FOX10 News

Meeting a Saint

April 16th, 2014 at 12:11 pm by under FOX10 News, Uncategorized

Meeting the Pope, 1988I’ve been lucky enough to meet some fascinating people since starting in radio in 1970 and moving to television in 1974.  When I’m asked who was the most interesting, my answer is always the same: Pope John Paul II.

But my first trip to see him almost ended before it began.

Photographer Paula Ross and I left Mobile with luggage and easily a hundred pounds of camera gear, lights, a tripod and video cassettes. We were on our way to Rome to document Mobile Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb’s ad limina visit to the Vatican and Pope John Paul II, who will be proclaimed a saint, along with Pope John XXIII, on April 27, 2014. Ad limina is Latin for “to the thresholds of the apostles”.  It’s the name of a bishop’s periodic visits to the Pope.

Having checked everything through to Rome, Paula and I were waiting to board a PanAm flight from JFK when I heard my name on the public address system. It was bad news.

Monsignor David Sullivan, a beloved priest who had been ailing, had died, and Archbishop Lipscomb decided to delay his departure in order to celebrate his funeral. We didn’t know when the Archbishop would leave for Rome, so we had no choice but to return to Mobile.

I explained the dilemma to the woman at the gate who was sympathetic, but explained that since the flight was moments from departing, our luggage would make the trip to Rome without us. That meant were we stuck overnight in New York City without a change of clothes or toiletries. It was left up to me to decide where to stay, so the Waldorf-Astoria became a very comfortable home-away-from-home for one night. (Attention journalism students: those free- spending days are over.)

Bob and photographer Paula RossPaula and I got back to Mobile the next day, but we imagined our luggage (including all of our TV gear) going around and around on a carousel in Rome’s airport. I filed the paperwork to get it back and waited.

Monsignor Sullivan’s funeral took place and Archbishop Lipscomb rescheduled his visit. We made plans to leave again, but there was another problem; our checked baggage still hadn’t come back, and we wondered if we and our luggage would pass like two jets in the night. Luckily, everything returned to Mobile the day we were scheduled to leave. We checked it all again (paying another round of excess baggage fees) and finally arrived in Rome.

Except for our heavy, wooden tripod.

Nowadays, with current lightweight cameras, that wouldn’t be much of a problem. But in 1988, and a camera weighing close to 30 pounds, it would have been impossible to shoot hours of steady video without a good tripod.  In those days, networks still had bureaus all over the world. Paula visited our network news bureau to explain our dilemma. “No problem,” she was told and then directed to a room filled with tripods. Nice tripods. Better than the tripod we brought. We used that one until we left. (Ours eventually turned up at the airport.)

Pope greetingOur first chance to see Pope John Paul II was at his Wednesday General Audience, held that week inside Paul VI Audience Hall, just south of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The Hall holds 6,300 people and it was packed. Our camera position was to the Pope’s left, much closer to him than any of the laity in the audience.

Pope John Paul IIWe were allowed to leave that position toward the end of the Audience, and I tried to call out to the Pope as he was leaving. He looked in my direction but kept walking. In baseball terms, it was a swing and a miss.

Archbishop Oscar LipscombThe next morning, Paula and I received permission (everything in the Vatican required permission) to attend and videotape the Pope’s morning Mass. Archbishop Lipscomb was in our line of sight behind the Pope and some seminarians from Mobile were part of the choir, so it provided great video opportunities. The central balcony of St. Peter’s, where most recent Popes have greeted the faithful after their elections, was right behind me.  It was a setting that gave me chills.

At the conclusion of Mass, we were ushered into a huge hall, where those who attended Mass had a chance for a quick handshake with the Pope. I watched as the Pope moved quickly around the perimeter of the room and whispered to the Archbishop that it would be nice to have more than a 2 second shot of the Pope hurrying past us.

He responded by clasping the Pope’s hand as he came to our group, slowly introducing the “group from Mobile”, “including our television news anchor…”  At that point, the Pope looked at me and pointed, and I responded by greeting him in Slavic. I could speak and understand some of the language since my grandmothers spoke it around the house and my parents were fluent in it.  I greeted the Pope by saying, “Slava Isusu Christu”, which means, “Glory to Jesus Christ”.  It’s a traditional greeting at that time of year for those of us who are Eastern Rite Catholics.

