Sunday, June 22, 2014

You're Fired

WOWL in February 1999
By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter

It's hard to believe that 15 years have passed since I lost my first on-air job.  I was working at WOWL-TV in Florence, Alabama and had been there for about 18 months when the station's co-owner and acting general manager, Bruce Lumpkin, was killed in a car accident.  We all knew that the station would eventually be switching from an NBC affiliate to UPN, thus ending the local newscast.  Bruce had asked us all to stay on board until the transition, which was scheduled for September 1999, and he'd keep those of us who couldn't find reporting jobs elsewhere on staff as sales and production members.

Bruce's accident happened in May.  That's when Bruce's business partner, who was in Atlanta, informed all of us that the promises made by Bruce went to heaven with him the day he died. That statement was made on a Thursday evening in late June. Friday morning there were memos in all the news employees mailboxes that there was a mandatory meeting at 11 a.m. Monday.

Hanging out in the newsroom
At that point, I was not only running the newsroom, but I was also producing, reporting, and anchoring the 6 p.m. newscast.  So I showed up Monday morning, knowing in my heart that we were all about to be fired, but went ahead and started setting up the stories for the day.  Zero hour finally arrived, and we headed to the conference room.  

The owner sat there and talked to us about all the changes that were coming to the station.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he said "Friday was your last show."  (We didn't have weekend or morning newscasts).  I think he wanted us to all start crying and carrying on at him, but we all sat silently. He finally looked at me and said, "Kevin, please say something."  My response, "I have nothing to say.  I have a wife who is four months pregnant.  I need to find a job now."  

He promised us all two weeks severance and any vacation pay that was owed to us.  So we all headed back to the newsroom and started packing our personal belonging as the HR supervisor wrote out our checks.  One of my coworkers noted that the check was just one week's pay.  So we all waited patiently as new checks were cut.

After leaving our now former employer, we all decided a drink or two was in order. So the entire news crew sat at one of the local establishments in town, drinking, laughing, and reminiscing.  It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon.  I can only imagine what the other patrons were thinking as everyone they usually saw on the news was getting lit up like a Christmas tree hours before the news was to start.  As Tom Brokaw signed off the NBC Nightly News and said stay tuned for the local news, the station rolled an infomerical. 
Some WOWL alum from way back when
Even though I wasn't fired for being a bad employee, my departure from WOWL still hurt.  I learned to stay positive and persistent, as I spent the next six weeks looking for work.  My wife, who as I mentioned was pregnant, was working at the time and had insurance.  She'd come home everyday for lunch and dinner was always on the table when she got home.  I'd watch Mama's Family reruns as I searched the web for jobs.  I was becoming quite the house husband, but then in mid-August I got an offer from WLFI in West Lafayette, Indiana.  

I still look back fondly on my days at the Owl and miss the friends I made while I was there.  It's been nearly 15 years since we lived there, and we've never been back.  I'd love to return one day and show the kids the area that helped mold me into the journalist I've become.  

1 comment:

  1. The silver lining: WLFI and Greater Lafayette was lucky to have you, and some new co-workers were blessed to know you.
    -Bill Froehlich