BUFFALO, NY – For those who just knew Tom Connolly as the guy who said, “it’s midnight,” every night, seven nights a week for almost 25 years, its difficult to introduce you to the man. He was as unique as his voice– unequivocally one of a kind.
We’ve all seen some movie or TV show where a kid goes to the dumpy basement closet to hang out with the school janitor– a world-weary and gruff, yet kind and brilliant guy, who gives great advice and does his sometimes rotten job like clockwork.
Overnights in radio are a lot like a dumpy basement… And while Tom was no janitor, he just did his work– and a lot of stuff that he’d do just because he thought someone should– quietly with no expectation of appreciation or praise. He was like radio’s counterculture guidance counselor.
He loved and cared for each one of us kids who went through the station, and encouraged us to make our own role there, because no one else was going to do it for us.
The first time I was ever on the air at WBEN was with Tom’s guidance– make that his insistence. On a Sunday morning shift in 1994, the news guy never showed up.
It was with his passionate, insistent, and unmistakably Connollyesque advice that I began my on air career in radio.
What many people outside of radio might not realize, is that Tom worked overnights, seven days a week. For decades.
Again, that started in part because Tom cared about me personally. There was a time when I was working 3-11 Saturday evening, then was back Sunday morning at 5. At this point, Tom had Saturday nights off– his one night off every week.
The guy who was supposed to work the overnight shift while I’d go sleep on the station couch for six hours didn’t show up two weeks in a row. Being a naive high school kid, I never told anyone… Until one day I let it it slip to Tom. He was already angry that “the man” was taking advantage of my eagerness to work by putting me on such a schedule.
But Tom had no love for the character who skipped out on that shift. The next week, Tom was working Saturday night — the start of his 23 year run of overnights every night. He also insisted that I forgo that soiled couch in the station basement and drive 45 minutes home for some real sleep. More than once that sound sleep ended abruptly with a phone call from the station.
“Sorry Tom, I’m on my way.”
And he meant no problem. For five years, Tom relived me from “running the board” as the technical producer and operator of the station in the early 90s.
Most nights he’d walk in, fresh from Tops next door, with his arms filled with bizarro overnight snacks. The menu would change through the years, but early on it was a half-gallon of Tops Vim One skim milk, which he’d drink straight from the carton to wash down a bag of oyster crackers and a pound of M&Ms.
Often a minute or two “late,” he’d simply say, “Good evening. Vacate.”
In those years he wouldn’t take official vacation days or any time off– he’d ask me to cover for him, with the same request once a year, several years running.
“If it’s ok, I may be a few minutes late tonight,” he’d say— and I then knew what was coming next. “Weird Al Yankovic is performing in concert tonight, and I’d like to attend.”
The gratitude he’d show when you did him a small favor was as if it had been served on a golden platter.
Maybe a bit more mellowed, Tom was the same cat when I came back to WBEN after several years away.
No longer a (young) punk and having some radio management experience under my belt, I had an even greater appreciation for Connolly (which is nearly universally how we’ve always referred to him.)
He taught young people not only the craft of radio, but the reward in the drudgery of work just for the sake of your own pride in getting it done. He was the cool upper classman who knew all the tricks and was willing to share.
For decades, Tom would send home board ops and news people on Christmas… And work double duty for 36 straight hours so the people at the bottom of the totem poll could spend time with their families.
After his daily nine hours at Entercom, contributing to the success of WBEN, WGR, Star and Kiss’ morning show in his typical unheralded fashion, rarely receiving the credit or thanks he deserved, he’d head to his first radio love, WBNY, and work for free on a fantastic music show– again, acting as mentor and funky uncle to generations of Buff State broadcasting students.
If one was trying to be sensitive, one would say Tom was unique. He was unique enough to be comfortable with weird. Mostly a good weird. Mostly a weird like, “Who works that hard?” Or “Who helps people he barely knows like that?” Or “Who just does his job, seven days a week, always superior with no questions asked?”
Tom was one of the people who made working in radio different, exciting, and so much better than any other terrible, terribly-paying job on the planet. His work ethic, his weirdness, and his love and support for all of us will be greatly and forever missed.
Stars make “radio” for those who listen. Guys like Tom make radio for those who make radio.
