J.P. and Me
I was transferred from Atlanta to Detroit in April, 1989 by CNN to take over its Detroit Bureau. That made me the face of the network in the Motor City and there was someone extremely anxious to make me face the music about how the city was portrayed in the national media.
Within a few weeks after my arrival I found myself walking one block south of the building where the CNN Detroit Bureau was located at the time to the art deco Fisher Building, home of the Great Voice of the Great Lakes, WJR– 50-thousand watts of clear channel broadcasting pumping its programming to more than 20 states east of the Mississippi. I wasn’t just on a stroll. I had been summoned to sit across the desk from legendary morning man…Broadcast Hall of Fame announcer, J.P. McCarthy. Fiercely loyal to his hometown he was not pleased with CNN’s coverage of Detroit after a series of reports related to the upcoming 1990 U.S. Census that would reveal the city’s precipitous population losses, dropping it below the one-million mark.
He tossed his verbal daggers at me so adeptly I barely felt them pierce my flesh, but yet I suddenly empathized with a bull weakened by a picador. Attempting to rally I reeled off references to the vast number of positive stories the network had produced about Detroit, the auto industry and uplifting personality profiles. J.P. didn’t appear impressed but he was ready to move on.
Believing he had adequately put me on the defensive and made his point, the brilliant broadcaster suddenly smiled, relaxed his face and changed the subject, asking me oh, so conspiratorially, “got any good stories about Ted Turner?”
As still an employee of Mr. Turner’s and hoping to remain that way for some time to come I managed to toss off a couple of quick, innocuous anecdotes. Nothing scandalous, but stories Mr. McCarthy had never previously heard. That greatly pleased him.
I was honored by being invited back a few more times over the years, and we enjoyed both serious and lighthearted discussions. But by far, the biggest honor was being asked to appear on his “Focus” program during his final week on the air. This was a broadcast giant to whom captains of industry, showbiz celebrities and political power brokers never refused being summoned to his studio, or to speak “on the other end of my line.” Then there was me. I never understood, and I never will understand, how I made the cut, when the great J.P. McCarthy had the choice of virtually anyone he desired, to share the mic during his precious last moments of a legendary career. It remains one of the moments in my mostly mediocre career for which I’m most grateful.