Tuesday, March 20, 2012

George J. Jennings, Revisited

Today is the anniversary of George J. Jennings (real name George Walter Jennings) going on to Newsman's Heaven. I don't say that lightly, because he was serious about the news. From deejaying at WRR in Dallas, to News Director and Operations Manager at KAAY, Little Rock, to WOAI in San Antonio (where he became the News Director in the 1980's) and beyond, he was serious about his work. Called by another newsman to Arkansas (Jack Grady), he worked into a very successful position. Herewith his story as related to A. J. Lindsey, a.k.a. "Emperor Holiday" on his blog in 2006:

"George J. Jennings tells how he came to KAAY

(The following is George's recount of how he came to KAAY and where the "J." came from. His real name is George W. Jennings.)

In the summer of 1962, I was a disc jockey at WRR in Dallas. All of a sudden on a Sunday afternoon there was a pounding on the back door of the station. It was a person named Jack Grady who was looking for a friend of his who allegedly worked at the station. I let him in and he came into the booth where I was playing records and sat for about three hours, while he waited for his friend to show up. Grady was between planes at Love Field and had nothing else to do. During that time I did several rip and read newscasts. Grady left about 6 PM and I thought I would never hear from him again.

About 2 weeks later, I heard from Grady. He had heard my newscasts and thought I would be perfect for a station signing on in Arkansas. On a whim, I took my wife, infant son, and cat, and drove 300 miles to Little Rock. I had no idea what a newsman does. When the station signed on as KAAY, it was distinguished by playing "Baby Elephant Walk" and reading the Little Rock telephone directory 24 hours a day. We would say things like, "The Friendly Giant welcomes Mr. and Mrs. Jack Jones of 123 Apple Street to the land of KAAY. During this time I rip(ped) and read newscasts.

After about a week, I started trying to figure out what a newsman was supposed to be and started actually covering things. For the first two months Grady was news director but he left to pursue "other interests". At that time, the disc jockeys used all fake names. During the entire time I was at the station, I used my own name, except for the J. initial that was inserted in the middle. It finally became a situation, where I was inserted in the morning program with a number of Sonny Martins or Emperor Holiday, adding wit and humor or setups for the DJ to play off of. That was the entire pattern for my stay until 1974.

Through a pattern of attrition I became news director, operations manager plus salesman at KAAY. I eventually had another newsman working with me, and over the period, I became a fair newsman, so much so that I was able to become news director for such stations as WOAI, San Antonio, and WFAA in Dallas, with stops in New Orleans, Louisville, Minnapolis. KAAY was for me a testing ground, where I learned what I needed to. I am still in contact with Grady and I curse him every time I speak to him. I am now retired in San Antonio and have nothing to do with radio except for constant listening to old time radio shows."

Of course, George Jennings has since passed on, on this date in 2007:

"Jennings 03/20/2007

George Walter Jennings, 67, died in San Antonio, March 15, 2007. Best known as news director of WOAI Radio in San Antonio during the 1980's, he was instrumental in the growth of Clear Channel Communications, setting up radio news operations in several of the broadcasting group's Southwestern markets, including Beaumont, New Orleans, and Tulsa. Notable news broadcasters who were taught their trade by George include NBC news anchor Ken Herrera, ESPN Washington host Andy Polin, and ABC vice president John McConnell. George was born in Mexia, Texas, February 1, 1940 to Walter and Helen Kelly Jennings, and grew up in Dallas. He was preceded in death by his son, Gregory Hale Jennings, and is survived by his wife Nancy Seerden Jennings and a son, Dean Vaughan Jennings, his wife Karen Holmes Jennings and a granddaughter Genevive Leigh Jennings of Boise, Idaho."

What prompted me was my research; I get a little warped in thought and attribute this to Vicki of sanantonioradiomemories.com and her book and website, which mention George Jennings in both the KAAY and WOAI markets. AND, I went to WOAI's website and read their history...where George Jennings' name was conspicuously absent!

My mind works in convoluted ways...sometimes I arrive at research by choosing something other than a front or rear door...sometimes an upper-level window!)

I contacted one of their newsmen, Jim Forsyth, and mentioned that I thought it fitting to get George Jennings inserted into their history, as he was very instrumental in developing the Southwestern markets for Clear Channel. He agreed and said he'd forward my request to the personnel who maintain WOAI's website.

So, giving ALL the credit where credit is due, here's to you, George J. Jennings....

Bud S. (staceys4@hotmail.com)

1 comment:

  1. I worked with George for several months at KXXA-AM in Little Rock when it was part of thee short-lived NBC Radio's NIS (News and Information Format) service in 1976. The network provided national and international coverage and the KXXA news staff provided the loca land state coverage.

    George was the station's news director and hired me as I was starting my fledgling career in radio news. He was the consummate professional and a true gentleman. He provided me with many quality radio news reporting and anchoring tips which has helped me in my career.

    I remember very fondly my time in Little Rock radio and working with George.

    I'm sorry to have learned of George's passing when I Googled his name to see what has happened to him in those intervening years.

    With much sympathy,

    Doug Schlatter
    Yardley, Pa.