The 61-year-old anchor has been with WKRC for more than 29 years and has gotten up early for Good Morning Cincinnati since 1990, back when radio was the main source of early news. That’s just one of the myriad of changes he’s been witness to.
John Lomax never ceases to be surprised that viewers will break their morning routines to email or Tweet him during Good Morning Cincinnati, which he has co-anchored for Newport Television’s WKRC for 22 years.
“When I first started, none of us imagined the two-way communication you could have with your viewers,” he says. “It is certainly an interesting dynamic in that you have an ongoing conversation with the people who consume your newscast.
“As we’ve gone earlier and earlier, I’ve always wondered if there was anybody out there watching,” he says. The newscast begins at 4:25 a.m. and runs until 7 a.m. The social media postings are incorporated into the newscast.
Lomax, 61, has been with WKRC for more than 29 years and has helmed Good Morning since its November 1990 inception. As the format has evolved, Lomax says his years have been filled with change and the need to adapt. Dealing with social media is just the latest twist.
“I’ve certainly seen a lot of change among my co-workers,” he says. “I think there might be three of us who started out at the same time [and] who are still on that shift.”
Co-anchor Liz Bonis is the third woman to sit beside Lomax. She has been with the station — branded “Local 12” — for a decade, starting on the medical beat.
Lomax also anchors the noon news.
“John’s lead in the [morning] broadcast has also made him one of the leading citizens in Cincinnati,” says GM Les Vann, who has led WKRC for five years and relies on Lomax’s institutional memory. “He is well thought-of [with] a high demand for him as a speaker, an emcee. He transcends television and is a big part of Cincinnati as a whole.”
“He just adapts with every change — whether it be technical, whether it be content — in a way that we are very, very proud of.”
Among those changes has been the emergence of morning TV as a significant daypart. When he broke into television in 1975, he says, there was hardly any morning local TV. “It certainly wasn’t as pervasive as it is now.”
Radio was the source for news, traffic and weather in the morning then, he says. “Now, people will tune us in because they have the expectation we will give them the same thing [they used to get from radio]. Once viewers get in their cars, only then does radio take over.”
HD has been great for viewers, but a chore for the talent, he says. “It makes you a lot more aware of what you’re wearing. You can’t hide from HDTV.”
Before the HDTV switch, Lomax was not overly concerned with makeup. Then the main worry was having your tie on straight. With HD, ties still can’t be crooked, but makeup isn’t optional, he says. “You kind of have to use it now.”
Lomax has also had to adapt to five different owners since joining WKRC in 1983. And a sixth is on its way. In July, Newport Television agreed to sell WKRC and five other stations to Sinclair Broadcasting for $412.5 million.
Lomax is the shop steward and is hoping that the union and Sinclair will get along. “I think [the union} has continued to work for us because we have not had any managers who have tried to bust the union.”
One change that has not come to WKRC is multimedia journalists — reporters who also shoot and edit their own stories.
“We kind of buck the trend,” Lomax says. “We don’t have any one-man bands at our place.” But the trend has reached other stations in Cincinnati, and Lomax is sure it will eventually come to WKRC.
Lomax was the first African-American male to anchor news at WKRC.
“The city of Cincinnati — not the metropolitan area — does have a very significant black population,” he said. “It’s not as if you wear a badge saying ‘African-American Anchor,’ but, on occasion, you are made aware of the significance you have in the community.
“You recognize that you mean something to a significant part of the population, other than just delivering the news.”
Before moving to the anchor position in the morning, Lomax worked as WKRC’s Northern Kentucky reporter.
As a reporter, Lomax says the fiery May 1988 bus crash in Carrollton, Ky., was one of the most significant stories he covered.
On May 14, around 11 p.m., a former school bus, used by a church, was rammed, head-on, by a drunk driver operating a pickup truck. The bus was returning from Kings Island amusement park. The truck was heading the wrong way on Interstate 71. The crash killed 27 — three adults and 24 children. Sixty-three children were onboard.
“I got to do a number of significant stories on that,” Lomax said. The crash and resulting fire changed the laws on school bus safety.
He also covered the story of Donald Harvey, a nurse, who may have killed as many as 87 elderly people in Cincinnati hospitals and nursing homes in the 1970s and 1980s.
In February 2007, Lomax was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. He changed his diet and began exercising. By that summer, he dropped to 165-170 pounds from 205 pounds.
While he says the illness has not affected his work, he said viewers became alarmed at his weight loss. “It really surprised me that they had that emotional reaction to my health issues,” he said. He has been asked to speak on diabetes and to raise money for diabetes-related charities. He has gladly taken on this new role.
In April, Bob Herzog, traffic reporter for Good Morning, took over anchoring the 7 o’clock version of the show from Lomax. It is broadcast on WKRC’s subchannel, a CW affiliate.
Dave McMullen, assistant news director, said the change was made to lessen the burden on Lomax. Lomax calls it a “win-win situation … [Herzog] needed the opportunity to anchor every day. [And] I still do three hours a day, so I wasn’t giving up a lot.”
With the show now starting at 4:25 a.m., Lomax’s day starts at 3 a.m. Although the morning duty has allowed him to spend time with his children in the afternoon over the years, he admits that the early start is sometimes a grind. “You don’t ever get used to this shift; it’s tough.”
Lomax is a native of Knoxville, Tenn., and attended the University of Tennessee. His hobbies include photography and cars. He and his wife, Donna, have two grown children, Brandon and Lindsay, and a grandson, Oliver.
Lomax has given thought to retirement, but not anytime soon.
“You have a shelf-life in this business, but I would like to work until I’m 70 — doing something,” he said. “If I have the opportunity to do that here, then that would be wonderful.”
If not, he’s ready to adapt.
“Whatever happens — happens — and I’ll make the most of it,” Lomax says. “I’m an optimist at heart and I believe that when one door closes, another one opens. So we’ll see what happens.”
Read aboubt other Local Legends here.