THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Wednesday, May 22, 1996 TAG: 9605220048 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E1 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY LARRY BONKO, TELEVISION COLUMNIST LENGTH: 180 lines
SNIFF. SNIFF. What's that smell? It's the aroma of pipe tobacco burning in the fine briar that Jim Kincaid's wife bought for him in Paris.
The smoke drifts from Kincaid's office in the WVEC building in downtown Norfolk into the Channel 13 newsroom just outside his door. In Kincaid's nook, there is a sign on the wall that asks, ``But what would I know?'' There's also a carrying case made of elephant hide on his desk. He picked it up in Saigon 26 years ago.
The pipe smoke is the essence of the man. It reminded his colleagues for 17 1/2 years that smart and savvy, solid-as-granite Jim Kincaid was there to co-anchor the news at 6. To give a news operation in the 38th largest TV market in the United States a touch of the big time. To deliver the news as his heroes Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow did, without bells and whistles.
Make that news and a note - one minute and 40 seconds of commentary by Kincaid at the end of the dinner-hour newscast. Our Andy Rooney.
After today, the smoke from Kincaid's pipe will fade from the WVEC newsroom, as will Kincaid himself. At age 62 and still hurting from injuries he suffered while covering the war in Southeast Asia for ABC - a 1970 helicopter crash that he barely remembers today - Kincaid retires to his farm in Elam. He'll continue doing his commentaries after the newscast once a week.
``There is basically nothing wrong with me, healthwise. But I've reached the point now where the pain and the pressures of the job are almost overwhelming. I've been working hurt for several years,'' Kincaid said recently as he prepared to welcome Terry Zahn as his successor on the 6 p.m. newscast.
Painkillers would drive the hurt away, but Kincaid won't touch them. ``If I took what I needed for the pain, I'd end up an addict,'' he said.
Does aspirin help?
``Aspirin doesn't begin to touch the pain,'' he said.
That pain has pushed Kincaid to end a career in broadcasting that when he was 15. His career started at what he calls a one-lung radio station in his hometown of Russellville, Ark., where Kincaid also worked as a soda jerk and short-order cook at Al's Drive In.
``He is the dean of broadcasters in this market,'' said Ed Munson Jr., general manager of WAVY. ``He has given WVEC a sense of stability and the viewers a sense of history. He knows how to put the pieces of a newscast together. It remains to be seen how many of Channel 13's viewers will leave with Jim.''
Through many ratings periods, Kincaid's presence on the 6 p.m. newscast has helped to make WVEC No. 1. And even now, with new challenges in the form of giveaways from WTKR and WAVY, Kincaid has Channel 13 virtually tied for No. 1 at the dinner hour.
Kincaid stayed through the May sweeps. Loyalty.
He's the anchorman who has raised more than $40,000 for charity through the sale of his books; the essayist who shared his appreciation of oak floors, chestnut logs and pig-picking with viewers; the pet lover who made a household name of his Irish setter, Murphy.
Kincaid told us how Murphy chased cars, crashed through screen doors and ate his diploma from obedience school. Kincaid has shared a lot with viewers in 17 1/2 years.
He will still be connected with Channel 13's audience after he signs off this evening. Kincaid plans a month-long vacation and then he will resume his daily commentaries, more than likely from his farm in Elam.
Kincaid came to WVEC when the ABC affiliate desperately needed him - a big-name network correspondent, a buddy of Ted Koppel's, who could make the viewers forget the scandal of a Channel 13 anchorman and news director who had been busted on a marijuana charge.
``Although I would have to pay him more than I ever paid a newsman before, I'd get Jim for less than what he was earning at ABC,'' wrote the late Thomas P. Chisman, the founder and former general manager of WVEC, in the foreword to Kincaid's first book, ``Notes to My Friends.''
Kincaid said: ``I made a deal with Chisman. I said if I brought up the ratings, helped re-establish the credibility of WVEC's local news and fixed what needed fixing, I'd ask for a raise. He scared up more money a year later, but it wasn't a significant increase.''
Kincaid never went to college. He learned the nuts and bolts of radio and TV journalism during three years in the Army. When he left the service, Kincaid went to work at WWL in New Orleans and then marched on up the broadcasting ladder to KMOX in St. Louis, WCBS in Manhattan and ABC as a foreign correspondent assigned to Southeast Asia.
``ABC needed young, dumb and healthy people to cover the war,'' Kincaid said.
