Monday, September 24, 2012

"Learning How To Listen" by Jim Cameron

(reading time 90 seconds)

I met a childhood TV hero last night:  Sonny Fox, star of “Wonderama”, the four hour weekly Sunday morning kids’ show that ran on WNEW-TV in NYC until 1967. 

He was in the area flogging a new book, but at age 87 I knew this would be my first and last chance to meet him.  As prep, I scoured YouTube for old videos of the show, some of which he played at the book reading.
His book talks not only about his days as a kids’ show host but his career after at NBC where he was producer of Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow Show”.  He also writes eloquently about his time as a POW in World War II, held in a German camp, and how it changed his life.  Did it ever!

“Wonderama” was not your typical kids show.  While Soupy Sales and Chuck McCann were throwing pies and airing cartoons, Sonny Fox was dressed in a suit and tie, interviewing kids.  Not talking down to them or making fun of them, interviewing them.

One clip almost brought tears to my eyes.

Sonny was asking kids about God and heaven.  A precocious young girl said she visits heaven every afternoon and plays there with her dead grandmother.  Sonny asked if she meant this was in her prayers, but she said no, she goes to heaven and plays with real people.

Sonny didn’t mock her, he listened to her, treating her with respect, so she opened up.  He told the audience last night that the little girl’s parents had probably never heard her say such things.

Was she fantasizing?  Delusional? Who knows.  That’s not for Sonny to judge.  He was just asking the questions.

And… he was listening!

So many of us, including reporters, could learn a valuable lesson from Sonny Fox.

Saturday, September 08, 2012


(reading time:  45 seconds)

How do you handle a reporter who’s asking you to create news so they can report on it?

That was my quandary this week when a freelance writer from Illinois called me asking for a comment on the upcoming centennial of Grand Central Station.  As volunteer Chairman of the CT Rail Commuter Council I get all kinds of calls from reporters seeking my comments, but this was a new one.

“What do you think of the idea of creating a special celebratory drink to be served on (the railroad’s) bar cars,” she asked.

“I don’t know of any such plans,” I told her, suggesting she inquire of Metro-North what their beverage plans might be.

“Well, what if they did create a drink?  Wouldn’t it be a great way to celebrate the Grand Central’s 100th anniversary,” she persisted.

“Are you reporting the news or trying to create it?” I asked.  “And what kind of a story are you writing anyway?”

“I don’t have an assignment yet,” she admitted.  “I’m just looking for a wine and spirits angle on the Grand Central centennial so I can pitch an editor.”

Gritting my teeth I told her to find out what the facts are about special bar car drinks and then I might comment.  I explained to her that Metro-North bar cars serve more Fosters 'oil cans' than wine and that there are no white jacketed bartenders making martinis in silver shakers to then be served in crystal glasses to commuters.

Now, I’m all for reporters asking for comments on the news.  But when they suggest what the news should be or even try to create it, I have no patience.