Friday, July 25, 2008

Death Calls For Veteran ABQ Newsman Ed Pennybacker; We Remember, Plus: Di's Tour & Politics On Your Radio Dial 

Ed Pennybacker
Ed Pennybacker was a hard-driving, hyper-competitive radio newsman who cruised the streets of Albuquerque in the 60's and 70's in his signature car "Big Red." Later, he would go into TV and become a well-known consumer reporter for KOAT, but his reputation was first earned chasing ambulances and covering breaking crime news from that colorful station wagon. Pennybacker, 80, died in ABQ Wednesday. Obits here and here.

In Ed's heyday, ABQ was a much smaller city and radio news a much bigger deal than it is in today's multimedia universe. And it was Ed who towered above it all, despite working for KQEO-AM, a much smaller station than market leader and 50,000 watt giant KKOB-AM.

I sampled first-hand his determination to be the leader of the pack, and it wasn't pleasant. I was a 21 year old radio newsman for KRKE-AM 610, covering a 1976 ABQ appearance by Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter, soon to be president. As visiting prez nominees still do today, Carter gave separate five minute interviews with each of the three major TV stations. Watching this come down, Pennybacker grumbled that he was not being given an exclusive with Carter. Driven by both fear and frustration, I cornered Carter press secretary Jody Powell and explained that there were some four radio news departments in Albuquerque and Carter should take advantage and do interviews. Powell gazed at me for a moment and whether out of sympathy or strategic thinking, snapped, "OK, but you'll all have to do it together."

He brought Carter into a small anteroom at the old ABQ City Hall downtown and the radio reporters were invited in for five minutes and told they could each ask one question. Pennybacker was not a happy camper. After all, he was "Big Red" and was being forced to share the presidential nominee with a cub reporter like yours truly and other radio riff-raff. But he had to accede or risk being scooped.

The time came for the questions and I asked the Georgia governor something about water. No sooner had I uttered the last syllable and was awaiting Carter's response when
Pennybacker barked: "That's a stupid question!" A rush of emotion overcame me and I did not know whether to punch Pennybacker in the nose or shrink to the floor in embarrassment. Carter, an old pro, took no notice and launched into an answer.

Ed was nearly 30 years my senior and I expected a welcome, not a verbal punch. It hurt enough that I didn't speak to him for over 15 years. One day, after he had retired from broadcasting, I ran into him at the Winrock Center parking lot. He treated me like a long lost friend, even handing out a compliment on my reporting. I didn't mention the incident with Carter. I doubt if he even remembered it. I smiled and accepted the praise gladly, recognizing that Ed's trial by fire had tested my mettle. Future tests were easier for it.


Few governors have cast a shadow as long as Big Bill's, but insiders believe polling shows Light Guv Diane Denish needs to establish herself as an independent presence with New Mexicans. In other words, voters don't want her to represent a third Big Bill term. Is that one of the reasons for the multiple "Roundhouse on the Road" tours she is conducting?
They generate articles about Di and only Di in newspapers across the state.


Looking for some politics on the radio dial as the election draws near? Public radio will have some offerings. We bumped into longtime media producer Arcie Chapa at the grocery store the other day where she told us her long-running Thursday morning public affairs show on KUNM-FM 89.9 is going strong. It airs at 8. In Santa Fe,
KSFR 101.1 FM and news director Bill Dupuy are also tracking Election '08.

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