In some cynical Western New York circles, when the announced crowd seems to be a bit higher than the actual attendance figure, someone is bound to ask, “Did Mike Billoni do the counting?”
Buffalo News archives
It’s probably not what talk show host Larry King was talking over with Bisons Skipper Rocky Bridges in the dugout, but Billoni’s magic played no small part in the meeting in the first place.
It was Bisons executive Billoni’s marketing and public relations prowess which helped whip Western New York into a baseball frenzy in the late ’80s. Triple-A level ball was back for the first time in 25 years, seats at the brand new Pilot Field were the hottest ticket in town, and the you-could-almost-taste-it hope of Major League Baseball coming to the new ballpark were amplified by the former Courier-Express reporter’s panache for promotion.
Ten-thousand tickets sold within an hour-and-a-half of the first Pilot Field passes going on sale. The nationally televised old timers’ game and the Triple-A All Star game, both seen on ESPN that year, were also sellouts. With 22 sellouts for The Herd in the 1988 season, Buffalo shattered the all-time minor league baseball attendance record with just shy of 1.2 million through the turnstiles in Pilot Field’s first season.
So, when Larry King — whose national radio show had been heard overnights on WBEN in Buffalo for a decade and was becoming more famous for the CNN talk show he’d been hosting since 1985 — came to Buffalo to throw out the opening pitch, it wasn’t good enough that it just be a random Friday night at the ballpark.
Billoni was pitching King’s appearance as the “formal dedication” of Pilot Field on May 19, 1988. That’s not to be confused with the first game, which was played a month earlier, when Governor Mario Cuomo, Mayor Jim Griffin, and the whole cadre of politicians wanting to claim some credit for the erection of the ballpark showed up to be a part of the ribbon cutting.
There’s no doubt that was alright with Billoni — who three decades later, remains one of Buffalo’s great molders and shapers of public opinion.
Clint Buehlman spent 46 years on Buffalo radio. From 1931 until 1977, “Yours Truly” Buehly’s voice came across Western New York’s airwaves daily, checking Arthur Mometer for the temperature, helping commuters through traffic, and letting kids know when school was cancelled.
Buffalo News archives
Nearly 40 years after Buehlman’s retirement, the day he’s remembered and talked about most by his generations of audiences is Thanksgiving Day.
In 1987, when “Your AM-MC, CB” came back to WBEN after a decade of forced retirement for an interview with then-WBEN (now WHTT) morning man Bill Lacy, Lacy said Thanksgiving time was, by far, the time of year when the phones rang with thoughts of Buehlman the most — and they were mostly thoughts about Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians.
Buehly made it a Western New York tradition to play Waring’s version of “Grandma’s Thanksgiving” every year, and it remains a song takes many Buffalonians back to the old kitchen radio and a much simpler time.
In 1977, upon reaching the age of 65, Buehlman was forced to retire from the early morning seat he had occupied on WBEN since 1943. Here’s a look back at his career at the time of his retirement.
By Steve Cichon | firstname.lastname@example.org | @stevebuffalo
I’ve been grappling with what to say about Van Miller.
You don’t need a biography– Everyone knows, or at least confidently suspects, that he was the greatest broadcaster and entertainer to ever make a career in Buffalo.
Most people also know that he was a great story teller. I spent about 20 hours with Van after he retired from TV, recording all his stories getting ready to write a book that never happened. I still have those studio quality tapes– But maybe another day.
For me, when I think about Van, the Bills and the broadcasting– well, that’s only the half of it– as he used to say after two quarters of football.
I generally like to write about a person and their accomplishments and what they maybe should mean to you from a historical perspective. I just can’t with Van.
What I’m about to write is as much about me as it is Van, because I just don’t know how else to say any of this without making it personal.
That is to say (to stick an Ottoism in a Van piece), for as talented and amazing Van was as a personality— he was was never satisfied until he squeezed out every last bit of himself for every single person who watched and listened during his five decades in broadcasting.
I was 16 or so when I was working at WBEN and Van Miller became my friend. Really. My pal. I was working on the Bills broadcasts on the radio for a while before I became “The Game Day Producer” of the radio play-by-play. Van liked people who liked him, and I sure did like him.
