flying in the visual news factory
By George Tomek, 2017 Inductee
I met Ernie Schultz years before working for him.
A Tulsa television colleague had raved about WKY-TV Channel 4 News in Oklahoma City, so I drove over one day in 1960 and briefly met Ernie, a Korean War veteran and consummate professional. There, I watched a beehive of professional activity produce a newscast full of visual, story-telling film.
Some four years later, I learned WKY-TV Channel 4 News Director Ernie Schultz was looking for a weekend news anchor and weekday reporter/photographer. I applied and got the job, which was the start of decades of association with and admiration for Ernie Schultz.
Channel 4 was a visual news factory, including an orientation film showing screen direction and how to shoot reversal questions, principles of the way Hollywood used to film movies. We were efficient, ready for the next day’s events but completely flexible. The Oklahoma State Capitol, City Hall, conventions, and regular beats were all covered. We went “live” from some locations with a converted bus.
WKY-TV News covered the hearings during the Supreme Court scandal of the 1960s. The quality and dependability of WKY-TV news was so good it was almost considered another NBC News Bureau. And Ernie Schultz was responsible for that.
We strove to ensure we got it right. Schultz remembered an anchor who used the term “suicide,” but authorities later determined it was an “accidental” death.
“Died by his own hand would have been safer,” Schultz said.
Schultz loved offbeat features like the horse that somehow climbed up into the hayloft of an Oklahoma City barn and had to be hauled down. One time, Schultz used French to lighten up newsroom banter about an unsavory politician by blurting out “hors de combat by now.”
The Scout motto “Be Prepared” fit in the newsroom.
Schultz loved to fly and kept a plane at Expressway Airpark near WKY-TV. I walked in one morning and was told we were flying 200 miles to photograph an area affected by Oklahoma’s brutal drought. Exposed film was placed between two small pillows stuck together with gaffers tape for a soft landing. I said “OK.”
He flew low on the east side of the old WKY-TV building where several employees were waiting. I said, “bombs away.” Didn’t even need a Norden bombsight!
Video seamlessly replaced film at Channel 4. The results helped draw outstanding photographers who adapted to video, like the late national award-winning news photographer Darrell Barton, whose work has been aired on 60 Minutes and 48 Hours, and the journalist Bob Dotson whose “The American Story” aired on NBC’s Today for decades.
Before leaving to become the first elected president of the Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA), now the Radio Television News Association and later press secretary for U.S. Senator Don Nickles, Schultz played an important role in at least two journalistic changes for Oklahoma.
He promoted Pam Henry to become the first female news anchor in Oklahoma and was instrumental in the movement to allow cameras in the courtroom. Decades later, television viewers could see testimony in the 2019 federal trial involving opioid manufacturers and the heartache the painkillers caused.
Schultz was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 1978. He left us in November 2017 at 87 years old. His legacy will last forever.