Al Volker passed away overnight, and there really will never be another one like him.
Al was the first person hired into the newsroom at ABC 33/40 back in 1996, coming on as Managing Editor. His TV career at the time spanned my entire lifetime, and he brought old-school journalism instincts from Miami, Detroit, and a host of other markets.
Al was the quintessential grizzled veteran. No one can truly say they had seen it all, but you were wise to never call his bluff. “Noah’s flood? I did the sound for that production.“
In the summer of ’96, when many of us working in Tuscaloosa were still concerned that we might not be retained in the merger of WCFT and WJSU, Volker came down to give us our cursory interviews. This on the heels of being told repeatedly from the existing stations that we just didn’t have what it took to report the news in Birmingham.
All of us were scheduled for brief half-hour interviews, and we honestly had no idea that they even knew our names, or had watched the newscasts. (There were many from our group that indeed stayed on… Dave Baird, Dyan Patterson, Casey Jones, Edward Lawrence, Mark Raines, and others…)
I remember walking into the conference room, tape in hand, when this sprightly older gentleman piped up and killed my concern.
“Name is Volker. You must be Pigott. They tell me you’re a real asshole, but I don’t see it in your work on the air. Don’t worry, we’ll get it in there.”
And speaking honestly, that’s the only coaching I ever needed from him. Permission to be myself, and unleash my inner sphincter. Leave it to Al to fine tune my entire style and work habits, with:
- Four sentences
- 32 words
- 36 total syllables.
Leave it to Al to be the true living embodiment of crisp and clear news-writing.
Volker was also more interested in the story behind the story.
One day, Charlton Heston was our guest on the noon newscast. He was waiting in the lobby, just a couple of minutes before newstime, when Al came speeding around the corner with a new script. Al would run (sprint) them to the newsroom, and seeing Volker at top speed was funny enough. As he rounded that corner, he shot a look at Heston, and yelled “Jesus! It’s Moses!”
He never got around to meeting Heston, or getting an autograph. He got what he wanted — a permanent anecdote.
I once pitted Al against our executive producer Bill Shory in a race of technology. Each was given a set of facts to turn into a page of copy, live on the air. Bill started tickling the keyboard of his PC — Al loaded a five-copy set into a manual typewriter and started banging away. Even with the physical sprint to the newsroom, Volker won handily. (Bill was no slouch…)
Note to Al
Al, we are going to miss you. Today’s mode and model for journalism is so different than the path you walked. Just know that you passed along enough of the fundamentals that we can adapt and evolve.
Do you have a Volker story to share? Leave it in the comments. And proofread it, please… Al is watching.