He’d come down from the TV end of 2077 Elmwood Avenue and hang out with some mix of Chris Parker, Randy Bushover, Howard Simon, Rick Maloney and me in the WBEN Radio sports office, and those few minutes were always the highlight of each of our days.
Van knew that, and he liked it. Lived off it, I think. He knew the power he had in “just being himself” among people, and smiling and having a good time. And telling mildly off color jokes. And whispering swear words.
One of my occasional jobs back in those days was recording the religious and public affairs shows that would playback at 5 or 6am on Sunday mornings.
One day, with me at the controls and several Protestant ministers on the other side of the glass, Van came in, holding a pen and a reporters’ notebook, looking very serious. He importantly scrawled something on a sheet, ripped it off with a flourish, folded it and left it just out of my reach as he walked away quickly.
I rolled the chair back, opened the note and read:
Stevie, Those Protestants don’t know shit about bingo. -Van
He didn’t didn’t harbor any ill-will towards those men of God, he just wanted to make me laugh. At any cost. And I did. I’m also pretty sure that he was hoping that one of them would ask afterwards, “Ooh! What did Van Miller want! It looked very important!”
This was the highlight of my career up until that point, and still remains in the top 5. If my career ended that day, I’d have the story of the great Van Miller giving me a note mentioning shit and bingo. I loved it. And he knew it.
Van wasn’t just like this with me, he was like this with literally everyone he encountered. He loved that people loved him, and he loved them right back. He loved making tiny bits of trouble that he could always smooth out if it came to it, and he loved making personal connections with people. All kinds of people.
My grandpa was a ticket taker at The Aud, and Van used to come through his door. He always said Van was the nicest VIP who’d walk through in his fur coat. He was generally beloved by all the technicians at Channel 4– no small feat for a one of “the big stars.” He treated the floor guys in the studio the same way he treated all the hundreds of athletes he’d dealt with over 50 years– with a friendly smile and with respect.
When I was working with Van at Channel 4, there was a severely handicapped guy named Stewart who used to call the sports office everyday with the same question… “What’s in sports today?”
I tried to be nice, but sometimes in the throes of deadlines and scripts to write and packages to edit and highlights to cut, it was easy for any of us to be short with Stewart– especially since no matter what we said, he’d mutter, “ok” and hang up the phone.
When Van picked up the phone, he did a fully embellished sportscast for good ol’Stewart.
“Well let me tell you,” he’d shout, in more of his Bills gameday voice than his Channel 4 voice, “The boys were practicing down at Sabreland today, and Wow! Did Pat LaFontaine’s knee look great— I think he’s getting ready to come back by the time the team skates in Hartford on Saturday. The Bills brought in three free agent linebackers today– trying to put the squeeze on negoatiations with Cornelius Bennett today… and a pair of hoemruns for Donnie Baseball today— Don Mattingly 3 for 3 as the Yankees destroyed the Red Sox 7 to 3. Rain stopped play at the Mercedes open… Michael Chang and Stefan Edberg will pick up their tied match right there tomorrow.”
He’d usually end the call with some silly rhyme or play on words or pun– something so bad he wouldn’t use it on the air.
“But I tell you what— the thunder clang won’t stop Chang… he looked like dynamite today— I’m predicting he wins the tournament handily.”
This was really almost daily. We’d all be laughing, Van smiling, and Stewart getting a daily dose of sports news. I don’t think anyone missed Van when he retired from TV more than Stewart.
Van loved being Van, and loved that other people loved him being Van. I learned that from him. Have fun being who you are– and enjoy other people enjoying it.
I owe a lot to Van Miller. I owe those memories, I owe much of my early career. I would have never been plugged in as the Bills Football producer on WBEN or hired as a producer at Channel 4 at the age of 19 without the backing of my Uncle Van.
And needless to say, Van Miller saying my name 427 or so times every week during Bills games in the ’90s made me a rock star at in high school. It made me a rock star in my family. No one was really clear on what I did at the radio station, but it sounded like Van Miller personally appreciated it– so it must be great!
I was special to Van– because everyone was special to Van. It’s a great gift Uncle Van gave to thousands of “nieces” and “nephews” through the years…
I think all of our lives have lost something with him gone. Despite the fact that I spend a lot of time celebrating institutions and people of the past– I am very rarely personally stirred by nostalgia. I find the past and how it relates to the present and future infinitely interesting, and even when I miss something, I rarely yearn for it.