He left the United States healthy, but he did not return that way. A conversation with Jim Kincaid:
Q. How bad is the pain?
A. The pain never goes away. But I am able to sublimate it. It's always worse on cold and damp days. To repair my spine, doctors harvested bone from other parts of my body. That left me hurting in several places. But the back pain is the worst. At times, it's hard for me to move. That's when I just want to lie down or sit down.
Q. What do you remember of the helicopter crash in Vietnam?
A. Much of the experience is erased from my memory. Some divine providence has created a mental block. I was sitting at the door of the Huey with my feet on the skids when the helicopter was hit by enemy fire as it hovered 6 or 8 feet above the ground in a hot zone. I remember the sudden crash, the abrupt stop as we hit bottom.
Q. Do you recall anything else?
A. I do have dreams of the crash. But no clear picture of what happened. There was a period of 18 days, from the time I was strapped to a board and evacuated from Vietnam to Saigon and eventually Hong Kong, where I remember nothing. Nothing's there. I had a guy show up at the farm in Elam to say he was one of the medics who pulled me out of the chopper. I don't remember any of that.
Q. The viewers know a lot about you from your TV notes and books. What would they be surprised to learn about you?
A. That I'm a Type A driving personality. Some people think I'm laid back, easy does it. But in fact, I'm a perfectionist. The people with whom I have worked will tell you that I get very upset when things do not go right.
Q. In your book, Chisman said he had reservations about hiring you because he heard you liked a drink now and then. You have written of using a product ``distributed by the heirs of a certain Mister Daniel.'' Are you the hard-drinking newsman?
A. Drinking doesn't control me. I control it. I'm not a hard drinker. Steady, maybe. But not hard. After I get off work, and I'm driving to Elam, I won't have anything to drink. But when I get there, I most certainly will have a couple of belts.
Q. That's frank talk. Is there anything else about you that might surprise the viewers?
A. People expect me to be taller when they see me in person. I suppose they associate the depth of my voice with somebody as large as a football lineman. I'm of average height.
Q. You've been a newsman for almost half a century. Have you ever aspired to be anything else?
A. I grew up a news junkie by following the events of World War II because my brothers and father were in the service. I knew from the age of 11 or 12 that I was going to be working in news. I didn't know if I'd be a print writer or a radio reporter. There was no television then. I didn't see TV until I went to work at KTHS in Little Rock. Back then, nobody thought TV would last. You had to sit down for hours to watch it. Who wanted to do that?
Q. Professionally speaking, how would you like to be remembered? As a TV anchor? War correspon-dent?
A. I never have been comfortable being called an anchorman. Walter Cronkite is an anchorman. Uncle Walter took us under his wing every evening on CBS and reassured us that everything was going to be all right. I consider myself a storyteller. Put that on my tombstone. Storyteller.
Q. Why did you pick now to retire?
A. I want to go to the farm in Elam while I'm still strong enough to cut down trees, shape up the woods, do gardening, build things and do other stuff. People who've worked hard all their lives deserve the chance to do something like that. I'd also like to write a real book. A novel. It would be a fictionalized autobiography - fiction so that I don't have to use real names.
Q. As you leave the broadcasting scene in Hampton Roads, what do you think of the competition?
A. If you traveled around the country and looked in on markets larger than this one - Cincinnati, Boston and Washington, D.C., for instance - I don't think you'd find a much higher level of professionalism or expertise. However, I will say that a lot of what we do in local news is not journalism. It's show business.
Q. What bothers you about local TV news?
A. Most disturbing is the practice of trivializing the news with contests and giveaways. I'm not one for thinking up something special just to get ratings. You earn your ratings, I believe, by doing what you do well every day. As for the practice of having your weather reporter up on the roof all the time, that's patently silly. This presupposes that having nothing between you and the weather means you'll know more about it.
Q. Is there anything you'd like to say to the viewers?
A. I am most grateful that they let me into their lives and welcomed me so warmly. And I appreciate the fact they made Murphy more famous than I ever was here.
The pipe is cool. The smoke is gone. Jim Kincaid has left the building. ILLUSTRATION: FILE PHOTOs
1970: In the jungle with the last U.S. division to leave Cambodia,
and his press credentials from the Kingdom of Laos.
1976: ABC press pass for the Bicentennial
[Artifacts courtesy of Jim Kincaid.]
1983: With his Irish Setter at his 250-year-old home in Elam.
Large photo: with his omnipresent pipe.
Even in retirement, Jim Kincaid will continue giving his
commentaries on WVEC.
KEYWORDS: INTERVIEW PROFILE BIOGRAPHY