On his first weekend of retirement from TV news, there’s a lot to remember about Huel Perkins’ tenure as an anchor.
What sticks out in my mind, as someone who has known him since I was an intern when he was still “The New Guy” on the anchor desk at WJBK-TV in Detroit more than 30 years ago, is that in several important ways, he was a one-of-a-kind presence we will likely never see again.
Huel co-anchored for 25 years (a truly remarkable run in any business, but especially local TV), Monica Gayle, who shares many of his qualities, namely professionalism and an air of class, retired on the same day. Few, if any, TV stations would allow that drastic of a change for viewers. But this duo earned it from the Fox-owned station, as a generation ago, when they earned the cushion of time from management to win over an audience and help transform a ratings also-ran into a stable first choice for so many.
The way the media business is changing, it’s hard to picture what local video driven-news, on traditional TV or otherwise, will look like 25 years from now. It’s also hard to picture the same people who are working to connect with audiences now appearing on whatever that will be.
Huel should be also given credit for something that will likely never happen again – in the driver’s seat for a local TV show that attracts a mass, diverse audience. Call it “appointment TV” or a “guilty pleasure,” but either way “Let It Rip,” the weekly Prime Time talk show that has aired since 2004 as part of a truncated 10:00 newscast, is the rare local program that generates “buzz.” Just look online at the #letitriip hashtag and you’ll see what I mean. When I have appeared as a guest analyst on a panel, I hear from all walks of life – from client CEOs to friends well outside of news to the ladies who work at the barbershop, with opinions about the appearances.
Huel has been the hands-on driving force between “Let It Rip,” working on it all hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays to make sure it’s as current, representative and interesting as possible on Thursday nights. I don’t know when he slept before and after the show, because I would hear from him to book me early in the morning, and get his feedback on my comments in the middle of the following night.
On Friday, the station devoted its entire 6:00 newscast to honoring Huel and Monica, providing a rare connection to the audience. It was a bold and powerful move by station management. Unlike the excellent Prime Time specials we have seen elsewhere in the market for retiring anchors in this wave of Baby Boomers leaving the air, this was a decision by management to not do the news for one night. We also may never see that again.
I will always appreciate the impact that Huel Perkins had on my career – from setting an example in my first newsroom experience to creating opportunities to take all of the advice I’ve given others in media training sessions and put it to work on live television in front of what qualifies as a mass audience. I’ll be telling those stories for years and that is the mark of a true legend.