Ken DukeWritten by

Big Rock, Little Snow

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Last week I was at the Big Rock Sports East Show in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a strong show that would have been even better if the weather had cooperated. A cold front came through during the middle of the show and left three inches of snow and ice on the ground. In typical Southern fashion, there was a run on milk and bread as soon as an illustrated snowflake appeared on the local meteorologist’s weather map.

Before you call me a carpetbagger, know that I am a lifelong Southerner. I have never lived farther north than Columbia, South Carolina, or farther west than Montgomery, Alabama. I graduated from the University of Georgia (twice) and expect to live the rest of my days right here in the South, where the people speak with a drawl, barbecue is king, and the fishing industry is strong.

But the South drives me crazy in the winter.

As soon as the weatherman starts talking about snow, all bets for civility and sanity are off. Grocery store parking lots fill with Southerners in search of milk, bread, canned goods and batteries. Firewood is chopped and stacked. Last wills and testaments are updated.

The preparation for Armageddon begins, and ordinary, decent, otherwise interesting people talk of nothing but the weather.

For this I blame local television news. Few things frustrate me more than local television news. I find it both mind-numbing and fascinating. Mind-numbing because it seems they try harder than “journalists” at any other level to sensationalize their stories. Fascinating because I love the pecking order and hierarchy that is television news in this country.

When you watch the national news, you’re seeing the best of the best on camera. Those folks are polished. They look good. They dress well. They speak clearly and without a discernible accent.

When you check out the local news in a major metropolitan area, they’re excellent, too. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston are the last stepping stone to the big time.

Down the ladder from there — Atlanta, Miami, St. Louis, Seattle — there’s a clear gap between the local news and the national people. It’s the difference between Major League Baseball and Double A.

And then there’s local news in much smaller towns — like Raleigh. The on-air talent is good, but clearly not on par with the bigger markets. In markets like this and smaller, you get occasional train wrecks like “Boom Goes the Dynamite.”

Some of the personalities in markets this size are on their way up — they’re young and clearly better than their circumstances. Others are stuck or have a found a permanent home — like the 60-year-old anchor who’s the local legend but clearly not smooth enough for a larger market.

If you travel much, you see the stratification of news talent everywhere you look.

In Raleigh they’re good, but not great, and they apparently feel challenged to make their local news look as important as possible. When a little snow and ice come along, it’s the apocalypse.

I’m ranting about Raleigh because, in the face of three inches of snow and ice — make that “treacherous black ice” — they sent reporters, cameramen and station vehicles onto the streets and highways while telling the audience not to go outside. Their tagline was “We’re out there, so you don’t have to be,” and they said this in one of those movie trailer voices that usually starts with “In a world ….”

I am not making this up.

I found myself rooting for the snow and ice and against the news crew. It felt a little like rooting for the shark in “Jaws,” but I watched in hope that one of their vans would slide into a ditch, stranding them far from the rest of the Eyewitness News Team … or whatever it is they call themselves.

And I wished that more people could have made it to the Big Rock East show. Those who stayed away because of the weather (likely a wise decision) missed a good one.

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