The Pope hesitated for a second, perhaps wondering why this young, American TV person was speaking Slavic to him.  But the Polish Pope shifted instantly from English to Slavic and responded, “I v’iki v’kov” which means “Forever and Ever”, the traditional response.  He continued, also in Slavic, asking if I were Ukrainian.  I told him, no, I was Slavic.  By that time, he was being hurried through the line and I knew I had enough video to justify the trip. It was a home run.

Papal LibraryThe second time I saw the Pope was in his library, where he gave a message to all the bishops who had come for their ad limina visits.  The communications staff at the Vatican told us that when the Pope concluded his remarks, we were to pick up our gear and leave immediately.  We started to do that when I saw the Pope heading in my direction.  We spoke very briefly and that’s when I received a small, plastic sleeve with the Papal Seal on it.  Inside, was a set of rosary beads with a crucifix modeled after the processional cross, or crozier, that the Pope used.

You can watch the 1988, 30 minute documentary that we produced by clicking on this link. http://youtu.be/ERl9-Q4Nh9s

Family meets Pope, 2001The final time I saw the Pope in person was in 2001, this time with my entire family.  We had been vacationing in Rome and hoping for an invitation to the Pope’s morning Mass.  I checked but found we were not on the list.  We did take a spot in St. Peter’s Square for the Pope’s General Audience on Wednesday, saw him at a distance and were content.

After a day of sightseeing, we returned to the apartment we were renting on Via Aurelia near the Vatican when we found an envelope that had been slipped under our door.  Inside was an invitation to a private audience with the Holy Father the next day.  The note said if we chose to accept, we needed to call a phone number to confirm with a Sister.  I was on the phone within seconds, and was told to wear a dark suit, and that my wife and daughters were to wear modest dresses, but not to wear white; that color was reserved for the Pope.

The next morning, we brought our passports to the guards at the “Bronze Doors” of the Apostolic Palace and were soon guided through a maze of long ornate hallways and magnificent staircases.  The group of us, including families and dignitaries from all over the world, waited for our cue to enter the room where the Pope was seated.  We were told to approach, then kneel down for a blessing.  It turns out the platform on which we had to kneel wasn’t wide enough to accommodate all four of us.  I balanced on one knee on the far end, with my wife and daughters directly in front of the Pope.  He said something to us, handed us all rosaries as the official Vatican photographers took pictures and we were given our cue to leave.  My wife, realizing there was no way to straighten up, had to grab the arm of the Pope’s throne for support, hoping that Vatican Security didn’t jump in to intervene!

I wish I could tell you what the Pope said to us, but Parkinson’s had robbed him of his ability to speak clearly.  It didn’t matter.  We were in the presence of a saint and the ceremony this month just confirms what we already knew.

 

 

 


Throwback Thursday: Visiting the White House

February 27th, 2014 at 11:41 am by under FOX10 News, FOX10 Politics, Uncategorized

I’ve had the chance to see 4 Presidents in person:

  • Gerald Ford, when his campaign jet touched down at Bates Field in Mobile on a Sunday evening in September, 1976, bringing with him Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and Governor George Wallace.
  • Jimmy Carter, when I sat 2 chairs away from him in the Cabinet Room just off the Oval Office in the White House during a regional press briefing.
  • Ronald Reagan, during another regional press meeting, where I had lunch with him in the State Dining Room of the White House. (Full disclosure:  The President sat with news anchors from New York, Chicago, etc.  I sat so far away at the edge of the room I was almost on the South Lawn of the White House.)  I also saw Reagan when he came to Dothan in 1986 and brought down the house with his line about where to promote his tax reform act.  He said he found the answer in the Book of Genesis; “Let us go to Dothan”.
  • But the first (and so far) only President I’ve actually met and questioned at the White House was Bill Clinton, about 6 months into his presidency. See more of these images by going to my Facebook page, Bob Grip.
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Courtesy: William J. Clinton Presidential Library

The other day, when I was going through a box of tapes, I found the old (1993) 3/4 inch cassette tape that contained a copy of my live reports and stories from that one day trip to Washington. Thanks to our chief engineer Roland Fields, we converted the stories from analog to video to share with you.

The big issues in 1993 – healthcare, taxes and military cutbacks – still sound familiar today. Add in some discussion of who would take the place of U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions, and hear about then-Democratic Senator Richard Shelby not getting along with the White House (did that make him a DINO?)  and you have a look back at life in southern Alabama in the early 1990s.

