Definition and Redefinition

I got a sense walking up the sidewalk to the church that his funeral would be reflective of the man.

Dozens of American flags lined the sidewalk and the entrance to Grace Episcopal Cathedral in Topeka today as hundreds gathered to pay their final respects to a pioneer of Kansas broadcasting. Jerry Holley died last week at 71. His funeral was just like him.

Proud, bold and traditional.

Amazing Grace. Ecclesiastes 3. The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The 23rd Psalm.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

Jerry was a member in good standing of an elite club. Men who built and managed Kansas radio and TV stations when broadcasting was still shiny and new. These guys defined an industry. Jerry managed radio and television properties for what used to be Stauffer Communications in Topeka.

When I was exposing Joan Finney's faults and foibles every night on the news, Jerry was my boss. Like many successful Kansas businessmen, Holley was no fan of Finney. He used to tell me, "Stick a camera in her face and get outa the way."

Once he assigned himself to cover the local angle of a global story. He traveled with the 190th Air Refueling Wing of the Kansas Air National Guard on a mission during the first Gulf War. He basically "embedded" himself a full war before it became the journalistic norm. That's the kind of pull the man had.

Like a lot of broadcasters, Jerry had a bit of an ego. (I know. Hard to believe).

Who better to interview for the story, Jerry asked himself, than the embedded reporter? So he directed the photog to shoot him asking the "questions" and then offering the "answers." The idea was for us geniuses back in the newsroom to sort through this self-directed 'invocation and response' and edit together a coherent report for the 6 o'clock news.

When we got a look at the raw tape, we cracked up:

Jerry: "Question. Where are you going on this mission?"
Jerry: "Answer. I can't tell you. It's top secret."

Holley was one of the last of a breed. Local ownership of local television stations used to be the norm. Today, it's the rare exception. Not judging. Just pointing out an oft-overlooked transition.

I was fortunate to work for three of these Kansas broadcasting giants: Bob Schmidt in Hays, Martin Umansky in Wichita and Jerry Holley in Topeka.

Today I'm privileged to chair the Kansas Association of Broadcasters Foundation board. We're raising money to help existing broadcasters keep up with emerging trends and to expand the definition of broadcasting. To help redefine an industry.

Technology's changing broadcasting. The very life blood of an industry, the 30-second television commercial (which paid my salary when I was a TV news reporter) is at risk.

Question. Why should I watch a 30-second commercial if I have a DVR?
Answer. I don't.

The parallels are uncanny. Jerry Holley's generation, the pioneers, were making it up as they went along. There was no template. Same thing today. The next generation of broadcasters will need to be just as smart and innovative as Schmidt, Umansky and Holley. Even more so.

This redefinition is well underway. Here's a great example. Web-based high school sports coverage designed and produced by KWCH-TV in Wichita. They've found a niche. It's micro-local.

As Jerry's service wound down today and the deacon dismissed the congregation, the organist leaned into the Wurlitzer and a distinctly Holley-esque hymn and feeling cascaded through the cathedral.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.

Brash. No nonsense.

I started remembering Jerry Holley. And how he helped define an industry. I thought about my generation on the precipice of middle age. On the cusp of redefining an industry.

To everything there is a season.

I started to get excited about the future.