But with that said, from inside my bones, I yearn for Van at one o’clock on crisp fall Sundays. I really love Murph– but the fact that it’s not Van has made it pretty easy to fall a bit away from Bills fandom as the team has declined. So much of what I loved about the Bills and football was the intangible greatness that Van brought to the play-by-play.
Tears are welling in my eyes thinking this could be the team… this could be the year.
Because I’m a Bills fan, I have no idea how great a Superbowl win feels. I do know, however, that it will never feel quite as good as it would with Van’s voice box popping out of his throat telling us the long wait is over.
Pioneer announcer and journalist Lou Douglas has died. He was 85.
The Korean War vet came to WBEN-AM/FM/TV in 1957 and his unflappable, smart, level-headed approach to news anchoring and interviewing was part of the fabric of the station for 30 years. Douglas was considered by most as the dean of broadcast journalists.
In his early years as a junior announcer at The Buffalo Evening News stations, television still played second fiddle to AM radio. Many of his early assignments were on Channel 4, including regular 6pm walks from WBEN’s Statler studios to The Buffalo Evening News’ building near the foot of Main Street. There, he’d read the 6 o’clock news as prepared by The News’ staff, broadcast–as was announced at the beginning of each newscast– “From the Editorial Floor of the Buffalo Evening News.”
Douglas would continue to appear as a reporter, host, and announcer on TV through the 1970s, but he is best remembered for his work at WBEN Radio.
It was his voice that anchored coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Buffalo in 1962. He broadcast from inside the prison complex during the Attica uprising. Living in Kenmore, his home was closest to the WBEN’s Elmwood Avenue studios– which meant extended duty for Lou during the Blizzard of 1977.
He always sounded even-keeled on the air, and was the same way in the newsroom, where he was remembered for reading the Wall Street Journal and never being afraid to pick up the phone to calmly make the most outlandish and seemingly impossible interview requests for his afternoon and evening interview spots.
In spanning three decades, Douglas really had two separate careers; one as a staff announcer, and one as a journalist. Through the 1950s and 1960s, the people you saw on Channel 4 and heard on WBEN were announcers– and only announcers. Union rules dictated that they could not and would not write their own news scripts or conduct news interviews or gather information.
By the mid-1970s, those rules had changed, and most of the “announcers” who had been bringing Buffalo news and weather since the ’40s and ’50s were gone. Not Douglas, though– his abilities as a staff announcer complimented his ability to gather the news, interview the newsmakers, and write his own newscasts.
He retired from WBEN in 1987, and spent a brief period at WWKB Radio a few years later before retiring for good.
In 2010, I spoke to Lou about his days in radio, and the possibility of the Statler building facing the wrecking ball. This interview wasn’t meant for broadcast, but is wonderful none the less. That interview, along with some career highlights, are listed for playback below. Please feel free to use any of the audio or photos in the celebration of Lou’s life in any media.
Steve with Lou Douglas, 2010:
WBEN’s Election 85 coverage: Kevin Keenan, Lou Douglas, Brian Meyer, Mark Hamrick, and John Murphy
WBEN News with Lou Douglas, 1973. Attica uprising, will Mayor Sedita resign?
WBEN News with Lou Douglas, January 1977. The Blizzard of ’77.
WBEN’s Coverage of JFK’s Visit to Buffalo, 1962. Lou Douglas live from Niagara Square.
It’s nearly inconceivable to me, but it was twenty years ago today. The letter that started my career at WBEN.
As a 15 year old high school sophomore, I would have been happy getting a job at Tops.
But neither Tops nor Bells would hire someone under 16. My birthday wouldn’t come until the end of summer. I needed something to do for the vacation.
I’d been earning money for years already. Helping out at a used book shop. Helping a farmer down the street pick potatoes. Cleaning up cigarette butts and cutting curly fries at a nearby hot dog stand.
I liked working and I liked earning money.
But radio? Why not, I guess I thought.
I had always loved radio, and for the few years my dad’s job took us to Massachusetts, I had a friend whose dad worked in radio. We used to go to work with him when he was the Saturday morning jock on a big station in Boston.
