The recent announcement that South Carolina ETV was closing WJWJ in Beaufort County due to budget woes prompted this rich reminiscence in the Beaufort Gazette by the paper’s former longtime editor, Pete Pillow, who also spent five years as a producer and anchor on WJWJ’s weeknight newscast, from 1978 to 1983.
“There was no high-def television or satellite reception back then,” he recalls. “A special antenna was needed to even get WJWJ’s signal. One of our initial tasks was teaching viewers how to avoid a snowy picture by manually fine-tuning their sets for Channel 16. A safecracker’s dexterity would have helped.”
As for production, “field reports were videotaped,” he writes, “but the nightly newscast was live — television at its most daring and mistake-prone. Slips of the tongue could render one (or both) anchors helpless with mirth. Nothing to do but laugh out loud when one of us referred to septuagenarian Strom Thurmond as ‘South Carolina’s senior citizen’ rather than — correctly — the state’s ‘senior senator’ in Washington.”
“No story was too large or small for our newscast,” Pillow says. “We profiled candidates seeking city, town and county seats. We forecast nonprofit fundraisers. We encouraged pet adoptions from the animal shelter. We beat the drum for downtown revitalization. We celebrated the history of Decoration Day at the Beaufort National Cemetery. We tracked Hurricane David’s winds and rains until the storm knocked out our power. We covered the Heritage links and the Family Circle Cup tennis courts.”
“Against commercial TV odds,” he notes, “we somehow gained a core constituency of everyday people so engaged in what we did that they committed extra time and effort to welcome us into their lives, into their homes, on a regular basis. And were proud to tell us about it. That’s a WJWJ legacy that even today’s budget-cutters in Columbia can’t take away.”