 

 

 

Backstories

  • At the time of Ford’s visit, we did not have the capability to go “live”.  We had to relay tapes back to the station downtown to get them on the air.
  • When entering the White House for the Carter visit,  I got through security easily but my photographer told the Secret Service he was there to “shoot the President”.  I understood he meant shoot him with the camera he brought with him, but you might say he was slightly delayed by agents.
  • There were Godiva chocolates on the table at the Reagan luncheon.
  • The day I was supposed to meet Clinton, I turned on the TV to see the news that one of his advisors, Vince Foster, had committed suicide overnight; we were told there was almost no chance of meeting Clinton that day. When we gathered in the Roosevelt Room, outside the Oval Office, we were greeted by Vice President Al Gore.  After a few questions, the door from the Oval Office suddenly opened and the President walked in. I have to admit I broke into a cold sweat when the President called on me for a question. It brought back memories of watching live, afternoon news conferences featuring President John F. Kennedy.  I never imagined at the time that I would have the chance to question a President of the United States someday. (I asked him about the recent closing of Mobile’s Navy Homeport, as you can see on the video.) It was truly an “Only in America” moment.
  • Photographer Al Tuggle and I had a satellite window to hit at 5 pm central time the day of the Clinton briefing, but the President was in no hurry to leave and it was protocol at the time (and may still be) that no one leaves before the President leaves.  As soon as he returned to the Oval Office, we bolted out of the White House to a parking garage where our rental car waited.  I hopped behind the wheel and sped down Pennsylvania Avenue to the news bureau near the Capitol building, jumped out of the car and ran up to the roof of the building where a camera crew was already waiting for me.  While Al found a place to park, I went on the air without a script with seconds to spare.  It was like a trapeze act without a net.  No one at home was the wiser.

Since then, I have tried without success to meet with both Presidents Bush, as well as President Obama.  Someday, perhaps…

 


This is a cold winter…

January 21st, 2014 at 3:10 pm by under FOX10 News, Uncategorized

Sure, winter is supposed to be cold, but this one seems colder than most.

This past weekend, I made a quick trip to Pittsburgh to attend a Board of Directors’ meeting.  I’m just glad I had a nice, warm winter coat.  I’m sorry I forgot my gloves, though!

BTW, those are deer tracks in the snow :)

photo 1 photo-3 photo-2

 


Teaching multimedia, in real time

November 4th, 2013 at 7:47 pm by under FOX10 News, Uncategorized

spring-hill-collegeI enjoy teaching at Spring Hill College, partly because I have a lot of autonomy in what I do.   It was even more fun today, when I willingly ripped up the lesson plan for breaking news.

Word was released during my class that Spring Hill would be getting a new president.  In a hurry.

Past experience taught me that the process often goes like this:

  • Current president announces well in advance that he/she plans to leave.
  • The school forms a search committee to find candidates for the job, often interviewing them off-site.
  • The finalists are quietly brought to campus.
  • An announcement is made.

This time, nothing like that happened.  The announcement was made that the current president was leaving in about a month, and the new president was already in place.  In fact, the new president was the former president. Plus, the school was bringing in a chief operating officer.

This was a teaching opportunity about which a journalism instructor dreams, but almost never happens.  I got to guide the class through developing news, in real time.

We were going to talk about storytelling in a multimedia environment.  And we did, allowing the students to take the lead and put into practice some of the techniques I’ve been teaching all semester.

How should the story be distributed?  Twitter first, then Facebook then the web.

What visual elements?  Reaction from the current/incoming presidents, students, faculty and alums.  Old pictures or videos.  Graphics depicting the college’s financial condition.

Why was the announcement made now?  And on and on…

I finally had to call time, because another class was ready to gather.

Why is teaching rewarding?   For days like this one.

 


Disturbance is Getting Organized

October 2nd, 2013 at 2:57 pm by under FOX10 News, FOX10 Stormtracker Weather

tropics_quickmap

Tropical Discussion

Showers and thunderstorms associated with an area of low pressure over the n’west Caribbean Sea have become better organized. The system has the potential to develop into a tropical depression at any time. The low is expected to move northwestward to north-Northwestward near the Yucatan Peninsula later today, and into the southern Gulf early Thursday. This system has a high chance, 70 percent, of developing in the next 48 hours.  After that strong upper-level winds are likely to limit development as the system approaches the northern Gulf of Mexico by the weekend. An air force reserve unit hurricane hunter aircraft is on its way to investigate the disturbance.

Local Discussion

A weak upper level low over northern Louisiana is finally lifting away from the region. Our area remains on the outer edge of a surface/mid level ridge centered over the NC mountains. The is a fairly high axis of moisture over the area that will remain  in place through Friday. Spotty rain chances will continue at 30% through Friday. Rain chances increase for Saturday, and may be a big issue over the weekend. A surface front will advance across the central U.S. and approach the area by Sunday morning. The front and the tropical low should merge on Sunday. I expect the system to weaken as it merges with the front, and primarily be a rain-maker for our area. Drier and cooler weather is expected next week.