As an 8 year old, my first real taste of living a life in radio came when I had to be ready for Mr. Bob to pick me up at 5am to head into WHDH. No problem. Loved every minute of it.
On those Saturday mornings, My friend Jarin and I would “do production” for the “station” we ran in his basement, made up of real, but cast-away decades-old radio equipment.
When my family moved back to Buffalo, and Jarin’s moved to Maryland, he gave me some of the castaway equipment, and I built a “radio station” of my own in my bedroom.
We’d each “do shows” on cassette and mail them back and forth to one another.
I was 7 or 8 years into that “radio career” when, during my “job search,” I was struck with an idea.
I have no idea from whence the thought of an internship came, but I loved radio, and wanted to work in radio, and that’s what I set out to do.
I opened the phone book, and called every radio station listed, asking for the station manager’s name.
When I say every radio station, I mean every single one. Buffalo. Springville. Lockport. Niagara Falls. Batavia. I just wanted to get in. Anywhere.
With those names in hand, I knew to whom I should address the letters I was about to write on our Tandy 1000EX computer. The one with 256k of memory.
It was quite a few 29 cent stamps.
The letter I wrote had to have been a classic 10th grader essay on my love for radio, and my knowledge of radio equipment, with, of course, some big words thrown in for good measure (because that’s how I’ve rolled for years now.)
So, somewhere between 15 and 20 of these letters went out. And I waited.
At the mail box everyday, I’m sure I looked like Ralphie looking for that Little Orphan Annie decoder ring.
If you think about that scene in a Christmas Story, when Ralphie excitedly says “My ring!!” and runs in the house, syrupy violin music comes in to set the scene.
In my mind, that same hokey musical accompaniment plays when I opened the mailbox to find that gleaming white WBEN stationery staring at me, with my own name typewritten on the front.
It was providence. The station I listened to, the station I loved, was the only station to respond. At all. The only letter I got.
Its really almost unfathomable.
Think of some bad sitcom where a kid has a dream about pitching for the Yankees.
The focus is soft and fuzzy around the edges.
The kid’s sitting on the bench when Billy Martin, wearing a blue hat (but without a Yankees emblem) points at him and hands him the ball.
But, instead of the Yankees manager saying, “You’re in, kid!” in a dream, I got the real deal.
There really couldn’t have been anything better than getting a letter from Kevin Keenan inviting me to WBEN. And there was that letter, right there in my hands.
I’ll never forget that first day. Kevin looked like a 1993 radio newsman from central casting; white shirt, tie, suspenders.
We talked about WBEN, and I can’t imagine how hilarious it was to have a 15 year old know your programming inside out, talking about how my alarm clock was set for 6:23am, so I could wake up to the Osgood File.
He loved that I had called “Ask the Mayor” only a few days before, and had talked to him and Mayor Griffin about one of the big issues of the day: The debate over whether Jay Leno or David Letterman should replace Johnny Carson.
I showed him I knew how to put up a reel of tape, and how to bulk erase a cart.
On the tour around the station, I met sports man Rick Maloney, and sat in to watch a Craig Nigrelli/Helen Tederous newscast.
I was floored when Kevin offered me the chance to intern during the summer.
What a summer of triple bus transfers from Orchard Park to North Buffalo… And my dad acting as my radio chauffeur.
Eight or nine hour days, every day, all summer. I learned from everyone I met. Busted my hump with a smile. Loved every minute of it.
When I went to help set up WBEN’s remote at the Fair, Kevin gave me a WBEN t-shirt. I had earned it, and I loved it. I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud to receive anything.
As I headed back to school, now a well-heeled Orchard Park High School junior, I was offered a weekend board operator job. Best of Limbaugh on Sundays.
Screw Tops. I was pulling in my $4.25 an hour working in radio. My heart is racing right now, thinking about the pride and satisfaction I felt.
I was living the Doogie Howser dream. And it’s continued from there.
That day in Kevin Keenan’s office 20 years ago today was my last job interview.
I’ve been tremendously blessed to have had so many mentors who’ve looked out for me, taught me their secrets, looked out for me, and allowed me to coattail along on their rides.
