Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Channel 9's Joe Webb captures our 'Hometown'




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        This is good news. With capital letters. Good News.

        Not every TV newscast is filled with sensational reports about robberies, rapes, wrecks or rip-offs.

        For a couple of minutes each day, Joe Webb of WCPO-TV (Channel 9) provides a rare glimpse of our “HomeTown.” Some good news for a change. That's big news in my book.

        A sampling of people and places caught in Joe's web airs in prime-time tonight. An Hour in Your Hometown (8 p.m., Channel 9) replays his visits to such places as Cincinnati's Murdock water fountain plant; Hart's Pharmacy in Price Hill; the Robbins basketball floor plant in Newtown; Frisch's Mainliner in Fairfax; and the old Oakley Race Track.

ON THE AIR
What: An Hour in Your Hometown
When: 8-9 p.m. today
Where: Channel 9
Weekdays: “HomeTown” features air on Channel 9 at 6:55 a.m. and 12:25 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; at 5:25 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; and at 12:25 p.m. weekends.
        Two days a week, Mr. Webb is on the road with Rick Schuldlos, a Channel 9 videographer and editor. They wander the Tristate looking for interesting people or places, similar to what Charles Kuralt did for CBS with is “On the Road” pieces.

        A cast aluminum church steeple in Versailles, Ind., caught their eye, which led them to the Tyson Temple United Methodist Church. It was erected in 1937 by James Tyson, an original Walgreen pharmacy investor.

        One day they were cruising Sayler Park when a guy told them about Paul Fritch, the opening piece in the special. They knocked on his door unannounced, and wound up with an incredible story about Mr. Fritch's crazy collection of antique irons, nutcrackers, 23 hog oilers and other “unusual, unwanted and outdated” gadgets.

        “People like to compare us with Charles Kuralt, and that's not fair,” says Mr. Webb, 45, a 13-year Channel 9 news veteran.

        “If we can come anywhere near that standard that Charles Kuralt set, I'm tickled to death. He was the best.”

        Half of their story ideas come from viewers' letters, calls or e-mails. Someone biking along the Little Miami River suggested that Mr. Webb check out the majestic abandoned factory near Kings Mills.

        So they profiled the Peters Cartridge Co. factory, and its sister Kings Powder Co. plant, which manufactured munitions and blasting powder from 1877 until the 1950s. The building was later owned by Remington Arms Co. and Columbia Records, which pressed records there.

        “A lot of people will say, "I've passed by this thing a million times' or "I've heard that my neighbor's house used to be a Civil War hospital.' And often there's a kernel of truth to it,” Mr. Webb says.

        The Oklahoma native jumped at the break from breaking news when Jim Hart, E.W. Scripps senior vice president, asked Scripps stations to develop a positive news franchise. “HomeTown” vignettes debuted on Dec. 1, 1997, before Channel 9's “Your Hometown News Station” campaign.

        “We were HomeTown before Hometown was cool,” he says with a laugh. “I came up with the name of the series, and shortly after that they came up with the promotional campaign. It was just a nice phrase that applied to what they wanted the station to be.”

        He enjoys the mix of covering the big stories three days a week, and spending two days on the smaller stories people remember most. He has no desire, graying at 45, to be stuck behind an anchor desk. “I just don't think I'm suited for that,” he says.

        “It's nice to talk to people who want to tell their stories,” he says, after years of trying to convince crime witnesses or family members to talk about tragic news stories.

        “"HomeTown' gives me a chance to mix it up. I'm a really lucky guy, and I know that.”

        Lucky in more ways than one. He started in TV later than most, at 29, after working seven years as a lab technician for Conoco Oil in his hometown of Ponca City, Okla. He was a reporter for Scripps' Oklahoma City station before coming to Cincinnati with his wife, Karla, public relations director for St. Elizabeth Medical Center. They live in Edgewood with their two children, 9 and 6.

        In 21/2 years, he has produced more than 250 “HomeTown” vignettes, which air daily at the close of Channel 9's newscasts. He knows this hometown better than many of us.

        “My father once told me: There are two kinds of listeners. Some people listen to learn something. Some people listen to formulate a response. And if you're willing to listen to someone, you'll learn something,” he says.

        “There are so many interesting people in this community that we'll never run out of stories. This is too cool of a place to run out of stories.”

        That's good news, too.

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330. E-mail: Johnkiese@yahoo.com.

       



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