After an unparalleled 25 years of covering Oklahoma's most important news, people and events that OETA Deputy Director and Editor-in-Chief Dick Pryor announced he is "hanging up the notebook". We asked Pryor, host of ONR, Oklahoma Forum, A Conversation With..., On the Record and OETA's live election coverage to reflect on his quarter century with the station and to share some insights gathered along the way.
Thinking back on your career, what news stories or events most stand out and why?
I have been in broadcasting for 40 years, the first 15 of which were in sports and the last 25 in news, so there is lot that stands out. As a sports anchor/reporter and play-by-play announcer covering the College World Series in Omaha was a thrill, along with outstanding seasons and bowl games for OU and OSU football. Doing play-by-play for the Oklahoma City 89ers baseball club stands out – especially on those days when I got to share the microphone with one of my boyhood idols, Bobby Murcer. Covering two PGA golf championships and a Women’s U.S. Open has to rank up there, too. Interviewing people like Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer was heady stuff for a young reporter. And, the time I did an auto racing story with Paul Newman (yes, that Paul Newman) is definitely highlight reel stuff.
As far as news, covering the Oklahoma City Bombing has to be at the top of the list. It was the kind of story that every reporter hopes to be involved in, just not in their own home town. The short- and long-term effects of that story were astounding. One of my all-time favorite events happens every two years – elections. Preparing for and hosting OETA’s election coverage is one of my favorite things. I love election day – it’s like the World Series for politicos. I wish election day came around more often. I love watching our program come together and flying by the seat of your pants for four hours. It’s the play-by-play announcer in me, coming to life. It has been a real honor to get to work with media and political professionals and inform the people of Oklahoma about politics and policy.
Any behind-the-scenes memories to share?
Oh sure. I’m especially fond of the personal, off-camera moments with the Oklahoma icons we’ve interviewed for the A Conversation With… program. Each person is and was special, but being able to shoot the breeze with one of my all-favorite entertainers, Roy Clark, was a blast. Talking to General Tom Stafford about what it is like to be an astronaut (what child of a certain age didn’t think about being an astronaut?) and going to the moon – wow, I had to pinch myself. And, getting a written thank-you note from Wanda Jackson saying that the interview I conducted with her was the best interview she ever did – that’s a real compliment, and in my scrapbook. Interviewing OSU Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders in the shower, getting offered a beer by Paul Newman before talking about his race car, getting written up in Sports Illustrated for interviewing Hall of Fame baseball player Lou Brock, and learning from the best, Bill Thrash. Those are all great memories. And, there are so many more. It’s been a great run.
A lot of the behind-the-scenes memories are just about the process – the talk that goes on between the anchors during stories and at the end of the newscast while sitting on the wide shot, how to deal with a fly in the studio (and on your nose), not cracking up when your co-anchor (Lisa Mason) has her big clunky earring noisily fall off during a serious news story, and the give and take in the newsroom when discussing how to best tell a story or produce a program.
You interviewed many of Oklahoma's civil rights pioneers in the A Conversation With.... series. How did those experiences change you? Did you perceive the state's history differently as a result?
Interviewing Clara Luper, George Henderson and Wilma Mankiller gave me a new appreciation for grace and leadership. These were people who were thrust into positions where they would be tested and who rose to the occasion through dedication, skill and force of will. They fought hard, reached out and made their vision for a better world happen. Yes, hearing their stories reinforced in my mind that improving the human condition is always a struggle, the fight never ends and it takes great courage to bring about social change. Hearing about how they overcame difficult conditions, suffered indignities and setbacks and kept on working for what they believed in was distinctly inspirational. I hope everyone will watch those programs again, listen to their words and learn from the way they conducted themselves under pressure. These were true people of character and courage.
In 10-20 years when people look back on your work, what one thing do you hope they take away from it?Where do you feel you made the greatest impact? I hope people will remember that we did journalism the way it is supposed to be done – shining a light on their world (and government) and giving the people important information about policy and politics. I hope they will appreciate that our dedicated team worked every day to equip them to be better citizens and that they should always ask questions and continue to learn. If we inspired our viewers and listeners to become a little more engaged, compassionate and understanding, then I think we did our job. Long-term, I think the historical record we have created through our news stories and discussion programs, especially A Conversation With…, will be our lasting legacy.
What's next for you?
Bringing my life and work experiences together in a new position as Director of Client Services for Candor Public Relations. It’s a new challenge and new opportunity to inform and shape public discussion and opinion. I look forward to learning, growing and developing new relationships. I am grateful for my broadcasting career and for the new opportunities that lie ahead. In the final scene of The West Wing, Abigail Bartlet asked her husband, President Jed Bartlet, what he was thinking about as they left Washington. Soaring high above the clouds on their plane flight home, Bartlet responded, “Tomorrow.” I can’t wait for tomorrow.
But, I will always be a journalist.
It's with heavy hearts and best wishes that everyone at OETA says a fond farewell to Dick Pryor and a big thank you for his award-winning work, professionalism and integrity. His legacy at OETA and within Oklahoma journalism will be felt for generations to come.