I feel a lot like a kid who went to bed waiting for one of those radio stations to respond to my letter, and woke up News Director at the radio station I really hoped would answer.
Everything I know about broadcasting, about radio, about TV, about journalism: I was taught either by direct instruction or by example from the tremendous people I’ve worked with at WBEN, Channel 4, and the Empire Sports Network.
I’d love to write about a few of the people, but it just wouldn;t be fair, because the list really has hundreds of names on it. I’m not sure how or why I’ve been so blessed, so lucky, to have so many amazing, talented people take an interest in my life and my career.
There’s not a single task I do every day that doesn’t carry along with it the embedded lessons of those people who’ve taken me in as an apprentice and son.
I’m like an orphan that was raised by the community. So much of any success I’ve had is because so many people own a piece of my success, but it couldn’t have happened without each on of them.
Twenty years of incredible luck and love. I’m not sure it’s fair that one person should be so blessed… But for two full decades now, I’ve been indescribably thankful, and mindful to never waste even a little bit of it.
I spent this 4th of July morning trying to figure out how to hang this classic WBS/Ward Beck Systems audio console from the wall of my garage, where it’s lived for most of the last 11 years or so. This was WBEN’s newsbooth board from the time of the 1974 remodel of the WBEN Radio studios until 2000, when WBEN moved to Amherst.
Over on Facebook, in posting this blog, I’d love to come up with a comprehensive list of the great WBEN personalities and newspeople who’ve regularly sat at this board. Just in the time I worked there from 1993-98, there was Kevin Keenan, Mark Leitner, Susan Rose, Tim Wenger, George Richert, Claudine Ewing, Kathleen Donovan, Brian Meyer, Mark Webster, Mike McKay, Howard Simon, Rick Maloney, Dave Kerner, Kevin Sylvester, Marty Biniasz, Joe Sviatko, Dave Debo, Michael Mroziak, my wife Monica Huxley, and of course Ed Little, who made the final WBEN broadcast from the Elmwood studios sitting at that board (See 1980s photo of Ed at the board below.)
Before my time there, great broadcasters like Jack Ogilvie, Jim McLaughlin, Lou Douglas, Virgil Booth, Fran Lucca, Marty Gleason, Stan Barron, Mark Hamrick, and a one-time WBEN radio newsman named John Murphy.
There are dozens that haven’t leapt to my mind, but believe me, this boat anchor has some history.
I got it from a friend… who bought it from a guy who garbage picked it (or maybe stole it?) when WBEN left its Elmwood Avenue studios for Corporate Parkway in 2000. The friend had hoped to use it in recording his band, but the truth is, the thing barely worked when it was in service. When he realized it was little more than a momento, he called me and I put it in my garage.
It’s been in the back of the garage, on the floor behind the snow blower and infamous Pepsi machine. It deserves better than that. And I got to thinking, that if there is some place better than my garage wall where it can be displayed, it should be.
I’m asking for ideas that you can help make happen. Where can we put this piece of Buffalo’s broadcast history for all to enjoy? To hang from the wall, you’d need a space four feet wide by 5 feet long. (Less than that, but I forget to measure.)
If we can find a legit public place, willing to hang it like the artwork it is… I’ll fix it so the lights light, the VU meters move, and maybe even the small cue speakers could play a loop of an old Clint Buehlman broadcast which people up close would be able to hear (optional). I would also work out any signage of addition display items that need to accompnay the piece.
It’s more than history… Its a cool retro art piece, really. I’m willing to permenantly or temporarily loan it to an appropriate place that wants to display it. It’ll be cool in my garage, but again, it really deserves better. Any takers?
By Steve Cichon | email@example.com | @stevebuffalo
People base their opinions on any given subject on the amount of information they know about that subject. Sometimes the knowledge is vast; sometimes not so much.
Over the last few days, I have found myself correcting factual or legal errors in people’s angry conversations and Facebook posts about the James Corasanti trial and verdict. In doing so, I’ve been accused of trying to stand up for Corasanti, of trying to encourage people to physically go after Corasanti, of making excuses for the jury, and of trying to encourage hatred towards jurors. A reporter is usually satisfied that he’s doing his job when he gets criticism from all sides.
