Up & Coming Weekly

September 01, 2020

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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Page 13 of 24

WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM SEPTEMBER 2-8, 2020 UCW 13 "He understood that there was more power in not using everything you knew. I would put him up against any journalist across the state and bet on Jeff. He was that good." Like most people, especially those in family enterprises, Jeff wore more than one hat. John Dawson, general manager of Cape Fear Broad- casting's Fayetteville operations in its later years, finds Jeff 's versatility remarkable. "e thing that always amazed me about Jeff was that he started out as a very good DJ in the early 60s during the British Invasion days, then he slowly but surely morphed into a very good newsman. Most people know that about him. What they don't know is that he was a good radio advertising salesperson. When I started at WFNC in sales, we tagged along with different salespersons to experience different styles. I shadowed Jeff on many days and learned a lot just watching him interact with his clients. So back then, his day went something like this: Don- ning his news director hat, he gathered the news from 4-6 a.m. At 6 a.m., off came the news director hat, and on went the talk show host hat. He wore that until 9 a.m. At 10 a.m., off came the talk show host hat, and on went the salesperson hat. Even riding in his car during sales calls, the scanner was always on. It was the definition of multitasking, back in the day." Jeff 's partner on the morning talk show was Lynda "Wendy" Riddle, a talented radio personal- ity and frequent performer in what we now know as Cape Fear Regional eater. As the saying goes, they go way back. "I met Jeff in the early '70s when I had just started on the air at WFBS in Spring Lake. Jeffrey McDonald was very much in the news, and I al- ways counted myself fortunate to have had access to Jeff 's coverage of that grisly story. My respect for his abilities as a newsman sprang from those early days. But it was not until I made the move to WFNC … in 1977 that I really got to know Jeff. By the fall of that year, we started 'Top of the Morn- ing' and began a partnership that lasted until 2003, when Cumulus took over and fired us all. "… Jeff and I squabbled in our early morning marriage, for you cannot be locked up in a small room the size of a walk-in closet every morning for your first five or six waking hours for years without noticing you've spent more time together than you spend with your own husband or wife each day. Sometimes our mornings were great, but there were times we would raise our voices and have a good old verbal knockdown drag out … off the air, of course. I remember fondly the year that, at the station Christmas party, we received the "loving couples" award from the staff and management. I was always aware when our battles got out of hand by the sound of doors closing up and down the hall as everyone tried to block us out. "One of Jeff 's favorite memories on the air with me was the time when he was trying to explain to the audience that he had no knowledge of com- puters. He couldn't find the right words and kept asking me what it was that you called person like him. I answered, 'technically challenged.' And he'd say, 'No, no.' And I would say, 'Computer il- literate.' He'd say, 'No, no, that's not it.' To which I said, 'moron.'" "'at's it!' he proclaimed happily. He has told that story a million times, saying 'Remember when you called me a moron on the air?' He thought it was wonderful. "His love for his children was undeniable and unending, and I have deep affection for Jeff for that. Actually, I have deep affection for him, period." Radio, like most media, attracts creative people. Work was generally fun, and there were plenty of jokes to go around — some of Jeff 's instigation and some at his expense. Sales manager Steve Harden remembers that in an expansive burst of News Department pride, Jeff had the depart- ment's one news vehicle painted with "Unit 1" on one side and "Unit 2" on the other, an effort to make us look bigger than we really were. Later, there were two identical vehicles, an actual Unit 1 and Unit 2. Steve also remembers a trick Chief Engineer Terry Jordan played on Jeff, which Jeff appar- ently never realized. Says Steve, "I remember the episode of 'the pneumatic switch.' Terry Jordan put out a memo saying that the pneumatic switch had been ordered, then played this trick to the max. Another memo said the switch was on backorder etc. e switch was bogus, and Terry let the rest of us in on the scheme, but JT had no clue. Finally, another memo announced the arrival of the switch. Jeff, by the way, had asked no one what a pneumatic switch was. Another memo informed everyone that the switch had been installed and was fully operational. Terry had installed a small light in the control room with a toggle switch that turned it on and off. at's all the switch did! I don't think JT wanted anyone to know that he, a veteran broadcaster, did not know what a pneumatic switch was." Jeff is not shy. Human resources director Ann Highsmith remembers the day Jeff alerted her to what we now call a wardrobe malfunction. "I was standing at the sink in the small kitchen at CFBC. News Director Jeff ompson's office was directly across from the kitchen. My back was to him. What I didn't know at that moment was that my professional dress was badly compromised as I had inadvertently tucked my skirt into my pantyhose, exposing my backside to Jeff and his guest that morning, Sheriff Moose Butler. "Jeff took notice and did the right thing in letting me know something was amiss. e way he let me know left a lot to be desired. He yelled across the hall, 'Hey, Highsmith, your rear end is showing.' Embarrassment left me dumb; I don't remember what I did next. I either ran out of the kitchen or untucked my skirt as I stood at the sink. Either way, it is not one of those profession- al moments I care to reminisce about too often." Like many good things, life at the radio sta- tion as we knew it came to an end. Cape Fear Broadcasting was sold in 2001, and the cast of characters who had, in many cases, grown up together and came to love each other, scattered. Weyher Dawson, who ran another section of the company, says Jeff has "had a great career. I think his post-FNC career has been interesting and re- ally kinda blossomed five or six years ago when" other local media were "flat and little WIDU slipped in their version of a news/information format that featured Jeff and Wes Cookman and Troy Williams and so on. ey were really doing a good job reaching into the 'mainstream' and had some really good shows. … Jeff got involved in Up & Coming Weekly with Bill (Bowman), which has also been a late-career blossom. … All said, pretty remarkable from the Tower in the Sky, WSOC-TV, WFLB, WFNC, WFBS, WIDU, Up & Coming." As for me, I feel so fortunate to have had Jeff as a boss, a teacher, and now a dear and pre- cious friend. I still call him Boss, and he calls me Scoop. He and I have covered the news, written many an editorial, fought over politics, endlessly discussed the peculiarities of our community, celebrated our successes, mourned our losses and, generally, moved through life together. Jeff is a remarkable person who knows and loves our community, with all its attributes and its warts. It has been a joy to write this and to focus on one of my oldest friends and others in the extended Cape Fear Broadcasting family. To Jeff and everyone else, keep on keeping on, lots of love and Godspeed! MARGARET DICKSON, Columnist. COMMENTS? Editor@ upandcomingweekly.com. 910-484-6200.

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