 


On the Subject of Fall

September 26th, 2013 at 2:47 pm by under FOX10 News, FOX10 Stormtracker Weather

fall-leaves
This past Sunday, September 22nd marked the autumnal equinox and the official beginning of the fall season. This is the date where there is roughly an equal amount of daylight and darkness in the Northern Hemisphere. We actually are experienced that phenomenon officially this evening on 9/26. Our sunset is at 6:44 pm and the sunrise tomorrow is at 6:44am. The longer nights will eventually mean cooler weather. Despite the changes in the calendar, we are still experiencing some late summer weather – temperature wise – this week.

Changes are expected in this pattern as we get closer to the weekend. A surface high pressure system in Quebec, Canada will strengthen and shift into the New England state. This feature should force a stalled front well out over the Gulf and into south Florida by Friday night. Our airmass will dry out significantly. Temperatures will also drop by several degrees. Look for highs in the mid 80′s and lows in the low 60′s for most areas by Saturday and Sunday.


Rain Totals Above Average

August 21st, 2013 at 9:57 pm by under FOX10 News, FOX10 Stormtracker Weather

rainfall_surplusOur rainfall total of 45.2″ is now about 6″ above normal for the year. Mobile, AL is one of the nations wettest cities. We even see a much higher rainfall total on average than areas like Seattle, WA. The summer has been especially wet. This month, we have seen nearly 10″ of rain at Mobile Regional Airport. The forecast trend is for near normal precipitation as we head into September and October.


Uncertain Tropical Forecast

August 15th, 2013 at 2:38 pm by under FOX10 News, FOX10 Stormtracker Weather

tropics_quickmap tropical_modelsWe have our eyes on two features in the tropics, the closest being a broad area of low pressure over the Yucatan. This low is surrounded by disorganized showers and storms. The feature is currently over land, and development is not expected today. The National Hurricane Center gives it a medium chance of developing over the southern Gulf on Friday and Friday night. This low is tracking west northwest.

The long range forecast is very uncertain. If the system remains weak and/or tracks further to the south, its most likely going to stay on a westerly course towards Mexico and south Texas. A stronger system would be more likely to be pulled north by a strenghtening upper trough over the Eastern U.S. If the system takes a more northerly turn, our rain chances would increase for Sunday and Monday. Upper winds are not favorable for rapid strengthening, if the low does organize into a depression or weak tropical storm.

Forecast_fan

In the far eastern Atlantic, Tropical Storm Erin continues to organize off the Cape Verde Islands. This system should continue on a westerly course over the next five days, remaining over open waters. Dry air and a stable atmosphere should weaken the system by Sunday.


Low Pressure Slowly Organizing

August 14th, 2013 at 8:48 pm by under FOX10 News, FOX10 Stormtracker Weather

tropics_quickmap tropical_models

A low pressure area in the northwest Caribbean is gradually getting better organized this evening. Gusty winds and squalls are occuring mainly east of the circulation. The National Hurricane Center now says there is a 70 % chance it will develop by Friday. The system will have to interact with the land areas of the Yucatan before reaching the Gulf. The winds are a bit less favorable for intensification in the southern Gulf. Tropical models suggest the feature could head west towards Mexico, or take a more northerly track. The forecast shows an environment that does not favor rapid intensification.


Broad Low Getting Better Organized

August 14th, 2013 at 3:08 pm by under FOX10 News, FOX10 Stormtracker Weather

 tropical_models
tropics_quickmap

The low pressure area in the northwest Caribbean Sea continues to show signs of organization. The upper environment is somewhat favorable for development and a system could form between now and Thursday. The National Hurricane Center gives the low a 60% chance of developing in the next two days. The low is currently heading northwest at 10-15 mph and should reach the southern Gulf by Friday. If the low organizes, a landfalling system is possible along the northern Gulf Coast – anywhere from Texas to Florida – by Sunday. A trough in the eastern United States will likely pull anything that forms to the north. However, the upper environment is not conducive for rapid strengthening over the Gulf.  Stay tuned as the we get more details today and Thursday. We could see a lot of rain out of this feature if it does indeed head our way. If the system becomes a storm, the name could be Erin or Fernand, depending on the development of the other wave feature in the far Eastern Atlantic off the African coast.