At the end of one such volley on Facebook, I wrote something along the lines of “that I’m merely offering facts I know to be true from the courtroom, to try to make what some people are having a hard time understanding a little more understandable.”
Someone then asked if I understand. “Understand what,” I asked. Understand, he said, why the jury voted the way it did.
I don’t understand, but I think I might have a better insight than most. Over the last year and a half, I’ve sat through two big trials gavel-to-gavel (Muzzammil Hassan’s beheading trial and Riccardo McCray’s City Grill murder rampage), and sat through good portions of the Corasanti hearings and trial as well.
Covering and listening to a trial as a reporter isn’t all that different from listening to a trial as a juror.
I can tell you that sitting through a trial, you’re trying to keep track of dozens of different lines of questioning and trails of evidence, much of it presented and described in terminology and verbiage that is completely foreign. For legal reasons, it’s often presented in a way that is often painfully tedious.
It’s not Law and Order. Most testimony is boring and can quite often be confusing; especially when something refers back to something that happened days before, or uses unfamiliar jargon.
But that’s where it gets much easier for the media. Kinda like a jury gets to do at the end, we get to go into the hallway during the breaks, and discuss among ourselves what we just heard, and how to understand it. Quite often, we grab a lawyer walking by and ask him or her what this word means, or whether we understand something right.
On one occasion during the Corasanti trial, two defense lawyers whose names you’d recognize, gave us reporters completely different versions of what a single legal term meant. Even the lawyers can get a little confused.
I personally reported on the radio at least 3 times in the days and hours leading up to the Corasanti verdict that I was confused by something that went on in the court room. I ran right out of the courtroom to report on something said in “legalese” that was difficult to follow and synthesize, even with the help of my fellow reporters.
Jurors have it worse. At least journalists can talk it through with one another several times a day. Jurors have to suffer through their misunderstanding or desire to clarify a point or even just seek reassurance that they heard something properly. Jurors are not allowed to talk about a case to anyone, period, until deliberations begin.
Most of us can’t even get through an episode of Law and Order without asking our spouses if “that was the guy from earlier who did that…”
So after a month, with all the questions you might have swimming in your head, you are given two hours worth of legal instructions with so many parsed words and phrases put together in a way that satisfies the law, but not necessarily satisfies the understanding of every day people. In fact, for me, the explanations of the laws often obfuscate my understanding the law.
Having sat through a few trials, I know how the process is going to work, and I have my seatbelt fastened, and I still have a hard time keeping up with understanding the laws as the judge reads them. If you get caught on a bit and try to think it through, you miss the next bit. I can ask Claudine Ewing or Pete Gallivan in the hall. A juror adds it to a list of dozens of things he’s not clear on.
My point is, I can see how every day people who are jurors can walk into a deliberation completely dazed. All this incredible and contradictory information that your been hearing for a month. Where do you begin? I think for most people, you begin by listening to the guy with the biggest mouth, and see where that takes you. There was one juror who seemed more agitated that the rest, and I’ll bet he was among the first to do some talking.
Until you’ve sat through a month long trial, you can’t understand what it’s like. I’ve sat through a couple of humdingers, and I won’t pretend to understand what its like to be a juror on a case like this one.
And of course, if the defense has a pulse, there is always doubt. The difference between some doubt and a reasonable doubt is explained by the judge, but its legal language that isn’t in every day soeak, and it’s a few paragraphs in a few hours of legal explanations.
Every time the judge lets the jury off for lunch or a 5 minute break or to go home for the night, the instruction is always “don’t talk to anyone about the case; keep an open mind.” It’s not “use your gut, and don’t forget your common sense.”
Now if you’ve made it this far, you might be saying, what, was Cichon’s mother on the jury? No. I’m not making excuses for the jury, and I would guess that some jurors on the Corasanti trial or any of the others that I’ve covered might be angry with me for calling them confused. I’m not calling any juror confused.
I’m merely saying that it’s not an easy job being a juror, and I’m not really sure how fair it is to ask someone to be a juror in a month long trial like this one.
In my heart, having sat through some of the trial as a reporter, I know how I would have voted. However, if my seat was moved 10 feet to the left into the jury box, I know I wouldn’t have had the same grasp of the material presented. And given that, I certainly can’t say for sure how I would have voted.