Lee Kinard was a legend in North Carolina television, spending his entire career at WFMY Greensboro. He died last week and he represented the roots of local television. He, and those like him, invented a business that always put viewers first.
Imagine a morning news with a 52 rating/70 share in a top-50 market. How about a 6 p.m. newscast with a 42 rating/61 share? Those were stunning numbers, even back in 1988, when I was named general manger of WFMY, the CBS affiliate in Greensboro, N.C.
Those ratings were due to Lee Kinard, a living legend. Not only was Lee the creator, producer and host of The Good Morning Show, he returned every weekday evening to anchor the 6 p.m. news. You can imagine my angst at meeting him for the first time. Lee was, without question, the television station’s greatest asset.
Lee turned out to also be a great guy who would become my lifelong friend, long after I had moved to other stations. Part of what drew me to Lee was his status as a first-generation inventor of television. He embodied the best things about our business, starting with an absolute commitment to the people of the Piedmont Triad.
Lee passed away this past weekend at age 86. He joined WFMY in 1957 and spent his entire career there. In 1958 he created The Good Morning Show. This past fall he went back to the station to celebrate the program’s 60th anniversary.
You may recall that Greensboro was the site of the first civil rights sit-in. When a group of North Carolina A&T students were refused service, they declined to leave, creating a national story. Lee’s response was to urge the station to hire Sandra Hughes, an African-American woman, as the station’s first anchor of color. Sandra then went on to become a legend in her own right.
Of all his accomplishments, Lee’s great contribution may have been to education. Lee was bothered by his own lack of credentials, so as an adult he went to college, eventually earning a Ph.D. in education.
After receiving his degree, Lee cut a PSA targeted at kids dropping out of school. He told his own story, then said “If you are thinking of dropping out, talk to a teacher or call me.” He wasn’t kidding about the “call me” part. Lee went to any place and every place kids needed him, quickly putting 80,000 miles on a new car. He practiced what he preached.
Lee Kinard’s passing matters because he represented the roots of local television. He, and those like him, invented a business that always put viewers first. Lee represented a higher calling, something that continues to make local television special today.
Hank Price is a veteran television executive, educator and author. He is president and general manager of WVTM, the Hearst NBC affiliate in Birmingham, Ala.