GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Long hours tracking the weather. Investigative reporters who defined the term. Premiering new technologies. And through it all, a shared commitment to community and journalism that built a family.
As WOOD TV8 celebrates 70 years leading the way in West Michigan television, we brought together some of our biggest names to reflect on the station’s legacy.
Current anchors Brian Sterling and Susan Shaw hosted a discussion with former political reporter and news director Matt McLogan, former anchor Jane Brierley, former weatherman and host of “The Buck Matthews Show” Buck Matthews, current Storm Team 8 chief meteorologist Bill Steffen, former chief meteorologist Craig James, former anchor Tom Van Howe, sports director Jack Doles, longtime Target 8 investigator Henry Erb, former anchor Jennifer Moss, and former weatherman Andy Rent, who was also “Captain Woody” on a 1970s afternoon children’s program.
==Watch the full discussion above.==
‘THIS STATION HAS ALWAYS CARED ABOUT JOURNALISM’
If there’s one thing WOOD TV8 has made a name for itself in, it’s investigative journalism. Plenty of that comes down to Henry Erb. He’s the cornerstone of the Target 8 team and a name feared by shady characters across West Michigan.
“I get doors slammed in my face quite a bit,” Henry complained. “Some people just don’t open the door. …I try to explain, ‘I’m really a nice guy!'”
When Henry started 49 years ago, he worked on documentaries and during the early 1970s sometimes had to wrestle time to work on longform projects. Investigative journalism exploded in the 1990s, allowing Henry to focus more on in-depth reporting.
“I don’t think there’s probably in the whole country a television reporter that got into the business to do longform investigative stuff, and he’s still at it,” Tom Van Howe said of Henry. “If I can find a reporter that has done what you’ve done, I would be very surprised. I think it is really an achievement.”
“Every time I hear Henry’s voice (on the TV), I stop and I look up, and I go, ‘Oh, this ought to be good,'” Jack Doles said.
“This station has always cared about journalism,” Henry said. “It’s always cared about excellent reporting.”
“That was definitely one of the impressions I had when I first walked in the doors here back in the mid-1990s,” Brian Sterling agreed. “Just the legacy of the news operation that was known not only in Michigan, but the people around the country: ‘Oh, you work at WOOD TV.'”
As news director, Matt McLogan bore the responsibility of that reputation proudly.
“It was an honor to be in the management of this station for the newsroom because … Time magazine, which owned the station at the time, as deeply committed to journalism,” he said. “We were part of an enterprise that was worthy and necessary and a great public service and endeavored every day to do it well.”
LOCAL TELEVISION ICONS
Buck Matthews is undoubtedly one of WOOD TV8’s most beloved alumni. Hired in 1961 and on air for more than two decades, he could be seen on morning cut-ins, his show, and the noon, 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts.
“My work day from beginning to end — and I wasn’t on the air all this time — but from the time I went on the air first in the morning until the time when I signed off the 11 (newscast) was 17 and a half hours,” he recalled. “I did that for a number of years. (My wife) thought I was having an affair. … But after a while, they took pity on me.”
“The Buck Matthews Show” featured many famous guests and even though Buck sometimes found himself nervous, it never seemed to show on TV.
“Conversation was the trick,” Buck said. “If you had one good opening question and one good closing question and let the rest of it go, they would make it go where they wanted it to go. And it became more fun than work.”
He noted two of his favorite guests as poet Maya Angelou (“I was spellbound,” Buck said. “She was so forthcoming.”) and singer Patrice Munsel (who Buck nudged into performing his favorite song from “The Merry Widow” even though her manager said she would not be singing).
Jane Brierley was a trailblazer as one of the first women anchors in West Michigan, but she says she never focused on that. “I didn’t think of myself as a woman. I thought of myself as a reporter,” she said. “I think if we approached it just that it was just a job that needed to be done, it didn’t matter who did it. You just needed to do it well.”
>>Photos: WOOD legends reunited
THE LIGHTER SIDE
But it hasn’t all been exposing wrongdoing, hobnobbing with celebrities and breaking barriers. The legends had plenty of funny memories to share, too.
“Sitting next to these two guys (Bill Steffen and Craig James) makes me feel I should be in the parking lot because I can tell you, when I was still on the air doing weather here and these two were still on the air on channel 13, 13 was running a promo, the tagline of which was … ‘Three meteorologists are better than none,'” Buck recalled. “I was the none they were talking about!”
“That didn’t come from us!” Craig insisted.
More than one story centered on Tom Van Howe, who could be a bit of a trickster on the anchor desk.
“I remember when Tom interviewed his wife because she was head of the Holland tulip parade and the festival,” Craig recalled. “And he said at the end of the show, ‘I’m going to ask this woman if I can get her to go home with me.’ And the phones started to ring off the wall!”
“In fact, it was little more direct,” Tom said. “I said, ‘If she plays her cards right, I’m going to sleep with her tonight.'”
“That’s right, that’s right. He said that on the air!” Craig said.
“He liked to provoke,” Brian said. “I remember a live shot I was doing very first year here. Something was happening with the train track and the alarm wasn’t going off on the tracks. (I) throw it back to Tom (in the studio) and he says, ‘Brian, that’s a hell of a way to run the railroad!’ … I was like, ‘Yes, sir.'”
“I don’t remember that,” Tom said with dignity. “I don’t think so.”
The teasing aside, Tom spoke for many WOOD employees as he summarized of his tenure:
“After all the years spent working here … more than anything, I think we bonded. It’s just a bonding. We’re all extremely lucky to be in a position to have done what we did,” Tom said.