Ken Murphy - 40 Years - A Final Commentary

Spending forty years at one local station is, as far as I know, unheard of in the broadcast industry—except me.  And I had no intention of staying at WECT longer that a year, live at the beach, get sand between my toes, and move on with my career in a larger market, several of which I had already worked in prior to my hitch in the Air Force.  But, it didn’t happen that way.  Let me reflect, and dwell on big events and important changes.

    I was here during some technical transitions worth mentioning.  We shot black-and-white film in spring-wound silent cameras at first.  Then, color film revolutionized our daily efforts, along with battery-operated cameras, sound, etc.  Next came videotape and electronic editing, replacing the old film splicer, razor blades for emulsion scraping, and a pot of glue.  I wasn’t here at the time yet, but the station moved from a totally unsuitable old dance hall on the third floor (no elevator) of the old telephone building onPrincess Street downtown, to a new custom-designed building on Shipyard Boulevard (which has been added onto half-a-dozen times).

    Now to events.  The first big news story of my tenure was the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and what happened here as a result.  Wilmington had not had any “racial unpleasantness” since the riots of 1898, but it happened again in 1978.  Two years later, federal authorities ruled that the public schools in New Hanover County were segregated and racially unbalanced, counter to the Supreme Court’s ruling fourteen years earlier in Brown vs. Board of Education.   There were white supremacy segregationists in our community and they became the core of resistance to the court’s order to “desegregate” the schools.  That situation resulted in more than “unpleasantness.”  It brought about demonstrations, riots, retaliation, and even death.

    Good things happened, though.  In 1968, the aging James Walker and Community hospitals (white and black in that order) were replaced by New Hanover Memorial Hospital.  The transfer of patients from one building to the other was a study in logistics, with some patients, bed and all, hauled by moving van.  Wilmington College, which was state-supported, was taken into the university system, and became “The University on North Carolina at……..” and a period of enormous growth began there which continues to this day.  In early 1970, the big new Memorial Bridge was put in place, and getting in and out of Wilmington became less of a chore.  Another new bridge is planned now, crossing the river just south of the state port.  I hope I live to use it.  There were other things of moment, like the formation of the Committee of 100 by local business magnates to attract industry to replace the departed Atlantic Coast Line Railroad headquarters, which had been the town’s mainstay of jobs and money.  Landfall was developed, which attracted upscale people to move to the area, bringing their money with them.  Wilmington was finally connected to the rest of the world by a decent highway—Interstate 40.  And with the infusion of the movie industry following the filming of “Firestarter,” not only jobs and money were created, but a new cache that plugged the outflow of our bright young people to Atlanta and Charlotte and other cities, and actually became an attractant to bring their bright young people here!  Downtown had sunk into a depression with the flight of big stores, car dealers, and other businesses to what was then the suburbs But, in the 70’s a turnaround started, and now downtown is the place to live, work, and play.

    I’m sure there are other big events I can’t recall at the moment, but this was enough to make for a pretty busy time.