RENO, NV - These days a television station's news department is central to its place in the community.
Newscasts represent most, if not all, local programming and the people you see on those newscasts are the station's public face.
But back at the beginning, there were a number of faces, a number of local programs.
Newscasts were part of that mix, but those who delivered the news weren't working journalists. They were called staff announcers and they wore a lot of other hats, hosted other programs, did commercials. And the content the read was straight from the newswire.
"It was rip and read off the AP wire," remembers local columnist and historian Karl Breckenridge. "There was no one I recall going out and covering things on the scene. The first one I can recall was Bob Carroll."
Carroll was working at a Susanville radio station when he was offered a staff announcer's job at Channel 8. Like others he did a lot of things besides the news, including hosting a local rock 'n roll dance show.
"I was a poor man's Dick Clark," says Carroll. "Local high schools would come in and dance on Saturday afternoons.
"We had a pretty impressive start. Paul Anka would come down. He was on the show with us a couple of times but we did everything with one camera."
But Carroll was about to be given another role, by then General Manager Lee Hirshland.
"Lee said 'We're going to start a news department. I'd like you to be news director.'"
I said 'Can't spell it, Lee. I don't know how to do it.'"
"He said "You'll get it.'"
It started small. A four person news department with a Polaroid camera.
Then film. It was black and white, of course, and at first silent.
But then in the fall of 1960, a big event that demanded sound. A visit to Reno by former President Harry Truman.
A sound camera was rented from San Francisco. Carroll's interview was the first sound news footage shot in the Reno market.
Other opportunities followed. A trip back to Washington to shadow U-S Senator Alan Bible. Interviews with Nevada and national political figures.
Carroll may have arrived as a staff announcer, but he took to the news assignment with notable energy, getting out of the studio, aggressively covering stories in the field, learning as he went.
Then April 3, 1962 a welder's tank exploded in the basement of the Golden Hotel in downtown Reno.
Carroll and his lone cameraman were having breakfast nearby.
"We saw all these fire engines headed for the Golden Hotel."
They went to work.
"You know that day We not only shot a lot of film, we had guys from LA calling. They were sending up private airplanes to get some footage of this thing."
The fire fight unfolded before their cameras. Efforts to save occupants. A dramatic attempt by a tanker plane to fight the fire with a tanker plane from the air.
Six people perished, Reno's worst fire until 2006 when 12 died at the Mizpah Hotel, a block away.
There were lighter moments, like one April Fools Day when Carroll and his staff staged a mock walk out. The news was anchored that night by the governor and other dignitaries. It fooled some visitors until they were let in on the joke.
Channel 8 carried all three networks in those days and NBC's Bonanza was a big draw. The appearance of the cast in Reno was big news, big enough for a KOLO 8 special.
Carroll's news department established other firsts, including the first live broadcast of a State of the State Address from Carson City.
It was all done before tools like microwave and satellite trucks were even thought of, but 50 years ago Carroll's news department was setting the standard for what would follow.
"They were the people, " he says speaking of that early staff. "They were the pioneers that really started television in this market and continue 60 years to this day of being an outstanding broadcast property."
Along the way Carroll would also help launch the careers of a number of news people including a young, skinny University of Nevada intern from Fallon.
Thanks again, Bob.