antonio Light. It was just like the movies, with all the papers coming down the conveyor. The press-man would dip his hand into the flow and lift out three or four copies.
One night he asked me, “Are there any flies?”
My face gave a puzzled look. "Flies?"
“Aren’t you from the newsroom?”
“No. I’m from WOAI.”
“GET OUT OF HERE!”
I subsequently learned that flies were late stories coming in, which meant stopping the presses to revise the paper.
My routine was to first visit the police station. Lance, a corporal, was in charge of taking in the reports. He would tell me if anything interesting came in. Naturally, I left him a paper. Then I would go upstairs to check with the detectives. Some were friendly. Some were not. Some nights I had to hunt for them, because they were hiding in a back room playing poker.
When the detectives were hiding, the whole second floor was open to me. The cleaning crews left all the doors wide open. It was a great temptation to go rummage through the Chief’s desk. The fear of a prison cell kept me from doing it.
Then It was over to the sheriff’s office. There I’d drop off another paper.
Then it was on to the Medical Examiner’s office. The night investigators were always happy to see me, and always happy to get a fresh newspaper. Their cable television was out, and it was very boring with no one to talk with. I got many exclusives that way.
One night KTSA called to do a beat check. The investigator told them there was nothing. I knew better, because there were two fresh murder victims in the receiving room. I asked why he didn’t tell them about the murders.
“They didn’t ask.”
The news unit had a police scanner, which would tip me off to any fires, wrecks, or crime scenes. I kept in touch with Henry Valadez, the KENS-TV overnight stringer photographer. We had a very productive relationship. We covered anything that died, anything that burned, or any other tales of human folly. In San Antonio...there were many.
One time I was at a murder scene. The victim had been strangled, stabbed and shot. I asked the homicide detective if he had determined a motive.
“We have a theory…We believe the man was not well liked.”
I had the time of my life overnight. I built relationships with news sources, and with the radio networks.
I filed a LOT of stories.
The one drawback of working overnight is the prevailing attitude that it’s an entry level position. It’s where you put beginners. Most people, even many in the business, don’t know where the news comes from and that was the case at WOAI. When I left, the morning news editor and news director had some hectic mornings searching for news stories, since they had much less news content waiting for them when they arrived each morning.
Copyright 2011 by Bob Crowley and SanAntonioRadioMemories.com – All Rights Reserved.