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Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006 06:45 pm

Winging the news

Even spontaneity is scripted on the local broadcast

Where once they were brightly colored, they were all pastel now — all soft, all weak hues. They lived in pastel houses and slept in pastel beds. They ate pastel food, drank pastel drink. They thought pastel thoughts and spoke the day’s news in pastel words.

Joyce Hampton had been doing the Channel 6 weather since disco. Duke Peterson had manned the sports desk even longer. Jon Sexton had been news anchor for 29 years. They were all in their fifties now, and careers beyond the dungeon of this local TV station were wishes no longer wished. They would be here and pastel forever more, robotically reading whatever Wade Obbligato wrote today and put into the teleprompter.

Wade had been writing the news in this place, at this station, for the same 29 years Jon had been reading it. When he was young, when he was full of fire, when he was desperate for truth, when his fists clenched, Wade’s news stories had reeked of loud reds, glaring blacks and greens, eye-stinging yellows, but now the words were all pastel: Flat stories. No edges. No waves. Pale phrases changing only to other pale phrases — one day to the next.

Wednesdays were especially pale; on Wednesdays, Joyce included the upcoming weekend in her five-day weather forecast. Wade wrote the same blow-dried banter for them every Wednesday, because after 30 years of rot none of ’em wanted to be spontaneous — on his own. Wade wrote it! They said it! No one heard it!

Jon: Well, Joyce, you’ve done it again; you’ve rained out my golf for another weekend.

Joyce: From what Duke tells me, your golf game could use a rest.

Duke: You can say that again, Joyce.

Then three sets of capped teeth smiled all around, and one set ended the broadcast with whatever Wade had written today: “That’s the news today. At 6, on 6.”

Back in the day, they’d occasionally had fun with it, maybe even sneaked in a double-entendre. No more! They didn’t want even the perception of off-color. No waves! Offend no one! Pastel!

Wade was as feeble as the rest of ’em — he’d let his edge dull over the years. His spirit now mollified by routine, his fire was out. He started each day playing some online poker. He won a little — it helped fill his empty space. Then they took his poker away, made it illegal. The routine disrupted, Wade’s pastel world became a bit less tranquil.

Wade read the early morning newspapers everyday at Dave’s Café, relaxing over a pot of coffee and a half a pack of Marlboros. Then they took it away, made smoking in restaurants illegal. The routine even more fractured, Wade’s skin started to itch with rashes of yesteryear color.

A KFC was just down the street from the station, and every day Wade would take an order back to his office and eat it, then indulge in a short nap before he finished writing the night’s news. The Colonel gave him sleep and quiet; it was something, better than nothing.

But no KFC today; no Original Recipe ever again! They’d decided that trans fats were harmful, so they made his chicken illegal.

Wade slowly closed the door to his office; he’d anticipated the “fowl deed” and had saved a chicken wing for the occasion, he hammered it into crusted bird leaf. Then he extracted his old friend Mr. Rooster Bong from a bottom drawer. The Eagles sang to him:

“Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?”

He laced his coffee with rotgut whiskey — as he had in ’78, when he’d written the piece Newsweek had published. The fire in the belly was back — it roared! He unplugged the computer and brushed the ash of a million Marlboros from his old typewriter. His fingertips danced memories; a rainbow shared the sky with bright sunshine.

They read the words on the News at 6 on 6 as they always read the words: without listening to them one way or another. Parrots in picture tubes!

Jon: Well, Joyce, you’ve done it again . . . grown another chin. You’re a lock for first, second, and third places in the Chin of the Month contest. You’ve got more chins than a Chinese phonebook. You fat sow!

Joyce: Why is it, when Duke grabs a sheep, hangs it from a hook, slits its throat, skins it, guts it, cuts it into pieces, cooks it, and eats it, they call him a gourmet, but just because you fell in love with a sheep, they call you a sick freak?

Duke: You can say that again, Joyce . . . no golf for me: I’m painting my bedroom this weekend the same deep gorgeous hazel as your husband’s sensual eyes.

And then three sets of capped teeth smiled all around, and one set read: “This is your brain today — on wings!”

Contact Doug Bybee Sr. at dougbybee@sbcglobal.net.

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