Editor’s Note: Earlier this week, Post Alley ran a story with numerous tributes from KING alums, recalling their working days at KING before it was sold to national corporations. (It’s now being sold again, this time to a hedge fund.) Here’s another story by an illustrious KING alum who went from being a news analyst at KING-5 to being the three-term mayor of Seattle.
The KING Broadcasting station in Oregon was Portland’s KGW. It had a position there and at Seattle’s KING-5 called News Analyst, created by the Bullitt family to put some perspective on the news. Someone to offer regular and informed commentary and analysis. Someone with independence, protected from the commercial and narrow interest pressures that too often influence and bend the news both from inside the company and out.
When I was thinking of becoming a writer, that someone in our living room was Tom McCall. His words on KGW helped save the Oregon beaches for the public, arguably cleared the way for cleaning up the Willamette River, and certainly helped him become Secretary of State and Governor of Oregon. I admired Tom McCall and King Broadcasting and I wanted Tom’s job.
In the 1960s, working as a political reporter at Portland’s KOIN TV, I felt I needed to know more about the rest of our country. Along with a few other reporters, I was invited to spend a year and a half studying national politics and policy at the Washington Post’s Journalism Center and at Harvard-MIT’s Joint Center for Urban Studies. In 1970, two things happened that changed my life. Ancil Payne, who was running KGW and knew my work in Portland, was transferred to Seattle to run KING. While I was interviewing for a job in New York, the news analyst at KING, Herb Altschull, announced he was leaving and Payne invited me to come to Seattle for a job interview.
My time on the other coast was a growth experience for me. Literally. I grew a very long mustache and very long hair. In my interview with Stim Bullitt we spent a lot of time not talking. A shy person, Stim looked at me for what seemed to me more than a pause, and asked me basically one question: “Well, Mr. Royer, what are your views?” After telling him my views for what seemed like a very long time, I left with a sinking feeling I had flunked the interview.
But just in case, I got my hair cut and shaved my mustache, leaving a very wide white space on my lip and people wondering whether the bosses had made me do it. They didn’t.
The rest of my time with King Broadcasting was a hoot. I had Tom McCall’s job. On my first day, the legendary Don McGaffin joined the staff. Mike James and Jean Enersen were recent hires. My brother Bob joined King Screen Productions after his tour in Vietnam and later moved to the newsroom to produce documentaries, Carol Lewis brought a little bit of Yakima culture and Stanford smarts to the table, along with the mercurial and very East Coast Julie Blacklow and Ardie Ivie, a black superstar who moved on to KNET, KCET, and NBC in New York and LA while getting his doctorate at UCLA.
I think there are not now, nor were there then, very many television newsrooms that attracted on-air people, photographers, writers, and editors who were hired not for their hair, but for what grew under it. Not for voice or looks or ratings.
I did commentaries declaring the SST as a bad and costly choice for hometown untouchable Boeing, and I never heard a word from editor or owner. I produced a series on the Scott Paper Company of Everett, first toilet paper company to put its product on a roll, and one of the last to treat its chemical pollution of Puget Sound, while the Governor and state regulators looked the other way. On that one, a company board member, a longtime friend of Stim Bullitt, called his friend and demanded equal time to rebut the commentaries. Stim Bullitt referred him to the newsroom with no comment.
Today, the Stim and Dorothy Bullitt’s television stations are all gone. The new ones, nearly one hundred of them nationwide, are now all named Sinclair.