How cool would it be to go back in time and talk to the person who held your job 50 years before you?
I feel a little like a time traveler, having recently had that exact experience (except I didn't actually travel back in time - THAT would've be quite newsworthy).
Mr. Leroy Paul stopped by WSFA a few months ago. If that name rings a bell, then it's safe to say you recall the early years of television in Montgomery. Leroy Paul was WSFA's first sports director.
Newly married and fresh out of the Army, the University of Alabama graduate came to the Capital city in 1954 at the age of 24, working for WSFA radio. WSFA-TV signed on the air Christmas day of that year.
"New ventures usually attract people that don't have a lot to lose," Mr. Paul tells the Journal. "That was one of the attractions for those of us going to work for the radio station, although to be honest with you, we were not as excited about television at that time as we should have been. The big revenue-producer was still radio and television was a losing proposition for most companies."
But it didn't stay that way for long.
In 1955, WSFA-TV's parent company decided to launch a college football coach's show.
"Auburn had the predominant team in Alabama at that time and so when the station decided they wanted to do that because they had been successful in Oklahoma City, they chose Auburn although I'm an Alabama graduate."
Getting the Auburn Football Review on the air every Sunday afternoon was an imposing challenge. Mr. Paul remembers being denied access to the press box and sidelines at Georgia Tech. The folks in Atlanta told him he could get whatever information he needed out of the newspaper. "But we compete against the newspaper!" he replied in exasperation.
"The cameras we carried to the top of the stadium to film the Auburn football games were quite heavy," Mr. Paul tells the Journal. "One of the ways that we got free labor from the station from time to time was to offer someone a ticket in the press box." He chuckled when I told him that method is still effective.
Mr. Paul also grins when he recalls a conversation with Auburn athletic director Jeff Beard. "One year we were getting excited about the possibility of doing a live Auburn football game, maybe just the A-Day game in the spring. And I went over and talked with him a little about it and he looked at me real seriously and he said, 'Leroy, we are NEVER going to allow the live televising of a college football game! Who would pay to come out and stay in the stands when they can sit at home and watch it on television? It just won't ever happen,''' Mr. Paul remembers Beard saying.
"And now when I get my Auburn tickets every year, every game the time and the date says "to be announced." So they sell me tickets and they say we're going to play the game whenever the television people want us to play the game. You can show up if you want to see it."
"It turned out to be great for television, great for the sports events, great for the movie people and most of all great for the viewing public, who is always the beneficiary of things that go well."
In those pioneer days, Mr. Paul had 5 minutes each night in which to give the sports news. A half-century later, I'm proud to say WSFA 12 News at 10 still devotes 4 minutes to sports, significantly more time than most local stations around the country.
Back then there were no teleprompters. No highlights. No Fever.
"We covered college football. Not too much high school. We had no facilities for gathering that material."
"We would cut out pictures from magazines. We'd paste them up, which we later realized was plagiarism. When Stan Musial would hit a bunch of homeruns, we'd cut to a still picture."
Mr. Paul remembers being paid a salary of $75 per week, plus $3 for each live commercial. He made an extra $100 per game during the football season for hosting 10 episodes of the Auburn Football Review.
"After I had worked here 4 or 5 years, my salary reached $10,000 a year, and my wife and I went out for a special dinner and special occasion to celebrate that event. I was amongst the highest paid announcers in the state of Alabama at that time."
When Mr. Paul first moved to Montgomery, he stayed at the Dexter Hotel downtown near the Capital before moving into an apartment. His neighbor was about to become famous worldwide. "And right at the corner there was a little church called the Dexter Avenue Church and they had a young minister named Martin Luther King, Junior."
Mr. Paul was at the station in the early days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. "I remember the night it happened. A photographer came in from downtown and said, 'Boy, we're in for it now. Somebody just fired a shotgun blast, or a shot or something.' This was a few weeks after Rosa Parks had refused to move to the back of the bus, and things were just getting started."
"That was an important time for a long period of time, and of course it centered here in Montgomery," Mr. Paul tells the Journal.
A business minor in college, Mr. Paul left WSFA in 1961 for a career in business, but his television experience still came in handy. He eventually became the president of AFLAC broadcasting in Columbus, Georgia, overseeing several television stations.
And it all started right here at good ol' Channel 12.
"My wife and I remember our years in Montgomery with the greatest of fondness," Mr. Paul says. "And our work here is something that there's seldom a week that passes that I don't think about the happiness that I had here. It was wonderful."
And it was wonderful for me to get a chance to visit with Leroy Paul. A memory I'll cherish.
Next month on WSFA 12 News at 6, we'll feature all 5 of the station's sports directors. One each night for a week.
Next week in the Journal, we'll chat with WSFA's second sports director, Earl Hutto.
See you then!